Was the Serpent Crafty?
(Did God Originate Evil?)
A Study of Genesis 3:1
Is God the primary cause behind the terrorist acts of ISIS? Was God the primary cause behind the antisemitism of the holocaust? Is God the primary cause behind tragedies, rape, birth defects, and abuse of children? These and other profound questions boil down to asking, “Did God originate evil?”
Is there a one-to-one contingency between the will of God and every contingency of life? Many say yes. This view is called determinism or meticulous sovereignty. It explains the presence of evil in the following way: “God ordains tragedy in our lives in order to display his sovereign glory over our lives.” Did you catch that word? God ordains tragedy. God is the primary cause behind tragedy, whether the terrorist acts of ISIS, Hitler, or Lee Harvey Oswald or the leukemia that took your friend.
Can Such a God Still be Worthy of Worship?
While there are good people who view God as the originator of evil, who hold to the tenets of determinism and meticulous sovereignty, such a view poses a challenge to those of us committed to worshiping, adoring, and loving the triune God, a God in whom there is no trace of evil, falsehood, a God who is pure love, a God worthy of worship.
Can we find genuine comfort with such a view of God? Is there an answer to this challenge? If God did not originate evil, then where did it come from?
Jesus and Evil
My assumption is that when we encounter Jesus in the four Gospels, we encounter the living embodiment of Israel’s God. And it is from Jesus Christ the Lord and Son of God that we learn how God relates to suffering, sin, death, and all evil.
Does Jesus speak or act in any way that implies that evil and death and sin are a part of God’s original, eternal purposes? The question is not, “does God allow such?” or “does God use evil?” or even “does God overrule evil?” The question is: does Jesus by virtue of what he did and what he said reveal that sin and death originated as a primal cause in the heart of his Father in heaven? Does Jesus support the view that God originated evil? Or does he take an opposing view?
The Serpent in Genesis 3:1
The first explicit chapter of evil in time-space occurred, it seems, in Genesis 3:1. Spoiling the tranquility of the garden paradise was the presence of an evil creature, the serpent, whom the apostle John calls “Satan” (Rev 20:2).
Why did God allow the serpent to be on Eden Mountain in the first place? Was the serpent evil when he was allowed to enter? Or, did he become evil after entrance into the Garden? Who allowed him climb the mountain and spoil the first paradise? What was his job description there anyhow?
These and other related questions have been asked by generations of thinking people. They are good questions. The answers to them are legion, confusing, and troubling to many people.
The Garden was Good for People
We need to back up in the Genesis text first. The Genesis text in chapters 1 &2 makes it appear that the Garden located in the eastern part of Eden was a good place for Adam and Eve. In fact, it was a good place. Except for day #2, the LORD God’s visual evaluation of each day was that it was tov, good, helpful to the humans who would be put there, beneficial for their occupation as priests and rulers.
So, from one perspective, the mountain garden was a good place for people. Using language used to describe the tabernacle, the garden is depicted as the first holy of holies, the dwelling place of humans and the LORD God. It was the first sanctuary.
The Garden was Dangerous for People
But it was also a dangerous place, for also on the mountain was one of God’s creatures—over whom Adam and Eve were to rule as kings and queens and have dominion, a creature who caused them to doubt God’s goodness, wisdom, and power.
This creature posed a threat to the close fellowship they enjoyed with God. The creature persuaded them to distrust God’s claim that He alone knew what was good (Tov, good for them) and what was evil (to them). This creature foreshadows the Canaanites in the Promised Land who also deceived the Israelites into distrusting God’s Word.
Why Did God Allow the Serpent into the Garden?
But the questions still begs. Why did God allow the serpent onto Eden Mountain? What was he doing there? Part of the answer is found in the word used to describe the creature in Genesis 3:1. Traditional translations render 3:1 as: “Now the serpent was more crafty (עָר֔וּם) than all the creatures of the field.”
This translation suggests that God is responsible for putting a crafty (evil) creature into the mountain Garden. God, it seems, was also responsible for making a crafty creature, and thus, is associated with the origin of evil. God, it seems, is responsible for the origin of evil. Evil just didn’t happen.
Is God Responsible for Evil?
But I would suggest that God is not the origin of evil or responsible for placing an evil creature into the mountain Garden, the first Holy of Holies. Think it over. Why would God intentionally place a creature predisposed to evil—crafty--in a holy of holies, a sanctuary evaluated as good, a sanctuary where He fellowshiped with man and woman?
The answers to these questions depend upon on how we should render the Hebrew word rwm (עָר֔וּם), translated as crafty (3:1).
“Now the serpent was more crafty than all the creatures in the field.”
Clearly, the viewpoint of the translation is negative. Crafty is not viewed as a virtue. The mention of the serpent seems ominous.
We assume, perhaps, that such a rendering of rwm (עָר֔וּם; more crafty) is the only option. But a literary analysis of Genesis 3 suggests otherwise. I would suggest that a literary analysis of Genesis 3 provides us with another translation which is found in ancient translations of the Scriptures (the Septuagint, LXX, 200 B.C.), and is also supported by how Jesus used the same exact word in Gospel narratives. Jesus does not use the word in a negative way with the idea of “crafty.”
By utilizing the Jewish Greek Scripture and Jesus’ understanding of this important word, we can locate answers to some seminal questions:
- When did the serpent (Satan) fall? Was the serpent crafty? Was it evil when it was placed into the garden?
- Did evil originate with God?
- Is God responsible for the presence of evil in this world? Is determinism true? Is there a one-to-one correspondence between the will of God and every evil act in history?
- If so, how can evil originate in the heart of God whose nature is pure love, goodness, and truth?
Then, why not join us for expository studies both in the Old and New Testament in our Sunday morning worship services.
Thank for reading.
 The word tov is one of the threads that the writer uses to weave together Genesis 1-3. The omission of “tov,” “good” on day #2, is the key to its definition as “good for people, beneficial for people, helpful for their life in God’s presence.”
 The Hebrew word “to rule” in Gen 1:26, 28 is the same word used of Israel’s kings and military captains to subjugate and conquer their enemies in the Promised Land. The word has the idea of ruling to conquer and is militaristic in connotation. Adam and Eve are depicted as king and queen, charged to rule over the inhabitants in the Land as well. They failed to to conquer the serpent in the Land just as Israel failed to conquer the Canaanites in the Land.
 In Hebrew narrative, when the author changes his subject and starts a new topic, he uses a special construction which is conspicuous in nature to readers of Hebrew. The special construction is waw plus a non-verb. This construction is first used in 1:2 where a new subject is introduced after the statement of creation in 1:1. He begins a new, much smaller topic in 1:2. The phrase, “Now the land (or earth) was…” signals a new topic. The same construction is also used in 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty….”