1. Is it true that there are some Pentecostals who handle snakes?



Yes, there are some Pentecostals who regularly and publicly handle poisonous snakes during their meetings. They are in the United States of America, particularly in the region of the Appalachian Mountains. These so called snake handlers in American are generally known as ‘the Church of God with Signs following’.

The practice of serpent handling was introduced among Pentecostals by a certain George Went Hensley, who was born around 1880 and died in 1955 after he was bitten by a poisonous snake he was handling during a church service. George Hensley brought this practice to Tennessee in the first decade of the twentieth century, and from there the practice spread over other parts of the USA. The way in which he introduced this practice into the Church was this: one day, while he was preaching to the Church of God in Cleveland (Tennessee) a sermon on Mark 16, some men overturned a box full of rattlesnakes before him, and without thinking twice he went and took the snakes in his hands and continued to preach. By 1914 the practice of handling snakes was widespread all over the Church of God; but at that time snakes were handled only by a few members of that Church.

However, it must be said that while the founder of the serpent handlers who are in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, was George Hensley; the founder of the serpent handlers who are in Alabama and Georgia was a certain James Miller, who began to handle serpents after he meditated deeply on the Bible! According to some, James Miller brought this practice to Sand Mountain, Alabama, around 1912.

According to some, serpent handlers are more than one thousand and less than two thousand. Today there are serpent handlers in the following states: Florida, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama.

Not all the Pentecostals who handle serpents are Trinitarian, for some of them are antitrinitarian, that is, they teach the ‘Jesus only’ doctrine, according to which Jesus is at once the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

These Pentecostals who are serpent handlers think that the following words of Jesus: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name …. they shall take up serpents ….” (Mark 16:17,18) authorize believers to take in their hands poisonous snakes regularly during their meetings in order to show their faith in God. In other words, they think they are authorized to practice this rite (for this is what the handling of serpents has become to these churches). But they are greatly mistaken, and this is confirmed by the fact that many of them have died after being bitten by snakes they were handling. In America during the twentieth century more than 75 Pentecostals died after being bitten by poisonous snakes that they were handling. One of the last persons who died after being bitten by a snake was a certain John Wayne ‘Punkin’ Brown Jr., who died in the autumn of 1998 in the state of Alabama. If such a practice, even though it is dangerous, were permitted by the Word of God, it would make no harm to the believers and it would not frighten believers nor cause a great tension among the serpent handlers; so great is the tension among them that a woman who attends one of these Churches has said: ‘When we go to Church, we don’t know whether we will come out alive or not!’ The words of this woman express very well the feeling of the serpent handlers when they go to their worship places.

Now, since Jesus stated that if believers drink anything deadly it will by no means hurt them, we are sure that even if believers take up serpents, they (the serpents) will by no means hurt them. Therefore, these Pentecostals have misunderstood the words of Jesus Christ, there is no doubt about it.

What do the words of Jesus in the Gospel according to Mark mean then? They mean that there can be occasions on which a believer is compelled to take up serpents in the name of Jesus. For instance: a father sees a poisonous snake around the neck of his child and he takes it up in the name of Jesus in order to throw it away; or a believer takes up a serpent at a God’s command revealed to him as it happened to Moses, to whom God revealed he had to take the serpent by the tail. Nevertheless, in these cases he will take up a serpent not because he wants to tempt the Lord or to publicize himself or to demonstrate that he has more faith than others, but simply because he can do this act in the name of Jesus and thus it will by no means hurt him; I say it again, it will by no means hurt him.

I conclude by saying to you this, ‘Beware of any believer who would like to bring in the practice of handling poisonous snakes among you, rebuke him sharply, and if he continues in his deviation expel him from among you.’