Handling of poisonous snakes. Is this a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit?
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(All quotations from the King James Version unless stated otherwise).
There is no prohibition in the Bible with respect to snake or serpent handling. In this respect they are no different from any other creature. But a problem arises if we think that believing the gospel and being baptised into Jesus Christ offers protection against poisonous snake bites.
Jesus gave his disciples power to preach and heal, with protection from serpents during his ministry.
Luke 10:19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
After his resurrection when he commissioned his apostles he made a similar promise concerning those in the first century who were to receive power through the Holy Spirit.
Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
The apostles were baptised with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and were able to give gifts to others by the laying on of hands.
Acts 8:18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,
Paul chosen and ordained by Christ as an apostle was also given a full measure of the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 12:11... for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.
Paul’s experience on Melita is the only recorded occurrence of an apostle being unharmed when bitten by a venomous snake.
Acts 28:3 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. 4 And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. 5 And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. 6 Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.
With the death of the apostles in the first century, Holy Spirit gifts ceased because only they could bestow them. The history of the Church shows this to be true.
Some Pentecostal denominations today make snake-handling a matter of faith.
This is wrong for two reasons:
1. They do not have the power of the Holy Spirit. This is obvious from their inability to perform miracles of healing and to preach the gospel in foreign languages.
2. To handle poisonous snakes in the belief that God will save us when bitten puts God to the test. This is contrary to the direct commandment:
Deuteronomy 6:16 Ye shall not tempt (test) the LORD your God...
Jesus when tempted to invoke God’s promised protection by jumping from the Temple roof, as a sign to the Jews, refuses to do it on the basis of this commandment.
Matthew 4:5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt (test) the Lord thy God.
In conclusion: Snake handling is not forbidden by scripture but it is foolhardy in the extreme if we think that believing the gospel and being baptised into Christ gives divine protection from the consequences of a venomous bite.
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I hope you have found this helpful.
God bless you,