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
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.
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.”
Satan directly contradicted God’s command concerning
eating of the forbidden fruit in the midst of the garden.
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.”
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
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:
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:
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.”
ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION GOD USED A SNAKE OR SNAKES FOR
A SPECIFIC PURPOSE.
God sent Moses and Aaron to go before Pharaoh to demand
that he let the Israelites go.
He provided them the following miracle:
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
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.
Pharaoh hardened his heart and so the Lord brought ten
plagues upon the Egyptians before he let them go.
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.
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
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.”
The venom could figuratively represent the spiritual
poisonous effects of the false doctrines and practices of men.
After escaping ship wreck to the island of Melita the
Apostle Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake. But he was
not ill affected.
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.”
But this applied only to those of the first century who
were endowed with miraculous gifts (I Cor. 13:8-10).
Notice also that the Apostle Paul did not pick up the
snake. The snake came out of the sticks and bit him.
But the primary emphasis in this sermon pertains to how
snakes are used in religious services.
ALMOST FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME MANKIND HAS WORSHIPED
SNAKES AS EITHER DIETIES OR SYMBOLS OF DIETY.
In ancient times various cultures have actually worshiped
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.
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.
Among the Greek Dionysian cults it signified
wisdom and was a symbol of fertility
In Egypt, according to one authority, each temple
had a reserved area where snakes were kept.
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.
The ancient Mesopotamians and Semites believed
that the snake was immortal because it shed its skin and
appeared in a fresh guise.
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
In China the serpent, in the form of the dragon,
figures as a fierce but protective divinity.
The Toltec and Aztec periods of prehistoric
Mexican civilization worshiped snakes.
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.
Snake charming is not a form of worshiping snakes
but the fascination of capturing and controlling them.
In such states as Texas and Oklahoma there are annual
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
IN CONTRAST TO THOSE WHO WORSHIP SNAKES, SOME WHO PROFESS
CHRISTIANITY HANDLE SNAKES IN THEIR WORSHIP SERVICES AS AN ACT
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.
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
They’ve read in the scripture that disciples of the Lord
in handling snakes would not be harmed if bitten by one of them.
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.”
“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.”
To deliberately put one’s self in physical danger in such
a situation would be tempting the Lord.
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).
THE HISTORY OF SNAKE HANDLING IN WORSHIP SERVICES HERE IN
THE UNITED STATES BEGAN ALMOST 100 YEARS AGO.
Researchers trace this phenomenon back to a former
bootlegger by the name of George Went Hensley of the
Oneness Pentecostal Church.
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.
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.
In 1928, the Church of God in Prophecy revoked Hensley’s
license to preach and forbade all its members from further
handling of snakes.
Hensley, the founder of modern snake handling in America,
died vomiting blood from snakebite in 1955.
Those who practice snake handling as an act of faith are
inconsistent in their claims.
Some in quoting Mark 16:17-18, stress that in taking
up serpents and drinking poison that: “it shall not hurt
Whereas others claim that the Bible doesn’t state that
the faithful will not be hurt or die of snakebite.
Practitioners of snake handling contend that when one is
bitten at one of their ceremonies it reveals one of the
That the person has sin in his/her life. If discovered
to be the case, the faithful members shun the sinner.
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.
That the person lacks the faith to handle the serpent.
Handling snakes without faith is presumption.
That God is testing the handlers to see if they will deny
the faith when they are bitten.
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
Segments of the Oneness Pentecostal Church were the
original source of local churches having snake handling
The primary practitioners of snake handling services
begun and continues among the poor, uneducated farmers of
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.
They have no central governing body.
Their preachers do not receive any formal training.
One source claims that more than a hundred people who
handled snakes at these services have died after being bitten by
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.
THERE ARE THREE REASONS WHY THE HANDLING OF POISONOUS
SNAKES IN RELGIOUS SERVICES VIOLATES THE SCRIPTURES.
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.
One is that in the context of Mark 16:14-20 that passage
refers only to the apostles.
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).
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
The miraculous era ended at the close of the first
century A. D. This was when the Lord provided mankind His
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:”
For anyone to deliberately place them self in danger by
handling snakes in a religious service or drinking poison would
be tempting the Lord.
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