I recently heard about a snake handling church here in the U.S. They carry snakes while they sing and preach based on Mark 16:17-18, which reads: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So they hold venomous snakes to show their devotion and trust in God. This particular pastor got bit on the ear. He is bleeding, but tells them to keep singing because God is a healer. He begins to choke and asks to be taken to a mountaintop so God can decide if he lives or dies. Someone instead carries him to the hospital.
Here is an example of mishandling snakes. More importantly for our point it is an example of mishandling the Word of God. To use Mark 16 to carry around venomous snakes during the church service is to misuse the text. Clearly mishandling Scripture can be deadly. In this case it is physically deadly, but more often it is spiritually fatal.
Early in Scripture we see a piece of fruit come off a tree as a different snake is mishandled. Mishandling this snake also brings forth death. In Genesis 2:15 Man is to cultivate and keep the Garden of Eden. Adam is put there by the Lord God to cultivate and keep the garden, which includes the ideas of tending and guarding. The Garden is a place of fellowship with God. There are other connections in Scripture to show that the Garden was a Temple. The tree of life and knowledge of good and evil as well as the cherubim also point to the Garden as a sanctuary. Adam then is a priest and the Garden a Temple or sanctuary. Adam is to rule over creation. Adam then is also a vassal king. God then gives him a suitable helper in this endeavor. A Snake shows up and tempts Eve while Adam looks on. He twists God’s Words, he doubts God’s Words, and he distorts God’s Words. When Eve saw the tree was good for food, delightful to the eyes and desirable to be wise she took and ate and so did Adam. Adam mishandled the Word of God and he mishandled the Snake. The result as you know was death.
What should Adam have done? He should have guarded the Temple. He should have exercised his authority as God ordained ruler over creation. He should have crushed the head of the snake!
In Gen 3:15 we see the promise of a head crusher to come. We have hope. Jesus Christ will come and crush the head of the serpent. He will succeed where Adam failed. Christ will live a perfect life fulfilling all righteousness. It is to Christ, our conquering King, Prophet and Priest that we are to look to for our salvation. As John 14:30 tells us Satan has nothing on Christ. May we not mishandle snakes or Scripture.
Jay Wipf is a former student of Coalt Robinson and attended Grace University where he earned his degree in Christian Education. Jay is currently studying at Reformed Baptist Seminary in the comfort of his home in Huron, SD. By grace and at Grace he met his beautiful wife Rachel, and they now have three young children. Jay and his family live in Huron where he works in facilities at a local credit union and serves within the local church.