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Satan the Shining One

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Everyone knows the story of Eve and the Serpent in the Garden. Our familiarity with the account has removed all questions we might have regarding the event. But what if those questions were brought back into our consciences? How would we answer them?

How did the serpent speak? Snakes don’t have vocal cords. Wasn’t Eve surprised when the snake spoke up? Did any of the other animals speak? How clever was the snake and why isn’t it so clever anymore? Before it was cursed to crawl on its belly, how many legs did it have? Did it stand on two legs or walk on four?

I began thinking about this after reading, “This was His Faith” by the great G. Campbell Morgan. In it, He makes the following points regarding Genesis 3:1:

“’any beast of the field’ is misleading.”

“‘chay’, which means simply ‘living things’”

“Nawshash or ‘shining one’”

“Satan appeared to the woman as a ‘shining one’”

Wait a second. What was G. Campbell Morgan saying? Did he mean that the “serpent” was not a “serpent” but a “shining one”? I needed to do some more research. I found the appendix in the Companion Bible, edited by EW Bullinger. Researching Bullinger, I am not sure I would agree with everything he believes, but I think what he says regarding this has value.

I am going to do more research on this. I might want to add it to my book, “Rethinking Some Popular Christian Teachings” if it turns out to be fully valid.

In the meantime, I don’t have much to add to Bullinger’s Appendix 19, so I recommend that you click on the link and read it yourself. What I’ll do here is give you a summary.

The Serpent

First, I will quote the start of the Appendix:

In Genesis 3 we have neither allegory, myth, legend, nor fable, but literal historical facts set forth, and emphasised by the use of certain Figures of speech.

Bullinger makes the point that we have confused a Figure (serpent) for a literal object (Satan). We would not make this mistake if not for Genesis 3:14.

…On your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life; – Genesis 3:14

We don’t make this mistake when we read Revelation 12:9 or Revelation 20:2.

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; – Revelation 12:9

And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; – Revelation 20:2

In other words, normally we don’t actually think of Satan as a serpent. We recognize “serpent” as a Figure. Nachash, translated “serpent” in Genesis 3:1, means shining one and in Chaldee it means brass or copper. The word “Nehushtan”, in 2 Kings 18:4, comes from this.

In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul says he fears that the Corinthians would be deceived by the serpent in the same way that Eve was. Certainly, he does not think they will be deceived by a snake, but Satan. Eleven verses later, in 2 Corinthians 11:14, Paul tells us that Satan is an angel of light. Paul has put together that the serpent is a shining one.

Bullinger writes:

 We cannot conceive Eve as holding converse with a snake, but we can understand her being fascinated[1] by one, apparently “an angel of light” (i.e. a glorious angel), possessing superior and supernatural knowledge.


When Satan is spoken of as a “serpent”… it no more means a snake than it does when Dan is so called in Genesis 49:17; or an animal when Nero is called a “lion” (2 Timothy 4:17), or when Herod is called a “fox” (Luke 13:32); or when Judah is called “a lion’s whelp” (Genesis 49:9).

Heel-bruising, Head-crushing, Belly-crawling and Dust-eating

Other figures are used in Genesis 3:15. We don’t think Satan will actually simply bruise Christ’s heel. “He shall crush the head” surely means more than crushing the head of a serpent. The former means that Christ will be crucified; the latter that His Resurrection, Ascension and Second Coming will bring utter defeat to Satan and his plans.

One verse earlier, we read “on your belly you will go” (Genesis 3:14). In Ezekiel 28:17, Satan is cast to the ground because his wisdom was corrupted by his brightness. We understand properly that being cast to the ground means ultimate humiliation. Just like Psalm 44:25 means utter submission.

“Dust you shall eat” is no different than “his mouth shall be filled with gravel” (Proverbs 20:17). Nor does “biting and devouring one each other” (Galatians 5:15) mean cannibalism.

These are all figures of speech. We see it in the promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15. The punishment of the shining one in the previous verse (Genesis 3:14) is similar in substance and style. It should become clear that these are being written in figurative language.

Hence, there would seem to be good evidence that when Eve spoke to that Serpent of old, it wasn’t an actual serpent; it was Satan, appearing as a shining one.

Our Turn

I will do some more study on this. I will let you know if it turns out that Morgan’s and Bullinger’s argument is faulty. Please do your own research as well and let me know in the comments below if you find anything that would be helpful.


[1] It is remarkable that the verb nachash always means to enchant, fascinate, bewitch; or of one having and using occult knowledge. See Genesis 30:27; 44:5, 15. Leviticus 19:26. Deuteronomy 18:10. 1 Kings 20:33. 2 Kings 17:17; 21:6. 2 Chronicles 33:6. So also is the noun used in Numbers 23:23; 24:1. (From Bullinger’s Appendix 19)