Out of the mouth of the serpent – Genesis 3

by David Bidnell.

It’s not fair! Why should it be me who always gets the blame? Why are people so fearful of me and my descendants? Why is it that down the ages people have so despised snakes and thought of them as unpleasant, slippery, cunning creatures that are only out to cause harm and damage?

It’s not fair that I get accused of bringing temptation and evil into the world. It’s certainly not fair that a poor translation of a single Hebrew word – arum  – has rendered me so vulnerable to vilification and oppression. Crafty? Cunning? These are neither accurate nor appropriate. A far better – and fairer – translation would be “insightful”. Clever, perhaps, but insightful is the most adequate.

After all, I only spoke the truth – and offered an alternative perspective on life.

I was suspicious that God hadn’t been telling the truth. “If you eat from that tree you will surely die” he had instructed the woman. Well, God might have thought that God could control what those human beings knew and did not know, but, as I have already mentioned, I am more insightful than that. I knew the game he was up to – the desire for blind obedience from subservient subjects who never have the imagination or courage to think or act alternatively. And I know there is more to life than this. The truth was, of course, that the woman would not die simply from eating fruit. She did not need to be tempted, so much as to be invited to explore, to see truth as a journey, to travel towards self-awareness, self-understanding, self-knowledge.

We know that blind obedience has its attractions – no responsibility, no risk. The master-servant relationship helps to keep the boundaries well-defined – helps to keep order – Upstairs, Downstairs. Why is it, I wonder, that so many people are captivated by dramas from the old days where the master/servant, patron/client relationship is so clearly marked out? Is it relief that things are not like that anymore? Or is it an unconscious yearning for a world where hierarchies,  obedience and limits lend a sense of security?

God doesn’t like me – well, that’s an understatement. So it’s no wonder that humans don’t find me appealing. God doesn’t like me because I called God’s bluff, because I dared to offer an alternative to a regime of control, ignorance and sleepiness. “Wake up”, I said, when God would have preferred the woman and the man to carry on snoring. God doesn’t like me because I told the truth. And it was the truth – the woman didn’t die. She actually got the chance to live. What’s more she got the opportunity to live outside that garden, that place of tedious comfort and stifling obedience. Who was it who said, “The truth will make you free”?

It has been sad to see this story of adventure, courage and subversion turned into doctrine – Christian doctrine – by those who have had the audacity to claim that the story of honest exploration is nothing other than the fall of humanity, that everything started to go wrong when I interfered.

You see, difficulties arise when we try to start from the solution and move backwards towards the problem, if we begin with Jesus as the means of salvation and then identify “the garden experience” as the problem that Jesus dealt with. That’s why some have called Jesus the Second Adam. But doesn’t that strike you as an odd way round of doing things – knowing the solution and then looking for the problem – especially when “the garden experience” – the eating of the fruit of knowledge – was never a problem in the first place. If you ask me, it was the beginning of the flowering of humanity – the first step towards awareness, meaningful relationship and maturity.

7 thoughts on “Out of the mouth of the serpent – Genesis 3”

  1. I have long thought of the mythical ‘Eve’ as the first scientific thinker – the prototype of all those who have asked ‘What if?’ and actually risked something to find out. This insightful view from the serpent was a breath of fresh air!
    Thank you!


  2. A splendidly provocative and insightful piece. But Josie Smith has identified the all important question. – “What if? ” Never mind about the snake and Eve’s fall from grace to the supposed detriment of all humankind. “What if” – Jesus did not die for our sins? “What if” – Jesus was not the Son of God, but a rather unique human being? “What if” – our incorporation of the identity and purpose of Jesus into Christian Doctrine and Creeds is merely how first century men and women chose to interpret the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, and once the doctrinal statements were prescribed as true for all time by ancient bishops, no one dared to question them? What if? I only ask.


  3. Starting with a solution is a common problem. As a development worker for over 30 years I eventually saw solutions often conflict with the reality of the problem. “I need a website.” “What for?” “Well everyone has a website!” Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this tendency is Brexit. What is the problem to which Brexit is a solution? You may have an answer to this question but it won’t be the same as anyone else’s answer.

    A second issue that applies to the Jesus solution. We don’t necessarily understand what happened at the first Easter in the way the first Christians did. Their understanding seems to have been victory over death which is not the same as the much later (1000+years) atonement for sin. So, in that sense we have a solution in search of a problem. If we do not fear death we stand up to injustice – something we arguably need more of in the present age.


  4. The idea of an ideal living situation, where we are cared for and have everything we want without having to work, and all the difficult decisions are made for us, is superficially appealing. Christian doctrine offers a return to that kind of situation with the second coming, when the returning Jesus will sort out all the problems of the world, destroy our enemies, make everyone obey God’s rules, and set up the perfect situation where everyone will believe what we believe and there will be no suffering or sadness.
    We’ve all come across spoilt, pampered children who have not acquired any sense of values and have no concept of purpose or putting in effort. How does one develop spiritually, creatively or culturally when there are no challenges, nothing to strive for, no-one in need of any help or care?
    The danger of the doctrine is that it absolves us of any need to take action ourselves, because Jesus will sort everything out when he comes in the immediate future. Does “Take up your cross and follow me” really suggest that the future will be one where we live in a kind of charmed, protected child-like state?


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