Friday, June 1, 2012

They Shall Take Up Serpents

Yet another Pentecostal snake handler learns his lesson the hard way...

Mark Randal "Mack" Wolford, Pentecostal pastor of the Apostolic House of the Lord Jesus in Matoaka, West Virginia, died after being bit by his timber rattlesnake at a religious service last Sunday afternoon.  Wolford spent eight hours on the sofa in the living room of his mother-in-law's trailer home praying to be healed.  Eventually paramedics were called and Wolford was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Shuffling off the mortal coil in this gratuitous fashion is not unusual in his family.  When Mark Wolford was a teenager he watched his own father die exactly the same way.

Christians who demonstrate their faith by handling venomous snakes and drinking strychnine draw their Biblical guidance from the Gospel of Mark, specifically Chapter 16 Verses 17-18:

"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."

What never fails to amaze me is that these Biblical literalists choose to ignore the fact that the author of the Gospel of Mark originally closed the story at the end of Chapter 16 Verse 8.

"8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid."

The longer ending, Verses 9-20, was amended to the text by some unknown copyist at a later date.  Portions of the revision are quoted by patristic writers in the late 2nd century and the entire interpolation is seen in some 4th century texts.  While modern Biblical scholarship is pretty clear on the idea that the Gospels were not penned by the men for whom they were named, all the snake-handling, poison-drinking, devil-casting faithful have been following the advice of some even more anonymous scribe who was not even present when the original document,  the only one according to Christian doctrine which was inspired and inerrant, was written.
UPDATE: cgosling, a commenter at the WEIT blog, succinctly summarizes the pointlessness of this practice: 

"If he is not bitten it is God’s will; if he is bitten it is God’s will; if he survives the bite it is God’s will, if he does not survive the bite it is God’s will."

Perhaps a person has to be a member of Pentecostal Christian snake-wrangling, strychnine-swilling cult for that to make sense...


1 comment:

  1. "Modern Biblical scholarship is clear on the idea that the Gospels were not penned by the men for whom they were named"?...
    I would expect a comment like this from somebody else, maybe someone who hadn't read broadly enough, but from you it truly surprises me.

    This is only true if you ignore the vast majority of biblical scholarship that says the exact opposite of this. Bart Ehrman and the Jesus Seminar are anything but the "go to" people on biblical scholarship.

    Erhman's entire "Misquoting Jesus" centered around what? Two or three texts that basically everyone agrees on were not in the original letters? So what? That book was his best arguments, and it was full of logical leaps and over-hyping of a couple of overblown issues that shake Christians who are not very educated.

    Also, Snake handling is silly.