You are currently browsing the daily archive for April 17, 2010.

The probable reason these Forbidden Bible Verses were excluded from the Lectionary is that they were not included in the early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark.  However, they also include verses that, if interpreted incorrectly, could lead to unnecessary personal risk-taking.

Today’s reading is from the New International Version.

Mark 16:9-20

(The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.)

 9When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

 12Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

 14Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

 15He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

 19After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.


We looked at verses 9 – 11 last week as seen in John’s Gospel and the story of St Thomas the Apostle, the Doubting Thomas.  In verse 12, the Risen Christ appears to two other disciples, possibly dressed as a gardener, although physically resembling Himself.  Matthew Henry, the Bible commentator, notes that this ties in with the account of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-31.  Those two told the apostles and other disciples but they did not choose to believe the account.  Never mind that Mary Magdalene had already told them.

So, knowing that the disciples had heard two accounts of the Resurrection, Jesus confronts them Himself (verse 14).  We cannot be too condemning, as they might have thought the accounts were too wishful, too positive.  They wanted to be discerning and not credulous, believing something they shouldn’t.  However, recall from last week’s post (link above) that the apostles — His closest companions — were nowhere to be found at the tomb.  So, Christ told those who faithfully awaited his Resurrection to tell the apostles.  Understandably, He cannot have been too pleased with them at this point.

Christ now sends the apostles forth with a mission (verse 15): they are to preach the ‘good news’ to all creation.  Note the strength of verse 16: hereafter, those who believe and are baptised will be saved but those who refuse to believe will be condemned.  We can safely add on that ‘to eternal damnation’.  Although there were 11 apostles sitting around the table who heard this, Christ also intended for the other disciples — 70 in all — to also carry out this commission.  Therefore, not only Jews and Gentiles in the immediate area, but everyone in the world as it was known at that time.  The disciples would need to cover as many lands as possible.  The people who heard the message would then need to tell other people, so that from tens there would be hundreds, then thousands, of believers.

Matthew Henry says this was what they were to preach:

Set before the world life and death, good and evil. Tell the children of men that they are all in a state of misery and danger, condemned by their prince, and conquered and enslaved by their enemies.” This is supposed in their being saved, which they would not need to be if they were not lost. “Now go and tell them,” (1.) “That if they believe the gospel, and give up themselves to be Christ’s disciples; if they renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh, and be devoted to Christ as their prophet, priest, and king, and to God in Christ a their God in covenant, and evidence by their constant adherence to this covenant their sincerity herein, they shall be saved from the guilt and power of sin, it shall not rule them, it shall not ruin them. He that is a true Christian, shall be saved through Christ.” Baptism was appointed to be the inaugurating rite, by which those that embraced Christ owned him …

Anyone who heard this message and actively rejected baptism would not be able to share in eternal life.

Christ’s ascension into Heaven and the disciples’ subsequent evangelism are mentioned in verses 19 and 20. 

However, verses 17 and 18 prove troublesome, because they can be and have been dangerously misinterpreted.  In fact, a small number of independent churches in North America — mostly in Appalachia and the Southern states but also in Ohio and parts of Canada — take these verses about handling snakes and ingesting poison literally.  We will explore this worship tradition in more detail tomorrow.  An Unseen World, a ministry which explores Christian error, explains:

The practice of snake handling in church began in the early 1900s in the southeast corner of Tennessee. In fact, it is not very far from where I live. George Hensley is believed to be the founder of the snake handler movement …  

George was preaching in a Church of God early in the 1900’s on the book of Mark Chapter 16 … The congregation then dumped a box of live rattlesnakes onto the church floor. The preacher, nonplussed, picked up the snakes and kept right on preaching. The snake handling church was born.

George Hensley, the original snake handler, died of a snakebite in 1955 …

The author puts these verses and similar ones from the Acts of the Apostles in context (emphasis mine):

First of all, [Christ] was talking about the beginning years of the church when the Holy Spirit empowered people to do miraculous things so people would believe the gospel and the greatest miracle of all: that Jesus paid the price for their sins and because Jesus lives they also will inherit eternal life if they put their trust in Jesus.

Thousands of Christians in the early church were persecuted heavily for their belief in Christ. Many were imprisoned and many were put to death. I’m sure that many were given poison to drink, but the poison did not harm them because God wouldn’t let it.

Paul himself was bitten by a poisonous snake but suffered no ill effects from it [Acts 28:3-5] … 

How is this different from the snake handling of today? God’s divine protection was over Paul and the new converts. Paul did not intentionally grab a poisonous snake. One bit him when he was gathering firewood. The snake’s poison had no effect and this actually fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus when He said “They shall take up serpents and no harm will befall them”.

So what’s wrong with drinking a little poison during church and letting rattlesnakes slither all over you? When Jesus was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness and Satan asked Jesus to jump off a pinnacle because angels would protect him, Jesus replied, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”. He was quoting Deut. 6:16. That is exactly what snake handlers do: They put the Lord, their God, to the test. I imagine God runs out of patience sometimes.

Snake handling, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, drinking poison, and healing the sick are featured heavily in many churches of today and I believe it is one reason we have a very large apostate church. Why? Because the pursuit of miracles produces only unbelief. Those Christians who pursue these things are not looking for Christ’s return or a relationship with Christ: they are looking for the next miracle. Their faith is very weak.

The best way to grow in faith and in a relationship with Christ is to read and study the Bible … not pursue signs. Romans 10:17 states, ‘So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ If you are tempted to join a church of snake handlers, remember God doesn’t like being put to a foolish test and the law has made this practice illegal in most states.

There are probably only about 2000 Americans today who attend these churches.  Here are a few videos to show you exactly what happens.  Again, do not try this yourself:

A 1934 Universal Newsreel:

Early 1990s news report about Jolo, West Virginia:

The pastor of The Church of Lord Jesus Christ in Kingston, Georgia in 2008:

More on snake handlers and the history behind them tomorrow.

For further reading, see:     

Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary

An Unseen World: Snake Handlers and the Church

HAHN: Snake stories abound but one of strangest is tale from Yellville (Benton [AR] Courier)

Quilting and Carving: Snake in the Box (N.B.: Snake handling is not a part of Amish worship, although the idea is no doubt taken from Mark 16:18)

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