“…they will pick up serpents with their hands” (Mark 16:18).
After all, it is in the Bible. Some congregations, following the commands of Christ, have incorporated snake handling into their worship services. Is it possible that Jesus instituted this practice like He did the Last Supper? If so, we can’t ignore it, no matter bizarre it seems to us. Rather than dismiss this passage, let’s use it as an opportunity to strengthen our Bible study skills. There are 2 things to consider here:
1) Did Jesus really command this? One does not need to be a scholar to see that this really doesn’t look like an actual command. Also, if you consulted a concordance, a commentary or a study Bible, you would probably find a cross reference to Acts 28:1-6, where the Apostle Paul was bitten by a serpent but suffered no ill effects. Based on our studies, we might understand Jesus’ words as a prediction, and not a command for all churches to follow.
2) Does this even belong in the Bible in the first place? This sounds like heresy, but it is actually doing textual criticism. Textual criticism sounds complex — and it often is — but is not limited to pastors and scholars. Unless you have a King James Bible, you will see a footnote after verse 8 that says something like this:
Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.
Bible translators must look at all of the manuscript evidence, and discern what best reflects the authors’ original writings. You can see some of this in the footnotes of most modern Bible translations. You can also read about it in most study Bibles and commentaries. So, based on textual criticism, verses 8-20 are not found in the oldest New Testament manuscripts. They were written at a later time by someone besides Mark. You might wonder if these verses should be considered Sacred Scripture (a separate debate).
As Christians it is our obligation to understand and apply the Word of God. I believe we sometimes fail in this, not because it is too hard, but because it requires discipline and work. As your pastor and brother in Christ, I encourage you to dwell in the Word, so you can take on the mind of Christ.
And please, lay off the snakes.