A new book on Adam and Eve and the human origins debate by Old Testament scholar John H. Walton has created significant buzz this week at Patheos. We invited our Facebook followers to try and stump our scholar, by asking Dr. Walton any question related to the book they wanted.
We received some 45 comments and questions– from the serious (“Assuming the Genesis stories are allegorical, what are the lessons we should take away from them?”) to the silly (“Did they have bellybuttons?”). Today, and for the next several Thursdays, Dr. Walton will respond to selected questions from our Facebook challenge.
FB Question: How did it come about that Christian denominations almost universally interpret the serpent in Eden as being Satan, or controlled by Satan, when the Genesis account doesn’t describe it as being anything other than a snake – a talking one, but a snake nevertheless? (The punishment God doles out to the snake – of being hated by humans and crawling on the ground – seems to confirm that. In the conventional ‘fall of Lucifer’ mythology, Satan has already been punished at that point.)
The interpretation of the serpent as Satan develops in the intertestamental period and is clearly accepted in the New Testament (Rom. 16:20; Revelation 12). The Church Fathers were not interested in the original ancient Near Eastern context or in the beliefs of the ancient Israelites. Their debate was whether the serpent actually was Satan or was simply controlled by him. They could not easily conceive of the evil introduced by the serpent in any other way.
For more information about the history of the Serpent/Satan discussion you could look in my commentary either on Genesis or on Job. In the Old Testament, Satan is not a personal name and is not a designation of the chief of devils. In fact, there is no “devil” in Israelite theology. Lucifer is a Latin term and the traditional translation of “Lucifer” in Isa. 14:12 in the King James Version has been eliminated by all modern translations.
For more on The Lost World of Adam and Eve, visit the Patheos Book Club here.