On Snake Handling

Have you seen this great post at Craig Adams' blog on snake handling?

He wrote it only a few days before the death of Jamie Coots (pictured) - a snake handling pastor who starred in a (so-called) "reality TV show."  My thought when hearing the news was that this was another sad story that also presents Christianity as bizarre and dangerous to our non-church-going popular culture.  And the sad truth is that, if only this man had a deeper knowledge of the Christian tradition and had used it as an authoritative guide for Scriptural interpretation, he never would have done something so foolish as to handle deadly snakes; but a man has literally lost his life because his knowledge was limited to his local customs without input from the wider, deeper, and older wisdom of the Church universal.  Ideas have consequences and false ideas about God, false interpretations of Scripture are dangerous to soul and body and community.  

Adams ably addresses these issues as he ends the discussion of Mark 16 (virtually the only relevant Biblical text on the subject; especially verses 14-18):

"This passage does not contain any command to handle snakes or drink poison. And it certainly does not say that salvation depends upon doing those things. It says these signs will follow (παρακολουθήσει) or accompany believers. The only condition of salvation mentioned in this passage is faith (verse 16). This looks for all the world like a description of things that were reported to have happened during the time of the earliest church. According to the book of Acts, the apostle Paul was bitten by a snake and suffered no ill effects (Acts 28:4,5). It doesn’t say he or anyone else in the early Church sought out snakes — or sought to drink poison to prove the genuineness of their faith.
This is not an issue about “inerrancy” or “literal interpretation of the Bible” (whatever that means). This passage in no way commands snake handling!
In fact, most Christians would argue that to deliberately handle snakes or drink poison as a proof of faith would be tempting God and thus, a sin (Matthew 4:7)! It says signs follow believers. Believers do not follow signs...
However, this passage has been in the Bible for many long years before Biblical scholars determined that it was a later addition. There is nothing heretical about it — and it is very ancient. People were not running around poisoning themselves and getting themselves bitten by snakes right and left until the advent of modern textual criticism.
The issue with Jamie Coots, and other snake-handling preachers, is not about inerrancy or “literal interpretation" — it is about false interpretation. It is an issue of hermeneutics.
Bad theology is deadly. In more ways than one."



Blogger Craig L. Adams said...

Thanks for the link, Daniel.

3:46 PM, February 28, 2014  

Post a Comment

<< Home