News & Blog


Serpents, Evil, and the Bible’s Great Hero

I recently worked my way through Andrew Naselli’s The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020). The book is part of Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, which explore biblical themes from Genesis to Revelation. I enjoyed Naselli’s tracing of the serpent’s path through the Bible’s pages for two reasons.

The first is the “maximal” reading which Naselli gives to serpent language and imagery after Genesis 3. We all know about that first serpent which ruined God’s perfect creation, of course. But Naselli persuasively argues that later biblical descriptions of individuals or nations as serpents are not just using metaphorical language, but helping us to see these nations and individuals as agents of “that prince of darkness grim.” The connection between the serpent and other snakes in the Bible is probably clearest in Luke 10:18-19, where Jesus telling his disciples he saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning, and then moves directly to the disciples’ authority to tread on serpents, scorpions, “and over all the power of the enemy.” Keeping the connection between Satan and the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:14) when reading other serpent passages is illuminating. For example, when Ezekiel speaks of Egypt as a great dragon lying in the Nile (Ezek. 29:3, 32:2), Naselli clues us in to the hint that we should see Pharaoh as a (not unwilling) agent of that greater evil which took the guise of a snake to tempt Adam and Eve. But just as Satan will be judged for this (Gen. 3:14-15), so Egypt and her king will soon be judged by an invading army (Ezek 32:3-8) because of her pride (Ezek. 29:9) and the way the nation tempted Israel away from God (Isa. 30:1-8). Naselli gives many other very interesting readings of serpent passages in the Bible. One example that sticks with me is Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees as a brood of vipers (Matt. 12:33-37); again, Naselli persuasively argues this is not just saying Pharisees are bad, but are seed of the serpent (Gen 3:14-15). This is not how the Pharisees viewed themselves! The same connection is made with false teachers in 2 Cor.11:2-4, 13-15. The serpent and his agents keep showing up in the Bible.

The second reason I enjoyed Naselli’s book is the way he deepens and nuances the Bible’s storyline and connects it to modern stories. He begins by mentioning the legend of St. George and the dragon, the poem Beowulf, as well as the dragons in Tolkien’s fiction. While these stories are fiction, Naselli rightly says that “[e]pic stories resonate deeply with us because they echo the greatest story” (p17). He then goes on to summarise the Bible’s story as: “Slay the dragon, get the girl!” The twist, of course, is that the girl in question is the bride of Christ, God’s blood-bought people. We are the captives who need a great Hero to slay an oppressing evil and rescue us, and the prize which the hero wins. No matter how the Serpent and his minions might try to tempt or crush God’s people, Christ will rescue his people and win the prize in the end. As Naselli says, the “story never gets old.”

Eric Ortlund is the author of the forthcoming Piercing Leviathan: God's Defeat Of Evil In The Book Of Job 

Want to think more about the devil and spiritual warfare? Check out Primer issue 11 – This world with Devils Fill’d…


Support Oak Hill

If you benefitted from reading this and would like to support the work of College by giving financially, please visit our support section.

Support Oak Hill