Snake Religion


    Can you imagine anyone worshiping snakes?  Well, it’s true!  In writing to the church of Christ at Rome, the Apostle Paul spoke of how mankind in general had become very immoral and denied the one true and living God.  Man had lowered himself by making images of all types of creatures, including creeping things, and worshiping them.

 Rom. 1:18-25, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”

      Snakes have been depicted as a form of evil since the Garden of Eden.  Satan in a form of a serpent enticed mother Eve to sin. 

 Gen. 3:1-6, “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

1.      Satan directly contradicted God’s command concerning eating of the forbidden fruit in the midst of the garden.

 Gen. 2:16-17, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

      Not only was there a physical curse placed upon mankind because of Adam and Eve’s sin, but the Lord also placed a curse upon the serpent.

 Gen. 3:14-15, “And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

      In relation to this event God gave the first Messianic prophecy concerning redemption through Jesus Christ’s death upon the cross.  That passage states:

 Gen. 3:15, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

      That passage speaks of the seed of woman, in referring to the virgin Mary, because no human male was involved in the birth of the Son of God.  The scripture states this truth in the following words at:

 Matt. 1:18, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise:  When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”



A.     God sent Moses and Aaron to go before Pharaoh to demand that he let the Israelites go.

1.      He provided them the following miracle: 

Exodus 7:8-12, “And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.”

2.      God demonstrated his power over the wise men and sorcerers of Pharaoh by Aaron’s rod in the form of a snake swallowing their rods in the form of snakes.

3.      Pharaoh hardened his heart and so the Lord brought ten plagues upon the Egyptians before he let them go.

B.     When the children of Israel spoke against God and Moses because of their circumstances in the wilderness God sent fiery serpents among them.  Several people were bitten and died.

 Num. 21:5-9, “And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”

1.      The venom could figuratively represent the spiritual poisonous effects of the false doctrines and practices of men.

 C.     After escaping ship wreck to the island of Melita the Apostle Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake.  But he was not ill affected.

 Acts 28:1-6, “And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita. And the barbarous people showed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. 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. 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. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. 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.”

1.      But this applied only to those of the first century who were endowed with miraculous gifts (I Cor. 13:8-10).

2.      Notice also that the Apostle Paul did not pick up the snake. The snake came out of the sticks and bit him.

  D.     But the primary emphasis in this sermon pertains to how snakes are used in religious services.


A.     In ancient times various cultures have actually worshiped snakes.

1.      It has been looked upon as a symbol of Satan as well as deities to be worshiped, including the Greek god Apollo and the Egyptian god Ra.

a.          The Greek god most closely associated with snake worship is Apollo; the original name of Apollo's temple at Delphi was Pytho, after the snake Python.

b.          Among the Greek Dionysian cults it signified wisdom and was a symbol of fertility

c.          In Egypt, according to one authority, each temple had a reserved area where snakes were kept.

d.          In Rome during the period of the empire, a sacred snake was kept within the city and was attended by the vestal virgins; it was believed that if the snake refused to accept food from the hand of one of its attendants, the attendant was no longer a virgin, and she was promptly killed.

e.          The ancient Mesopotamians and Semites believed that the snake was immortal because it shed its skin and appeared in a fresh guise.

f.            Buddhist legends relate that Buddha was given the true Buddhism by the "king of the serpents" (often seen as the cobra), and Buddhists also revere the regenerative powers the snake exhibits.

g.          In China the serpent, in the form of the dragon, figures as a fierce but protective divinity.

2.      The Toltec and Aztec periods of prehistoric Mexican civilization worshiped snakes.

3.      An Aztec mythology claimed that a half-divine, half-human being descended to earth for a limited period of time as a great teacher of mankind.  The Aztecs called this mythological god the “feathered serpent” and recognized him as the incarnation of the serpent sun god. 

B.     Snake charming is not a form of worshiping snakes but the fascination of capturing and controlling them. 

C.     In such states as Texas and Oklahoma there are annual rattlesnake roundups. 

1.      There seems to be three primary purposes for capturing these poisonous reptiles at these roundups.  These are:  (1) to keep down their population; (2) to obtain the venom for medical purposes; and (3) for the eating of the delicacy of fried rattlesnake. 


A.     While attending Freed-Hardeman College in the mid 1950s, I obtained some pictures of a religious service near Savannah, Tennessee.  Some of the people attending those services literally handled poisonous snakes.

1.      One of the pictures was of a lady holding a large rattlesnake.  This was after it had just bitten her!  The next picture showed her swollen body in a coffin.                                           

B.     They’ve read in the scripture that disciples of the Lord in handling snakes would not be harmed if bitten by one of them.  

Mark 16:17-18, “In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 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.”

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.”

C.     To deliberately put one’s self in physical danger in such a situation would be tempting the Lord.

1.      When Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple, the Son of God declared:  “It is written again, THOU SHALT NOT TEMPT THE LORD” (Matt. 4:7).                                     


A.     Researchers trace this phenomenon back to a former bootlegger by the name of George Went Hensley of the Oneness Pentecostal Church.

1.      In 1910 after reading in Mark 16:18, “they shall take up serpents…and it shall not hurt them” this former bootlegger known as “Little George” took a rattlesnake box into the pulpit.  During the service he reached into the box and lifted up the venomous viper as an act of faith.  He urged his congregation in the hills of Grasshopper Valley in southeastern Tennessee to do the same.  Soon others participated in expressing their faith by handling snakes during their worship services.  The practice continued at that church until one of their members died after being bitten by a snake.  Hensley then moved to Harlan, Kentucky where he motivated snake handling.

2.      Ambrose J. Thomlinson, a traveling Bible salesman and founder of a Church of God of Prophecy (a new Pentecostal denomination), ordained Hensley into the gospel ministry. For the next ten years Hensley preached and demonstrated snake handling. While on a preaching tour, he discovered his wife and a neighbor were having an affair. Hensley attacked his friend with a knife. Fleeing to the hills and turning his back on the faith, he rebuilt his whiskey still. A short time later, the law apprehended "Little George" and sent him to work on a chain gang. But Hensley executed a brilliant escape to Cleveland, Ohio, where he remarried and resumed preaching the Oneness Pentecostal message. Before long, he was again picking up serpents.  He married and divorced four times.

3.      In 1928, the Church of God in Prophecy revoked Hensley’s license to preach and forbade all its members from further handling of snakes.

4.      Hensley, the founder of modern snake handling in America, died vomiting blood from snakebite in 1955.

B.     Those who practice snake handling as an act of faith are inconsistent in their claims.

1.      Some in quoting Mark 16:17-18, stress that in taking up serpents and drinking poison that:  “it shall not hurt them.”

2.      Whereas others claim that the Bible doesn’t state that the faithful will not be hurt or die of snakebite. 

C.     Practitioners of snake handling contend that when one is bitten at one of their ceremonies it reveals one of the following:

1.      That the person has sin in his/her life.  If discovered to be the case, the faithful members shun the sinner.

2.      That the person handled the snake without being under "the anointing" of the Holy Ghost. Since God promises no protection to the unanointed, snakes are prone to bite them.

3.      That the person lacks the faith to handle the serpent. Handling snakes without faith is presumption.

4.      That God is testing the handlers to see if they will deny the faith when they are bitten.

5.      That God is a healer. One of the ways to know this is for him to heal the victim of a venomous snakebite (see Acts 28:1-5). 

D.     Segments of the Oneness Pentecostal Church were the original source of local churches having snake handling services.

1.      The primary practitioners of snake handling services begun and continues among the poor, uneducated farmers of backwoods Appalachia.

2.      In addition to having snake handling services these Holiness churches practices laying on of hands on the sick, speaking in tongues, and providing testimony of miracles.

3.      They have no central governing body.

4.      Their preachers do not receive any formal training.

5.      One source claims that more than a hundred people who handled snakes at these services have died after being bitten by poisonous snakes.

6.      There groups are usually small in number; more often being 10 to 12 in number.  They are not evangelistic.  Their membership mainly consists of their physical families and those who marry into such a family. 


A.     Mark 16:18 does not apply to anyone since the first century.  Among brethren there are two schools of thought as to who all verse 18 applied to.

1.      One is that in the context of Mark 16:14-20 that passage refers only to the apostles.

2.      The other concept is that it was applicable to those in the church during the first century.  Those holding this concept contend that it only applied to the apostles and those in whom miraculous powers were past on to by the laying on of the apostles hands (Acts 8:14-17).

3.      Since all of the apostles have died as well as those in whom they past miracles powers by the laying on of their hands there is not any one living today who can perform a miracle. 

B.     The miraculous era ended at the close of the first century A. D.  This was when the Lord provided mankind His complete revelation. 

I Cor. 13:8-10, “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” 

II Pet. 1:3, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:” 

C.     For anyone to deliberately place them self in danger by handling snakes in a religious service or drinking poison would be tempting the Lord.

1.      In reference to placing one’s self in unnecessary danger the Son of God said unto Satan, THOU SHALT NOT TEMPT THE LORD” (Matt. 4:7). 


The handling of poisonous snakes and drinking deadly poison was not conducted in the religious services of the church of our Lord in the first century.   

--Dub Mowery