To recap where we are at in the study at this point, we are now between the finished Creation and the Fall of humanity. At this point, Adam and Eve are living the life of perfection in the Garden of Eden, and their home is also a holy sanctuary. However, because man was given a free will as part of his creation by God Himself, events would soon unfold that would change man's destiny. In the next several lessons of this series, we are going to discuss the Fall and the events leading up to it, and as we do so it is to remind us of how we can avoid the fatal mistake of Adam when we fall short, and although we are not immune to the effects of the Fall, we can overcome.
Genesis 3 is set up like a courtroom scenario. You have a premeditated act, an interrogation, an alibi on the part of the accused, and a sentence being pronounced. As a paralegal by trade myself, I can appreciate that analogy, because it also shows that one of God's offices is as the righteous judge, and this chapter exemplifies that divine office well. The first thing we want to talk about though is the serpent, and that will take up a good portion of this first lesson.
One major issue that theologians and Biblical scholars have debated over the centuries is this - at what point were Lucifer and the other angels created? If one maintains that sin and death didn't enter the world until mankind's transgression in the Garden, which is the position of the Church and its teaching, then one is compelled to accept that the angels were created at the same time as the rest of the universe. This is a position maintained by many Church Fathers, notably Athanagoras, who taught that the angels were created by God with control of matter and had free will. Also, although Lucifer is named as one of the four original archangels in Scripture, he is also the only one who fell from grace too. The third of the angels that Scripture records rebelled with him were of lesser rank. So, then, we now get into the details of how Satan fell.
The account of Satan's fall from grace is not found in Genesis, but is rather in Isaiah 14:12 and in Ezekiel 28:12-15. Satan was the title that this angelic being assumed when he fell, and the word means "adversary." Prior to his fall, Satan was given another name by God, and that was Lucifer, which comes from St. Jerome's Vulgate translation and is a Latin title meaning "bearer of light." The passage in Ezekiel tells what he was like before his fall, as he was said to have been wise and very beautiful in nature. He is also called in this passage the "anointed cherub who covers," and until he allowed the inquity that caused his fall, he was perfect in every way. As Aquinas correctly taught, in his being Lucifer was created good, but in succumbing to the sin of pride it corrupted him. Using Aquinas as a reference in his Summa, let's take that up for a moment.
If Lucifer was created perfect, and was in the very presence of God, then where did this pride that compelled him to rebel come from? To answer that, we look at Aquinas' Question 75 in the Summa, which deals with the general causes of sin. Aquinas puts forth the idea that there are three fundamental facts about sin:
1. Sin is not just the privation of good, but also that act which is subject of the privation.
2. Though sin has a cause, it is not a necessary cause - that means that sin is an act of the will and not a result of original nature.
3. Evil does not necessarily cause sin, but is the lack of good which leads to temptation which births sin. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II (i), as published by Middlesex: Echo Library, 2007. p. 339).
So, evil then exists in the privation of good, and evil provides the environment for base temptations to grow into sinful actions. Somehow, Satan allowed this to happen to him, and his weakness - pride - led to a mortal fall from grace. Therefore, rather than losing his initial goodness as God created him, Satan became corrupted in his being to a degree it transformed him into evil itself. Jesus, Who we as Christians believe to be God the Son, was present from the beginning (John 1:1, Hebrews 13:8), and with authority He says as recorded in Luke 10:18 that He "beheld Satan falling like lightning" from the heavenlies. So, we know now that Satan fell, and also why he fell (Isaiah 14:13), but with the insights Aquinas gives us, we also understand how pride entered his heart and caused him to fall. So, when he fell, he fell with the angels who rebelled with him to the earth, and Satan has continued a futile and obsessive mission to dethrone God, and he was about to find a willing tool in God's glorious creation, mankind. The way he chooses to do it is not to appear as himself, but rather in disguise, which is now what the next part of this discussion deals with.
Ask anyone (especially many women!) what creature they fear the most is, and many would unanimously say a snake. Why are snakes so fearsome to people? While it is true that many species of snake are dangerous - some with potent venom, others with sheer bulk of size and muscle, such as the python - it must also be remembered that God created the snake too, and because He created it, the snake is a magnificent creature. A little over 18 months ago, I came to understand what a magnificent creature a snake is when on a chilly December night I discovered a juvenile red king snake lethargically clinging to our water hose outside the front door. Feeling sorry for the little guy, I brought him in and he spent the night in a Tupperware bowl I set up as a makeshift shelter for him, until somehow he got out and exited out the drain in the bathtub. To be honest, he was a docile creature, and was sort of cute in his own way - king snakes actually have a docile nature, and they can be successfully kept as pets by even young children. And, just keeping him for one cold December night gave me a great appreciation for the little creature. When the Bible refers to Satan as a "serpent," it is not a condemnation of snakes in general, but as we will see the type of serpent referred to is not anything like the young coral snake I took in for the night or even a venomous cobra - rather, the Fathers of the Church believed it to be a different creature altogether, although related. The serpent talked about in Scripture is actually called by the Hebrew word nachash, which is the same word used, according to Dr. Scott Hahn, in passages such as Isaiah 27:1 and in Job 26:13, and the word is synonymous in those passages with the word "dragon." As for this creature as a tool of deception, Dr. Hahn says that because this thing was so imposing and deadly, God permitted Adam to undergo the test with it, and this talking serpent utilized one thing that humans had been created to dread instinctly - death (Scott Hahn, First Comes Love. New York: Doubleday, 2002. pp. 68-69). Although Dr. Hahn is a great scholar whom I have had the blessed privelege of having as an instructor for graduate Theology courses, I would respectfully disagree with him on some aspects of this, as many of the Church Fathers thought of the serpent as being a friend of man, and even like a pet - Severian of Gabala, for instance, actually stated that the serpent was a friend of man, and that its closeness to humanity made it the prime candidate as a tool of deception. As St. Ephrem also notes, man could understand and communicate with this creature as well. Based on all of that, here is the scenario I see happening - Satan took the form of a nachash in order to carry out an act of deception, and thus it also harmed the relationship between the man and the serpent to this day, which is why so many people now associate snakes with evil and fear. Any rate, a Creation Science ministry constructed a model of what a nachash may have looked like, and it does bear resemblance to a species of dinosaur, as you can see here: