How literal is literal?

I am trying to understand the perspective of some in my fellowship community, but I have challenged them enough for now, so I’m asking here.

Genesis 3. The serpent and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Do “literalist” YECs really take that fully literally?

This is a genuine question - I am not seeking to discredit my brethren behind their backs. I just want to know generally how far “literalism” is taken.

Traditionally it is taught the serpent is Satan, but, do those guys believe that in this instance, Satan possessed a snake and made the snake speak out loud in a human language? Does that happen anywhere else in the Bible? The swine into which Jesus cast the demonic Legion didn’t speak before they dashed to their death.

And the tree? Really, this is meant to be an actual tree? It’s not a literary device designed to teach about sin? What kind of tree was it? Clearly something psychoactive. There are other “don’t do drugs” stories in the Bible, but are we not thinking this story is more about sin in general and not drugs specifically?

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I can’t speak for others’ personal beliefs, but when I was a very literalist YEC I did believe that Satan possessed a snake and made it speak to Eve. I never really pondered too much about how Satan was allowed into an allegedly perfect paradise creation though.

More than once I heard someone remark that since Eve was not recorded as “being surprised” that the snake spoke, maybe all creatures spoke back then and so it was no big deal. But I’m not sure whether anyone believed that or just liked to speculate.

I don’t know of any other time when Satan supposedly possessed an animal, but God did cause Balaam’s donkey to speak one time.

No, I don’t think anyone in my circles had any trouble seeing the tree as a tree that was simply imbued with some kind of power that God gave to it which he did not give to other trees. I think there was an idea that since Eden was so different and “pre-fall,” all kinds of things were different back then – I think that blanket idea was used to explain away a lot of things – Eden was a lost paradise where all kinds of things were possible. In a sense, Eden and Revelation were kind of the mysterious bookends of the Bible… both containing literal accounts that were also symbolic at the same time.


Pax Christi, Russell.

For a little while, I had grown up in a fundamentalist church, so I think I could be of some use to you. Literalist Young Earth Creationists do believe that Satan possessed a serpent in which to coerce the primal couple into eating a real bark and sap tree. Sometimes this serpent even had 4 legs, at least if the fundamentalists in question know who Ken Ham is.

This literalism you speak of is very interesting. The Bible makes a ton of surface-levelly straightforward sayings, about how there was a titanic fire-breathing sea monster in the depths of the sea, how the Flood swallowed the highest of mountains by several meters, how over 2,000,000 Israelites fled Egypt, how our ancient ancestors lived for literal centuries, and it’s all taken at face value, yet whenever it’s pointed out how there could be another reading, or how the bitter waters test makes no sense for a divine being to tell His people, or how looking at a striped pole will not produce striped goats, or how the rocks and the mountains are foretold to cry out and rejoice when The Messiah comes, suddenly it’s okay to acknowledge that the text is more than meets the eye.

I hope this helps!


Something else that’s interesting about this fundamentalism, at least the stuff I knew, was that adding to God’s Word was a sin, unless you mean to prove that man and dinosaur walked the Earth together, or that the horde of locust demons represent helicopter cavalry. In a way, fundamentalists already realize that they can’t take everything at face value, but they don’t have the tools or the courage to understand The Text.


“In a way, fundamentalists already realize that they can’t take everything at face value, but they don’t have the tools or the courage to understand The Text.”

Frankly, I sometimes confuse “literalism” with “evangelicalism” and “fundamentalism”. The “literalism” of Luther + Calvin + European protestantism has produced MASSIVE unfaithful fallout.

My curiosity is about why “literalist YECists” almost exclusively ONLY come from within protestantism? Is it a major problem with their hermeneutics or something else? It almost seems like some protestants are bent on unorthodoxy due to their “literalism”.

“I just want to know generally how far “literalism” is taken.” - Russell2

Ok, me too. I’d like to know better about the edge of “literalism” within protestantism. Welcome your thoughts about the boundary of “literalism” among Protestants.

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I have no idea. I spent 44 years as an agnostic, until 6 months ago.

The church community I have become attached to is YEC, even though I cannot accept that.

One of the key planks to me opening my heart to God was CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity, so, accepting the moral authority (and spiritual supremacy) of God is important to me.

I understand my church members are rightly concerned that morally corrupt people can twist Scripture to mean anything they want, potentially in service of themselves or or evil. So to them it’s important to defend Scripture.

At the same time I look at champions of that cause, such as Kent Hovind…

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Thanks for your answer, Russell2. Let me encourage you to keep searching, as “knowledge” is available that you seek. Yet it will be in your heart, not in your mind, where the breakthrough is made.

Yes, I too read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” some years ago at a turning point.

If you want to keep climbing, then you’ll discover that “protestantism” isn’t nearly as “deep” as either Roman Catholicism or the Orthodox Church.

Kent Hovind simply means NOTHING in Jerusalem, and never will. He’s not a “scientist” and is just a “fake scholar” whose antagonism with “Ceasar” landed him properly in jail for his “business ministry”. I’d be curious to hear if/how Hovind-supporters tell it differently from your experience, though probably don’t want to hear the stories.

“The church community I have become attached to is YEC, even though I cannot accept that.”

It’s probably wise not to accept local YECist protestant teachings as ideology. Jesus wasn’t a YECist; that’s just a late-modern invention.

It’s up to you to climb higher as you can on the mountain of Christian theology. This eventually will leave behind YECism. Is there an Orthodox Christian sanctuary in the city you live in? If so, I suggest going to inquire there. YECism won’t be highlighted, won’t be a problem, and will be put aside for more important issues and beliefs.


Not in Judaism. In Judaism, the serpent was a four-legged animal that the archangel Samael, rode around on, until God punished him by taking away his legs.

The sea monster is interpreted in a variety of ways, including a dinosaur, a mythological device borrowed from surrounding cultures to demonstrate that God is in control of everything, or in the case of Rahab, a nickname for Egypt.

The word in Hebrew is the same as “high hills”. If this was in a flat basin, then those hills could be as little as 10 m tall.

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That is likely due to Protestantism’s emphasis on the individual believer reading the scriptures for themselves.


I was an OEC, as the rocks can’t lie, but believed every word; made it work. Hadn’t thought about possession of a natural serpent. I was OK with angels and demons taking physical form. The trees were therefore real.

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I used to read the serpent like that too. The trouble is that whether Satan takes the physical form of a snake or possesses a snake, either way God seems to get fooled.

If Satan took the form of a snake, it would appear the disguise fooled God since God curses serpents to go on their belly and eat dust all their life and to be feared and attacked by humans. None of the curse addresses Satan, if read literally. If instead Satan possessed a snake, we’d expect God to follow the investigation one step further. Not just from the man to the woman who gave, to the serpent who deceived, but also further to Satan who possessed. But God stops at the serpent as if that’s the end of the chain.

The only way around this that I can see is recognizing that the serpent represents Satan or an evil power or whatever. It’s symbolic. Then, what God says about the serpent really applies to Satan. That’s also the direction Revelation 12:9 points, “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan.” The serpent is the devil; it’s not just possessed by the devil or the form taken by the devil. If the serpent is symbolic, there’s good reason to apply the curse more figuratively rather than literally about snakes.



I’m happy to hear that you have become Christian. :slight_smile:

I think most every Christian here would agree that it’s important to defend Scripture, including defending it from those who would insist on a traditionally modern fundamentalist reading of it.

In my experience, and when I was YEC, yes.

In my experience, yes, or that Satan took the form of a serpent.

Again, yes. It is believed to have been an actual tree, same as the Tree of Life.

Not an apple tree.

Sin, definitely.

And I’m a lot less interested in the actual eating of the fruit than I am the serpent’s (Satan) interactions with Eve and the fact that her hubby, Adam, was there with her. Everyone gives Eve a hard time, but Adam just stood there deaf and dumb like a doofus.

Again, I’m glad that you’re a Christian, my friend. Jesus is more valuable than anything and everything, and more wonderful, too.
-Joshua W.


I heard that too. I think it was reinforced by C. S. Lewis’s Narnia, which was basically another Bible story in our minds.


Yep… while mostly borrowing heavily from pagan mythology, and yet full of truth, as far as I’m concerned. It’s funny how that works sometimes.


And the snake is presented as the cleverest of the animals, not as an exceptional example due to it’s speech. Much as we expect the fox in our stories to be more clever and sneaky than the bunny rabbit or the bear, even though they all talk. Which is not far off, as fox are pretty clever, but I think raccoons have them beat.


The other problem with this surely is Jesus said a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39).


Probably should be in the humor thread, but was too appropriate to this line of comments to put there:


The obligatory Farside cow. Love it!

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Oh absolutely! But that kind of nuance was regarded as unbiblical madness!

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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