Sunday, November 13, 2011

Misused Verse #7

Yes, finally, the last one!

     I have been looking forward to this for a very long time, the final verse in the misused verse series. After this, I want to get into the requirements and purposes of the pastoral office. But first, the verse. It happens to be none other than Mark 16:17-18, which reads from the ESV as: "And these signs shall accompany those that believe: in my name they shall cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; (18) they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." This verse is often used by the Christians in snake handling denominations to justify their acts of snake handling and poison drinking. They believe that these acts evidence their faith in Jesus Christ, but I believe that while these acts could accompany Christians (and they did: Acts 2:1; 3:2; 5:15-16; 8:7; 19:12; 28:3; 28:8 and many many many more). While I do believe that healings and other miracles will accompany those who have a true faith in Jesus Christ, I do not believe that this verse condones the practices of the Snake handling churches, and I have numerous reasons.
     First and foremost the immediate context of the verse. This verse is in an extended ending of the gospel according to Mark, which does not appear in the two oldest texts. Think of it as an extended edition of a movie, that was added on by people who had no part in the production of the original*. The verses given in this text should be read with caution, and, according to the Wycliffe Bible Commentary, "could not reasonably be used as a basis for the deliberate and presumptuous handling of serpents and drinking of poison which are practiced by certain extreme religious sects." Also, I would highly advise not using any of the verses found in this extended version as a basis for any other doctrine, unless it is supported by other passages in the New Testament that are not as ambiguous, which leads me to my second point.
     The idea of handling serpents as a show of faith is not found in any other verse in the Bible. Hear me through: there is mention of power to "tread on serpents" as well as "scorpions," given in Luke 10:19, however, one must realize that this was said by Jesus Christ specifically to the seventy-two disciples that had been appointed by our Lord Jesus to go into the towns that he was about to enter as "lambs in the midst of wolves" (try picturing that!) and proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God, as well as heal the sick in any of the towns that received them favorably. These verses, because they are directed specifically at the seventy-two, cannot in good conscience, be applied to all Christians today. The idea of being able to drink poison is also not found anywhere else in the New Testament. Sorry, but it isn't...
     The word translated "serpent" in this passage (ὄφις), can also be translated figuratively as an "artful malicious person." And in the passage from Luke, the Greek word translated as "Scorpion" is what Strong's dictionary describes as "an obsolete word, (perhaps strengthened from the base of σκοπός and meaning to pierce)." Due to the fact that I have not yet learned Greek (it's on the agenda, but haven't gotten that far yet) I will trust the scholars in their translation of the word scorpion, but I will speculate about the word serpent. Throughout the Bible, the serpent is the symbol of craftiness an cunning, and perhaps once again our Lord is speaking in a parable and alluding to Christian's ability to put down heretics and others who use divisive methods and attempt to divide the church. Another possible explanation is that Christ was alluding to the apostle Paul being bitten by a serpent on the island of Malta (see Acts 28:1-5).
     Finally, the Bible ultimately commands us not to put God to the test (see Deuteronomy 6:16; Matt 4:7, 22:8; Luke 4:12; 1 Cor 10:9 [very appropriate]), and every time they pick up a serpent they are putting God's mercy and protection to the test.
     If you have any comments, please post them, I would love to get more opinions on this very confusing verse. I hope you found this post thought-provoking, informative, and interesting to read. I look forward to writing on less troubling matters.

Until next we write, I hope that Christ will keep you and protect you.

Your brother in Christ,


"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn."
C. S. Lewis

The experience of watching numerous people die handling snakes, should logically lead a person to conclude it is an unethical and false practice, however, that seems to not be the case for those who live in snake handling communities...

*::NOTICE!:: This is kind of like a retraction, in that it is an edition of the actual post for better clarity and understanding, in an effort to prevent misunderstanding. When I refer to the passage in Mark as being like and extended version of a movie, I am not saying it was for sure written by humans, I'm saying that we don't know (we being myself and every other Biblical scholar to my knowledge) whether it was written by humans apart from or in the inspiration of God. Therefore, it should be read with caution... Carry on.


  1. It would seem that as you progress through your analysis you start getting closer to the meaning of the verse. But before I delve into my understanding of the meaning, let me first say that the bible is God's word; your allusion to a movie script may be appropriate if the latter portion was actually written by man, but otherwise all of it was written by God. (and if written by man, it is completely useless of course)

    To cast out a demon spiritually I would imagine would involve sharing the gospel with another, but I'm not confident in what it would entail. Speaking in new tongues is a given; we don't start speaking in elvish or anything, but rather a spiritual tongue in which only those with ears to hear can comprehend. The handling serpents is a reference to dealing (and you started to talk about this) with those outside of the kingdom of God (those who are not and will not inherit). The poison is also clear; right now I am feeding His sheep. Feeding God's sheep is sharing truth with your brothers (something you are doing Joe, very commendable), and when someone (a tv pastor perhaps?) starts selling lies, those who know the truth will not be affected by the poison. Lastly the laying hands on the sick. Like the first part I cannot clearly see the meaning, but I would guess that this is another of the numerous references to truth vs. lies, and rather than physical ailments, the bible is speaking of spiritual ailment.

    God blessed the physically poor and meek, and made them spiritually rich and strong. Yet, it is ironic that people go to school to learn the bible because education is like wealth: you cannot fit either through the eye of a needle. It is not a bad thing to be educated, but keep in mind Joe that the real education comes from God, and rarely (I find) from the educated. May God reveal Himself to all who are His.

  2. please see the "retraction" above. We don't know, and probably won't know until we're in Heaven. That being said, we should proceed with caution into the realm of interpreting this verse.

    I'll talk about Demon-Casting and Speaking in Tongues in a future blog (I don't want to do what I did with the Law and give it all away ahead of time). As far as the laying hands on the sick, that could refer to actual healing, or prayer, or it could be referring to the apostles' works and ministry. I would like to believe that we Christians can lay hands on the sick and heal them through prayer (that would be God doing the actual healing though) because I believe I have seen people healed, and if Christians can't pray to God for healing and have it happen in some circumstances, then that would mean I was either being fleeced, or that the healing was done through a spirit other than the Holy Spirit, and that would mean an unholy spirit. I would rule out the unholy spirit option because I think of the man who has prayed for the miracles is a man of God. The only other option is a wolf, and he doesn't act like a wolf, smell, like a wolf, or have any fangs showing under the sheepskin... I do think we have power of spiritual ailment, though, so I'll agree with that statement to a point.

    As far as education goes, I think it is important to be educated in how to rightly handle and teach and preach the word of God. I believe that he can work just as well through human instructors as he can just showing up. If you look at the early church, yes, the Disciples ran around learning from Christ, the Son of God himself, for about three or four years. And yes, the apostle Paul was met by Christ on the road to Damascus before going out into Arabia and then back to Damascus, spending a combined total of three years in those places. But how did the next generation learn? And then the next generation after that? they learned from those who were educated in the knowledge of God, the Apostles and their pupils. It is a dangerous thing when one tries to piece together a theology without the guidance of those who have studied the Bible and thoroughly know what God has commanded. One ends up with Heretics who, when you talk with them, are all over the map theologically, and make absolutely no sense (Not to bash those people, but I think they are contradictory views of scripture). So in a round about way I can see where you're going with that, that we cannot place our trust in man's knowledge alone, but I would counter that it is the next best thing until Christ comes again. Unless of course man's knowledge contradicts the Bible, then we run into issues.

    Again, thank you for the posts, it has been awesome getting to read and reply to your thoughts on my thoughts, and I look forward to your thoughts on my reply.

    Have an excellent Christmas Break,



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