Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Goodness Snakes Alive

Monday online, CNN reported the death from snakebite of a Kentucky snake-handling preacher. These folks, whom we may visualize as mad, wild-eyed fringe, get their motivating Scripture from Mark 16:17-18, "... signs shall accompany those believing these things; in my name demons they shall cast out; with new tongues they shall speak; serpents they shall take up; and if any deadly thing they may drink, it shall not hurt them; on the ailing they shall lay hands, and they shall be well." (YLT). 

These folks are not wildeyed fringe, they are a species of Bible literalists. But attributed as postresurrection appearance, to reputable scholars the words of Mark 16:9f did not come from the lips of Jesus, nor does this ending of Mark have claim to being original to the evangelist’s work. It is part of a later, likely second-century, addition that is meant to be, among other things, a threat to those who are falling away from the church in decades when the expected Parousia did not materialize; and also reflects early readers’ failure to understand Mark’s evangelical genius in ending his gospel abruptly with 16:8. Material after Mark 16:8 is so spurious and scandalously unChristlike that it should in no wise be accepted as canonical and authoritative. 

Snake-handling Christians are building their faith on ignorance that sadly is beyond correcting, because on matters of religious certitude, minds are not open to reason or change. One wonders about these people, like mothers of teenagers who, when the teen says, "Well, I don't see why I can't; all my friends are doing it," mama says, "If all your friends were jumping off a cliff would you jump off a cliff too?" There is a verse where Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.'" (Mark 11:23, NRSV). Perhaps they should test their faith by first moving a mountain, and when the mountain falls into the sea, then go handle snakes. 

Or learn from the deaths of other snake-handlers the folly of taking things so literally. Afterall, Jesus was a master of metaphor. 


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