This Week's Focus Passage

Snake bitten

Focus Passage: Acts 28:5

‘Howbeit he shook off the creature into the fire, and took no harm.’

A part of the disputed final section of the book of Mark—16:9-20—includes certain promises that, in themselves, have raised many questions for the church over the years. The margin of your copy of the Scriptures may have a note in the margin similar to the following: The two oldest Greek manuscripts, and some other authorities, omit from verse 9 to the end. Some other authorities have a different ending to the Gospel. Whatever solutions may be offered by textual critics and experts on that important study, the issues confronting us actually involve the practice in the churches of taking one text, or pericope, and ‘running with it.’ There are some, for example, that have largely based their philosophy regarding the supposed primacy of the King James translation upon the words found in Psalm 12, where in the 6th verse, the psalmist has written, ‘The words of Jehovah are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, Purified seven times.’ To this they bring in an assumed history of how that this version was the seventh result of the translation of the Bible into English. Six translations predated the King James, or authorized version. These were, I am told, ‘Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, the Great, the Geneva, and the Bishop’s Bibles, before the ‘purified seventh’ version, notably the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

That is only an example of what may happen when a teaching rests largely on one verse, or one passage. The case before us in our focus passage is that of a number of believers, sincere or not; the Lord knows, that have laid hold of this part of Mark’s gospel account as teaching that Christians are to lay hold of snakes—pun intended. They believe that they are, not only, to take literally Mark 16:17-18, but that ‘they shall take up serpents’ and be unharmed; those verses read:

And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

The question before us is not so much whether or not these words are to be taken in a literal sense; they may well, it would seem, be taken literally. But the question to be asked is, have these promises been fulfilled? Have there been cases since, and including Pentecost, where ‘them that believe’ have cast out demons in His name? Do we find instances where ‘they shall speak with new tongues’ is actualized? Can we search the Scriptures and light upon ‘serpents being taken up’? And are there accounts of those that believe, answering to ‘they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover’? Without being able to allege any instance corresponding to the drinking of ‘any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them,’ we believe that the sure answer to the other matters is a resounding ‘yes’!

These answers are each to be found in the book of Acts. At the conception of the church in Acts 2, Christ’s promise of the outpouring of Another Comforter was fulfilled. The Holy Spirit came in might and power, ‘suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind.’ Fire, having the appearance of tongues, sat upon each one of them—presumably the apostles, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other—new?—tongues. The key here is that they were filled with the Holy Spirit; they thus received Holy Spirit gifts. In Acts 16:16-18, Paul practiced exorcism, casting out demons, in this case, the spirit of divination from a ‘certain maid.’ Paul, being sore troubled, turned and said to the spirit, I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her. And it came out that very hour. Later in Luke’s account of the progress of the church, we find Paul, in close connection with our focus verse, in verse 8:

And it was so, that the father of Publius lay sick of fever and dysentery: unto whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laying his hands on him healed him.

Just prior to that healing Luke informs us that, as Paul was laying a bundle of sticks on a fire, a viper came out by reason of the heat and fastened on his hand. Although it was not intentional, nonetheless the apostle ‘took up a serpent’ which bit him, and he was not harmed; he shook off the creature and took no harm.

We see these instances of the Mark 16 promises having been fulfilled, and yes, there are those today thinking they have the apostolic gifts so that they attempt to duplicate these blessed ‘acts’ of the Holy Spirit. Just this past weekend there was a news report about the pastor of The Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky; it read as follows:

“Jamie Coots, one of the stars of National Geographic’s reality show, Snake Salvation, died Saturday of a venomous snake bite. According to reports, he refused medical attention after being bitten in his Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky and died shortly thereafter in his home. The show debuted last Fall centered on two Pentecostal preachers who handle deadly snakes as part of a century-old Appalachian practice originating from a Bible passage that suggests those anointed by God will not be harmed by a poisonous snake bite.”

The ‘damage’ resulting from taking one Scripture to the exclusion of others, and basing a practice upon, is conspicuous. We do not speak of the resultant death, but the damage to souls that are misguided into believing these ‘second-blessing’ sorts of teaching; that set aside the huge body of the Word of God where He has taught us how He desires to be worshipped in Spirit and Truth. One would think that the contrary lessons provided in God’s holy Word would satisfy the enquiring soul, but they were not designed to satisfy the pride of man. The example of the sorcerer, Elymas, designated ‘false prophet’ by the Holy Spirit through Luke, or the disaster that overwhelmed the seven sons of Sceva, should convey the truth about those who imagine a special anointing other than the Holy Spirit gifted to every believer.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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