Is Satan in Genesis 3?
Summarizing Genesis chapter 3, the serpent appears to Eve in the Garden of Eden and tempts her by (1) questioning God’s Word (v. 1, “Did God actually say”) and (2) questioning God’s character (v. 4, “You will not surely die”). Eve is deceived, eats from the forbidden tree, gives the fruit to her husband, and he also eats. As a result of their sin, they are awakened to their nakedness and attempt to provide a covering for their own sin (v. 7). Then, when God makes an appearance, their rebellion and guilt is evidenced by their attempt to hide from Him (v. 8). God gives them an opportunity to confess their sin but Adam blames Eve (and God) and Eve blames the serpent (vv. 12-13). God then pronounces judgment upon the serpent, then Eve, and, lastly, Adam (vv. 14-19). The chapter ends with God providing the only proper covering of sin, namely, an innocent substitutionary blood sacrifice (v. 21), and forces the couple from the Garden to keep them away from the Tree of Life (vv. 22-24).
It is often claimed that the temptation of Adam and Eve was the work of Satan, the father of lies, the deceiver, the devil. Yet this being is never mentioned in the story of Genesis 3. So is Satan in Genesis 3?
I see three possible answers to the question:
1. No, Satan is not present in Genesis 3. The temptation is the work of an animal, a serpent.
2. Yes, the serpent in chapter 3 is actually Satan.
3. Yes, the serpent in chapter 3 is an actual animal but is being used by Satan to tempt mankind.
I dismiss the first possibility outright. Nothing in Scripture indicates the sin we see in the world is the result of the temptation of a sinful animal. Animals, unlike man, do not have the ability of fellowship with God because they are not created in the Imago Dei. Scripture never speaks of animals possessing a moral faculty, an ability to make moral choices, such as rebelling against God. So, apart from some evil outside entity, no serpent would have ever come to Adam and Eve, talked with them, and tempted them to sin.
Therefore, I conclude Satan is in the chapter. The question now remains, is Satan alone or is he using an actual serpent to accomplish his mission?
Based on Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-15 (which I will not discuss here), we understand Satan to have been a heavenly spirit being, an angel, who, in his pride, rebelled against God and led other angels to do so as well. Satan and his cohorts were cast down to the earth (Ephesians 2:1 refers to him as the “prince of the power of the air”) and they have continually tempted and tormented man. Revelation 12:9 records, “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.” Revelation 20:2 also refers to him as “the dragon, that ancient serpent”.
The references to Satan as “that ancient serpent” directly connect the thoughts of Revelation with Genesis 3. The phrase “the deceiver of the whole world” is also an allusion to the time when he, indeed, deceived the whole world, namely, the time when he deceived Adam and Eve which, as a result, led to the fall of all mankind.
Furthermore, the proclamation made by God as part of the judgment upon the serpent in Genesis 3:15 certainly extend beyond the simple understand of a man bruising the head of some serpent. The offspring of woman bruising the head of the serpent is a far more serious injury than the bruising of the man by the serpent. God is not simply talking about men killing snakes here. Given the references in Revelation 12 and 20, it appears obvious the serpent’s offspring in Genesis 3:15 is a reference to Satan himself.
The “offspring of woman” also implies a son born without a human father and, therefore, is a picture of Christ. God is communicating to the first humans there is hope for mankind against this tempter. One will come who will deal a deadly blow to the head of the serpent, namely, Satan. Did Christ actually accomplish such a task?
The Scriptures clearly say “yes”. Hebrews 2:14 reads, “...he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” John writes, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31) Paul, speaking of Christ’s work on the cross, writes, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15) And, because of Christ’s victory over Satan, those who are His true followers no longer have to listen to the temptations of the devil. (James 4:7)
Finally, I also believe there is an actual, physical serpent in the Genesis 3 account. God’s judgment against the serpent in Genesis 3:14 calls for the serpent to live on his belly forever. Obviously, this reference can not be to Satan since he does not possess a physical body. Hence, this part of the curse must be applied to an animal, an actual serpent which Satan has used in order to tempt Adam and Eve that day in the garden.
That is why I hold to the 3rd possible answer to the question “Is Satan in Genesis 3?” Yes, he is. However, the serpent in chapter 3 is an actual animal being used by Satan to tempt mankind.