Someone asked me once, “Do you really think there was a talking snake that tempted Eve?” The story seemed so far-fetched to them, that they thought it discredited the Bible’s claim to inspiration.
I certainly believe the Bible to be a book of truth, so I take that story also to be a true account. At the same time, I’m aware of the danger of misinterpreting what the Bible says, so that my own ideas are put in place of what it’s actually saying. But in this case, the details of the account are very simple and plain, so there is no good reason to doubt the literal interpretation.
How the serpent was used, is another question. It seems to have been just a medium for Satan’s tempting questions and doubts. So I don’t think the animal itself framed these thoughts and words, but it was used by Satan. How this took place, I don’t know; there is a science in it that someday we will understand. In a similar way, Balaam’s donkey spoke to him:
28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
We might well ask, “How did the Lord open the mouth of the donkey?” The effect seems to be similar, so we can assume there was a similar science behind it. Angelic beings are explained in the Bible to be made of material that is not in our realm of science, and so to have powers outside of our understanding. They can walk through walls, fly beyond the speed of light, restrain the forces of nature, and so forth. And we can also add, “use animals as a means of communication to us” if the Lord permits it.
To decide whether the Bible were true or not simply based on whether we could explain everything in it by the rules of our science and our understanding of the universe, would be foolish, since it claims to be a book inspired by the One who created all things, and whose principles and nature, though expressed in the material world, are yet greater than that, and go beyond what we can fully grasp with our weak senses and feeble measuring tools.
But there are some questions we can ask, which can help us determine whether it is truth or not. Here are some examples:
- Does it explain the purpose of man: (1) why he came into being, and (2) where he is headed? If it were a divinely-inspired book we would expect that. This, by the way, is one of the weaknesses of modern science: it cannot give clear answers to these two essential questions. Science may say that evolution explains how we changed, but it cannot say why we were started, nor where we are headed. The Bible does offer answers to those questions.
- Does it show a knowledge of the inner working of man’s heart? We can often deceive others, and even deceive ourselves, but God would have the power to read us correctly. Does the Bible read us right, or not? And if it reads us correctly, does it provide a solution for our problems that is beyond what we could have devised?
- Does it present a view of God that is beyond what man could have invented? You need to be careful with this question because there are many theories and interpretations of God’s actions that make Him just like foolish men. When Jesus came, for example, He presented a view of God that was quite different from that presented by the religious leaders of His time. But His view of God was far beyond and above their narrow conceptions…so it commends itself to us as being from a higher source. The God that Jesus presented and lived out, was not the kind of god man would have invented. We can even see this today. In many of our movies, the heroes act in such a way that was very contrary to the way Christ acted, and yet we praise our heroes. So if we would have invented God, He would have to be just like the heroes in our movies, only a bit more powerful perhaps!
- Does the Bible present a divinely inspired system of justice and freedom? Does it balance these two? Every nation on earth is built on laws, which protect the citizens from harm, and also guarantee their freedoms. How is God’s kingdom presented on these two points of justice and freedom? Most human kings and rulers, when they have in their grasp seemingly unlimited power, become tyrants and oppressors. Is God presented like this also? If so, He could be the invention of man…if not, then He must be above man. On this point, the original question about the serpent speaking, tells us something. When God was faced with a rebellion in His kingdom, He gave the rebel freedom (within certain bounds) to present his rebellious ideas to His own creation. This tells us that God is reasonable, and wants us to be convinced to serve Him, based on our own choice. This is the God presented in the Bible: One who, though He possesses all power and could instantly crush rebellion, yet gives His subjects freedom to question and examine His own principles and actions, and even gives freedom for others to teach principles that are against His kingdom and government. Is this a normal human trait, or a divine one?
To sum it up, I would say the character and principles of God, and how He deals with men, are more important and more decisive in coming to a conclusion about whether the Bible is inspired or not, than an attempt to scientifically analyze the miracles and supernatural events recorded there.
There are many mysteries of nature even in our small world, that science cannot yet explain; yet we accept the natural world and enjoy it without having to know all the answers.
The same would be true of God, and the Bible. There must be mysteries that we cannot explain, otherwise it would not be a divinely-inspired book. Yet there must be a beauty in it, and a suitability to meet our needs, just as there is in the world of nature, that points to its divine origin.
Other articles by Frank Zimmerman:
- Modern Day Phariseeism
- Psalm 75 and God’s Character
- Men of Great Renown
- Foreknowledge and Election
- But Jesus Ate Fish!
- Jesus and Child Abuse
- Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion
- Israel in Prophecy
- Perfection is Freedom
- Clean and Unclean
- God is in Control
- How Did Jesus Cleanse the Temple?
- Methods of Teaching and Tradition
- The Wheat and Tares