Should Christians Be Snake Charmers?

“…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: Image

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.

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About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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4 Responses to Should Christians Be Snake Charmers?

  1. Janice says:

    I think my study Bible had a good footnote: “We should not test God by putting ourselves in dangerous situations or try to tempt the laws of nature. No one should build a religion on a portion of Scripture. God calls us to live as new citizens in the eternal Kingdom and to witness by word and service to God’s love and power. Our witness should center on Jesus, not on superhero-type stunts.”

  2. Carol says:

    In Tennessee in the 50s, when I was growing up, these incidents were not uncommon. Why, we could go up Hwy. 27 up to the Dayton area and witness this firsthand. Kinda creepy.
    But, as seen in the fairly recently documentary on snake handler traditions, it is simply too bizarre for the mainstream to ever incorporate, we would all no doubt agree?
    Instead we would remember the verse that advises us not to tempt the Lord by acts such as these. We are expected to use common sense, and this example (snake handlers) and one similar–drinking poisons–shows common sense is not high on the flagpole in these groups who hold to such displays of whatever it is they are trying to prove.
    Here’s what my commentary concludes: the last section of ch.16 presents sign gifts which were, even before the end of the first century, no longer the credentials of the apostles. The disciples did go out to carry the gospel to every creature, and the Lord did work with them and confirmed the Word with signs which they performed.

  3. Carol says:

    I misstyped something here. It should say “…in the recent tv documentary ( PBS?)..”

  4. Ann Denbow Simmons says:

    Good morning everyone, I apologize for the break in communication but I have been a little under the weather. Last week I spent four days in and out of the hospital and have to return on Monday for doctors visit and test. My sever allergic reaction on April 13 really did a number on my physical condition. Please accept my apology as I truly enjoy reading your messages and having the inter-communication.

    I had heard of this practice of worship and in fact it is found also in India. I wonder if their practice in this ritual honestly brings them, within their own beliefs, closer to God? If so, how and why? What are they as individuals seeking from their relationship with God that the Bible, prayer, etc. has not and is not providing them?

    I honestly, had previously conceived this passage in the scripture to be referring to Satan as the snake – as Satan was the serpent in the Garden of Eden and the one who enticed Eve to do the original sin. Maybe I have always been off in left field on this one? Any comments and/or words of wisdom are greatly welcomed.

    I sincerely hope Carol you are doing well? I shall answer your question this weekend, I hope! My days are ‘one day at a time’ right now. Sorry for the delay in responding to your questions.
    Have a blessed day!!!

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