By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
In this article we continue providing replies to objections against the Bible narrative about the fall of our first parents.
Fourth objection: If the serpent that tempted Eve was not a real serpent but an evil spirit disguised as a serpent, why did God punish the whole serpent tribe by cursing them from among all cattle and wild animals? It is not fair for the poor things!
Reply: God’s sentence was not directed against a mere creeping animal but against a wicked spirit. He did not curse or punish the “serpent-tribe.” This is clear from what we read elsewhere in the Scriptures: Psalm 148, for example, calls on all creatures, living and lifeless, including “beasts and all cattle, creeping things [which includes serpents of course] and flying birds” (v. 10), to chant the praise of their Creator. All creatures of God, who compose the universe, are called to chant the praise of their Creator, by their existence and functions.
When the psalmist calls irrational and inanimate creatures to sing the divine praises, it is merely an expressive, poetic way of declaring that these things, by the very nature, received from God gifts and are witnesses in the sight of men and angels to God’s power and wisdom. The flight of the eagle, the agility of the tiger, the elegance of the butterfly, the harmony of colors in the rainbow, the majesty of a waterfall, everything in the universe chants the beauty, the power, the grandeur of their Creator.
And to show that God does not have a discriminatory objection to the “serpent-tribe,” He used a bronze serpent (Num. 21) to heal the people of Israel in the desert, and to this day the picture of a serpent on a pole is the symbol of the medical profession in many places.
And, as I have noted before, Jesus exhorts us to be simple as doves and as cunning as serpents — especially, I add, in the great work of defending the faith!
Now, it is true that we folks look on certain animals as our enemies, such as termites, insects, and scorpions, among many others. But all these are God’s creatures, good in themselves and beloved of Him.
Fifth Objection: In any event, it is most improbable that the evil spirit would have taken the form of a serpent. It is more likely that he would take the form of a man.
Reply: Why is it improbable? The form of a serpent is no more alien to a spirit than the form of a man. Satan is not more at home in the form of a man than in the form of a serpent. Besides, in permitting Satan to tempt Eve, God did not allow him to overpower her imagination by an appearance of a being similar to her. If the Devil had appeared to her as a magnificent specimen of mankind, woman or man, she might have been deceived by the appearances.
But the lowly shape of a serpent which the Devil was compelled to assume left her mind perfectly open to the truth: It was a spirit disguised as an animal, and she was in the presence of one who was no worthy rival of God. He was but a mere creature like herself. It was someone who was guilty of great wickedness in telling her that she would not die — affirming therefore that God had lied to her — and disputing the divine command to obey and urging her to disobey.
Moreover, God our Lord foresaw the fall of our first parents: He did not cause it; He foresaw it. And, thinking of us, He desired that Adam and Eve and their descendants should hold before our minds the picture of the Evil One as a treacherous and dangerous reptile.
Impressive how God uses His creatures to teach us truths! Contrast this picture of a sly, cunning, creeping serpent tempting our parents — as he does to us — with another picture God has given us. At the Baptism of His Son in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, a radiant image symbolizing love and innocence and peace.
Conclusion: The doctrine that Satan “under the form of a serpent” tempted Eve has undoubtedly been revealed by God: No reasonable interpretation of the passage in Genesis could lead to any other conclusion.
Besides, it is expressly repeated by St. Paul: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning” (2 Cor. 11:3; cf. Apoc. 12:9; 20:2).
From another point of view, we also know that, outside the few points decided by the Church, orthodox Bible scholars are allowed to propose suitable interpretations of the narrative of the fall, as long as they are in accord with reason and Tradition, and show reverence for the word of God.
In any event, the fact remains that Satan’s guilt has remained unchanged since his fall. His punishment for it did not increase his suffering, but showed in a new way God’s anger toward him.
Ignoring Official Teaching
To finish this section, a word about the Protestant tendency to encourage people to interpret the Bible according to their individual whims. This tendency is becoming rather commonplace among Catholics who indulge in what they call “Bible studies,” but which in reality are nothing but sharing their individual opinions about this or that Bible text.
They often raise objections to the narration of the first fall.
They make this first mistake by depending on the English translation only, interpreting it as though it were the original, and making no allowance for the great difference between the ancient and modern ways of speech. They forget that Moses did not speak English!
Their second mistake is that they pick and choose certain isolated passages in the Bible without regard to what is stated elsewhere in the same Book: They often take a text out of context and use it as a pretext.
Their third mistake is that they very often ignore the ancient commentaries of the fathers of the Church, and the writings of those approved Catholic scholars who have made a profound study of the sacred text. They seem to think that the Bible was given to the world just the other day, falling in a parachute, already translated into English and neatly printed in a book — if not in an e-book format for their tablets. . . .
Their final mistake is to ignore the official teaching of the Church about faith and morals, as it is stated in the Catechism. There is no true Bible study among people who ignore the Catechism.
Next article: Replying to more objections.
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(Raymond de Souza is an EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI]; president of the Sacred Heart Institute, and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His website is: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)