“These signs shall follow them that believe…” (Mark 16:17)
Some years back, when I lived in Appalachian Kentucky and conducted a weekly radio program, I aired a program that argued against snake-handling as a biblically-sanctioned religious activity. Some might say that was a more dangerous stunt than the snake-handling itself. During the course of that program (I still have all the manuscripts), I said concerning Mark 16:20:
This passage no more authorizes the use of snakes in worship than it authorizes the drinking of bleach…Yet, if the passage teaches one, it surely teaches the other, does it not? Why snakes and not bleach? Why not snakes and bleach? I’ll tell you why, because you can get away with handling a snake for a long time – especially if you know what you’re doing – but you can’t get away with drinking bleach even once!
Up to that point, I had never seen anyone “drink” anything deadly as an “act of faith.” But just recently, thanks to the marvel of the internet, I saw some lunatic preacher in South Africa feeding gasoline (petrol) to crazed members of his congregation, telling them that it was pineapple juice. It just goes to show that people will do practically anything – including risk the lives of their followers – to make their point and gain a following. This kind of thing gives too much fodder to the skeptics. It is illogical and reckless, and should be prosecuted as a crime. Instead, because it is religious, people are willing to excuse it.
This first article will explore the reasons why modern snake-handling is a farce, and the second will speak to the more general concept of the miraculous age, and its duration.
First, this makes a total mockery of the intelligence of the Christian faith. Modern snake-handling (and petrol sipping) does not reflect what the Bible teaches. Snake handlers teach that this is a test of faith. This passage (Mark 16:19-20) does not teach that preachers (or anyone else) should bring snakes into worship. That is like saying because the Bible mentions the word “Ark” that everyone should build one.
Modern snake-handling as a religious act is nothing more than a learned behavior (and a dangerous one, see here). We challenge anyone to find a biblical example of such. This is nothing more than a sensational cultural phenomenon. It is forced upon the Bible text, sincerity notwithstanding. Erroneous handling of the biblical text is more dangerous than the handling of snakes (2 Pet. 3:16).
Second, modern snake-handling does not reflect what is otherwise taught in this passage. The practice of religious snake-handling is grossly inconsistent. The passage that allegedly authorizes this misguided phenomenon also says many other things as well. Jesus said some other signs will accompany the believers, too:
In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:19).
Why aren’t there churches as ardently dedicated to casting out demons? Or drinking poison? Or all three? Why do the snake-handling churches not speak in tongues? Why do the tongue-speaking churches not drink poison?
Of course, someone would say that God hasn’t chosen each church to have each “gift.” Or, someone might say that the Pentecostal church has been given the gift of tongues, and the South African church of which we spoke earlier was given the gift of drinking poison. And the Catholic church was given the gift of casting out demons. And the evangelical churches/ministers were given the gifts of healing, like Benny Hinn. But interestingly, even they do not accept this reality. Many Pentecostal churches, for example, teach that tongue-speaking is a sign of salvation, not an optional gift bestowed on one group.
Further, this assumes that each of these divisions that claim to be Christianity, are true representations of New Testament Christianity. In the New Testament era, gifts were dispersed among the individuals of a given congregation (1 Corinthians 12:1-12), as needed, not spread out between differing congregations. But even if they had been, to claim, for example, that Catholics and Protestant evangelicals are just different “congregations” of the Lord’s church is to not understand the nature of the Lord’s church at all. That idea is more deceived than those who suck gasoline from an evangelical pastor’s bottle.
The fact is, these things did happen incidentally around and to the apostles of the Lord. There were occasions when demons were cast out of people. There were times that the apostles spoke in languages they had not studied (Acts 2:1f). There were occasions where they were bit by venomous snakes, and lived (Paul, cf. Acts 28). Everything Jesus said would happen, undoubtedly happened at one time or another. However, according to verse twenty, it was only to confirm the revelation of God (New Testament) before it was completed in written form (more on this in Part 2).
Third, if snake-handling is authorized by God, then it is not optional. If we do not “handle snakes” as believers, we are at worst sinning, at best lacking faith, by by refusing to participate. If not, why not? False doctrines are not nearly as dangerous as why they imply at their logical ends.
Finally, modern snake-handling – and, in fact, all those who propose that biblical miracles are still being conducted today – does not accurately reflect what the Bible teaches about the duration of the miraculous age. Part 2 of this article is continued here.