Did animals talk in the beginning or was there something else going on here? There are three ideas I had about the serpent in the garden and a fourth I learned from elsewhere.
1) Satan is a seraph, which are heavenly serpents with wings like the ones in Isaiah 6. Some say that the garden was a space between the spirit and the natural realm. Even the cherubim who are always presented in the direct presence of God’s throne, are there guarding it after the Fall in Gen 3:24. So is a spiritual serpent rather than a natural one. From a biblical numerology point of view, it seems feasible if you view seraphs as separate from cherubs since there are four cherubs (Exodus 25:20 & 1 Kings 6:27, Ezekiel 41:18, Ezekiel 10:14) and three seraphs (Isaiah 6:1-6) around God’s throne making six creatures in total. Since seven is the number of completion one could infer that there is one missing. Is this Satan? More on this here.
2) The spiritual rebel Satan, possesses a natural serpent and made him talk like a person. Whether or not he is a Seraph, Angel, or Son of God (Divine Council), is unknown. The question is, can a spiritual being with a body possess another creature? Demons don’t have bodies, so they have to possess other beings. However, the heavenly hosts had bodies so they don’t possess anything they just appear with their own bodies. Maybe the rebels of heaven lost their bodies and became demons along with the giants that died in the flood? We know God made Balaam’s donkey talk in Numbers 22, maybe so human language can possibly be supernaturally imparted by other spirit beings without possession. Rather than possessing the serpent, Satan could have simply manipulated the serpent in communicating with Eve, this plays into the next theory. More on the various members of the host of heaven here.
3) Like the second theory but the serpent didn’t literally speak but used gestures like slithering up the tree and licking the fruit. Meaning there was no true human language conversation but the serpent’s actions conjured up thoughts in Eve’s head. Remember Eve added to God’s words in Gen 3:3, by saying they couldn’t even “touch the forbidden tree”, so the serpent could have touched it with its tongue thus proving “God lied”, which would have cast doubt on God’s words even though God didn’t say anything about touching it. Satan is simply using the serpent to communicate the idea of taking the fruit in a natural way.
4) There is another that I heard about but I am not so sure about this one. The idea is that Genesis 3 is translated wrong. The word nachash (נָחָשׁ) translated as the serpent in Gen 3:1 is translated as the serpent in many other parts of the bible as well. However, that word has 4 homographs (words with the same spelling but different sounds and definitions). The translations are the serpent, copper (or bronze), omen (or enchantment), and a diviner (divination). It is also the name of King Nachash of the Ammonites in 1 Sam 10-12. So eliminating the Ammonite King, and copper, we are left with a serpent, an omen (enchantment), and a diviner (divination). The argument is that the serpent was translated that way in Genesis 3 because the translators assume a diviner is a human and that couldn’t work since Adam and Eve were the only people. However, the nachash could have been a diviner in reference to Satan as an angel or one of the Sons of God/Divine Councilors (heavenly beings from Genesis 6:4 and Job 1:6). In fact, in Job 1:6 Satan appears in the council and challenges God on Job’s righteousness. These hosts of heaven are usually depicted as human looking.
So this theory is like the first or second one but Satan is not a heavenly serpent but rather and humanoid heavenly figure (like a Son of God or Angel) and the translators were thinking enchanter, which is normally a human does not fit, so it must mean snake. There are only two times nachash means omen/enchantment (Number 23:23 and Number 24:1) both in reference to Balaam’s failed attempts at cursing Israel. The verb to practice divination appears 11 times throughout the Torah and 1st and 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles collectively. The problem is that the serpent translation of nachash appears 31 times, so I’m not sure how well this theory holds up. Also, Gen 3:1 says, “The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals [KJV: “beast of the field”] the Lord God had made.” So this implies this was a natural serpentine creature or at least looked like one to Adam and Eve.
For Reference to theory 4:
Nachash (noun) [naw-khawsh] as Serpent (נָחָשׁ)
Nachash (noun) [nekh-awsh’] as Copper/Bronze (נְחָשׁ)
Nachash (noun) [nakh’-ash] as Omen or Enchantment (נַחַשׁ)
Nachash (verb) [naw-khash] to practice divination or sorcery (נָחַשׁ)