With what we have considered thus far, we may proceed to examine in detail the events recounted in chapter three of Genesis – the first sin and fall from paradise.
At the end of the second account of creation, Adam and Eve are placed in the garden. God has revealed “it is not good that the man should be alone” and created animals and ultimately the female, Eve. (Gen 2.18-24 passim) The likeness of God within man draws him from isolation to communion. Even as God is in a Community of Persons (the Most Holy Trinity), the essence of man, itself possessing that image of God within him, impels him to seek community, to discover his humanity (as it were) in others. The harmony of male and female uncovers the abundance of humanity and reveals the image of God to man. Communion with God, intimacy with the Divine, is incarnated in the union of male and female and in the fellowship of community.
This is the setting at the opening of chapter three. Adam and Eve share communion in the garden with God, both with and through each other and with God. The spiritual intimacy of human life unfolds in its fullness in the paradise of communal intimacy with God.
a. The Serpent – Satan
It is striking then that chapter three begins with the serpent. “Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made.” (Gen 3.1a) We may immediately conclude that the serpent is not another God. God is the creator of all things. Therefore, the serpent is a creature. (Gen 1.1, Wis 11.25) As a creature, the serpent was created good since everything created by God is good. (Gen 1.31)
Yet, we see already in the tone of the text that the serpent (a ‘wild creature’) will play a discordant note in the history of the world. In fact, the serpent is not just some metaphorical “snake in the grass”, he the devil. Scripture does not dwell on the devil, but sufficient information is given that the Church has come to a clear understanding of who this creature is and the purpose over which he has given himself to accomplish.
The devil is often called Satan and is first mentioned by name in the book of Job. In Job, Satan is described as walking to and fro over the earth. (Job 1.7) He accuses Job of hypocrisy and causes a series of events designed to bring Job to despair. (Job 2 passim) In First Chronicles, Satan tempts David into ordering a census, contrary to the Will of God. (I Chr 21.1) In Zechariah, Satan is seen standing next to the high priest accusing him before God. (Zec 3.1f) The Apocalypse identifies Satan specifically as the serpent and reveals him to be an angel.
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Rev 12.9-10)We can thus conclude that Satan is a deceiver who accuses man before God. He existed before man was created, but is himself a creature nonetheless.
Further, he was himself cast out of heaven. Our Lord says of him, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10.18) The Wisdom of Solomon reveals that the reason for his fall was envy. “God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.” (Wis 2.23f) Moreover, our Lord says of him, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8.44)
From these passages and others, the Fathers of the Church have taught that Satan was a spiritual being created by God with wisdom and power. Yet Satan rebelled against God, and in his pride and envy attempts to deceive man into similar rebellion. How he seeks to accomplish this is seen in clear detail in Genesis chapter three.
Next Installment: Anatomy of the First Temptation