The Religious Serpent

“The decisive point is that this question [the serpent’s question to Eve] suggests to man that he should go behind the Word of God and establish what it is by himself, out of his understanding of the being of God… For the sake of the true God it seems to want to sweep aside the given Word of God. Beyond this given Word of God the serpent pretends somehow to know something about the profundity of the true God who is so badly misrepresented in this human word. The serpent claims to know more about God than man, who depends on God’s Word alone… [The serpent] knows that it only has power where it claims to come from God, to be pleading his cause. It is evil only as the religious serpent... The serpent’s question was a thoroughly religious one. But with the first religious question in the world evil has come upon the scene. ‘Did God say?,’ that plainly is the godless question… Man is expected to be judge of God’s word instead of simply hearing and doing it…. On the basis of an idea, a principle, some previously gained knowledge about God, man is now to judge God’s concrete Word. When man proceeds against the concrete Word of God with the weapon of a principle, with an idea of God, he is in the right from the first, he becomes God’s master, he has left the path of obedience, he has withdrawn from God’s addressing him.” (Creation and Fall, from “The Religious Question,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, italics added.)

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