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“Ask a Priest: Did Adam and Eve Know About the Devil?”
Q: Did Adam and Eve know of the existence of Satan before the Fall? – E.T.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: While the Catholic Church has always held that the devil is real, that doesn’t mean that Adam and Eve knew of his existence explicitly.
The biblical text, in fact, seems to indicated that Adam and Eve didn’t understand who they were dealing with when they had their fateful encounter in the Garden of Eden. Two reasons come to mind.
First, neither Adam nor Eve mention the devil. Eve only refers to the “serpent” or “snake” (Genesis 3:13), not “Satan” or “the devil.”
Second, the text itself never identifies the talking snake with Satan or any other demonic being. (Talking animals were a stock literary device in ancient writings.) The ancient Israelites who compiled the Book of Genesis likely didn’t have a notion of Satan as we understand the term today. The serpent could have simply symbolized an evil inclination that tempted humans.
The Book of Job mentions “the satan,” meaning an adversary or a prosecutor, but one who is an agent of God.
Christianity had a clearer idea of the devil – thanks to Matthew 4:1-11 and 12:22-30; Mark 1:34; Luke 10:18 and 22:31; and John 8:44, and other texts — and we tend to read that understanding back into the Old Testament texts.
Old Testament material, like all of the Bible, was transmitted orally before it was written down. Since the Genesis account doesn’t mention Satan, it’s reasonable to assume that the first humans who passed on the story of the Fall didn’t have a clear understanding of the devil.
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