The Serpent That Was Not There

by Marc W. Gibson & Harry Osborne

Throughout history, the truth of God has been assaulted by those interpreting figurative symbols as literal history and by those interpreting literal history as figurative symbols. Premillennialists have advocated their theories by interpreting the figurative symbols of books like Daniel and Revelation as literal history. Those denying the literal, historical facts presented in the Bible have taken the opposite tack, interpreting literal facts as figurative symbols. Both have violated a simple and fundamental rule for interpreting Scripture:

"All words are to be understood in their literal sense, unless the evident meaning of the context forbids. — Figures are the exception, literal language the rule; hence we are not to regard anything as figurative until we feel compelled to do so by the evident import of the passage" (D. R. Dungan, Hermeneutics, 184).

This rule is not true because Dungan stated it in a book widely used by faithful brethren for many years, but because the rule expresses the way speakers and writers moved by the Holy Spirit interpreted the writings of others who were also inspired of God. For instance, in Jonah 1:17, the inspired writer related as literal, historical fact that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and remained in its belly three days and three nights. When Jesus gave the God-breathed interpretation of this passage, He related the account as literally true in the details recorded. Another example of the literal facts of biblical accounts being interpreted literally in other passages may be seen in the account from Numbers 21:6 of "serpents" biting the children of Israel in the wilderness wandering which the inspired apostle interpreted as being literal "serpents" (1 Cor. 10:9).

In neither case seen above did other writers under the control of the Spirit interpret the historical account as referring to figurative animals, rather than the literal animals affirmed in the Bible text. Why? Because the original account indicated a literal interpretation was the proper understanding of the text. It is true that the word "serpent" is elsewhere used symbolically with reference to Dan (Gen. 49:17) and Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). However, nothing in Numbers 21 would suggest the writer had reference to Dan, the tribe of Dan or Satan biting the Israelites (either figuratively or literally). To inject a figurative interpretation into Numbers 21 on the basis of what "serpent" means elsewhere is to misuse Scripture.

Let us remember that the "days" of the creation account were re-interpreted by several brethren a few years ago so as to deny the literal fact that "in six days, Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is" (Ex. 20:11). Many scholars deny that the flood of Genesis 6 was universal in scope, but was only a local flood. Sadly, another recent teaching has publicly advanced the "possibility" that literal facts stated in another historical account may be seen as "symbolic" or "a literary device." An interpretation has been offered as viable that claims an actual, literal serpent may not have been present in the Garden of Eden when Eve was tempted.

This interpretation of the account in Genesis chapter 3 is suggested by Marty Pickup in his lecture manuscript on "The Seed of Woman" as given in the 2003 Florida College lecture book (pp. 49-78). We would encourage the reader to obtain a copy of this lecture manuscript and to give it a fair and careful reading in its entirety. In the section entitled "Identifying the Serpent" (pp. 55-62), brother Pickup begins by contrasting the interpretations of liberal commentators, who treat the serpent of Genesis 3 as folklore and myth, with the New Testament writers who "treat the events of Genesis 3 as historical fact" and connect the serpent with Satan (p. 56). He also makes the observation that the ancient Jews made the same connection between the serpent and Satan (pp. 57-58).

Brother Pickup addresses the use of Genesis 3 in passages such as Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 which identify the serpent of Genesis 3 as Satan. He is answering a liberal attack against the New Testament "reinterpretation" of the Genesis narrative. The liberal attack says that Genesis 3 presents the picture that a literal serpent approached Eve, but the New Testament writers "reinterpret" the Genesis 3 narrative to say that the serpent was Satan. In the liberal’s view, this reinterpretation of Genesis 3 is an unwarranted use of the Genesis account. The usual response to this liberal attack is to say that the Genesis narrative must be understood as teaching that the Devil spoke through a literal serpent (just as God spoke through the mouth of Balaam’s donkey). However, brother Pickup rejects that approach to Genesis 3 as the only "possibility."

Instead, our brother proposes another solution to the problem. He believes that Near Eastern mythology used the term "serpent" (Hebrew: nahash) to refer to an evil spirit in conflict with God. He then suggests that Moses may have used nahash in Genesis 3, not to refer to a literal serpent, but to Satan. He states that the "fact that Genesis called this creature a serpent and a beast of the field would not have prevented its being an evil spirit" (p. 58). In this case, the New Testament writers, agreeing with the Jewish reading of Genesis, would have interpreted Moses’ use of nahash as a reference to Satan. The problem this poses for the interpretation of Genesis 3 is that nahash would not refer to a literal serpent confronting a literal Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Brother Pickup says we must understand the account of Genesis 3 in "the theological milieu of the Pentateuch" where evil came to the world as a result of rebellious angels who sought "to induce the same rebellion in human beings" (p. 59). He notes, "Reinforcing this understanding is the fact that Genesis 6 explicitly discusses rebellious angels who were responsible for the corruption of the human race which led to the great flood." He points out that most scholars, ancient and modern, believe the "daughters of men" were humans and the "sons of God" were rebellious angels who "sired children" by those women. Our brother notes that "some conservative scholars" argue against this view, but he disagrees with their alternate interpretations (see his footnote #23, p. 74). However, based on his approach to Genesis 6, brother Pickup concludes, "The parallel between this event and the incident of Genesis 3 is quite precise, particularly if one interprets the serpent of Genesis 3 to be a spiritual being as well" (p. 60).

This then leads to a subsection called "Further Questions" (pp. 60-62) in which brother Pickup asks why Satan might have taken the form of a serpent of the garden. He suggests that "taking the form of a garden animal was the devil’s way of accommodating to the level of Adam and Eve so as to appear non-threatening" (p. 60). After all of the statements given by brother Pickup in support of the literalness and historicity of the account of Genesis 3, it is the interpretation suggested at the end of this section that truly leaves one astonished. To capture the entire thought, this section is quoted below:

But if the serpent is really Satan, why does Genesis identify him only as a serpent and not as a spiritual being? Why do we have to rely upon later revelation to clarify the real nature of the serpent? This is the chief objection that many people raise to the identification of the serpent with Satan. But again, God himself is not depicted in Genesis 3 as a spiritual being per se. Were it not for later revelation, we would not realize that the anthropomorphic form of God in Genesis 3 is not His true nature but that God is actually Spirit.
It is also worth considering that the account of these events may be, to some degree, accommodative and symbolic. Genesis may use the serpent motif because it is borrowing imagery from the mythological culture of that day regarding a cosmological foe of Deity. Old Testament writers commonly take features of well-known pagan myths and rework them in order to present the truth of Israelite monotheism. Psalms 29 and 74, for example, recast poetic images about Baal, the storm god, into depictions of Yahweh as the Lord of nature (Craigie 147-151). Isaiah 27 and Psalm 74 transform stories about Baal’s primeval defeat of Leviathan, the god of chaos, into accounts of Yahweh’s defeat of this creature when He brought order to creation (Emerton 327-328; Hugenberger 109). Many scholars suggest that this kind of reshaping of pagan themes into a presentation of monotheistic truth is, to some degree, what Genesis is doing in its creation account (Boyd 84-85). It is interesting that in the ancient world Leviathan was imagined as a draconic serpent with seven heads (cf. Isaiah 27:1; Ps. 74:14) and Revelation 12 makes use of this same figure to depict Satan: "And behold, a great red dragon having seven heads. . . . And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan" (Rev. 12:3,9).
It is possible, therefore, that Genesis recounted man’s primeval fall using the language and symbology that was best suited for its original audience. Since ancient creation myths gave a serpentine form to the being who opposed the order of creation, it was fitting that the tempter in the garden be depicted in this way (Boyd 156). Such a literary device may have been quite obvious to the original audience of Genesis.
It seems likely that later Jews and Christians recognized the various factors discussed above when they identified the serpent of Genesis 3 with Satan. There was no other reasonable conclusion to draw than that which the apostle John expressed: "The serpent of old . . . is the devil and Satan" (Rev. 20:2). What we see here is a "translation" of the antique theological images of Genesis into the cosmic language that had become commonplace by the Greco-Roman period. Yet the essence of what Genesis relates is unaltered (pp. 60-62).

While brother Pickup may, or may not, personally believe this interpretation that "the account of" Genesis 3 "may be, to some degree, accommodative and symbolic," or that the "serpent motif" is borrowed "imagery from the mythological culture of that day" allowing the use of "such a literary device," please allow it to sink into your mind that he offers it to brethren today as "worth considering" and "possible." When one suggests that Bible writers may have been "borrowing imagery from the mythological culture of that day" and taking "features of well-known pagan myths" which would later be translated from "the antique theological images of Genesis into the cosmic language that had become commonplace by the Greco-Roman period," he is no longer speaking as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11). He may be speaking the language of modern theology or of evangelicals, but he is not speaking as the oracles of God.

Understanding the Terminology

The terminology used by brother Pickup is not found in Scripture. After all, where do you read about a "serpent motif" in the Bible? Which inspired writer tells us "that this kind of reshaping of pagan themes into a presentation of monotheistic truth is, to some degree, what Genesis is doing in its creation account"? Moses and Jesus clearly knew nothing of such (Ex. 20:8-11; 31:12-17; Mk. 10:6-7). What Scripture speaks to us about "borrowing imagery from the mythological culture of that day regarding a cosmological foe of Deity"? What passage explains the use of "symbology" and "literary device" to properly re-interpret literal accounts of Scripture? Clearly, this is not the terminology of the Bible. It is the language used by the academic and denominational world that clouds, obscures, and denies the plain teaching of the text.

The word "motif" refers to "a recurring design or feature in a literary or artistic work" (Oxford American Dictionary, 1980, p. 434). Even if the recurring figure of a serpent in pagan mythology is used to symbolize an evil force opposed to the creator, the fact remains that the serpent of Genesis 3 was not a "motif," but a literal serpent that was cursed to crawl on its belly (Gen. 3:14). Not a "symbolic" serpent, but a serpent just as literal and real as Eve (Gen. 3:1-5; 2 Cor. 11:3). Not the "imagery from the mythological culture of that day regarding a cosmological foe of Deity," but a serpent that literally spoke by and for Satan as the New Testament affirms. Not an example of "features of well-known pagan myths and [reworked] in order to present the truth of Israelite monotheism," but a serpent described by the inspired record as a "beast of the field" (Gen. 3:1, 14). Not a "literary device," but a serpent in literal truth.

When brother Pickup says, "Many scholars suggest that this kind of reshaping of pagan themes into a presentation of monotheistic truth is, to some degree, what Genesis is doing in its creation account," we also recognize that "many scholars" treat the entire account of Genesis 3 as myth. Which group of "scholars" are we to believe? We do not determine the interpretation of Genesis 3 by what "many scholars" believe, but by what the text says. The Bible presents both the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2, as well as the account of the serpent in Genesis 3 as being literally factual. Failure to defend such against any interpretation that would claim otherwise in either case is a denial of the historicity of the Scripture in those accounts. Though our brother claims to defend the "historicity" of the Bible account, the word "historicity" has a concrete meaning and is defined as follows: "the condition of having actually occurred in history; authenticity" (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition, p. 665). One does not defend the historicity of Genesis 3 when he accepts or is tolerant of views that deny the presence of an actual, authentic, literal serpent in the presence of Eve at the temptation. One cannot claim to believe that the account of Genesis 3 is literal history and suggest, in the same breath, that one of the clearly defined characters in the text may actually be a "literary device" symbolizing an unnamed spiritual being. These two interpretations are contradictory and cannot exist together. Indeed, we must choose which is the true interpretation of the text.

In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul warned the Corinthians that they were in danger of being "corrupted from the simplicity and purity that is towards Christ" just as "the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness." Now, it seems some are beguiled by pagan mythology and the craftiness of academic, theological re-interpretations to be corrupted away from the simplicity and purity of the text that clearly says a serpent was there in the first place. The same thing happened with re-interpretations of the creation account that denied the literal creation of the physical universe and its inhabitants in six days. When we stay with the simplicity and purity of the text, we have no problem. When one begins to hypothesize about "the serpent motif because it is borrowing imagery from the mythological culture of that day regarding a cosmological foe of Deity" or similar theorizing about the creation account, that is where we start to have a very serious problem.

Years ago, brethren were rightly impressed by the simplicity and purity in the preaching of brethren like H. E. Phillips, James P. Miller, Harry Pickup, Sr, and others. Their appeal was to the Scripture and the simplicity of understanding that text as opposed to the confusion of denominational theologies. If they took note of the various theories of men, they followed it with a bold refutation of any error that contradicted the plain truth of the Bible text. Let us not forsake the plain and simple gospel preaching that saves souls and continues to frustrate and confound the "wise" of this world (1 Cor. 1:18-25). We will never impress the academics with simple gospel preaching, but it will continue to save the lost today as it did when Paul preached it (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18ff; 2:1ff).

From a Talking Serpent to a "Serpent Motif"

In his manuscript, brother Pickup refers to the fact that serpents do not normally speak and that this may cause us to think it was something other than a literal serpent (p. 58). If that would suggest we should re-interpret the serpent of Genesis 3 in light of a "serpent motif," what would it do to the talking donkey of Numbers 22? The Bible says that the donkey spoke (Num. 22:30; 2 Pet. 2:16). That faculty of speech was not, however, explained by something intrinsic to the nature of a donkey, but by the fact that God "opened the mouth of the donkey" (Num. 22:28). We dare not go to a parallel in pagan mythology to find a "donkey motif" and re-interpret the story to deny the presence of a literal donkey that talked.

When Jesus referred to Jonah as being "three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish" (Matt. 12:40), are we to take the "great fish" as a literal character of the story? How can we know for sure, since big fish do not normally store whole and healthy men in their bellies for three days and nights? Shall we consider the possibility that this was the accommodative symbolism of a "Big Fish Motif"? If not, why not?

If we start down this road of re-interpretation, how long will it be before we go from a "Serpent Motif" to a "Donkey Motif" and a "Big Fish Motif"? Once we learn to tolerate those, how much longer will it be until we discover a "Flood Motif," a "Virgin Birth Motif" and a "Resurrection Motif"? After all, none of these Bible accounts conforms to the norm of observed reality because they do not happen in ordinary life.

One could just as logically appeal to a "resurrection motif" in an effort to deny the literal resurrection as one could deny the literal serpent by appealing to a "serpent motif" in Genesis 3. After all, "resurrection" and "raised" are sometimes used in a symbolic sense as well. However, in a context affirming the literal resurrection of Christ, it would be a misuse of Scripture to interpret the word in a non-literal sense. The same is true with the word "serpent" in Genesis 3. One may claim that "the essence of what Genesis relates is unaltered," but the understanding of the literal nature of the characters involved has been greatly altered. The entirety of God’s word is unalterable truth (Psa. 119:128, 160), not just the "essence."

The model of interpretation suggested by brother Pickup as "worth considering" is both false and dangerous. Carried to its logical end, it could be used to re-interpret every miracle from the creation to the resurrection in light of pagan myths and cultural folklore. The Bible teaches the literal presence of the serpent in Genesis 3 just as certainly as it teaches the literal nature of the days in which God accomplished the creation in Genesis 1 and 2. The fact that both occurrences differ from the norm confirms the presence of the miraculous, not the need for re-interpreting the passage so as to, in the final analysis, deny the literal facts stated in the text.

The Bible Says a Literal Serpent Was There with Eve

While there is nothing in the text of Genesis 3 that demands or compels a symbolic interpretation of the serpent, the Bible text does give a compelling argument against a non-literal interpretation of the serpent. A careful examination of the wording found in the text itself is the clearest way for the Bible believer to see that a literal serpent really was there. In fact, the context of Genesis 3 and related passages will not even permit a figurative interpretation. When one suggests the possibility of a figurative interpretation, he must appeal to a parallel in pagan mythology, because the Bible never hints at a figurative interpretation.

The main question is this: What evidence from the biblical text helps us to determine whether the serpent of Genesis 3 was a literal serpent or a figurative serpent used as a literary device?

(1) In examining the text of Genesis 3, the text clearly speaks of a real, literal serpent. "Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made" (v. 1). Eve was under the impression that she was deceived by a real serpent (v. 13). When God cursed the serpent, he made reference to its relation to the beasts of the field as well as it going about on its belly (v. 14). Now what part of this account would suggest to us that the "serpent" really was not a literal serpent?

(2) If we miss that affirmation in Genesis 3, Paul surely gives an inspired commentary in 2 Corinthians 11:3. The inspired apostle simply says, "The serpent beguiled Eve." If Eve was literal, the serpent was also literal. It is just that simple if we accept the Bible as truth. Paul apparently did not feel compelled to translate any "antique theological images of Genesis into the cosmic language that had become commonplace" by that time. If these pagan symbols and motifs were well known in Paul’s time, as brother Pickup claims, Paul did not pay them any attention – and neither should we. Let us not leave "the simplicity and the purity" of God’s revealed word for interpretations derived from pagan myths or other extra-biblical sources.

(3) The Scripture as a whole plainly says that a literal serpent was present in Genesis 3 and that Satan was present. Direct statements make it clear that a literal serpent was present (Gen. 3:1-14; 2 Cor. 11:3). In fact, every direct statement in Scripture regarding who tempted Eve in the garden specifies it was the serpent. Several implications within God’s word cause us to necessarily infer that Satan was also present to direct his evil temptation through the serpent (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:9; Jn. 8:44; etc.). If we believe that God legitimately teaches by direct statement, approved example and implication, we must accept all that He says by all of those means as the whole truth. Thus, we must conclude that both are literally factual unless something in the Scripture forces us to interpret one or the other in a symbolic or figurative sense. Nothing in the context of Genesis 3 or any related passage forces a figurative interpretation.

(4) We may test the theory that there may not have been a literal serpent in the garden by using an interpretive tool long employed by faithful brethren. Dungan expressed the rule this way:

"The proper definition of a word may be used in the place of the word. — If the trial be made in this way, and the definition is wrong, the sense of the passage will be so destroyed as to make it apparent. It need only to be stated that the true meaning of a word will give the same sense that the word would give; hence, to remove the word and replace it with the definition, is easily done, and is a valuable method" (Dungan, 188-189).

If our brother’s theory is correct or even possible, we can replace the word "serpent" with "Satan" in Genesis 3 and it should not change the meaning of the text. Let us try that in Genesis 3:14 where it would make the text read as follows:

And Jehovah God said unto Satan, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.

Clearly, that would not make sense. A literal serpent is the clear point of reference to a serpent that goes on its belly. It is also clear that a serpent is classified as a creature among the beasts of the field. This is verified by Genesis 3:1. These verses do not make sense if the word "Satan" is substituted for "serpent." Though Satan is the obvious moving force behind the tempting of Eve, a literal serpent must be present to induce a divine curse upon this particular beast of the field.

Separating "Intent" from "Effect"

Let it be clearly understood that we accept brother Marty Pickup’s explanation that he intended his teaching to be a rebuttal to theological liberals who deny the credibility of Genesis 3 in every way. However, one may give what is in his mind an intended rebuttal to theological liberalism that has an unintended effect of conflicting with the harmony of God’s revealed truth.

For example, when one denies the literal interpretation of the creation account, clearly affirmed in the Scripture, he has contradicted the word of God. If he does so for the purpose of answering theological liberals by arguing it was intended to be understood in an accommodative or symbolic sense, he has still contradicted the word of God. The intention may be different, but the result is the same. When one tolerates the denial of the literal interpretation of the creation account, saying that it is possibly understood as a literary device with a symbolical interpretation and that such an interpretation should not present a problem, he has justified a tolerance for a teaching that contradicts the word of God. If he does such for the purpose of answering theological liberals, he has still been tolerant of a teaching that contradicts the word of God in such a way as to unintentionally advance liberalism.

Likewise, if God’s word teaches that the serpent of Genesis 3 is also literal, one denying that fact would contradict the Scripture to deny it was literal, regardless of his admittedly noble intentions. If the Bible teaches that the serpent of Genesis 3 was literal, one justifying tolerance for a teaching which denies that fact would still be justifying tolerance for a teaching contrary to the word of God, regardless of noble intentions.

Just an "Ultra-Conservative Fuss"?

If the two authors of this article were the only people raising an objection to a non-literal interpretation of the serpent in Genesis 3, one might suggest this is just a personal matter. If only a few preachers seen as "ultra-conservatives" among churches of Christ voiced opposition to the teaching that no literal serpent was there in the garden, one might say it was just evidence of their radicalism. However, if those known for fighting the modernism present in institutional and denominational circles noted alarm over such teaching, would that get the attention of the more skeptical? Let us see two examples.

Among those who have expressed their concerns is Dr. Bert Thompson, one of the institutional brethren who exposed the errors moving towards modernism at Abilene Christian University. After reading Marty Pickup’s lecture quoted above, Dr. Thompson sent the following post to Harry Osborne:

Dear Harry,
What a shock it was to read Marty Pickup’s comments about Satan. In 1986, when I wrote the book, Is Genesis Myth?, about the teaching of evolution at ACU, I knew things were "bad" at my alma mater. But if someone had told me that, a decade or less later, the school would be where it is now, even I would have demurred.
Now, to see what is happening at "conservative" Florida College–well, all I can say is that it brings back terribly unpleasant memories. One does not have to be prescient to see where all of this is going, eh? I appreciate your sharing this with me. Modernism has indeed hurt us deeply–and continues to do so. I would ask, "Where will it all end?," but you and I both know that it will NOT end. And therein lies the problem. Oh, for godly elders and administrators who could put a stop to all of this!
In Him,

Being among institutional brethren, Dr. Thompson has no "axe to grind" in this discussion. The bias one would expect from him would be to view all of us as too conservative. He does, however, see the similarity between brother Marty Pickup’s teaching and the teaching done at ACU, which he fought. Surely all of us would agree that the teaching Dr. Thompson fought at ACU has clearly manifested itself as modernistic in effect. Please ask yourself why Bert Thompson would view brother Pickup’s teaching as headed in the same direction as the teaching fought at ACU. He sees the same thing we see. The willingness to accept or tolerate non-literal interpretations of Bible accounts based on extra-biblical sources (whether pagan mythology, modern scientific theory or whatever else), even though proper hermeneutics applied to the Scripture would demand a literal interpretation, subordinates Scripture to a place of inferiority and elevates the extra-biblical sources to a place of priority. Though we will concede such is not our brother’s intent, that is the clear effect of his approach. Though we will not accuse him of accepting the consequence, others can and will take the principle he has affirmed and apply it to its logical end of denying the literal truth of one Bible account after another. No Bible miracle can be safe from re-interpretation when others take the approach affirmed by our brother to its logical end.

Edward J. Young was a well-known opponent of modernism in Evangelical circles as a professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Young’s statement on the interpretation of this text is worthy of consideration:

"If there were no snake but merely an appearance, we might very well question the historicity of the narrative, for if the Bible spoke of a snake but did not mean a snake, we might justifiably wonder whether it did not do the same thing with other objects mentioned in this chapter. If the word ‘snake’ is simply a symbol for something else, how do we know that other things which we meet in this chapter are not also mere symbols? It is not amiss then to lay our stress upon this first word, and to insist that the chapter begins by directing our attention to a real snake" (Genesis 3: A Devotional and Expository Study, pp. 7-8).

No, it is not just a few ultra-conservative radicals who recognize the danger of the teaching that denies a literal serpent was in the garden. It is not the result of a few people misunderstanding the words used by brother Pickup. Others who have fought modernism rightly recognize that teaching as dangerous and have raised objection. Brethren, when one "among us" sets off the warning bells of those in institutional and denominational circles, it is past time that we awoke to recognize a serious problem!

Inherent Consequences of the Teaching

Brother Marty Pickup’s essay clearly parallels making the literal serpent of Genesis 3 into a literary device with making the literal account of creation into a literary device (cf. p. 61). The same hermeneutic of re-interpretation of the Bible text on the basis of extra-biblical material has been used in both cases. Brother Pickup’s teaching is another step in the direction of rejecting clear, literal statements of Scripture in favor of a symbolic or figurative interpretation contrary to the plain indications of the Bible text. The real tragedy is that brother Pickup really seems to think that there is no danger in his view of Genesis 3, nor of parallel views on Genesis 1 and 2. Instead of learning from the creation controversy and abandoning the failed concepts of those advocating a non-literal interpretation of the creation account, our brother has come to their defense and re-introduced the same basic approach to re-interpreting Scripture.

Though both of the authors of this review attempted through personal discussion to get him to see the dangers of his teaching, brother Pickup has rejected our efforts and maintained his view. Our hope is that he will come to see the consequences inherent in his teaching that casts doubt upon the literal facts affirmed in God’s word. Though he does not acknowledge it, brother Pickup’s influence over young people with the views he is justifying causes deep concern to numerous brethren. The approach he has taken on Genesis 3 and the parallel approach taken on the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2 will undermine the faith of the young people taught those errors. We have already seen young people affected by such concepts learned from Shane Scott and Hill Roberts. Brethren in various parts of the country have seen the same thing and are rightly alarmed about the dangers.

A Growing Lack of Clarity?

When Ed Harrell first claimed the Scripture lacked clarity regarding divorce and remarriage, thus allowing continued fellowship with brother Hailey in his error, faithful brethren voiced alarm at the principle and were openly fearful of where it would lead (Ed Harrell, "Divorce & Fellowship," Florida College Forum manuscript [1991], pp. 10-11; see also Ed Harrell, Christianity Magazine, Aug. 1989, p. 6). When the same appeal was made regarding the Bible passages on "Fellowship" and the identification of a false teacher, the trend became more apparent.

When Ferrell Jenkins told us that we could not be sure the "days" of Genesis 1 were literal, the application of the principle widened even more. While chastising brethren who affirmed the necessity of defending the literal "days" taught in Scripture, brother Jenkins urged us, "Not to be wishy-washy, not to compromise on any biblical truth, but to say there are just some things so difficult that I may not be able to draw the same conclusion you’ve drawn on those and then to give that opportunity for people " (Ferrell Jenkins, Making Sense of the Days of Creation, Florida College Annual Lecture, [8 Feb. 2000]). When others told us the lack of clarity in the Bible account made it possible that a God-guided "Big Bang" billions of years ago may have begun our universe, but that it was no big deal to see it either way, there was a premium put upon uncertainty.

Brother Pickup heightened our concern about this uncertainty when he declared at the same Florida College lecture that he could not be "dogmatic" or "a hundred percent certain" about the authenticity of 2 Peter and Jude. Though his personal conclusion was that "the weight of the evidence tips the scale in favor of the authenticity of 2 Peter and Jude," he admitted, "I can’t just be dogmatic about that, I’m not a hundred percent certain about that" (The Canonicity of the General Epistles, Florida College Annual Lectures, [8 Feb. 2000]). Once again, the stated facts of Scripture are reduced to question marks. Can we not trust the work of the Holy Spirit who guided the writing and collection of the present New Testament canon? Why can our faith not be absolutely certain that 2 Peter and Jude are authentic and a part of "all Scripture" that is "given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17)? Does this uncertainty derive from the Scripture or from the wisdom of men?

Now, brother Pickup tells us we cannot be sure there was a literal serpent in the garden with Eve, even though the Scripture plainly affirms that fact. Where is the uncertainty in the passages relating the nature of the serpent in Genesis 3? One may claim the passages are uncertain, just as a Baptist preacher claims Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38 are unclear. However, neither claim can be sustained by turning to the text and specifically citing the points in the text that are unclear. We do not need a greater tolerance for various interpretations of the nature of the serpent in Genesis 3 based on the supposed uncertainty of the text, but brethren who will affirm the fact affirmed in Scripture — that a literal serpent was there! We do not need the various "possibilities" presented to an audience encouraged to pick among the variety as if they were equally acceptable. Would that work with alternate "possibilities" of interpreting the place of baptism in Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38? No, we need brethren who will boldly affirm the one true interpretation and expose the error of the false interpretations.

The path of this plea to be "uncertain" about the literal nature of Bible facts is obvious, contagious and disastrous. What is next? We do not know, but this error is sure to find other applications as it re-interprets more and more literal truths into possible literary devices about which we cannot be certain. Dear brother or sister, whether you see it or not, this principle consistently applied will sooner or later call into question the literal fact of the resurrection and the literal necessity of baptism using the same hermeneutic. Brethren, let us return to the solid ground of affirming and defending the literal facts and truths taught in God’s word, and let us raise uncompromising opposition to every teaching in conflict with that truth.

Throughout history, the truth of God has been assaulted by those interpreting figurative symbols as literal history and by those interpreting literal history as figurative symbols. Premillennialists have advocated their theories by interpreting the figurative symbols of books like Daniel and Revelation as literal history. Those denying the literal, historical facts presented in the Bible have taken the opposite tack, interpreting literal facts as figurative symbols. Both have violated a simple and fundamental rule for interpreting Scripture: