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Not harmed by venom or poison?

In one of the assorted and contested endings for Mark's gospel there is a famous claim that those who believe in Jesus will pick up snakes and drink any deadly thing without coming to harm (Mk 16:17). Of course this verse is what has given rise to the snake handlers found only in the USA. As that ending of Mark is of dubious authority I had always been happy to consign it to the file marked "nutter fodder."

I noticed (and isn't it always funny how you can read something a hundred times without noticing something that now seems obvious!) today that a very similar thought crops up in Luke 10:19, this time snakes and scorpion will be trodden on (I think I had always read that figuratively as the language of the pericope is one of spiritual warfare) and the promise is that "nothing will hurt you." (Which is cross-referenced in my NRSV to psalm 91:13 a messianic psalm used in Luke 4 to tempt Jesus.) So is there a genuine possibility that Jesus taught his followers they could handle snakes and drink poison?

Apart from the story of Paul and the viper in Acts 28 I can't think of anywhere else in the NT that this theme crops up again. In Acts 28 the story suggests that Paul is under special protection rather than all Christians can expect to walk away unharmed from a viper attack. So I think I am right to subsume Luke 10:19 under the figurative or spiritualised references to snakes found in the rest of the NT and to continue to treat Mark 16:17 as dubious and snakes as hazardous.

When in doubt go with 1 Cor 10:9, to paraphrase: "don't put the Lord to the test in case you get eaten by a snake!" To me snake handling seems to be inviting this verse to be fulfilled. :-s

Let me know what you think :-)

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  2. I've always viewed it as a metaphor for deadliness. God is able to protect and save his people from anything; but this is not to say that we must not use the intelligence that God has given us

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