by Hiram R. Diaz III
Be Wise As Serpents: An Abiding Command of God
God the Son tells us to be wise as serpents and meek as doves. This is not advice; it is a command. It is a command that places upon all of God’s saints the responsibility of being aware of how the devil and the unbelievers under his influence wage war against the church. We are commanded, in other words, to be prepared to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” and “to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us].”
The Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, declares:
...watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
The devil aims to deceive the naive, to create and nurture divisiveness and stumbling blocks contrary to the sound doctrine once for all delivered to the saints. He aims to achieve this through “smooth talk” and “flattery.” And as it was in the time of Adam and Eve, so it has been with the enemies of God ever since.
It behooves us, therefore, to not be ignorant of the enemy’s trickery. The first part of this series dealt with broader rhetorical tricks. This second part will deal with the attacks of antitrinitarians in subtler detail. To do this, though, we must return to the beginning of Scripture and see how the devil operates.
§1. An Ambiguous Use of the Interrogative
In Genesis 3:1-5, we read the following:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The serpent does not begin his discourse with an assertion, but with a question. Questions do not imply anything. Therefore, Eve could not have validly inferred the serpent’s intended goal for using an interrogative. Asking a question does not imply that one is ignorant, after all. Nor does it imply that one desires an answer. The motives of a questioner are indecipherable apart from understanding either one’s context or the nature of the questioner. An unknown questioner who does not explain himself presents a problem to the uninformed.
For example, consider the following question:
What are you doing here?
Without a context restricting how we interpret its use, the question may be understood either as an indicative or an imperative. As an indicative, it would translate to: “You are not supposed to be here.” As an imperative, it would translate to: “Please tell me your purpose in being here.”
§ 2. Ambiguous Terms
Presumably because the context of Genesis 3 gives us the interpretive restraints we need in order to properly understand the devil’s use of an interrogative, we sometimes do not see the problem facing Eve, who seemingly did not have these interpretive restraints. To his ambiguous intentions we may add the ambiguity of certain words in the question. Regarding Gen 3:1b, Calvin explains:
This sentence [i.e. the serpent’s question] is variously expounded and even distorted [by various interpreters], partly because it is in itself obscure, and partly because of the ambiguous import of the Hebrew particle. The expression אף כי [...] sometimes signifies “although” or “indeed,” and sometimes, “how much more.”
...to some [interpreters] this [i.e. Gen 3:1b] appears a simple, to others an ironical interrogation. It would be a simple interrogation, if it injected a doubt in the following manner: ‘Can it be, that God should forbid the eating of any tree whatever?’ but it would be ironical, if used for the purpose of dissipating vain fear; as, ‘It greatly concerns God, indeed, whether you eat of the tree or not! It is, therefore, ridiculous that you should think it to be forbidden you!’
Whereas Calvin notes the ambiguity of the Hebrew expression אף כי, John Gill draws attention to the phrase “of every tree.” Gill:
...so ambiguously does he speak, in order to reproach the divine goodness, and draw into a disbelief of it. The speech…supposes some discourse, as to this purpose; surely God hates you, for though you are greater than the rest of the creatures, he has not provided any superior excellency for you, and especially since he has said, “ye shall not eat”, &c.
…he seems to put this question, to cause them to doubt of it, whether there was such a prohibition or not, and as amazing that it should be, and as not believing it to be true; it being, as he would have it, contrary to the perfections of God, to his goodness and liberality, and to his profession of a peculiar respect to man…
Did the serpent intend to say any or every? He doesn’t explain this to Eve, instead leaving her to her own interpretive devices. As we have mentioned above, we postlapsarian readers have the advantage of “context clues,” as it were, when reading this text. Eve, however, seemingly did not.
§ 3. Flattery
As Charles C. Ryrie notes, the lexical and purposive ambiguities of the serpent’s address notwithstanding, “the important point to notice in this conversation is simply that Satan had succeeded in centering Eve's thoughts on the single restriction.” This effectively created a “counterfeit [of] the goodness of God,” a “goodness” which glorified Eve rather than Yahweh. As the serpent would tell it, Eve was divine, better than merely human, and in no position to take orders from a jealous equal. Eve was flattered by the serpent, albeit indirectly.
Like that serpent of old, antitrinitarians “do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” And like Eve, the naive are usually flattered into thinking that they have been lied to by “the establishment” or “organized religion” or “the church that Emperor Constantine created in the AD 300’s.”
The false teacher insinuates that there is a conflict between the manipulative ruling power/s and the honest and oppressed class of ruled individuals, the latter of which the naive is a member. The reader/listener’s value as one deserving of “the Truth” (i.e. a false doctrine rightly condemned by the church universally since its inception) is exploited by such “smooth speakers.” They “make much of [the naive], but for no good purpose.” As the apostle Peter notes, “they promise…freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.”
§ 4. Approaching Non-Teachers of the Word
Rather than directly approach the first recipient and the ordained teacher of God’s commandment, the serpent approaches the secondary recipient of God’s Word. Likewise, rather than openly confront the ordained ministers of the Gospel, false teachers will often approach the secondary recipients of the teaching of Scripture. This is not surprising, for Paul warned the Ephesian elders that “fierce wolves [would] come in among [them], not sparing the flock; and from among [them] own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” This is significant, demonstrating the wolf-like behavior of these false teachers. They do not prey upon the ordained ministers of the Gospel, the preachers of God’s Holy Word, and sound theologians. Rather, they seek the naive and the weak-willed in the church.
The goal is to isolate the sheep from his flock, to create doubt in the sheep’s mind as to the ethical character of his God-ordained shepherd. This seems to be precisely what Satan does in Genesis 3
Genesis 3 provides Christians with a very clear picture of how the enemy operates. The cardinal positions of Satan’s moves or attacks, it should be noted, are not intended to suggest that he operates according to the same pattern every time. Rather, they are so numbered for the reader’s convenience. Enumeration also helps us understand that these attacks are not isolated but part and parcel of a strategic assault upon the doctrine of God and his works of creation and redemption.
- The Ambiguous Interrogative: The serpent and those who are under his control will hide behind questions asked without any stated context. Contextual clues help us understand that the serpent was asking Eve about God’s Word because he sought to confuse, manipulate, and/or corrupt her thinking. Eve, however, was seemingly not aware of his intentions. False teachers will often ask questions in this way in order to conceal their true intentions (i.e. to deceive, maniuplate, etc).
- Ambiguous Terms: The question serves as cloak for the false teacher, as it did for the serpent. Adding to the mystery of the undisclosed heretical grand finale, the false teacher will use terminology that is, again, not interpretively restricted by context. This allows their listener/reader to, again, fallaciously draw unorthodox conclusions, while the false teacher maintains some distance from bearing direct responsibility for the listener/reader’s defection from the truth.
- Flattery: As the serpent insinuated that Eve was too special for God to hide the truth from her, so antitrinitarians approach the naive in a similar way. Their prey are made to feel wronged by the church, for actions which the body of Christ has not done (i.e. withheld the truth from truth-seekers), and this suggests the prey’s inherent greatness, even divinity, against which no one, not even God himself, may transgress.
- Preying On Non-Pastors/Non-Teachers: The serpent did not approach Adam with his ambiguous question, ambiguous terminology, and flattery. Rather, he approached Eve. Adam, it seems to be, was the ordained receiver and teacher of God’s Word. Thus, if the serpent desired to know the content and origin of the command given to Eve by Adam, why did he not ask Adam? In a similar manner we may ask: If the opponents of trinitarianism, i.e. Christianity, truly seek to understand the doctrines they opposed, then why not approach the strongest defenders of those doctrines? Why approach the naive, uninformed, ignorant, and weak-willed? The intention of the antitrinitarian in approaching non-teachers/non-pastors is not good, nor is it neutral. Rather, as Paul explains, these men seek to gather a following after themselves, and pastors and teachers are usually not the easiest to catch and enslave.
False teachers employ rhetorical tricks, in the final analysis, because their position is not supported by the explicit teaching of Scripture, nor by the implicit teaching of Scripture.
As Christians, as defenders and proclaimers of the truths of Scripture, we are commanded to be wise as serpents and meek as doves. The foregoing analyses of the enemy’s tricks, I pray, will assist the reader in that task.
Soli Deo Gloria.
 Jude 1:3.
 1st Pet 3:15.
 Rom 16:17-18.
 cf. 2nd Cor 2:11.
 As is evident from God’s use of multiple questions subsequent to these opening verses of Genesis 3. cf. Gen 3:9, 11, & 13.
 As is evident from God’s barrage of questions aimed at Job, questions which God knew Job could not answer. cf. Job 38-41.
 viz. “The serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made… ”
 John Calvin’s Commentary on the Book of Genesis, ch. 3. (emphasis added) Regarding the particle, however, cf. Matt 4:3, 6, 11 & 27:40; Luk 4:3, & 9.
 John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Gen. 3:1.
 “Satan’s Counterfeit,” in Grace Journal 2:3 (Fall: 1961), 16.
 Rom 16:18.
 Gal 4:17a.
 2nd Pet 2:19a.
Some commentators believe that Eve also received the commandment directly from God, but this is not a textually warranted belief. Seeing as the Scriptures present Adam as the sole recipient of the commandment in Gen 2:15-17, prior to the creation of Eve, it appears to be more likely that Adam received the commandment and was given the role of teacher to Eve and their anticipated posterity. cf. Deut 6:1-9; Ps 78:1-8; Eph 6:4.
 Acts 20:29-30.
 cf. 2nd Tim 3:1-9.
 cf. Eph 2:1-4.
cf. “10 Answers to 10 Illogical ‘Questions’?” Biblical Trinitarian, accessed August 27, 2016,http://www.biblicaltrinitarian.com/2016/07/10-answers-to-10-illogical-questions_16.html.
 Post-ascension Judaizers promised their prospective converts a more authentic, truer form of Christianity that the established church was suppressing, keeping away from true converts. Likewise, early on various groups of Gnostics made the same appeal to man’s inherent greatness, a greatness which could only be achieved via the reception and consumption of previously hidden truths (hidden by Christians out of ignorance, jealousy, or some other immoral desire). Today, restorationist cults - e.g. Black Hebrew Israelites, Christadelphians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, et al - make converts in the same way.
 As is the case in Mormonism.