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Did a snake charmer test God and lose?

Snake handling in Pentecostal Church of God in Kentucky 1948: Wikipedia

Snake handling in Pentecostal Church of God in Kentucky 1948: Wikipedia

It’s a sad story. Pastor Jamie Coots who gained notoriety as a church snake handler on National Geographic’s reality show Snake Salvation died Saturday February 15, 2014 after being bitten by a snake in a church service.

Coots practiced snake handling as part of the worship service at Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name based in Middlesboro, Kentucky. He along with Tennessee Pastor Andrew Hamblin were featured on the TV show.

According to reports, the Middlesboro police received a call of someone being bitten by a snake at a church service on Saturday night. 

When police and ambulance staff showed up, they were told a snake had bitten Pastor Coots and he had gone home. They then went to Coots’ home, but Pastor Coots refused medical help, so the emergency personnel left.

An hour later Coots was dead.

According to reports, snakes had bitten Coots nine times earlier, and he even lost a finger because of a bite.

Coots and Hamblin were part of an old Appalachian tradition where people handle snakes in church services to prove their anointing and faith. Videos show people dancing around in the church with venomous snakes in their arms.

In Tennessee, where Hamblin pastors, the state had passed a law in 1947 forbidding snake handling after five people had died from the practice over a couple of years.

However, those still holding to this tradition do so believing it’s a First Amendment religious right.

Snake handling and the Bible

Snake handling is based on a passage in Mark’s gospel where Jesus in His last words to the disciples said:

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16: 15-18 NASV)

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go preach the Gospel and said signs would confirm their message which included protection from serpent bites and even drinking poison.

This is exactly what happened to the Apostle Paul while on the island of Malta. He was being transported to Rome for trial for preaching the Gospel. The ship encountered a huge storm, shipwrecking the crew and Paul on the Island of Malta.

While Paul was gathering wood for a fire, a viper bit Paul on the hand. He shook it off. The islanders expected him to die and thought it divine justice for a murderer who had just escaped death from drowning. They quickly changed their minds when Paul didn’t keel over and instead thought he was a god (Acts 28:1-6).

The difference between the Apostle Paul and Pastor Coots

What happened to Apostle Paul and Pastor Coots reflect a key difference in a proper understanding of the passage in Mark. In the book of Matthew, we read of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

As part of it, Satan had taken Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and told Him to prove He was son of God by throwing Himself to the ground. If Jesus was truly the Son of God, Satan argued, the angels would protect Him. Satan even threw out a couple Bible verses (Psalms 91:11-12) to back up his claim:

Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,

 and *said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down;for it is written,

He will command His angels concerning You’;


On their hands they will bear You up,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:5-6 NASV)

Notice how Jesus dealt with this temptation, He balanced the promise of Divine protection with a Bible verse from Deuteronomy 6:16 commanding us not to test God.

Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Mathew 4:7 NASV)

In order to arrive at truth, we must balance Scripture with Scripture. Testing God involves purposefully putting your life in danger which is exactly what Jesus would have done if He jumped off the Temple.

This was the difference between Pastor Coots and the Apostle Paul. Paul was bitten while performing a simple task of gathering wood for a fire, while Coots purposefully handled a snake.

Ironically similar to Paul, Coots was also bitten on the hand, but with a completely different result.

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