Should we take up the serpent? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Recently a local radio show here in Knoxville had 21 year-old Andrew Hamblin, a pastor of a snake-handling church, on to discuss the concept of snake handling. I called in and did not get much time to talk, but it is a topic that is not discussed much so I figured I’d say a few words.
To begin with, I was quite concerned that this pastor was unfamiliar with the verse under question, which was Mark 16:18, not being in several Bibles. It is in the KJV, and KJV-onlyism itself is problematic enough to me, but even most KJV-onlyists are aware that other translations do not have the verses. Hamblin already struck me as someone who was living by a verse without doing any real study on it other than reading it in one translation.
Part of this was shown to me as the caller before me had got to have a conversation with Hamblin, but in my call he was completely silent. To begin with, the host had said he thought Mark was written 50 years after Jesus. I was placing it earlier to 30 years which would place it in the 60’s, although some could date it to the 50’s. Essential? No. However, it is helpful in establishing early eyewitness testimony.
So when I called, I posed a problem with the KJV saying that I was sure Hamblin held to the Trinity. I got silence. I then pointed out that the Trinity consists of three persons. Again, silence. I then stated that in Romans 8:26-27 in the KJV, we read about “the Holy Spirit itself.” That it is quite problematic as it can be seen as denying the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, I don’t think the KJV translators denied the personhood of the Spirit. I don’t think they were going into heresy. I think like many translators can do, they simply had a mistranslation. Overall, the KJV is still a good translation if that’s the one someone prefers.
My greatest concern was with the safety of the people as it seemed from what Hamblin said that some people had died from snake handling and I do remember that no one under 18 was allowed to pick up a serpent. (Is God incapable of protecting someone who is under 18? Does Mark 16:18 present any criteria that says this only works for adults?)
I could not say how many have died, but one is too many.
I can already hear the reply. “But Nick. Several people die in the service of Christ! We’re doing the same thing!”
To begin with, it is a tragedy of course when anyone dies in the service of Christ at the hands of a persecutor. It is an evil we should all be willing to fight, but it is an event that if we are ever called to die for our Lord, we should all hope we are able to do. There is a marked difference between what the martyr does and what the snake handler does.
The martyr dies from something without and he dies explicitly because he is obeying the command of Christ. The snake handler dies because of his own sin and he is not explicitly obeying the command of Christ. Even if Mark 16:18 was authentic, it does not command Christians as the word is not in an imperative sense.
To be fair, the church I understand does even have some drinking of poison going on, which consists of strychnine. This is just as problematic however. Who is doing this? Someone’s son. Someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s brother or sister. Maybe someone’s wife or husband. Maybe someone’s mother or father.
What I heard Hamblin talking about most was the feeling that comes when it’s time to take up the serpent. I simply wonder about someone who is willing to act on a feeling on a text that is most probably inauthentic and base their whole life on that and risk removing themselves from everyone else around them causing them great harm. Sorry, but I think you need more than a feeling.
Keep in mind I do not doubt that these people do have a great love for God. I do not doubt their sincerity. What I doubt is whether they are truly being biblical. We see no evidence in church history that congregations regularly got together and took up serpents and drank poison.
Let us also not forget this little thing that we read in the Bible about putting the Lord to the test. This was the temptation of Jesus when He was asked to jump from the temple mount. When the angels caught Him that would be proof to the people that He was the Son of God and the Messiah.
Jesus refused. He refused by saying you shall not put the Lord to the test. That passage still hangs true today. We do have authentic statements instead that show that we are to be known by our love.
I am not saying Hamblin and others do not have love, but the greatest sign of being a follower of Christ will not be a taking up of the serpent, but rather the treading on the serpent, which refers to the powers of evil in the world that Christians are said to have power over. This does not refer to literal serpents.
The other sign of course involves the love Christians are to have. Are we growing in holiness? That will be our greatest sign. If you want to know if you’re in covenant with God, the place to go to is not to ask if you can take up a snake and not be bitten. The place to go is to ask if you are seeking to die to yourself and follow Jesus to the cross if need be. Are you seeking to be more holy or not?
Now how do I explain what happens that people are able to take up snakes? I have no certain answers as animals are not my specialty and maybe someone who knows snakes better would like to comment. However, I have heard stories about people who can look at dogs that would normally be vicious and speak to them in such a way that will have them cowering. Could the snakes themselves sense such confidence? Maybe.
My final conclusion on this is just that I fear that groups in this position will not be any good the Christian cause. They will either be withdrawn into themselves away from academia so much so that they won’t touch the great questions on the authenticity of Christianity today, or they will be out presenting an image that the rest of us have to work against when debating new atheist types, whom I fear these people will be easy pickings for.
I hope that it is realized what is going on with this. One death is too many.