Does This Mean I Can’t Handle Snakes?

What exactly is the ending of the Gospel of Mark? Does it end at Mark 16:8 or at Mark 16:20?

“Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.” (Mark 16:9–20 ESV)

Most Bibles will make a note that this is not in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. The question to be asked is, was this passage added or omitted? Since it is not there in the earliest manuscripts and then suddenly appears, it is most likely that it was added.

There seems to be a good reason for it to be added. This is how Mark ends:

“And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8 ESV)

The Gospel ends with fear which is not a very inspiring way to finish. If you look at the longer ending, that is something for Christians to get excited about. Mark 16:8 not so much. How could Mark have ended his Gospel with fear?

What we must realize is that the fear that the women have is not the fear of persecution or the fear of being mocked. This is the fear of being in the presence of a powerful work of God. Elsewhere we see in Mark some other interesting stories. When Jesus calmed the storm, notice what happened.

“And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”” (Mark 4:41 ESV)

And when the woman was healed from her many years of bleeding what happened?

“But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” (Mark 5:33 ESV)

Neither of these stories seem to be about fearing that Jesus might get angry and hurt them. Rather they had just witnessed something incredible and the natural reaction was fear. This is what happened with the women at the tomb.

Of course this does not mean that Mark denies the resurrection as some critics claim. Mark makes it extremely clear what happened to Jesus.

“And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”” (Mark 16:6–7 ESV)

Of course the real question you are wondering is about your future in snake handling. I don’t see even the longer ending as promoting snake handling as we see it today. Not only that, it is not likely that Mark 16:9-20 either is inspired or belongs to Mark. If you are considering snake handling, I would suggest you look rather to liturgical dancing.

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One thought on “Does This Mean I Can’t Handle Snakes?”

  1. Although I agree with your analysis on the text itself. There is a biblical counter to the practice of snake handling altogether.

    Deu_6:16 “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.

    And it is this passage the our Lord used to counter the temptation of Satan to test God by a quote from scripture:

    Mat_4:7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'”
    Luk_4:12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'”

    Snake handling is a form of “testing the Lord” in the name of Jesus and fits Jesus’ words in Matthew concerning those who come with miraculous signs “in Jesus’ name” and yet are not known by Jesus at all:

    Mat 7:20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
    Mat 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
    Mat 7:22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
    Mat 7:23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

    Obedience to God’s word is God’s will. And those who practice the word, as it is written, are those truly led by God’s Spirit. Jesus countered an offer to test God’s promises by using the word itself that forbids testing the Lord by attempts at the miraculous as a confirmation and proof that His word is true. Snake handling is a direct application of testing the Lord in order to prove His presence and blessing among the snake handlers. Those who practice this are ensnared by the devil’s deceptions via Mark 16:9-20, whether the text is in the original texts or not.

    Even when we find an example of snake biting overcome in Acts, it is not done in a “worship service” format at all, but only in natural occurrence by the grace of God:

    Act 28:3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand.
    Act 28:4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”
    Act 28:5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.

    To create a snake biting service is an invitation for God to prove himself by a test. This is a satanic practice in keeping with Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert in Matt. 4:5-7.

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