Catholicism has pretty much stated that the Genesis creation account is allegorical. The serpent talking to Eve was not an actual event, but a story.

Yet I see and hear often from Christians the statement that prior to the serpent being cursed, snakes had legs. Science and evolution may claim that this is so, but if the first eleven chapters of the Bible are allegorical, why cling to the idea that snakes once had legs? What do Catholic teachings say about this?

The concept of the question comes from reading this:

[3:14] Each of the three punishments (the snake, the woman, the man) has a double aspect, one affecting the individual and the other affecting a basic relationship. The snake previously stood upright, enjoyed a reputation for being shrewder than other creatures, and could converse with human beings as in vv. 1–5. It must now move on its belly, is more cursed than any creature, and inspires revulsion in human beings (v. 15). (Source: New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE), notes on Genesis chapter 3, as found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

  • I'm pretty sure that the serpent beguiling Eve is essential to Catholic Theology.. Of course without a clear understanding of how and what we have fallen from, it would be very difficult to understand orthodox Christian theology at all.
    – Marc
    Nov 26, 2015 at 3:06
  • The NABRE is a standard Catholic Bible, so its notes would seem to reflect Catholic theology and belief. The question to me seems to be a legitimate one. I have, however, edited it to clarify that the answer must refer to Catholic theology or theologians, and to supply the relevant material from the link in the answer itself, as well as to make the language a little more neutral. Nov 26, 2015 at 15:11
  • Pam are you asking about a literalist belief? The quote you cite could be commenting on the story as a story. It doesn't imply a belief in the literal historicity of Genesis. Nov 26, 2015 at 15:22
  • 1
    @Pam Since the quote is concerning Genesis as an allegory, you haven't shown anything to indicate that Catholics believe that snakes literally used to have legs (except in the usual evolutionary sense). Nov 26, 2015 at 17:59
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because, as phrased, it is scientific, not theological. Hence the Catholic Church does not really have any position about it. (Interestingly, some snakes actually have vestigial leg structures.) The Church Fathers may have made some allegorical interpretations about the serpent being forced to crawl on his belly from now on, but that would have to be verified. Nov 26, 2015 at 22:20

1 Answer 1


No, there is no catholic teaching that serpents had legs.

As you say, NABRE assumes Genesis as allegorical, therefore I would take their description of the serpent as allegorical.

That is, allegorically "the serpent had legs" - as in, was in right standing with God (before Satan's fall). Then "lost the legs" / was punished meaning is no longer in the right standing with God.

  • @pam i am not sure what you are asking for. Please elaborate
    – Greg Bala
    Dec 2, 2015 at 18:20

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