Skip to comments.The problem with snake-handling: it's not in the Bible
Posted on 06/01/2012 1:01:23 PM PDT by ReformationFan
Two days ago, the Washington Post published a lengthy story on snake-handling pastor Mack Wolford, who died Sunday night from, well, a snakebite he got in church.
Wolford cited Mark 16:17-18 as the source for his practice of handling rattlesnakes, water moccasins, copperheads and other venomous snakes. And Mark 16:18 does seem clear: "they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them."
There's only one problem: Mark 16:18 is not in the Bible.
The last 12 verses of Mark's gospel were added sometime after the original gospel began to circulate, likely to provide a supplement since Mark's account stops so abruptly in Mark 16:8. The reason for the abrupt end of Mark's original account is likely that the final leaf was somehow lost before it began to be copied.
According to eminent New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger, Mark 16:9-20 is missing from the two earliest and most authoritative manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis, and from ancient Syriac, Armenian and Georgian manuscripts.
Early church fathers Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of these verses, and Jerome and early church historian Eusebius write that the passage was missing from almost all the Greek copies of Mark's gospel they had seen.
Many manuscripts that do contain this section have scribal notations to the effect that older Greek copies lacked it, and in other manuscripts there are scribal markings indicating, according to Metzger, that it is a "spurious addition."
(Excerpt) Read more at renewamerica.com ...
Even if it is scripture, snakes can’t read.
I have faith that God won’t let a snake bite me if I don’t pick it up.
So far he hasn’t let me down.
If you are so bored that you need to play with death, find something else to do.
Except of course you are in correct
Since Mark 16:9-20 is part of the Gospel of Mark in the Vulgate, and the passage has been routinely read in the churches since ancient times (as demonstrated by its use by Ambrose, Augustine, Peter Chrysologus, Severus of Antioch, Leo, etc.), the Council’s decree affirms the canonical status of the passage. This passage was also used by Protestants during the Protestant Reformation; Martin Luther used Mark 16:16 as the basis for a doctrine in his Shorter Catechism. Mark 16:9-20 was included in the Rheims New Testament, and in the King James Bible and other influential translations. In most modern-day translations based primarily on the Alexandrian Text, it is included but is accompanied by brackets or by special notes, or both.
oh and by the way, most reformation fans do not like textual critics
The problem with snake-handling is that you get bitten and you die
I believe Clement of Alexandria was around long before Martin Luther, Rheims New Testament, or the King James Bible by about 1,400 years.
Is the Bible what academic palaeographers say it is?
Or is the Bible what believers have historically read as the Word in their worship?
Mark 16:9-20 may fail by some of the standards of the academy - but this pericope passes with flying colors by the standards of the Church.
And it is the importance of scripture in the Church that generated the interest in creating the academic endeavor of textual analysis in the first place - it seems as if the discipline has forgotten its roots.
I bet they are not drinking any deadly poisons.
It’s in my bible. I checked. Still, pretty dumb idea. See Matthew 4:5-7.
I wonder if it was an addition by some group trying to sell it to some group who had snakes as part of their established rituals?
A horrible statement that casts doubt on the power of God to preserve his word.
The truth is that Mark's gospel does not end abruptly but in verse 20. The vast majority of ancient manuscripts include all the verses.
The key to understanding the snake verse is in the context and the last words of the book. The words were addressed to the apostles (v 14) and not us today. The last words of the book says that the believers were confirming the word with signs following, one of them being living through deadly snake bites. God never asked men to believe new revelation without miraculous confirmation. The word is confirmed now so miracles have ceased (I Corinthians 13).
The article says that his works "show no knowledge" of this particular pericope.
That is a meaningless point.
If Clement had written an exhaustive commentary on Mark that discussed all the verses except for these, then it would be a meaningful discussion.
But Clement wrote only a few hundred pages that survive, and they are works of exhortation - not textual commentaries.
He quotes less than 5% of the Bible - does that mean he had no knowledge of 95% of the Bible?
This is the definition of a weak argument.
No, the “long ending” to Mark is part of Holy Scripture, as it occurs in the Scriptures as received and used by the Holy Orthodox Church since ancient times (what Western scholars call the “Byzantine Majority Text”).
The problem with snake handling is that doing it intentionally on the basis of Mark 16:18 is an example of what Anglicans back when they were identifiably Christian used to call “expounding one part of Scripture in a manner repugnant to another”, as it violates the point made by Our Lord in his reply to the Devil’s temptation to engage in a similarly risky behavior (leaping from the top of the Temple in Jerusalem) on the basis of a Scriptural promise of safety. As we all know, Our Lord demurred and told the Evil One, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
On the other hand, St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain had asps wander in and out of his cell, and was quite friendly with them. So much so that when some pilgrims coming to visit him killed an asp on their way up the mountain to his cell, he came and berated them (having seen the snake’s demise by a gift of second sight), “What have you done? What have you done? You killed my friend!”
The problem we have is that we have a First Hand observer, who dealt directly with the Son of God; and wrote his books - then we have 2,000 years in which scholars have had time to “pad” the Word of God with the Word of Man.
Me, I’m a big fan of the Dead Sea Scrolls - because they have slipped through time (written between 150 BC to 70 AD) largely untouched by the corruptions of man. It is in Man’s nature to exaggerate - even truths from God. The closest thing we can get to the origional message, is the origional manuscript - and barring that, perhaps a manuscript that hasn’t been touched for nearly 2,000 years.
When Islam is pushed to it’s irrational extremes (a short trip usually) you end up with exploding Jihadis and such. However, when you push Christianity to it’s irrational extremes, you end up with snake handlers and televanglist...and no one gets killed.
I always figured the problem with snake-handling was that it pissed off the snake. A lot.
Most see textual (or lower) criticism as a valid, necessary science. Higher criticism is the one that most find problematic.
Matthew Henry’s notes on verses 17 and 18...
3. What power they should be endowed with, for the confirmation of the doctrine they were to preach (Mark 16:17); These signs shall follow them that believe. Not that all who believe, shall be able to produce these signs, but some, even as many as were employed in propagating the faith, and bringing others to it; for signs are intended for them that believe not; see 1 Cor. 14:22. It added much to the glory and evidence of the gospel, that the preachers not only wrought miracles themselves, but conferred upon others a power to work miracles, which power followed some of them that believed, wherever they went to preach. They shall do wonders in Christs name, the same name into which they were baptized, in the virtue of power derived from him, and fetched in by prayer. Some particular signs are mentioned; (1.) They shall cast out devils; this power was more common among Christians than any other, and lasted longer, as appears by the testimonies of Justin Martyr, Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian Minutius Felix, and others, cited by Grotius on this place. (2.) They shall speak with new tongues, which they had never learned, or been acquainted with; and this was both a miracle (a miracle upon the mind), for the confirming of the truth of the gospel, and a means of spreading the gospel among those nations that had not heard it. It saved the preachers a vast labour in learning the languages; and, no doubt, they who by miracle were made masters of languages, were complete masters of them and of all their native elegancies, which were proper both to instruct and affect, which would very much recommend them and their preaching. (3.) They shall take up serpents. This was fulfilled in Paul, who was not hurt by the viper that fastened on his hand, which was acknowledged a great miracle by the barbarous people, Acts 28:5, 6. They shall be kept unhurt by that generation of vipers among whom they live, and by the malice of the old serpent. (4.) If they be compelled by their persecutors to drink any deadly poisonous thing, it shall not hurt them: of which very thing some instances are found in ecclesiastical history. (5.) They shall not only be preserved from hurt themselves, but they shall be enabled to do good to others; They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover, as multitudes had done by their masters healing touch. Many of the elders of the church had this power, as appears by Jas. 5:14; where, as an instituted sign of this miraculous healing, they are said to anoint the sick with oil in the name of the Lord. With what assurance of success might they go about executing their commission, when they had such credentials as these to produce!
It's not that simple. We have copies of documents written by the early Church fathers which pre-date these earliest manuscripts and they quote Mark 16:9-20. Whether this passage was part of the original manuscript is unclear at this point in time. It's really impossible to tell with the evidence we have.
I’m sure there is an ancient Chinese proverb some FReeper can quote about snake handling.
After a wild
wedding um, er....party night (just what DID we do?), now this.......
You clearly hate Jesus.
Confucius say “Man who play with rattlesnake get bit and die”.
In Mark, yes. In Clement, no.
Im a big fan of the Dead Sea Scrolls - because they have slipped through time (written between 150 BC to 70 AD) largely untouched by the corruptions of man.
This is an unrealistic idealization.
First, the Dead Sea Scrolls may be old to us, but the DSS texts of the Hebrew scriptures were copies of texts that were already a thousand years old when the DSS scribes copied them.
The DSS contains multiple copies of some texts, and they do not match.
Moreover, the DSS were produced by a zealous, and frankly strange, little community - they copied and recopied texts that they believed supported their favorite interpretations and views and did not have copies of much of the Bible, probably because most of the Bible did not reinforce their favorite interpretations.
The DSS are a prime example of "the corruptions of man" - in the sense that the DSS are highly edited and biased collections of texts.
The closest thing we can get to the origional message, is the origional manuscript
The autographs are gone forever. So we are left with a choice of which community has most believably preserved the message, and in a choice between the mainstream of Christianity and Judaism versus a tiny, extinct sect of conspiracists, the correct decision seems clear.
perhaps a manuscript that hasnt been touched for nearly 2,000 years
That's a facile assumption. Inaccurate texts that people do not trust get left alone and forgotten - and then sometimes get found many years later.
Texts that people trust get used and used and used until they wear out - and then they are copied, to make a new book that the users of the old book will trust.
The age of a manuscript is important, but not prescriptive.
I don't believe that. Not that the Word was not confirmed, but that miracles have ceased.
To assert that they have is to assert that God's character has changed: God has been, and always be miraculous in nature. (Miracles being defined as God's direct interaction with the universe, esp in a physical way.)
There are many passages where God is directly portrayed as a lover and Israel/the-Church as his beloved; now factor in the distinctly male urge to impress his girl and rereading some of those passages and it seems obvious to me that God's saying "now watch this!"
In short, God still works in the Earth and in the lives of men, directly and indirectly.
You decide some things shouldn't be in the Bible, the snake handlers decide they should be in the Bible and should be taken to mean they're correct in handling snakes and drinking poison.
Every individual is their own final authority according to Luther and every Protestant since Luther believes the same thing. In reality, people who interpret the Scriptures for themselves without regard for what The Church has taught for over two thousand years are worshiping their own, Most High and Holy Self. Whatever the Self wants, Self will find a way to justify or rationalize from Scripture. Whether than means means dropping entire books out of the Old Testament or even calling Jesus Christ Himself a liar doesn't matter to the Self just like what God commanded didn't matter to Eve.
Like all the Banana Creme Brained folks who have their pet conspiracy theory and interpret Scripture in a way that supports their theory, the snake handling folks will tell you their being in the minority is a sign that they're right. Handling snakes, believing that a great Evacuation will spare Christians what Christ Himself said Christians must bear, or slaughtering infants in the womb and calling it contraception, all amount to imitating Eve rather than imitating Christ. Unlike Eve, though, these days folks don't worry about doing their own thing since they're assured that their sins have all been forgiven in advance. That means they don't even have to care what's in the Bible once they've said the magic words.
I used to handle a snake but she divorced me.
P.S. - one of the standard tricks would be to take a lively snake out and demonstrate it (carefully holding it behind the head)...then replace it in the box and do some praying to “drive out the evil spirits” from the snake - then bring out an “iced snake” that was all docile and say as how he had tamed the snake of it’s evil ways.
You never see the Apostles (the leaders of the first church) telling people to handle snakes or drink deadly poisons. They were with Jesus for 3.5 years, they understood him.
OK. I retrieved my Greek word study Bible and looked up the verse regarding handling serpents. The word handling only IMPLIES lifting up figuratively speaking, but literally speaking to do so mentally, spritually, or in the mind.
Here’s the amazing part. The word serpent in the Greek used in the same verse only IMPLIES a snake figuratively speaking. The literal meaning is “an artificial person, especially Satan (i.e. serpent).
Furthermore the PREVIOUS verse deals directly with casting out of demons. Since the translators had to basically guess at breaking the scriptures down into verses, I’ll put my money on taking up serpents as being related to exorcising demons and dealing with them directly.
Hmmmm...puts a whole, new light on that verse, huh?
(my dad had a PhD in Theology...so I’m also stealing his thoughts on the matter/verse.)
One of the greatest "re-enforcers" of accuracy of the Old Testament, is the number of copies, independantly kept by various groups, through the centuries has worked to keep them in alignment. If we have 'x' groups that say one thing, and a single manuscript that differs substancially - we can extrapolate that the numerous copies of independant collections must be the accurate copy.
However, in the New Testament we are not so fortunate. The Bible, as we have it now, is a collection of books that were separate - with some books discarded and others accepted. The Council of Nicea essentially "cherry-picked" what books were included and which were rejected. Every council makes concessions to appease various political factions - it's the nature of man.
Perhaps the DSS are copies made by a fanatical group - but if nothing else, they give a view point that deserves some attention and comparison against the various versions of the Bible in vogue today. I believe there are over 42 different "versions" of the Bible around, each differing in some way or another from their contemporaries.
Actually, we don't really know this to be the case.
I tend to think Sukenik's original assessment - that the scroll caves were by and large genizat, resting places for old, corrupted, or incorrectly transcribed manuscripts (and the latter two are two different things, btw) - is probably the correct one. But such an interpretation isn't as sexy as ones which allow scholars to spend the next fifty years publishing papers back and forth about what the supposed millennial apocalyptic community that lived at Qumran supposedly thought, said, and did.
Thank you for that post!
That was an interesting assessment, and I concur 100% that our scriptures are at the “mercy” of the intreptation of the script. Each person, throughout history, does the best he can with the language - and we all know that langauge does change through time. Thus, what was once an obvious implication can be easily understood to be a commandment.
But, I thought the analysis of “Serpent” and “Satan” a very curious analogy - good food for thought.
Now, that's just the Thetans talking ... ;-)
you are welcome. I was blessed with a dad who read Greek/Hebrew and “dabbled” (his words) in Aramaic. I was curious about many things and he was always happy to help me understand and learn the true meaning of the scripture best it can be understood.
He told me once that trying to translate the scripture was difficult not only because of language barrier, but cultural barriers. Imagine today we tell someone about to go on the stage and perform to “go break a leg”. That means do well. In 1000 years imagine someone reading that and trying to translate? Holy cow, huh?
Generally speaking, the person who has the closest proximity to the original message, has a clearer impression of what the original message was. Language changes over time (try reading the original Shakespeare, for example), thus a person writing within 50 years of the death of Christ, may have a clearer understanding of what Mark was trying to say, than someone who reads copies of copies of copies of multiple translations over 1,400 years later.
I'm simply suggesting that the author of this article may have a valid point. The boasts found in the later parts of this Chapter of Mark are pretty profound, aren't they? If they were present in the original manuscript, wouldn't they have been worthy of some discussion?
Numbers 21:8-9 ESV / 11
And the Lord said to Moses, Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live. So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Acts 28:3-5 ESV /
When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live. He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.
Mark 16:18 ESV /
They will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.
Luke 10:19 ESV
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.
Exodus 7:8-13 ESV
Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, When Pharaoh says to you, Prove yourselves by working a miracle, then you shall say to Aaron, Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent. So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. ...
Personally, I think it was metaphorical, but hey, I could be wrong. Ouch!
First off, the only good rattlesnake is a dead rattlesnake, and having had many encounters with them, I have always tried to abide by that rule. Second, I’ve always thought the passage in Mark was inspired by Paul’s experience, and other than that I’ve ignored it as having no relevance in my Christian walk. Truthfully, Paul’s experience is enlightening enough without having some silly religious practice spring up from it. He treated his snake bite incident as though it wasn’t worth a second thought. We should content ourselves with his sentiment.
Well, no, this isn't right. Ophis is clearly speaking about "serpents" in the usual sense of the word. That is the literal, denotative meaning of this word. It can have connotative and figurative senses in which it is referring to a person or being that is being denigrated as a "snake" (e.g. satan is called this in Rev. 12:9,14,15; 20:2) and Jesus used it figuratively to denote enemies of the Gospel (Matt. 10:16; 23:33). However, the intended meaning is always that of a serpent, a snake, and was so since Homer began using the term in Greek in the 8th century BC.
Mark 16:9-20 is part of the Bible, and is indisputably so to anyone who approaches the text reasonably (which, incidentally, does not always describe textual critics of the Metzgerian mold).
Mark 16:18 is NOT, however, teaching that Christians would handle snakes. Let's look at the context. The handling of snakes (and the drinking of poison) is listed right along with the casting out of devils and the speaking in tongues. As I Corinthians makes clear, tongues and other sign gifts were given to the early churches specifically for the purpose of serving as a sign to unbelieving Jews and as a means of revealing truth to the very early churches who did not have access at that time to all of the New Testament. They were not for use as a "magic trick" in the churches. Further, once the NT was fully revealed and began to be propagated, tongues and other sign gifts would cease. If the Jews wanted to believe, then they could access the completed revelation of Scripture; and if Christians wanted to know how to live and believe, they had access to the completed revelation of Scripture.
Handling serpents and drinking poison were not active things Christians did, but were things done to them (i.e. somebody trying to poison you, also, see Paul's experience with the snake that bit him in Malta, and the effect it had on the Maltans who saw it, thus serving as a "sign," so to speak, Acts 28:3-6). As such, when the reason for the other sign gifts passed away, so did these.
If God sends you to do something and a poisonpus snake gets involved with you in the process, you will be protected in that you are under His authority. He enables what he commands.
Paul found a poisonous snake on his arm while he was placing firewood he had gathered into the fire, after they were shipwrecked on an island. It did not harm him.