Question: Are we really supposed to believe that a snake spoke to Eve in a commonly shared language, or is this myth or metaphor?
The question stems from Genesis 3:1-5. Interpreting this passage as a myth or allegory does an injustice to the book of Genesis as a whole, which is presented as factual history. It would be like taking a newspaper story on the economy and interpreting that as myth or allegory.
Fortunately, the Bible gives us several clues that help “fill in the blanks” concerning some curious details that are not crucial to the account itself of the temptation and disobedience of our first human parents.
Clue #1 The serpent is described as “crafty” (Gen. 3:1). The Hebrew word ‘arum more literally means “subtle” or “discerning,” even “wise.” Also, in the Hebrew language the comparison of the serpent with the other “wild animals” means he was “subtle” unlike the others, not “more than” the others. The serpent was unique.
Clue #2 The human couple is not surprised at the serpent’s ability to communicate. This suggests that Adam and Eve had the ability prior to their disobedience to God to communicate with the animal kingdom at a level far beyond the miniscule efforts we attempt today. This would make sense considering God’s original mandate to Adam and Eve:
Gen. 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Clue #3 According to Genesis 3:14, the serpent in its original created state did not slither on the ground but walked on limbs. Verses 1 and 14 also suggest that the serpent willingly engaged in deceiving Eve, for which God stripped the serpent of the ability to walk, even as he stripped Adam and Eve of many of their former abilities.
These first three clues alone (there are several others space does not permit me to explore) reveal that the pre-sin world was a dramatically different place than the world we experience now, where man could rule over “every creature” without tools or weapons, using direct communication, and where the physiology of the serpent enabled it to walk and communicate.
Clue #4 The book of Revelation sheds further light on this subject. Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20:2 both refer to “that ancient serpent” as a “dragon.” The dragons of myth and legend have their roots in real historical creatures that co-inhabited the earth with man. They were serpentine creatures who possessed feet and legs, and perhaps even the ability to fly. The passages in Revelation identify this ancient serpent with the devil, Satan. Satan himself is described in these verses as an angel who, along with other rebellious angels, was cast from heaven to earth where he has engaged in deceiving not only Eve but “the whole world.”
The talking serpent of Genesis 3 is no myth or allegory, but a uniquely intelligent creature capable of communication that allowed itself to be used by Satan to deceive Adam and Eve.