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Snake-Handling Snake-Bitten Venomous Religion and Faith
© Donald Reinhardt, May 30, 2012
Pastor Mark Wolford, a Pentecostal Holiness minister aged 44, died less 10.5 hours after a yellow timber rattlesnake bit him. His father died in a similar fashion 29 years earlier. Why is snake-handling part of some church services and what sense is there to it?

Animals and religious ceremonies and the worship of a god or gods

The sacrifice of animals, whether lambs, calves or even in some cases humans, has been part of the rituals of certain religions. Snake handling is a unique form of certain Christian sect worship and it is based on a single verse from the Gospel in the New Testament of the Bible: Mark 16:18 which reads: "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." In honor of, or respect for, this scriptural verse there are some who handle snakes and some who drink certain kinds of  poisons. The Church of God began snake-handling about 1910 and this practice is legal as of this year 2012 only in West Virginia. Today, it is estimated that only a few hundred people actually practice their religious beliefs this way. They believe that a true religious faith is evident when it is carried out according to the cited verse.

Mark 16:18 and its relevance to Christianity throughout the millennia

The use of snakes and poisons in Christian ceremonies is only a recent practice. There is no evidence that early Christian apostles, disciples or believers ever intentionally sought out snakes to bite them or venoms and toxins to drink. The verse properly interpreted – according to most Christian pastors, theologians and Christians in general – reflects a true belief that God provides protection from various evils to those who are his followers or believers.
Again, the intentional placement of yourself in harm’s way to test one’s faith and God makes no sense according to many theologians, pastors and Christians. They argue that we are to use our God-given intelligence and good judgment for the wise and proper use of God's creation and provisions.
The minister Mark Wolford of West Virginia and his Pastor father before him, each died of rattlesnake bites and the venom that was injected into their bodies from those fangs. Shall these two Christian pastors and believers be accused of lack of faith or insufficient faith? I think not. These pastors had faith and they lived and died by it – that is affirmed by the facts of what happened in both cases.

What then say we say of Mark 16:18? Perhaps nothing more need be said then that Mark 16:18 is a good scriptural verse when interpreted and used correctly. Mark  16:18  is dangerous when it is misunderstood or elevated to a level of belief and challenge that God does not seem to ask of any person or believer.

Jesus never picked up snakes or drank poisons to prove his faith. He simply lived well and according, as he said, to the Father’s will. It would be good for Christians to heed and believe the example of Jesus alone.
For those who call themselves Christian, i.e. followers of Jesus the Christ, the example and words of Christ are more than sufficient and that type of thinking, behavior and action is most likely the right path to walk in the Christian life.


Saenez, Arlette. 2012. 'Serpent-Handling' West Virginia Pastor Dies From Snake Bite.  Accessed 30 May, 2012

Walt, Pastor. The Truth About Snake Handling and Snake Handlers. The Practice of Snake handling.” Accessed 30 May, 2012.

Yellow Timber rattlesnake similar to the one that bit Pastor Wolford.
Photo Credit: Ohio DNR, Wildlife Division