Do Not Test God in Handling Snakes!


How are we to interpret Mark 16:18?

“They will pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them.”

Isn’t this promoting dangerous behavior? Should we take this figuratively? I’d appreciate your feedback.


It is best to read from Mark 16:16 to Mark 16:18:

“He said to them, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’”

Our Lord is not recommending dangerous behavior. The emphasis here is the great commission to take the Good News to the whole world. It is this saving faith that is lived out and shared that makes all the difference. The various signs are in respects to certain people but not all. Demons will be exorcised (Acts 5:16, 8:7, 16:16-18, 19:11-12). Some will be given the gift of tongues (Acts 2:4, 10:46, 19:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 12:28). Others will receive the gift of healing (Acts 9:17, 28:8). Miracles will happen. Some will also be protected from physical harm, such as from venomous snakes or even poison. Note the story involving Paul:

“Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire when a viper, escaping from the heat, fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must certainly be a murderer; though he escaped the sea, Justice has not let him remain alive.’ But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm” (Acts 28:3-5).

We would not go out looking for trouble but sometimes trouble finds us. Such signs will indeed be realized.

About Father Joe

Father Joe Jenkins I am the pastor of Holy Family Church and a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.
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