“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ”Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (NIV)
This verse is a milestone. It introduces:
- The dissonance of a creature, made by God, that is in opposition to God
- A talking serpent--apparently not a surprising thing to Eve
- The first, and perhaps only time God is misquoted in the Bible. What God said earlier was: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book “Creation and Fall”, observes:
“The serpent’s question: ‘Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’ was a thoroughly religious one. But with the first religious question in the world evil has come upon the scene”
Eve’s response to the serpent’s misstatement is the epitome of innocence—correction, but with deference to the questioner.
“We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’”
“The fact that Eve must qualify something regarding the Word of God—even if it is falsely represented—must throw her into the greatest confusion. It must indeed enable her to feel, for the first time, the attraction of making judgments about the Word of God. By means of the obviously false the serpent will now bring down that which is right. “
“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
There were elements of truth in the serpent’s lie--those truths gave his argument power. Humanity was not physically extinguished that day, and we do know good and evil. But God was telling the truth, something more fundamental than physical existence died that day. Before there was no need to reach for life--afterward eternal life was not something obtained so cheaply.
I too feel the attraction of making judgments about God’s Word.
I’m not saying that I have to take everything in the Bible literally. I am talking about the dangers of approaching the Word, not with humility and openness, but as an arbiter of its truth. As Bonhoeffer says, if I ask, “Did God really say…This is the question that appears innocuous but through it evil wins power in us, through it we become disobedient to God.”