Questions From Readers
▪ How did the serpent in the garden of Eden communicate the temptation to Eve?
Genesis 3:1 says: “Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it began to say to the woman: ‘Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?’”
Different methods have been suggested as to how the serpent communicated with Eve, including that it did so through body language or gestures. For example, English cleric Joseph Benson commented: “In what way he spake to her we are not informed: but it seems most likely that it was by signs of some kind. Some, indeed, have supposed that reason and speech were then the known properties of serpents, and that, therefore, Eve was not surprised at his reasoning and speaking, which they think she otherwise must have been: but of this there is no proof.”*
It has been reasoned that the serpent’s very presence and actions could convey a message. Of course, it was not to animals, but to man (Adam) that God said: “As for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat . . . for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” (Genesis 2:17) Still, if the serpent—known to be very “cautious”—was on the tree, Eve might have concluded that the tree could not be so dangerous. The serpent could even have made beguiling movements that seemed to show that involvement with the tree had brought it benefits.
Yet mere body movements hardly account for all we read in Genesis 3:1-5, such as that the serpent indicated Eve would become like God and be able to decide what was good and what was bad. Furthermore, the inspired history states that the serpent “began to say to the woman.” Eve replied, logically in speech. Then, “the serpent said to the woman” something more. Holding, as Joseph Benson did, that the serpent communicated just with signs or movements would lead to the view that Eve responded in kind, replying with gestures.
The apostle Paul, though, referred to this incident and warned Corinthian Christians, “I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning, your minds might be corrupted.” That danger came from “false apostles, deceitful workers.” Certainly the threat that the “superfine apostles” presented was more than one through gestures and appearances; it took in their speech, their cunning words spoken to mislead others.—2 Corinthians 11:3, 5, 13.
However, the literal serpent did not have vocal cords that could utter speech, did it? There is nothing to suggest so. But neither did it need such. When Jehovah spoke to Balaam through a beast of burden, that did not mean that the she-ass possessed a complex voice box comparable to the one in Balaam’s human throat. We read: “Finally Jehovah opened the mouth of the ass and she said to Balaam . . .” Balaam answered that animal’s question, eliciting a further comment from this beast that of itself was incapable of uttering human speech. (Numbers 22:26-31) In that incident, Jehovah opened Balaam’s eyes to see present an angel, a superhuman spirit. So when this ‘voiceless beast of burden made utterance with the voice of a man,’ the cause and power of the deed came from the spirit realm.—2 Peter 2:16.
Well, then, did Jehovah use a form of miraculous ventriloquism? Perhaps, but we cannot be dogmatic as to the exact method employed. John 8:44 and Revelation 12:9 show that the one behind the literal serpent in Eden was the one who came to be “called Devil and Satan.” He, too, is a superhuman spirit, but a wicked one.—Compare 1 Samuel 28:7, 8, 15-19.
Consequently, even if the literal serpent’s movements may have tended to confirm its message to Eve, evidently actual speech—audible words that Eve could hear and respond to—was involved. And this was at the instigation of the archdeceiver, Satan, who “keeps transforming himself into an angel of light.”—2 Corinthians 11:14.
In 1907, C. T. Russell wrote: “Whether it spoke with audible voice or only by its actions we cannot know—it was quite probably the latter, as we sometimes say, ‘Actions speak louder than words.’”