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Questions I Hope No One Will Ask: Why Did God Put Satan in Eden?

“I’m trying to whip the devil; I’m trying to get sanctified.” -Johnny Cash

I was reading a book a couple of days ago that mentioned Satan in passing. It called him God’s “archenemy.” I thought that this was an interesting label to put on Satan. We all know about archenemies. They are the greatest enemy that someone faces. Superman’s archenemy is Lex Luther. Batman’s archenemy is the Joker. Green Lantern’s archenemy is Senestro (you all will soon know this since the movie is coming this summer). In each of these cases, the enemy represents the polar opposite of the hero. He is the bad guy. He is the archenemy because he represents the greatest threat the hero faces. This is either because the enemy’s power matches that of the hero or because his level of evil matches the level of goodness of the hero.

With regard to the God vs. Satan setup here, for reasons I hope to explain, I am not really comfortable calling Satan God’s archenemy, though he is definitely an enemy of God. While we don’t know that much about him (or angels and demons in general for that matter), he is presented in Scripture as a very powerful being that, simply put, does not want God to suceed. He is hell bent (pardon the pun) on wreaking havoc on the earth and causing God’s people to fail. I don’t know what his ultimate goal is (or if he even has one) or whether he really thinks he can “win” (whatever game he is playing), but I do know that he is introduced to us very early in the Scripture and is found late in the game as well. Out of the infinite things that are going on in God’s creation, out of the vast amount of information that God could have given us about so many other things, one thing is certain, God wants us to be aware of this particular creature.

While there is a lot we don’t know about him, here are some basics of Christian “satanology”:

  • Satan is a creation of God who was originally good (1 Tim. 4:4).
  • Satan desires to take the place of God (Matt. 4:8-10).
  • Satan knows who Christ is (Mark 3:11).
  • Satan is one from whom we need God’s protection (Matt. 6:13).
  • Satan makes accusations against people to God (Rev. 12:10).
  • Satan seeks to “devour” people (1 Pet. 5:8). 
  • Though I don’t know when Satan inherited the “throne”, there is some sense in which he is the ruler of this world (Jn. 14:30; John 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph. 2:2; 1; Jn 5:19).

While there is more we could expand on here, the question of the hour is this: If Satan is so evil and “anti-God” why did God put Satan in the Garden of  Eden? While there is no way to know what would have happened had he not been present, it is evident from the narrative and the ensuing curse that Satan played a big part in the fall.

Gen 3:1-6
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden ‘?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.'” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 5 “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

Gen 3:14-15
14 And the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly shall you go, And dust shall you eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Wrong Answers:

Wrong answer #1: It was not Satan in Eden.

It is popular among many biblical interpreters these days to be agnostic with regard to the identity of the snake in Eden. While I admire there faithfulness to the text of Genesis—which does not tell us the identity of the snake—we can be fairly certain that it was Satan (regardless of whether we take this as a literal account or not). When answering such questions, it is important that we look to the whole of the Scripture and employ a canonical understanding often called the “analogy of Scripture” (i.e. the Scripture interprets the Scripture). Testimony from the book of Revelation identifies the snake as Satan:

Rev 12:9:
“And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

Notice here that Satan is called “the serpent of old.” This identifies Satan with the snake in Eden. As well, he is called the  one “who deceives the whole world.” This fits well the description of his antics in Eden.

Wrong answer #2: God did not put Satan in Eden; he infiltrated it through his power.

Satan is God’s Satan. That is what Martin Luther used to say. I think it is an apt theological description of the relationship between God and Satan. Satan is in submission to God. As someone has once said, Satan does nothing that does not first pass the desk of God. The book of Job illustrates this well where Satan has to gain permission to harm Job (Job 1:6-12).

This is why I don’t like to call Satan God’s archenemy. This gives him too much credit and stature. He is not the rival evil force of the universe. He is evil and powerful, yes. But he is not God nor is he a god. He is a created being who, compared to God, is not unlike you and me. Sure he has more power than us, but, relatively speaking, compared to God, he is weak and utterly dependent on God for his very existence. With a snap of his finger, God could extinguish Satan’s very existence. With a snap of the finger Satan could . . . well, he could possibly make a snapping sound. When we find Satan in Eden, we should not think that he somehow pulled an end-around on God. We should not think that he was some place that God did not intend for him to be. It could be that Satan was “cast down” or “fell” from heaven to the earth (Rev. 12:3-4). It could be that he has always had access to both heaven and earth. Either way, for better or worse, he was in Eden under the permission of God. Satan cannot infiltrate anything.

My Answer:

The Bible does not tell us why God put Satan in Eden. Even the word “put” is a bit misleading. It could very well be that God just allowed Satan to be there. Just speculating, but it could be that God knew that Satan would have accomplished a terrible yet, from another perspective, wonderful thing. By instigating the fall early, before humanity had the ability to propagate itself, God provided for a vital connection between all of humanity. We are all identified with Adam and his fall. This, in and of itself, is terrible. But since we were all identified with Adam, we can now all be identified with Christ. Had Adam not fallen when he did (before propagation), we may be left without a representative in salvation.

One thing we can be certain of is that God works out all things out according to his sovereign will. I can say with a great deal of certainty that it was God’s will for Satan to be there. Ephesians 1:11 tell us that God does all things according to the counsel of his will. All we can do is speculate why it was his will. If it was not God’s will for Satan to be there, one thing is for certain, he would not have been there. With this we can rest in the sovereign and loving hand of God knowing he knows what he is doing with all of his creation.

Satan is powerful, but not that powerful.

32 Responses to “Questions I Hope No One Will Ask: Why Did God Put Satan in Eden?”

  1. For his glory?

  2. I agree Lynn, “for His Glory” would be the best answer.

    The important thing many evangelicals do not understand is that God did allow it, He did permit it, otherwise it could not have happened. We must be careful not to create God in our own image by implying that something or someone is more powerful than Him and could have gotten into His creation against His will.

  3. Ah, it would be nice if things wrapped up this nicely wouldn’t it?

    We could argue all day about the basics of Satanology that you listed and even the Garden story.

    It’s actually pretty arrogant to declare #1 wrong that it wasn’t Satan in the garden.

    Ancient NE civs [including the Hebrews/Canaanites] revered the snake and if you look closely at the Hebrew text of the description of the snake you can see that reverence even in Genesis.

    The english term “crafty” is not a very good translation (in my opinion) because it has a negative conotation.

    The Hebrew word there is typically translated prudent or wise.

    Prov 12:16 – Prudent man
    Prov 12:23 – Prudent man
    Prov 13:16 – Prudent man
    Prov 14:8 – Wise (wisdom of the wise)
    Prov 22:3 – prudent
    Prov 27:12 – prudent

    THese are the ONLY other verses where that form of that word is used and it ALWAYS is positive.

    The Greeks, and especially Greek Christians were the first to associate the Satan/Adversary with the serpent if I’m not mistaken. (I may be on that last point as I don’t have time ATM to research it again)

  4. I agree, Michael.

  5. Its the same thing today. Why hasn’t God turfed Satan into Hell by now? Is it not to test our sincerity (God does not tempt)? But even without Satan around during the millenium, there will still be people who choose to do evil. Satan is not responsible for the evil people choose to do; he is simply a co-conspirator.

  6. Interestingly, Eve was deceived and this is why she fell. However, Adam sinned with knowledge and was not deceived. Adam, not Eve, was credited with sin because of the nature of the sin. Adam had intimate knowledge of God that Eve was not priviledged with – he saw God in the act of creating and knew that God was altogether different from him. In some respects, Adam’s rebellion was similar to Satan’s – Satan was in the very presence of God, yet believed that he could usurp Him and become like Him. Eve was not expelled from the garden…she followed Adam. It would be interesting to know what would have occurred had only Eve fell into deception and Adam not sinned.

  7. Skeptic Heretic,
    Fascinating! It brought to mind how people were being attacked by snakes or something in the desert, and they had to look at a snake being held up or something, to be saved. I always thought that was the creepiest story!

    Does that fit with what you were saying?

  8. Truth Unites... and Divides 2011-01-26 at 11:53 am

    If someone is deceived into sinning, did the deceived person sin?

  9. If someone is deceived into sinning, did the deceived person sin?

    Yes.
    Lynn writes:

    Skeptic Heretic,
    Fascinating! It brought to mind how people were being attacked by snakes or something in the desert, and they had to look at a snake being held up or something, to be saved. I always thought that was the creepiest story!

    Does that fit with what you were saying?

    The snakes represented sin. What Moses was to do was to put a bronze snake on a pole and all who looked at the snake, though he was bitten, would not die but live. It was a representation of what Jesus was to do on the cross… take on the sin of mankind and be raised from the earth. Bronze represents judgment. The sting of sin is death.

  10. Truth Unites... and Divides 2011-01-26 at 12:37 pm

    Q: If someone is deceived into sinning, did the deceived person sin?

    A: Yes. (Ryan)

    Q: So did Eve sin when she ate the forbidden fruit even though she was deceived?

  11. Q: So did Eve sin when she ate the forbidden fruit even though she was deceived?

    Yes, she sinned even though she was deceived into it. But the nature of her sin was different than that of Adam’s. Adam was charged not because he was male or was the covenant head, but because of his sin. He was not deceived and yet sinned. Ths is what the Apostle Paul tells us.

    Also, look at Num 15:28-31:

    28 So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the LORD, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
    29 You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them.
    30 ‘But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people.
    31 Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.’

  12. Truth Unites... and Divides 2011-01-26 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks Ryan.

    Much appreciated.

  13. SH,

    Actually, there are numerous errors here. First, the serpent was depicted in some ANE cultures as wise, but the overwhelming image of the serpent (whether the apophis that attacked the sun god every night in Egypt, Lotan [i.e., Leviathan] that was an archenemy of Baal, or Tiamat who was often depicted as a serpent dragon and the chief adversary of Marduk) is negative. If you look at scholars who try to say otherwise, like Charlesworth, they appeal to smaller traditions and many traditions that outside the sphere of ANE cultures. The serpent here is definitely meant to be adversarial.
    Second, the word for “prudent” refers to a person who is capable of seeing weaknesses or blind spots. Usually the individual then corrects them in himself, but the fool does not. Here, however, it follows on the heals that the man and woman are naked, and both the words for crafty and naked are linked in order to show that the serpent’s craftiness has something to do with their nakedness. Hence, he is a seer of weaknesses and exploits their naivety.
    Finally, you’ll find the serpent as adversary in Jubilees and Enoch, etc. so the earliest interpretations we have of the serpent are that it is adversarial. I would also include Job that mimics much of Genesis in language and theme as a point of innerbibilical interpretation.

  14. @Hodge,

    What is your reference for your definition of “prudent” referring to one who is capable of seeing weaknesses or blind spots? Who or what is your source?

    How are the words prudent and naked linked in a way that show the serpent is exploiting a weakness?

    Jubilees is a late work and so is the existing Enoch. (cf. Oxford Bible Commentary page 794)

  15. @Hodge,

    I retract the question about the linking. It could be a play on words between arum and arom – though I’m not sure I’m convinced that it’s anything but primitive language. (i.e. To say the author meant a particular nuance is highly speculative)

  16. @Hodge:

    Here, however, it follows on the heals that the man and woman are naked, and both the words for crafty and naked are linked in order to show that the serpent’s craftiness has something to do with their nakedness. Hence, he is a seer of weaknesses and exploits their naivety.

    You are likely correct, but the man did not have the same weakness as the woman in this instance. His weakness wasn’t being exploited, only the woman’s because she had less knowledge about God.

  17. SH,

    The nuance is gained from the word itself. First, I think that the negative aspect of the word, since I also see Job and Genesis as sharing much of their vocabulary, is seen in Job 5:12 and 15:5 (the only two occurrences in Job). The aspect of knowing a weakness can be seen in Prov 12:16, 23; 13:16; 14:8, 15; 22:3; 27:12, etc. where the prudent man is aware of what he must conceal. He is aware of that which the naive are not aware. He is a knower of blind spots and covers them up. The serpent is a knower of blind spots and exploits them in others (hence, the negative connotation in Job and here when the word is linked with their arumim). I don’t think it’s a stretch to link the two words as playing off one another. Every scholar notes that this is the case, even though they may not note the interpretation of arum and arumim that I’m giving to it. But thw has something to do with thm, and br’shit with br’ and s’q with ys’q, etc. The author of Genesis (or at least J, even though I gave some examples from P) does this quite a bit, so it may be speculative, but it’s an educated speculation. 😉

  18. Jubilees is a late work in regard to the Hebrew Bible, not in regard to Christian literature. It appears in the DSS, as does Enoch, so they can’t be that late.

  19. Skeptic,

    As CMP cites above, the text in Revelation equates Satan with the serpent of old, regardless of what any ANE peoples believed.

    I think the Hebrew word here is best interpreted as a flying fiery, serpent like being, which is the word used for a special class of angels called seraphim (Isa. 6:2). The same Hebrew word is used in Isa. 30:6 and Numbers 21:6 for fiery serpents, the latter of which Moses’ audience would have been recently familiar with.

  20. @Hodge,

    Now I’m not tracking. How is that a prudent man avoids danger and deceit, but a prudent snake does not?

    In other words, if it is likely to use the word translated ‘prudent’ as favorable (as in avoiding traps, weaknesses, gaining knowledge) and using ‘fool’ as one who practices folly, and flaunts deceit, why would the writer choose ‘prudent’ for the snake and not ‘fool’ (or something similar) if his intent was to portray the snake as deceitful?

    (Obviously neither of us can answer that above question without speculation)

  21. SH,

    I think in Proverbs you have a positive use of prudence, i.e., identifying blind spots. So I’m not saying that the word always refers to one who identifies blind spots and uses them to cover his up. I’m simply saying that it refers to one who sees blind spots. What one does with it depends upon the context. Some use it to exploit the naive or weak. Some use it to hide their weaknesses from others so that they are not exposed to the malice of others. So I would see the word here in the sense of the former due to the fact that the serpent is honing in on their arumim because he is arum. He then goes on to tell the human couple that they can be like God and control order and chaos, which ends up being a total deception (despite what many scholars who misconstrue the nature of tob and ra might say). This, and other factors not mentioned, indicates that arum here is to be taken as negative (of course this last observation is made by most of the lexicons, as the word seems to be only used positively within the Book of Proverbs).

  22. It should also be noted that the cognates (words from the same root) of this word are used negatively in 1 Samuel 23:22; Psalms 83:3; Exodus 21:14; Joshua 9:4. Again the only place this set of words has a positive meaning is in the book of Proverbs. The ultimate meaning is of course determined by the context, but it is difficult on any reasonable reading of the text to construe the snake’s contribution as positive and the usage of the word supports the negative use as a legitimate meaning.

  23. Agreeing with Mike – you can argue the word all day but in context the snake is definitely not portrayed as good.

    And Genesis (at least) seems to have a running theme of the promised seed battiling against the Serpent and Serpent’s seed.

  24. Question: where you said. . . . .”By instigating the fall early, before humanity had the ability to propagate itself, God provided for a vital connection between all of humanity. We are all identified with Adam and his fall. This, in and of itself, is terrible. But since we were all identified with Adam, we can now all be identified with Christ. Had Adam not fallen when he did (before propagation), we may be left without a representative in salvation.”
    This is of course a wonderful ‘good’ that has come out of the fall. I heartily agree. but, do clairfy where you say we were all identified with Adam? Whether sin came into the world or not — we are all descendant from Adam & thus identified with him.

  25. Cedric Klein 2011-01-28 at 2:07 pm

    Here’s a theory- God put the Nakhash in the Garden to be the Challenger/Tutor for Adam & Eve, and the Nakhash became Satan when it used its position, not to contend with Adam & Eve for their good, but to tempt them for their Fall. The Nakhash was just as much on probation there as Adam & Eve were.

    As to why even create such a situation, maybe that’s the way a situation MUST be if you create beings who can choose to love & trust & obey. For God to create beings who can choose thusly but not included a real test would be the same as God creating a Square Circle. It can’t be done.

  26. Arch=chief, and it sounds like a good definition to me.

  27. rayner markley 2011-02-07 at 7:04 pm

    It seems hard to believe that the serpent in Eden isn’t identified as Satan until the very last book of the Bible. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere along the way Jewish scholars had introduced that notion in their commentaries and Revelation simply confirmed it for us.

    In any case, it wasn’t necessary for Satan to be there; Adam would likely have fallen anyway at another time when God was not present.

  28. “By instigating the fall early, before humanity had the ability to propagate itself, God provided for a vital connection between all of humanity. We are all identified with Adam and his fall. This, in and of itself, is terrible. But since we were all identified with Adam, we can now all be identified with Christ.”

    I like this part of your answer best. God’s plan is not a response to what satan does or what men do. It is a plan “written” from before the foundation of the world!

    Ephesians 3:
    9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

    10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

    11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

    12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

  29. “Satan does nothing that does not first pass the desk of God.”

    I think this is a fair comment in relation to Christians. Since Job was a righteous man, and God had put a hedge around him so nothing could touch him, Satan needed to ask permission to touch Job.

    However, Scripture also tells us that the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. I would think that while God knows what is going on with the unrighteous, and he certainly knows those who will become His and those who will not, Satan has far more ease of access to those who are not in God’s kingdom. God protects His own, but to suggest that God somehow puts his stamp of approval upon every act of Satan in the world would suggest that God is in fact Satan’s superior in the sense of there being a chain of command. When Satan was in subjection to God as an Archangel, then this was so. Now of course, he is no longer in that place of submission and obedience.

    God is God. Satan is the father of lies and rebellion and the continual thorn in our flesh. What Satan does, God permits, and uses for good for those who love Him, but I disagree that he rubber-stamps all of Satan’s activities. God and Satan parted company when he was thrown out of heaven, and any work against believers must be done with God’s permission. Hence the idea that ‘all things work together for good’ because if God allows it, and he is the ultimate good father and shepherd, then even Satan’s plans for evil will be turned for good in our lives. Joseph is another good example of this.

  30. Very interesting. In my book Bridges: An Extraordinary Journey of the Heart, the main character has an encounter with Satan. She asks why God cast Satan to Earth and to God’s garden of Eden. What was he doing in God’s garden? And more importantly why was there a tree of the knowledge of good and evil there? The book attempts to answer these questions through a mesmerizing plot that has been called something like The Da Vinci Code, but better, and rated 5 stars.

  31. When God made man he did not want a robot. So He made him with the ability to choose. Therefore, Satan was created to give man a choice between right and wrong.

  32. Brandon Swift 2016-08-05 at 6:50 am

    I believe Satan was in the garden because he was the Cherub that covereth as explained in Ezekiel chapter 28. Satan fell at the same time man did, and was cursed along with Adam, and Eve. Of course his fall was greater because he had more knowledge, power, and was no doubt there to teach them not deceive them.

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