Rattlesnake Religion

Jamie Coots was the pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky, and one of the practitioners of an old Appalachian belief in handling serpents showcased on National Geographic’s reality show Snake Salvation.  He died February 15 from a snakebite during a church service.  He was forty-two.

     Pastor Jamie and his fellow followers take the words of Christ in Mark 16:18 as a command, “they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them.”  They believe they are obeying the words of Christ and putting their faith to the test by handling poisonous snakes.  They believe they will not be bitten, or if bitten, they will suffer no harm.  When Jamie was bitten he went home and refused medical attention, and died.

     What Jamie and those like him believe is an imperative, others view as prophetic.  Paul is shipwrecked on the island of Malta and while gathering wood for a fire is bitten by a viper.  He shakes the serpent off into the fire and is not harmed (Acts 28:1-6).  The words of Christ become clear in this account.  If a messenger of the Gospel is bitten while in the service of God there will be times when God will extend His supernatural protection.  Christ was sharing His prophetic insight, not commanding us to deliberately subject ourselves to harm.

     When Jesus was tempted by the devil to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple He responded, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” Matthew 4:7.  Jesus as He frequently did throughout His earthly ministry appealed to the authority of Scripture, in this case Deuteronomy 6:16.  We are not to force God’s hand.  The Creator is not to be manipulated by His creatures.  That was Jesus’ point.

     Simple obedience to Christ will bring its fair share of temptations and trials.  We do not need to generate more to prove our faith; we merely need to remain faithful in what He has called each of us to do.  He wants obedience not ostentation.  We are not called to draw attention to our faith; we are called to point others to faith in Him.

     Our first parents did not prove to be good serpent handlers either.  Failing to trust the command of God, Adam and Eve disobeyed.  They mishandled the serpent’s sale pitch and that proved damnable.

     When Jamie misunderstood the Scriptures it proved deadly; when Adam and Eve disobeyed it proved damnable.  No matter how you look at it, when man ignores the Word of God he does not have good outcomes when he tries to handle serpents.



A recent article entitled Domesticated Camels Came to Israel in 930 B.C., Centuries later Than Bible Says was published by National Geographic.  Two Israeli archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, using radiocarbon dating claim domesticated camels did not appear in the Levant until around 930 to 900 B.C.  The Levant is the costal region of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, or the land of the Bible.  The specific area is the Aravah Valley were extensive copper mining occurred and camels were the principal means of transporting the ore.

     The first time camels appear in the biblical text is in the Genesis account of Abram, who is later named Abraham.  Pharaoh gave Abraham “sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels” Genesis 12:16.  Historians agree the biblical story of Abraham is dated between 2000 and 1500 B.C.

     The article says this calls the historicity of the Bible into question.  If domesticated camels were not discovered before 930 B.C., the scriptural record must be wrong when it claims Abraham had camels 500 to 1000 years before.  The author of the article, Mairav Zonszein, writes, “While there are conflicting stories about when the Bible was composed, the recent research suggests it was written much later than the events it describes.  This supports earlier studies that have challenged the Bible’s veracity as a historic document.”

     The same article goes on to say, “Archaeological excavations in the Aravah Valley have turned up bones of camels from earlier periods, perhaps even before the start of the Neolithic (about 9,700 B.C.), but those were probably wild animals that ran free.”  Probably?  I think Zonszein is trying to pull the camel hair over our eyes.

     Zonszein admits in his article camels existed in ancient Israel thousands of years before and during the life of Abraham, but they were “probably” wild camels.  If Zonszein and his archaeological buddies expect to be taken seriously, they are “probably” going to need to explain the exact difference between wild camel bones and domesticated camel bones that are over three thousand years old.

     Have the “earlier studies that have challenged the Bible’s veracity as a historic document” been based on the same kinds of probabilities?  Probably.  Archaeology is not an exact science.  But it has repeatedly corroborated the biblical account time and again when it speaks of places and peoples that appear nowhere else but in the Bible.

     God created the universe and all it contains, and He inspired the Scriptures to be written.  I have never observed anything in the natural order that conflicts with the biblical account, or vice versa.  So, will skeptics like Zonszein and archaeologists need to give me something more to go on than probabilities, before I discount the Bible?  Probably.

What is truth?

You may have heard the term “postmodern” and wondered just what exactly was meant by the word.  “Post” means “after” and when coupled with the word “modern” refers to a time and manner of thinking that comes after the modern era.  It is the time many say we are living in.  This time we live in has generated a generally skeptical perspective of any subject you can imagine: literature, the arts, politics, and even religion.  Truth is not objective, but is the subjective interpretation of one’s own experiences and circumstances.  The postmodernist questions those things traditionally thought to be true.

     This way of thinking appeals to the rugged individualism of Americans, we revel in being free to choose what we do, what we think, and what we believe.  The postmodern viewpoint is intoxicating; it is exhilarating to be free.  We like this godlike ability to choose.

     It may surprise some to know this mindset is not modern at all, much less postmodern.  It has been around for at least two millennia, actually longer.  You see ultimate, universal truth is something man may deny, but has deep down yearned to know, and he has instinctively searched for it through the ages.

     When Jesus stood before Pilate to be tried, Pilate questioned Him.  In response to one of Pilate’s questions Jesus said, in part, “I have come into the world, to testify to the truth,” John 18:37.  Pilate responded, “What is truth?”

     You see, when we embrace the skepticism that truth does not exist, it generates a pessimism that it cannot be found and we abandon the search.  We then live as we please, but soon discover a truth we cannot deny, our choices have consequences.  The consequences of our choices not only affect us, but they affect others around us with the greatest impact being on our family and friends, those closest to us.

     So then we ask ourselves if the search for truth was abandoned too soon.  Is there some objective, transcendent truth on which our decisions can be based?  If we are going to have to live with the consequences of our decisions, is there a better way of making them, a greater truth, a better life?  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” John 14:6.

     You have the freedom to choose, but you will never be free from the consequences of your choices, either in this life or the next.  I do not know if Pilate was parroting the philosophy of his day, or was simply skeptical, or had found truth to be elusive.  You may feel the way he did.  All I know is when he asked, “What is truth,” he failed to see it was the Man who stood before him.

The Bottom Line

If you have not heard there is going to be something interesting happening this Tuesday night.  On this February 4, 2014, starting at 7 PM, Bill Nye “the science guy” and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis will be debating the question, “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?”

     We will be live streaming the event from our church; our doors will be open at 6:30 PM.  The debate has generated a lot of media attention and interest in general. I am not a big fan of debates typically and I think I should elaborate on that so we can know what to expect this coming Tuesday.

     One reason I do not like debates is the truth is often obscured by the drive to win.  Debates can quickly devolve into a mean-spirited argument generating little light but a lot of heat.  At present, I do not sense this debate will go in that direction.  I think there is too much at stake on each side of this issue for either of these men to loose control in front of viewers.

     But there is another truth to be considered here.  If God exists (this should not be misconstrued as doubt on my part, it is a rhetorical device used to make a point) and His creative act is true, then that truth does not rise or fall on the outcome of a debate between two of His creatures.  One may be more clever, smarter, or do a better job of presenting his position, but the truth of the current state of the universe, the existence of God, and what happened in the past will not be decided in a war of words.

     Here is why, neither creation nor evolution can be proven beyond doubt.  If they could there would be nothing to debate.  We do not debate whether water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level; it’s a fact.  I could recite a laundry list of facts that are not debated but I think you get my drift.

     Do not get me wrong; I am a creationist.  While I believe the Bible is not primarily a science textbook, I do believe when the biblical account speaks about the natural order of things it is correct.  When the writer of Job declared three thousand years before the invention of the telescope that God “hangs the earth on nothing” (Job 26:7), I believe this account.  Man eventually invented the telescope enabling science to catch up with the Bible.

     So while I know there are a host of scientific evidences that corroborate the scriptural account regarding the natural order of reality, I know God cannot be seen in a telescope or examined under a microscope.  I did not come to Christ convinced by some facts, I came to Him by faith.  God ordained it that way, “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is [exists]” Hebrews 11:6.  Science just makes me very comfortable in my faith.

     Evolution is like creation.  He who comes to evolution must believe in its theory, because without facts it is impossible to prove it.  Mark Twain once said “Facts are stubborn things, statistics are much more pliable.”  Substitute the word “statistics” with the word  “theories” and we can say, “Facts are stubborn things, theories are much more pliable.”  A scientist can take a handful of facts and create almost any kind of theory he wants.

     I see them do it all the time.  When the Higgs Boson (nicknamed ironically the God particle) was discovered in the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland, scientists created a new theory on the age of the universe.  They no longer believe the universe to be 13.7 billion years old; they now think it is 13.81 billion years old.

     See how easy it is for scientists to create a new theory.  Of course, this is all conjecture.  Scientists did not observe the beginning of the universe (this is what us creation guys call a fact).  They certainly have not been around the last 13.81 billion years to measure how long the universe has existed, or to observe whether the processes on which they based their theories have remained constant (oops, I just mentioned some more facts).

     While scientists scramble around creating new theories, which they must do because they do not have all the facts, the account in the Bible that the world hangs on nothing has remained unchanged for 3500 years because it is a fact.  Here is the bottom line: this debate may change some peoples’ theories, but it will not change the facts.