Hello everybody, and welcome in to episode 60 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading Acts 28 today and our focus is on snake handling and misreading Scripture. We are a daily 10 minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in Queensland, Australia, Madhya Pradesh, India, Accra, Ghana, Los Angeles, California, Huntsville, Alabama, San Diego, California, and South Bend, Indiana. Thanks for listening! Our goal is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast Don’t forget about our new web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more – Click here for our reading plan
Though I have been pastoring in California the last few years, I originally hail from good old Alabama – the heart of Dixie, and a place that some might associate with kissing cousins and snake-handling. I can say that I never knew anybody in 40 plus years in Alabama that married their cousin and I never knew of a snake-handling church. There were rumors, certainly, of this or that country church that MIGHT have been involved in snake-handling, but I never really heard anything substantial along those lines. My understanding is that there are about 380,000 churches in the United States and around 100-125 churches that practice snake handling. Bottom line: I think the practice is far, far rarer than one might think, given the mention of it, but still not absolutely extinct. Kind of like Bigfoot. 😉
Today one of our daughters had a young gentleman caller over for an outdoor lunch with us, and I made a joke about getting the snakes out before we prayed over our meal. We don’t really have snakes, and we don’t believe in snake handling…we were just hazing the new guy a bit. I’ve made the snake-handling joke quite a lot over the years of pastoring, but I think the practice is really unbiblical, dangerous and really quite sad. In my lifetime, 11 people, 9 men and 2 women, have died in snake-handling services in the United States, including 6 in Kentucky, 3 in West Virginia, one in Virginia and one in Alabama. Mack and Mark Wolford, father and son and both pastors, both died in West Virginia 29 years apart from rattlesnake bites. The most recent death occurred in Kentucky in 2015. Very tragic, and quite unnecessary.
All of that said, our passage today raises an interesting question. Will God protect His people from the bites of deadly snakes? That is, of course, the premise of snake-handling movements – that God will protect those who have enough faith from the bites of deadly snakes. One other verse used to justify this belief is found in Mark:
17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes; if they should drink anything deadly, it will not harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.”
As we’ve discussed before, there is a great amount of debate about the longer ending of Mark
. Most in a snake-handling style church would no doubt ignore that debate, stick with the 1611 KJV and just go along with Mark 16:17. Are they right in doing so? I would argue that they are NOT for a couple of very important reasons. Before we get to that, however, let’s read our passage and see how Paul survived the bite of a deadly asp.
Paul does indeed survive a snake bite here, but please note the context: He was not intentionally putting himself in harm’s way and handling the snake as a test of his faith – he was going about his normal business and God spared him from what could have been a deadly disaster, just like God had spared him before from shipwreck, stoning and other potentially lethal events. We are given a great example in Scripture about testing our faith:
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:5-7
In Matthew 4, Satan is tempting Jesus in a very, very similar scenario to snake handling. He quotes Jesus a passage about God’s protection, and then dares Jesus to do something incredibly dangerous. Jesus answers very simply and profoundly: You shall NOT put God to the test. The very same Greek verb used by Jesus in Matthew 4 for testing is also mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:9:
9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 1 Corinthians 10:9
What a chilling verse for a snake handler!! You see, in the Old Testament – venomous snakes were symbols of judgment – of God’s punishment and disapproval. To take one up as a way of testing one’s faith is tantamount to testing God, and such an act will almost certainly lead to trouble – because we are commanded to NOT put God to the test. Neither are we commanded to pick up venomous snakes ANYWHERE in the Bible. We must NOT put God to a test. Snake handling is NOT a test of our faith – for humans do not have the ability to protect themselves from snakebite venom. Snake handling is a test of GOD’s intervention! And, as such, it is a clearly disobedient, foolish, prohibited, reckless and dangerous activity that is counter to the teachings of Scripture and Jesus Himself has given us an example that we MUST NOT practice such foolishness.
What of Paul’s situation? Well, as noted earlier – he wasn’t testing God, and Spurgeon sees in this incident a proving of Mark 16’s promise:
Was not this a fulfilment of the Master’s words concerning the signs following faith in him? “They shall take up serpents.” Whether this viper had bitten Paul so as to really fill his veins with venom, we do not know; and it is an equal miracle whether it had done so or not. Whether the sting had already poisoned him or not, his life was preserved, and that was sufficient.
C. H. Spurgeon, “Mocking the King,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 55 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1909), 166.
Spurgeon is right. Mark 16, such as it is, is NOT an invitation to seek out trouble and test God – it is a proclamation of the protective powers of God for those proclaiming the good news to the world.
End of the Show: Bible memory verse for MARCH!: Hebrews 7:25 “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.”
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