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 :-)
Monday, May 26, 2014
As I understand it, correction invited if I'm wrong, it was standard in the ancient world for the highest religious offices to be occupied by those also in the highest political offices. That is there was no way to separate the religious and the secular authorities. I was struck today as I read Numbers 27 by vs20-21, Moses has prayed about his successor in leadership and God replies that Joshua will be that successor,
You shall give him some of your authority, so that all the congregation of the Israelites may obey. But he shall stand before Eleazar the priest who shall inquire for him . . . before the LordUp to this point Moses had been both the leader of the Israelites and the one responsible for mediating God's voice to the people. Here Joshua is set up as leader but only some of Moses authority is passed on to him, and the rest presumably passes to Eleazar, a separation of church and state, of religious and secular power. This also presumably sets the scene for the prophetic interaction with the kingly office that occupies much of the subsequent OT - the idea that the leader of the people is not supreme but can guided and if necessary called to account by a separate religious institution.
Posted by Jonathan Robinson at 09:15