Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

What relationship does the Serpent in Genesis 3 have to Satan?

The Serpent in Genesis 3 is never referred to as Satan in Genesis.  Perhaps most important in the text of Genesis 3 is (1) his consistent denial of God’s Word from 2:16-17; and (2) the divine judgment of 3:15.  Genesis 3:15 has been used to argue for a simple hatred of people for snakes.  However, the phrase “her seed,” that is, “seed of the woman,” is unusual.  Normally it is the seed of a man that brings about children.  Here, the seed of the woman, while not otherwise unknown, is unusual and opens the door for a special offspring that the Church Fathers understood as a reference to the Virgin Birth and thus Jesus.  The conflict is between the Serpent (not specifically his seed which does not appear after its first mention) and the seed of the woman, which is between Satan and Jesus.  This battle is already suggested in the New Testament in the readings of the Temptation of Jesus, in Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13.  

Satan occurs as a figure so named only in three occasions in the Old Testament: 1 Chron. 21:1; Job 1-2; and Zech. 3:1-2.  Nowhere is the connection made with Genesis.  In Job and Zechariah the term is always with a definite article, as though to identify an office (“the Accuser”) rather than a person.  It occurs elsewhere as a common noun in the sense of “adversary” (e.g., 1 Sam. 29:4).  In the Intertestamental literature forms of Satan appear more frequently in opposition to God; perhaps influenced by the dualism of Persian religion.  The thinking here would be that if one has God, one needs an opposite.   Rabbinic literature from c. AD 200 and on identify Satan with the Serpent ( Soṭa 9b; Sanhedrin 29a) of Genesis 3. In the New Testament Satan appears dozens of times.  His identification as a liar (John 8:44) and deceiver (Rev. 10:9) invites comparison with Genesis 3:1-4 where the Serpent’s words deny and directly contradict those of God in 2:16-17. The closest connection in the New Testament with the snake of Genesis 3 is the picture of Revelation 12 where the snake, there a dragon (clearly identified with Satan), attacks the woman and the child (Jesus, identified with the Messiah who will rule the world) in an attempt to destroy them.  

For these reasons one can see a consistent connection of Satan with the Serpent of Genesis 3.

Go to top