Crafty Beast

or Reading Between the Lines


Many, or most, evangelicals, assume that God is into spoonfeeding us. They think that if a biblical type is not explicitly referred to in the text, then it is risky business. Many evangelicals are brilliant thinkers, but most are not lateral thinkers when it comes to literature. Or at least, they are too cautious to think laterally when analysing the Bible, and only read “the letter of the law.” They, and their congregations, miss out on 50% of the Scriptures — all the parts written between the lines. The funniest part is that this is exactly the element that makes many children’s books, and the most delicious adult dramas, so entertaining. What a bunch of bores. They are like the naive Australians in a Noel Coward play who took every word of the sophisticated Brits at face value. The Bible is far more sophisticated than any other book on your shelf. It is indeed a crafty beast.

Our God expects us to read between the lines, to search things out as New Covenant kings. This is how we grow in wisdom. As we read the Bible, He gives us boundaries, certainly, but He also gives us plenty of room to explore, to notice things (like parallel events) and draw some conclusions. [1]

God didn’t tell Adam about the serpent. He expected Adam to grow a brain and do some faith-filled logical thinking based upon the revealed Word. Adam was supposed to “read between the lines” in the light of God’s character, and understand that anything withheld from him was for his own good, and only a temporary prohibition until he was ready for it.

Instead, Satan “filled in the gaps” in what God said. He “read between the lines” in a way that slandered God’s character. When the Lord’s Day came, the legal expectation was for Adam to be standing there, waiting for God, with a bruised heel (a limp?) and his foot on a crushed serpent’s head. That was the Government expected of a Sacramental Adam under the authority of God’s Word.

The rest of the Bible expands upon the events of Genesis in parallel events. To deny this exists is to be, bluntly, extremely obtuse. Some of these parallels only become clear after many years of familiarity with the Bible. And then we realize how obvious they were the whole time. James B. Jordan writes:

The December 2010 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Society (53:4) contains an excellent essay by Dane C. Ortlund entitled “‘And their Eyes Were Opened, and They Knew’: An Inter-canonical Note on Luke 24:31″ (pp. 717-728). Ortlund explores the fact that this phrase in Luke 24 is virtually identical with Genesis 3:7, “and the eyes of both were opened, and they knew.”

Ortlund begins by listing at least eighty commentaries and studies that did not catch this allusion at all. he then mentions three recent scholars who do notice the link, but who do little more than suggest some kind of reversal of the fall: Luke Timothy Johnson, N. T. Wright, and Arthur Just.

Ortlund then notices many more parallels. In both Genesis 3 and Luke 24, a “supernatural” being approaches a human pair and begins asking them questions. The humans do not recognize this person for who he/He really is. Then food is offered, a special kind of food in both cases. The food is accepted. When eaten, a profound spiritual effect occurs indicated by the phrase “their eyes were opened and they knew.” The human pair is separated from God in the immediate aftermath, with Adam acting to hide from God, and Jesus hiding from Cleopas and his wife.

We can go on. Cleopas and his wife returned to Jerusalem to the disciples, and then the parallels continue: God suddenly appears in the midst of the disciples. In both cases the humans are frightened. God begins to ask questions of Adam and Eve, and Jesus asks questions of the disciples. God reminds Adam and Eve of His word of command to them, and Jesus reminds the disciples of His words. God forces Adam and Eve out of the garden, while Jesus sends His disciples out into the world… [2]

Jordan moves on from here to some really wonderful stuff. But you will have to subscribe. Simply make a donation to Biblical Horizons, provide your postal address, and you are on the list. Subscribe here.

[1] See Cross-eyed Exegesis.
[2] Excerpt from James B. Jordan, The Better Lucifer, Biblical Horizons No. 217, February 2011.

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13 Responses to “Crafty Beast”

  • Travis Matthew Finley Says:

    It’s funny. At some level basic Bible knowledge is not enough. The old lady who loves Jesus and knows not a lick of BM (not bowel movements!) can know truly only that he loves her and is coming back for her and that is all she gets from her fundy preacher. On another level, one can get your BM stuff by careful readings; and yet, on another level, knowing Hebrew and Greek is truly vital to knowing even more. This last point leads me to saving my money to contribute to a new translation–one which translates words instead of interpreting them and one which notes the literary devices and one which…

  • Mike Bull Says:

    I started Hebrew, but my teacher retired. Actually, I think he moved to the UK to get away from me.

  • David M Says:

    Aye, the biblical account is a crafty beast; though, we might readily say that the serpent is, well, also quite crafty/shrewd/wise in his own regard and thus especially prone to misinterpretation. The twist, if you will, is that Satan and serpent typologies aren’t as harmonious as some interpretations are wont to think..

    First off, I would argue that your analysis looks to quickly east of Eden, as the Genesis 3 text itself does not explicitly equate the serpent type with “the Satan” type of the Joban tradition. Secondly, and more importantly, to assume Satan/evil as implicitly operating within and synonymous to the serpent type in Gen. 3 is to assume there was a fall before the Fall, an interpretation which is largely speculative and, actually, popularized by Milton’s Paradise Lost, as Nik Ansell argues (see link below). But if we take Gen. 3 in stride with the context and narrative of Gen. 1-2, as we rightly should since that is its final canonical form, then we see the serpent not as an an evil, crooked entity but rather as a member of the animal kingdom; one which is part of the creation deemed “very good;” a cosmos still intact and without sin, poised to fulfill its original intent: to be ruled by humans as ambassadors and priest-kings of God). It is decidedly without disorder, disarray and death.

    Nevertheless, the serpent does manipulate and twist his own good wisdom, BUT… only in response to Eve’s initial twisting herself. When she twisted, he twisted in response. It is Eve not the serpent that twists the original mandate given to her. God says to not partake or eat of the tree — nothing is said by God about “touching” the tree, that bit is added on by Eve herself (perhaps in frustration about something or other; this “frustration” is perhaps why the serpent approaches her in the first place with such a loaded question as “did God really say…). One might say that the crafty, shrewd serpent espied in Eve a small yet significant sense of wonder and curiousness in her response to his first question, thus targeting and exploiting that weakness.

    In this way, one could argue that the first act of sin is germane in Eve’s misunderstanding and twisting of the creational law, not just when Eve and Adam actually eat/consume the fruit. I guess the game of telephone has some pretty old roots ;)

  • David M Says:

    … And so, God didn’t intend for Adam to stomp the serpent, as you cliam, as the serpent was part of the fabric of creation still within the non-sinful parameters of the garden. There was no need for the Lord’s Day, as that typology refers to historical judgment of the nations within the story of salvation and redemption in a postfallen situation; but interaction with the serpent in Gen. 3 is prefall, before sin arrives on the scene.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi David

    Those are not bad assertions in themselves, but they have one problem: this exact pattern is played out a thousand times throughout the rest of the Bible. It seems to me that Eve was simply “reading between the lines” in a good way. She wasn’t twisting God’s words. She was wisely staying away from the edge, the way an alcoholic might avoid working in a cellar door shop.

    Also, in partial support of the idea that there was not a previous fall of Satan, Jordan believes that Satan fell when he tempted Eve.

    I don’t think we can really argue for the serpent’s “innocent ignorance” unless we toss out the rest of the Bible. Some people do the same for Judas, but we have to be illogically selective in our readings to support either argument.

    I’d be happy to send you a copy of Bible Matrix so you can see some more support for my reponses here. If interested, send me your postal address via the ‘Contact’ link at the top of the page.

    Thanks for the interaction!

  • David M Says:

    I really must push back, because it seems there was some miscommunication..

    So, let me get this straight: in your analogy, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is like alcohol and Eve is like the alcoholic? How can this be when creation is still without the presence of sin? If God created the all of creation, including the different trees and fruit, then it must serve a life-affirming purpose. Right?

    Also, there is nothing in the mandate given by God which says humans are to never, ever eat of that particular tree, only that at this particular time and place Adam and Eve are to refrain from it. Like C.S. Lewis and others argue, the tree could quite possibly represent maturity and the ability to judge or discern weighty matters, and as Adam and Eve are still very much wet behind the ears, they must bide their time.

    Also, I said nothing about “innocent ignorance” regarding the serpent — those are your words. The serpent is not a neutral figure, but an ambivalent, complicated one. Biblically speaking, he is not altogether pure evil; see Moses and the bronze serpent (serpent=health).

    Looking forward to your response.

  • Mike Bull Says:


    It was just an analogy, although Jordan sees that the two trees have parallels in bread and wine, obedience and wisdom, childhood and maturity, and priest and king.

    I agree with your second paragraph. Like Daniel, like Jesus, if Adam had refused the serpent’s offer of a short-cut kingdom, God would have given it to him on a platter.

    I don’t believe the serpent is at all a neutral figure. The serpent is only “health” when it takes the Covenant curses upon itself. It was lifted up in the way that Saul, Absalom, Haman and Jesus were lifted up.

  • David M Says:

    ..Though, to say the serpent is “only” health when absorbing the covenant curse is to presume that its creatureliness is “ontologically fallen” to begin with (instead of historically fallen). Doesn’t this claim contradict Gen. 1, where God heralds that all of creation is thoroughly blessed — even the creepy crawlers?

    The serpent isn’t just a means toward salvation; yes, in a postfallen world it certainly is rendered as such, but it began as a fully functional and worthy creature made/wrought by the hands of our Creator/Artisan God.

    A fitting analogy might be the Leviathan type: God does not wish to smash Leviathan out of existence, but rather sports with him, as seen in Psalm 104:26.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    God proclaimed the Creation good *before* the temptation, which supports the assertion that Satan fell by this historical act.

    Later Scripture make it pretty clear that the serpent was the being who became the Accuser (satan). And there is another instance where an angel speaks miraculously through an animal.

    Also, Job begins with Satan in God’s Garden-court, and ends with Leviathan, the dragon. As with Adam and Eve, there is a progression from heads to bodies, from persons to institutions, hence the False Prophet, Harlot and Beast at the end of the Old Covenant.

  • David M Says:

    I think I see where you are going now. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe you are assuming a harmony of types which remains a constant throughout the entire biblical canon. Hence, your statement that Scripture makes it “clear” that serpent and Accuser types are synonymous.

    Though an inner exegesis of the texts shows otherwise. The serpent and leviathan prove to be dynamic in meaningfulness, even ambivalent; never static and altogether harmonious or “clear.” While the serpent is equated with Satan/evil, this does not prove to be the case across the board (as I have shown with Genesis 1, where all creatures are blessed).

    Likewise, Psalm 89 tells quite a radically different story about Leviathan compared to Psalm 104. Does it not?

    In other words, it is never “clear” that the serpent is unequivocally synonymous with Satan, and Gen. 1 bolsters this. The implication is that the entrance of sin is squarely on the shoulder of humankind, not otherworldly angelic forces which fall/sin and then morph into animals in order to bring us down with ‘em.

  • Mike Bull Says:


    God communicates with symbols. This doesn’t mean they not historical entities, but they are symbols nonetheless. The serpent was cursed as an object lesson. He was no longer upright. Neither was Adam, but Adam’s feet were not removed from him, only from the Garden.

    My book shows a serpent at the centre of almost all the parallel structures, including the Creation week, where sun moon and stars are wise rulers.

    I don’t think the serpent was unequivocally synonymous with Satan any more than the donkey was synonymous with Balaam’s visitor. But serpents are consistently symbols of wisdom, and donkeys are consistently symbols of subdued, peaceful, Gentile kings/kingdoms under an obedient Adam. (In that case, Balak was the beast and Balaam was the false prophet.) When the Jew turns from God, the Gentiles miraculously speak with tongues as a warning. Types are the only way to understand the Bible.

  • David M Says:

    So your stance is, Satan falls before humankind, thus assuming the role of the serpent and tempter? This certainly is not an anthropocentric view of evil. In other words, are you saying that evil is something which ultimately tempts from without, not within us? I am not sure how this can survive in view of Genesis 1, where all of creation is “very good.” If there is fall between that statement and Gen. 3, then that is an assumption which I see no biblical grounds for..

    Are you aware of any biblical references which speak of this angelic fall into demonhood? Because I can’t find any. From what I hear, this comes not from Scripture but from Milton.

    I’ll let you have the last word ;)

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Scripture nowhere lets the tempter off the hook. And the Bible is constructed “fractally.” Genesis 2 zooms in on Genesis 1 to show us the same pattern within the pattern.
    As above, happy to send you my book so you can check it out.