The article’s title is “Family sues hospital over snakebite death,” but that doesn’t really convey what actually transpired to cause the snakebite. Or, should I say what was taking place at the time of the snakebite? Apparently, a 48 year old London, Kentucky woman was trying to handle a yellow timber rattler during a service at East London Holiness Church. Although, it seems, sometimes people that are bitten by snakes during religious services will refuse medical attention, when Linda Long was bitten on the right cheek, she was rushed to Marymount Medical Center in London.
There is apparently a lawsuit pending concerning the medical attention given (or not given) and supposed comments toward the woman and her family regarding the snakebite incident. Please review link, if you would like to see specifics.
The article declares, “Snake-handlers believe the practice shows faith and God's power. The text for the belief is Mark 16:17-18: "And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they 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."”
On the legal side:
“Handling snakes in a religious service is a misdemeanor in Kentucky, but police rarely pursue charges because the practice involves a matter of religious freedom and believers are willing participants.” Apparently it is a misdemeanor, with a fine of $50 to $100.
On the spiritual side:
I have never met a “religious” snake handler (one who does it as part of their church service), but I am sure not all snake handlers are religious and I know not all religious persons are snake handlers.
If it is true that they use Mark 16:17-18 as a proof text to making church service snake handling a spiritual thing, then at first glance, I would have to say to be bit and die from a snake bite must mean the persons (more than just the snake handler) are not believers. For the text says, “these signs will accompany those who believe.” Although it only claims that “they will pick up snakes with their hands,” not mentioning what will happen if they get bit, I would say if a person gets bit and becomes sick, why can’t the others “place their hands on sick people, and they will get well?”
I realize some may say I am taking a stab at Christianity, but this is simply not the case. I am merely noting a non-Biblical, out of context, take on Mark 16:17-18. And, I am only holding the person(s) accountable to their own claims to having the gifts recorded in the Scriptures they proclaim. If a reader here is a snake handler, which partakes in snake handling services, and the mentioned Scripture is not a proof text for you, please feel free to share your interpretation of the Biblical text concerning snake handling church services, for I do not see an example of them in Scripture.
My questions to the individuals doing such snake handling, claiming it is God approved, Scripture verified, and provoked by the Spirit would be:
1. What example of snake handling is being followed from a Scriptural example?
2. How does the handling of snakes in church service glorify God?
3. Does the handling of snakes point people to Jesus Christ for salvation?
4. If one believes the handling of snakes is a spiritual gift from God unto believers, if one is bitten, could that not also be a sign from God that they are not a believer and deserve to die as a punishment for tempting Him?
The only example I can remember off-hand of a person having this gift is Paul in Acts 28. If there is another in Scripture, please post the reference.
3 And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.
5 And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.
This is my concern with the misuse of taking Mark 16:17-18 and snake handling into the church service, or time to be worshiping God. We don’t see Paul tempting God with handling snakes, or the Christians in the Scriptures handling snakes in church. We have Paul simply doing what needs to be done, the viper biting him, but it brings him no harm.
Miracles and spiritual gifts are not to bring attention to the person or the gift, but to God, from whom they flow.