A Challenge to All Christians

Mark 16:18

          “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.” (NIV)

 “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.” (KJV)

    According to the New Testament of the Christian Bible, they (believers in Jesus Christ) can handle snakes, presumably poisonous ones, without harm.  With this claim, religious faith enters the realm of testable science, and I hereby call the bluff.

    Is the Bible true?  Are its verses correct in every word, being inspired by God?  Or is the bible mythology, the flawed word of primitive men?  Or are some parts inspired, and some parts flawed?  If so, which parts are true and which parts are false, and how can one determine which is which?

    Is Mark 16:18 a lie?  Does the Holy Bible contain a falsehood?  Is it telling you that you, as a true believer, can do something extremely dangerous without risk?  All Christians who truly believe in Jesus Christ are hereby challenged to handle a rattlesnake without physical protection, or drink a glass of arsenic (or any positively lethal substance), and seek no medical assistance afterward.  The act must be performed in the presence of skeptical observers, and for authenticity, skeptics should provide the snake and/or poison as well.  Well, is your faith strong enough?  Do you really believe as strongly as you think you do?

The following article first appeared in Freethought Today, Vol. 15, No. 9.

Bite Kills Snake-handling Minister

A preacher, whose wife died three years ago from a snakebite, succumbed himself on Oct. 3, after handling a 3-foot-long timber rattler during a prayer meeting.

John Wayne “Punkin” Brown Jr., 34, of Tennessee, was bitten on the hand while preaching at the Rocky House Holiness Church in rural Alabama.  He continued preaching for ten or 15 minutes after being bitten, then fell dead from the pulpit.  His wife Melinda, 28, died in 1994 two days after refusing medical attention following a rattlesnake bite during a church service in Kentucky.

“He was really looking forward to that day anyway” when he could see his wife again, opined the Rev. Carl Porter of Kingston, Georgia, to the Birmingham News.  Porter plans to pass along Brown’s two rattlers to Brown’s brother, by the way.

The Browns had five children.

There have been at least 75 snake-handling deaths among fundamentalists in the United States during this Century.

    This event is submitted as EVIDENCE that the sacred scriptures are untrue.

    Some may say, “He was not a true believer.”  Well, I submit that he was.  He believed strongly enough to handle the snake.  He was a minister.  He had given over his life for his beliefs.  He followed the word of God to the letter, and put his complete trust in the scripture.  HE certainly thought that he believed.  What more proof of belief could be provided?  If that is not true belief, what is?  Is your belief so strong?

    Others may protest that he should not have tested the Lord.  Well, it was the Lord, presumably, who inspired Mark (or whoever really wrote that book) to include that verse.  After all, it is claimed that the scriptures are the inspired word of God.  If God did not intend that people should make use of that verse as a guide for their lives, why did He include it at all?  What other purpose could it possibly serve?

Some people suggest that this verse only applied to the original Apostles. BUT, that statement finds no support in scripture. If one reads verses 16 and 17, it becomes clear that Jesus was speaking about "them that believe", those that are baptized and saved. It does not say anything about the original Apostles being the only ones who can drink poison and handle snakes.

    Preachers certainly make use of the second half of the verse “they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”   You need only to turn on late night TV to see the proliferation of faith-healing charlatans, milking the public of their hard-earned funds, by pretending to heal their sicknesses.  Why then should the first half of the verse Mark 16:18 be metaphorical, and the second half of it be literal?  Such an argument is an avoidance of the irrationality of the philosophy. This is one more example of the harm that literal belief in the bible can produce.

    Just food for thought.