LG Sargent on the serpent and Gen 3

LG Sargent wrote a in support of a literal serpent (a view we share) after allowing varying viewpoints to be put.  No calls for disfellowship or “common understandings” on the issue.  Tolerance of exploration.  LG Sargent, despite putting his conclusion, acknowledged that there are difficulties of understanding Genesis 3.  He also repeats Bro Thomas’ observation that God placed evil within Adam from the beginning and that trial was part of God’s design.  A worthwhile read highlighting our past ability to consider different views without splitting.

THE EVENTS IN EDEN

“One essential fact stands out in the account of the Fall of man: it is the response to temptation, from whatever source the temptation came. This, and the inescapable consequences for the whole human race righteously imposed by the sentence of God, form the ground for the Gospel of Redemption.

It is also evident that where there was a response to temptation there must have been something in the human nature capable of responding. This capacity Dr. Thomas refers to as “weakness” when he writes: “Adam’s nature was ‘very good’ as an animal nature; but still it was weak, and, therefore, deceivable and terminable . . . When Adam’s weak nature began to think and act independently of the divine law, its weakness, before an undefiled weakness, became evil in its workings and deteriorating in its effects; and acquired the name of sin from its having brought forth sin, or transgression of law . . . The law of God was weak through the flesh (Rom. 8 : 3), and not through the strength of the serpent. Had the flesh been strong, the serpent would have been powerless with all its sagacity.” Dr. Thomas teaches that “the revelation in the flesh of the incitant to transgression, or diabolos, was coeval with the fall of man”, and so he says that “the devil or diabolos had a place in the beginning as real as the serpent, and that place was in the flesh”. Morally, the man was neither good nor evil, holy nor unholy, and could not be either until he was put to the test so that character might be developed.

So far as the man is concerned, there should be little difficulty. There is no question of God “implanting” evil in him (a term which has arisen in recent discussion): if he had not been capable of disobedience he would not have been capable of obedience, and would have been useless to his Maker. The quality which could give pleasure to God was one which could only be developed by trial.

Whether Adam’s mind could have begun on its own to “think and act independently of the divine law”, or whether external suggestion was needed to put him to the test, is really a secondary question, though not an unimportant one. Recent articles discussing the question have accepted fully the inspiration and authority of the account in Genesis 3, but have taken different views on the interpretation of it and of other related scriptures. On the one side it is contended that Bible teaching on the goodness of God and the nature of evil in man requires (or at least give a strong bent towards) the view that the serpent in the narrative is a symbol only; on the other it is held that both the context of the passages concerning the serpent and the references elsewhere in scripture require that the serpent should be understood literally, and that the difficulties in the way of this view are more apparent than real.

That there are difficulties on any interpretation must be admitted. Dr. Thomas, for instance, argues that the brain of the serpent was “merely percipient, reasoning, propensitive, and therefore utterly without moral sense”, and this might be a deduction from the description of this most sagacious of beasts of the field. But this leaves the problem that God, as part of a creation all of which was “very good”, should form anything so potentially devastating as a creature which was rational but without moral sense. That this is very much what man proves himself to be in this “Space Age” is only evidence of his corruption. Other problems are indicated in the article “Eastward in Eden” in The Christadelphian for July.

The subject, therefore, is a reasonable one for discussion so long as we hold fast to the scripture; and it is to the scripture record that we turn back. This Editor expresses a personal view in saying that until we come to the curse upon the serpent, he finds it very difficult to read the whole sequence of the narrative without seeing a literal beast of the field. From the point where the whole creation is viewed by God we have the detailed account of man placed in the garden with dominion over the beasts. He first exercises that dominion in giving them names, and in so doing shows his capacity as a being made after the divine likeness: only man among the creation can give names. By the exercise of this faculty it was made evident to him that among all these there was not “an help meet for him”, and so the formation of Eve follows in natural sequence. With this narrated, the view is taken back to the beasts; but now it is concentrated on one particular beast, “more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made”.
In the account of the temptation of Eve, two phases are clearly distinguished, and for this there must be reason. First comes the suggestion of disbelief in God, and this is described as coming externally from the serpent. Second is the motion of desire in the woman when she looks upon the fruit. There had to be an act of looking before the threefold desire led to disobedience, and the repeated statement that the tree was “in the midst of the garden” implies that she had to go out of her way to look. But the significant distinction between the external and internal phases of the temptation makes it difficult to read both as occurring subjectively.

Another distinction is no less important. The woman’s resistance was weakened by the subtle persuasion of the serpent and she then allowed desire to have its way; but why did Adam transgress? Paul forces home the difference in 1 Tim. 2 : 14: “Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression” (R.V.). Adam’s reason for sinning is hinted at when he replies to God: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” This was not quite such a childish attempt to pass the blame as we sometimes think. His temptation was not only that he might gain the fruit but that he might lose his wife. He chose love of the woman rather than love of God, and sinned with his eyes open. It may be, as Dr. Thomas suggests, that since eating of the Tree of Knowledge she had become more seductive, but the man’s greater responsibility remains; his temptation, at any rate, arose from within his own nature when placed in circumstances which put him to the test.

If, then, the woman was deceived, who or what deceived her? It may be that in the woman’s readiness to be beguiled we see a psychological difference which gives something more than a purely historical ground for Paul’s prohibition of the woman “teaching” in the church; but the question remains, How was she deceived? The distinction drawn by Paul indicates how he read the narrative, and reinforces the belief that when the woman said “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat”, she was telling the literal truth. It was not the whole truth, because she did not mention the other part of the temptation—her own desire; but it was enough.

The narrative in Genesis builds up so clearly point by point that it seems difficult to distinguish any one element as less literal than another until one comes to the curse on the serpent, where in the contrast between “the seed of the woman” and “the seed of the serpent” it unmistakably expands into typology. Problems remain; but one comes back to it that this is the manner which the Holy Spirit has chosen to reveal things basic to our redemption, and in the end one cannot get behind the narrative in Genesis 3″

Sargent, LG (2001). The Christadelphian, 102(electronic ed.), 414–415.

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2 thoughts on “LG Sargent on the serpent and Gen 3

  1. NW

    Did God really need to implant evil in Adam? Would that not have made sin absolutely inevitable? Would that have been just? Man was made with a range of biologically-determined drives and needs. These are essential for survival. Man is also created with free-will, the ability to choose what he wants to do. The natural drives include hunger, thirst and sex. It could even be argued that a desire to be like God is a natural desire. Evil can arise when man becomes unnaturally focused on any of these drives. God simply had to give man a rule to follow that involves one or more of these drives and leave him to exercise his freewill knowing that evil/sin was a highly likely consequence. I think you can track any sin back to an over-focus or over-indulgence of one of our natural drives. So, God did not need to implant evil in Adam, as such. He simply created (by whatever means) a being fit for his purpose, a being capable of good or evil. Adam demonstrates the operation of that being in self-satisfaction. Christ demonstrates its operation in satisfying the creator.

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  2. Pingback: A common understanding? A strategic retreat. | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

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