Surprise! Satan wasn’t in the Garden of Eden

Or at least, that’s the implication of the amusing CNN article That’s Not Actually In The Bible. It demonstrates how biblically-uninformed people attribute things to the Bible that aren’t actually in the Bible.

Examples they give:

  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • Spare the rod, spoil the child.
  • God works in mysterious ways.
  • Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
  • Pride goes before a fall.
  • This, too, shall pass.
  • Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
  • Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.

All the above are Biblical-sounding, but don’t actually appear in the Bible.

In fairness, some of these ideas are very close to Biblical passages or concepts. For example, while “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is not in the Bible, a closely-related proverb, “He who spares the rod, hates his son”, is, in fact, a Scriptural passage.

But the one that piques my curiosity is the one about Satan in the Garden.

The author correctly notes that the Creation account does not mention Satan. (And to go a step further, Satan is not mentioned at all in Genesis.)

However, Satan does appear in the Tenakh, and given his dealings with God and humans in those passages, it seems reasonable theology to state the serpent of Gan Eden was Satan, despite Genesis not explicitly saying so.

This question transcends arguments about whether Genesis is a literal account or an allegory, young earth creationist, old earth creationist, doesn’t matter: what we are left with is a figure, represented by a snake, who leads people away from God and towards evil. Who, if not Satan, is that figure?

p.s. I’ve asked this question on Jewish Life & Learning, asking whether there’s a Jewish consensus on the matter. I anticipate some interesting answers there, keep an eye on that.


  1. Great post. I look forward to seeing what the school of thought on this is!!!

  2. Evil inclination, this is what we all try to make subservient to G-d.

  3. @Anon,

    Ok. I figured this might be one potential answer: the serpent is the evil inclination.

    However, that answer just moves the question elsewhere, doesn't it? Isn't the evil inclination just an artifact of Satan or his influence?

    And since yetzer hara, the evil inclination, likewise is not mentioned in the Creation account, where do we draw the evidence that the serpent represents evil inclination, rather than the Satan of Job and Chronicles and the New Testament?

  4. I'll proffer an answer: why does the serpent have to "be" somebody? The serpent is the serpent. The text portrays it/him as as a character in his own right--like Balaam's donkey.

  5. Interesting. That's thinking outside the box, challenging assumptions.

    Let's see. Why does it have to be somebody? Because snakes don't speak. :-) Something supernatural is going on here. Before you cite Balaam's donkey, note that the Torah explicitly says God opened the mouth of an otherwise ordinary animal, supernaturally causing it to speak.

    This diverges from the creation account, where there is no mention of God causing the serpent to speak. And why would God cause the serpent to speak against Himself, an act for which God eventually curses the serpent? Bottom line: the serpent is supernatural, and that supernatural doing isn't God's prompting. That makes me think it can't just be a regular old serpent.

    And even if you allegorize it away and say the creation account isn't literal, we still are left with this figure, represented by a snake, that leads people astray. Isn't it reasonable theology to say this is Satan?

    One workable solution would be: the Creation account is just a story, AND the snake is not meant to represent anything other than a snake.

    While that's workable, it's kind of self-defeating: Genesis is a story meant to portray something, but one of the key figures in that story doesn't represent anything at all.

  6. Interesting. That's thinking outside the box, challenging assumptions.

    That's what I keep trying to do, Judah. I read the CNN article a few days ago (and blogged about it). Very interesting and illuminating. In Christianity, the result of the fall is that the nature of people becomes inherently evil and we struggle all our lives to overcome this. In Judaism, the nature of man is basically good, but the result of "the primordial sin" is that we are now subject to both a good and an evil inclination within ourselves (the serpent represented evil as an external influence).

    At least that's how I understand it. This helps me comprehend how Anne Frank could say something like, "I believe that people are really good at heart".

  7. Judah, the answer is simple, let scripture interpret scripture...

    Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any wild animal which YHWH, Elohim, had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You are not to eat from any tree in the garden'?"


    Rev 12:9 The great dragon was thrown out, that ancient serpent, also known as the Devil and Satan [the Adversary], the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.

    Rev 20:2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan [the Adversary], and chained him up for a thousand years.

  8. Excellent.

    You're right: Revelation explicitly labels "the ancient serpent" as Satan.

    Assuming "the ancient serpent" is referring to the serpent in the Garden -- a reasonable assumption -- this means the New Testament confirms that the serpent in the Garden was Satan.

    I think this answers the question. And it shows the CNN article to imply something that's false. Nice!

  9. Got an answer back from Jewish Life & Learning, in which he cites midrashim and the Talmud to support the idea that Satan was in the Garden:


    "The snake in the garden of Eden is identified as the personification of the "Yetzerh Harah" (Bad/evil will/desires/inclination) by the midrashim.

    The Talmud also states that the Yetzer Harah, Satan, and the angel of death are one. (Some might understand this to mean that they are 'bad things' which really are good, and necessary."


    If that answer is accurate, that Jewish midrash really does state the serpent was the evil inclination, and that the Talmud says the evil inclination is Satan, then it seems the Jewish and Christian worlds generally agree that the serpent in the Garden was Satan, and this CNN article implies a falsehood.

    As far as I'm concerned, case closed.

  10. You can't keep a good blogger down, to borrow a phrase. I was already going to blog about the nature of original sin/primordial sin for tomorrow's "morning meditation" (the blog is already written) Now, on the following day, I'll have to "take on" the serpent. It's not so much that I disagree with your conclusion Judah, but I want to expand upon the "serpent" identity.

    Hope you'll drop by my "place" tomorrow and then on Friday morning. Instead of shark week, maybe this should be "snake week".


  11. There's also the very interesting passage in Ezekiel 28:13-15, which goes on a bit longer, but essentially reads: "You were in Eden, the garden of G-d; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of G-d; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you."

    I've heard many speak of these verses as referring to ha satan.

  12. Very interesting, Luke, I wasn't familiar with that passage. This may be yet more evidence in favor of the view that the serpent was Satan.

  13. OK, as promised, today's "morning meditation" is the first in a three-part series addressing the primordial sin, as it's referred to in Judaism ("original sin" is a uniquely Christian concept). The big question is how two people who only knew God and only had one commandment to obey could even be tempted.

    Tomorrow is Part 2: "The Primordial Serpent" which addresses you-know-who.

  14. Hey Judah ~ I'm not certain that the presence of ha satan in the garden makes him the serpent automatically, though I can't really argue against the idea either. I've always thought of him as being close by, speaking through the serpent, somehow, but the text doesn't even hint at that - just my imagination, really.

    More interesting than that, though, is that the root of the word nachash, translated "serpent" here, is actually just an onomatopoeia for the sound of hissing or whispering. It's used elsewhere many times to refer to divination and soothsayers.

    Perhaps the being wasn't a snake at all - and it certainly wasn't at first anyway, since it is subsequently sentenced to crawl on it's belly, whereas snakes haven't any option but to do so.

    While the preceding verse says that "the serpent was the most cunning beast in the field", the word translated "beast" is simply "living thing" and "field" is a "cultivated land", which could simply be a garden. Therefore, it could just as easily be translated that "the whisperer was the smartest lifeform in the garden".

    Further, if it really was just a snake, the prophecy in verse 15, which is widely understood to be Messianic in nature, merely becomes a prediction that mankind will always be fearful of snakes, which isn't completely true either. Something to think about.

  15. God helps those who help themselves.
    Spare the rod, spoil the child.
    God works in mysterious ways.
    Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
    Pride goes before a fall.
    This, too, shall pass.
    Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
    Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.

    These ~quotes~ are from paraphrased and interpolated translations/versions, not the Authorized Version.

  16. Don't forget the "Three Wise Men" visiting the manger.