"Did God really say"...? The Misuse of Genesis 3:1
How many times have you heard a preacher cite Satan's tempting words to Eve in Genesis 3:1, "Did God really say...?" and then go on to make a point about the authority of Scripture? The moral of the story, according to the preacher, is that Satan is trying to get us to doubt what God has clearly said in his word!
Of course, this is absolutely crucial in our day, when so many are trying to find a way to justify homosexuality or transgenderism, and to twist and reinterpret Scripture to suit their own desires. Did God really say these things are sin? Surely not.
And, of course, it is true that Satan is continually trying to get us to doubt what God has clearly said in his word, not just on homosexuality and transgenderism, but on a host of other issues as well.
We are not being true to the text itself when we use Genesis 3:1 to teach that Satan is trying to get us to doubt what God has clearly said in his word. Let me explain.
Let's look at the actual words:
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’?” (Genesis 3:1, ESV)
Notice how Satan phrased it. Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?' He is not tempting Eve to doubt what God clearly said. Instead he is putting words in God's mouth that he never said. And in doing so, he is making God out to be overly restrictive—a killjoy who wants to take away their fun and freedom. This is not the same as tempting Eve to doubt what God had clearly said.
The ESV translation is very helpful here with its use of the word actually instead of really. The sense is not that Satan is planting a seed of doubt. He is not saying... "Did God really say that? No. He didn't say that. At the very least, that's not what he meant."
No, that's not his tactic. At least not here. The better sense is that Satan is saying something to the effect of, "How dare God say something like that to you!? The audacity! Did he actually say that you can't eat from any of the trees in the garden? What a prude! What a restrictive God! He doesn't want you guys to do anything!"
Do you see the difference? It's important. Preachers like myself (yes, I too have done this) have consistently used this verse to teach on the authority of God's clearly revealed word, but that is a misrepresentation of what God tells us Satan was actually trying to do here. We have rushed past what is actually there in the text in our desire to get to a lesson we want to be there. The only problem is, it isn't there.
Should we warn people against doubting God's clearly revealed word? Absolutely!
Does Satan tempt us in this way today? Absolutely!
BUT, we're not being true to the text if we use Genesis 3:1 to teach that lesson. It would be appropriate to use Satan's words in Genesis 3:4 to teach this lesson. There, he told Eve, "You will not surely die..." after God had clearly said that if they ate the fruit of the one tree, they would surely die. That is an appropriate lesson to pull out of that particular text. But, even though it is a crucial warning, it is not an appropriate lesson to pull out of verse 1.
No matter how much we want a lesson to be there, we should be using Bible passages to teach the lessons they were intended to teach, and not smuggle in a principle that's not actually there. A true, expository teacher or preacher brings out what is actually in the text for the people. He should not bring out whatever he wishes was there. When a preacher plays fast and loose with the Scriptures in this way, he will always end up preaching himself, and his own hobby horses, and not the word of God.
We must give the people God's words... nothing less... but also nothing more.