From Vern Poythress’ New Release, In the Beginning Was the Word: Language, A God-Centered Approach
An Excerpt from “The Fall Into Sin” (pp. 104-105).
The events leading to the fall did not really begin with Adam and Eve, but with the serpent. The serpent said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Gen. 3:1). The fall began with language. It began with an insidious question, framed in language that the woman understood. Language played a central role in the fall, and we may suspect that it continues to play a central role in the ongoing effects of the fall.
Serpents do not normally talk. Among God’s earthly creatures, human beings alone have the capacity for complex, fully articulate language. Yet this particular serpent did talk. He began with a question that concealed its spirit of attack un- derneath a seemingly innocent request for clarification. But his next utterance unveiled his bold opposition to God: “You will not surely die.”
Clearly this was no ordinary serpent. Adam and Eve themselves could have seen that, even without any further information. It should be no surprise, then, that the Bible later on lifts the veil a little more to indicate that behind the literal snake stood a more crafty, bold, and determined opponent, namely, Satan, a powerful spirit, a fallen, rebellious archangel, who is denominated “that ancient serpent” (Rev. 12:9; 20:2; see Isa. 27:1). He is “the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). His deceit began in the garden. But, as the book of Revelation indicates, it continues to this day. So it is worthwhile to think about the deceitful use of language in this one case, in order to have a framework for understanding the deceitful use of language throughout history.
Satan already attempted to deceive Eve in his first question, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Gen. 3:1). He insinuated that God could withhold from Eve what was good. The deceit then escalated when Satan directly contradicted God’s earlier statement by saying, “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4; contradicting 2:17).
Rebellion against God involves the use of language, and the use of the mind, to undermine and obscure knowledge of key truths about humanity, about the world (the tree), and also about God. The denial concerning the effect of eating from the tree is a denial about future events in the world. But it is also indirectly a denial concerning God. The serpent seems to concede that Eve is correct about what God said, but insists that God is lying. The serpent implies that either God does not have the power or he does not have the willingness to bring the penalty of death. Probably, suggests the serpent, God never intended to execute the death penalty in the first place, but is merely producing a vain threat in order jealously to keep some benefits for himself alone, and to keep Eve from enjoying them. Maybe the serpent’s speech is all the more effective because he does not directly blurt out all his conclusions and all his ideas about God, but allows Eve to follow the trail of insinuations herself, and to arrive at her own conclusions.
Learn more about In the Beginning Was the Word.