Who or what was the serpent in the Garden of Eden?
We could dismiss the truthfulness of the biblical story, the need for the cross of Christ, and indeed Christian belief itself, if the serpent in the garden were merely a symbol of evil or a description of the human capacity to sin. Just as Adam and Eve are historical figures—real people who lived on this Earth—so too is the serpent a historical figure. His words about the eyes of Adam and Eve being opened were true, even though he twisted the command of God and neglected to mention the consequences of sin and death. In Genesis 3, God spoke to the serpent in judgment just as He spoke to Adam and Eve.
Both Paul and John identify the serpent as Satan (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:9; 20:2). This same Satan is the embodiment of evil and rebellion against God. He wreaked havoc upon Job, tempted our Lord to sin, sought Peter’s destruction, and possessed Judas in order to incite him to collaborate with those who brought false charges against the Lord Jesus (Job 1:6–7; 2:1–7; Matt. 4:10; Luke 22:31; John 13:27).
Paul makes a distinction between sin (Rom. 5:12) and Satan (Rom. 16:20). Consistently, Scripture reveals that sins are something people do, whereas Satan is a being who tempts people to sin and seeks the harm of God’s people. In Genesis 3, God pronounces separate judgments on the sins of Adam and Eve, the acts of the animal that allowed Satan to use it as a tool for tempting them, and the evil being himself, who will experience a death blow from a male offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15).