Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sunday Leftovers Part 1 - Talking Animals

In every sermon I preach, I start off writing a manuscript that is about twice as long as I have time to preach. I then spend an hour or two editing it down to a more reasonable time frame (some might argue that I could spend a little more time editing). It is always a painful process leaving half of my sermon on the editing room floor. This has been particularly difficult in my current series. I am preaching through the book of Genesis. Even though I am planning on spending four weeks on Genesis 3, I still find that I do not have time to cover all that I want to say on this very important chapter.

Much could be (and has been) written on the historicity of the first three chapters of Genesis. I have already discussed the creation account in my earlier sermons. However, Genesis 3 strikes some as particularly problematic because it involves a talking animal. To some, the very presence of a talking serpent is a strong indication that this is a myth and not actual history. After all, every other story about a talking animal (with Balaam’s Ass being a notable exception) is myth or fiction. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Eve does not seem at all surprised that this wild animal is talking to her. This certainly does not seem to be a normal reaction. After all, if you were in your backyard and a snake (or even a squirrel, or any other animal, for that matter), started talking to you, you probably would not continue on with a normal conversation. You would be startled.

Yet, the author of Genesis represents it as a true story. We have parables in other parts of the Bible. Parables are fictitious stories that are told to make a point. However, this story has all the literary markers of an historical account. It has none of the markers of a parable or myth. Furthermore, the New Testament refers to it as an historical story in both 2 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2. If this story is myth and not history, then Paul's arguments become baseless. So, the Bible clearly represents the story as a true account. That means you are left with the choice of accepting this story as history or rejecting the Bible as fully authoritative.

You might say, “This has to be fiction. It is contrary to reason an ordinary human experience for animals to talk. Yet, here you have a woman talking to a snake and she doesn’t seem to think anything of it.” While it is true that it is contrary to normal human experience, that does not necessarily mean that it is contrary to reason. There are a few possible, reasonable explanations.

First of all, C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, and others argue that, while animals don’t talk today, they might have before the world fell into sin and might again in the new earth. The world we live in today is significantly different from the world of Adam and Eve. Right now, we see the world in its broken state. All of creation has been subjected to futility as a result of the Fall (Romans 8:18-24). Living in Colorado, we see the beauty of creation on a daily basis. Stepping out your front door and seeing the sun shine on Pikes Peak is a breathtaking experience. Yet, as glorious as creation is right now, we are only seeing a fallen, broken world. The world before the fall (and the world after the consummation of all things) is far more glorious. It is quite reasonable to believe that things in the created order will be significantly different than they are right now.

I will admit that I am not sure I buy the idea that animals could talk before the fall , or that animals on the New Earth will have the power of speech, but it is at least theoretically possible. Just because animals don’t talk now that does not mean that has always been the case.

Another more probable explanation is that the serpent is able to speak due to Satanic influence. Revelation 20 indicates that this is no ordinary Serpent. Either this animal is Satan posing as a Serpent or is a Serpent under Satanic influence. The fact that Satan, who has supernatural (but limited) powers could give a beast the power of speech is not inconsistent with the testimony of the Bible.

The reason Eve is not shocked by a talking serpent is because she is naïve. After all, she had not yet eaten of the tree of knowledge and, it is quite possible that he had not been around for all that long to know how the world worked. She did not have sufficient knowledge to know if this was normal.

What should have seemed inconsistent to Adam and Eve was not that this Serpent was talking, but that He was speaking against the Word of God. But, that is one of the points of this story. The abnormality that should have alarmed Adam and Eve is not a talking Serpent, but a creature who calls God a liar. Adam and Eve had enough revelation to know that this was not normal. They knew what God had said and they knew that this animal was speaking contrary to God's revelation. At this point, Adam should have pulled out his garden hoe and chopped the beast’s head off. However, Adam failed in his priestly duty—and here we are.

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