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I heard on the news that Pastor Jamie Coots of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Christ of Middleboro, KY died at his home as a result of a snakebite he received while handling a deadly poisonous snake. He refused medical treatment believing God would heal him. I am sad for his family and community. Not only have they lost a husband, father, friend, and pastor but no doubt they will struggle with their faith. God did not meet their expectations in this case.

They believed God would protect him when the handled the snakes. They believed God would heal him. He had survived other bites. They believe God’s Word when it says, in Mark 16:17, “And these signs will accompany those who believe in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (This text is not in the earliest ancient manuscripts.)

That is an interesting scripture and difficult to understand. So what do we do with it? We can ignore it. We can take it literally. We can build a theology of snake handling on it. Or we can try to understand it. We can find corroboration in other scriptures about casting out demons, speaking in new tongues but nothing about picking up deadly snakes or drinking poison in other scripture.

A viper attached to Paul’s hand after he was shipwrecked on Malta. He shook the viper off and he suffered no ill effects. (Acts 28) I don’t think we can build a theology on the basis of one story. Yes, I know Moses’ rod turned into a snake and he picked it up…but that is quite different from picking up snakes and drinking poison on purpose to “prove God”.

We can be misguided and misinterpret what scripture says – that is why it is very important not to build a theology on one or two verses. I think Pastor Coots was sincere. I believe he believed he was serving God in some way. But I think he was wrong. Deadly wrong.

I pray his family will find comfort in God and His word at this difficult time.

0 replies
  1. donmiles3710
    donmiles3710 says:

    Some thoughts: I saw an interview with the producer of the reality show that filmed the snake bite event, and he said that the people’s faith would not be harmed by the pastor’s death because they believed that if the man died it was God’s will, which superseded the act of faith.

    However, I’d prefer the thought that “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord they God,” as another explanation for the rest of us. Paul’s encounter with the viper was accidental, not deliberate.

    Also, the ending to Mark’s Gospel is not found in the earliest manuscripts, so it may simply be that this passage is not canonical.

  2. Bonnie Risher
    Bonnie Risher says:

    I honestly believe that you are correct about testing God by handling snakes or drinking poison. We need to focus on doing God’s will and work while we are on this earth.

  3. careful what you pick yp
    careful what you pick yp says:

    I remember al old Cherokee Indian story my father told me years ago….A young Indian boy had an argument with his mother and father. He thought about how unhappy it made him.
    He decided he would run away from home.
    He picked up his jacket an a few things to eat. He slipped out of the wigwam and started to climb a mountainside path. As he went along he saw a rattlesnake in the path,,,shivering and getting cold. The boy started around the path to avoid the rattlesnake.

    The rattlesnake said…”Oh, little boy do not afraid of me. I am freezing a will soon be dead if I do not get in the warmth of the sunshine in the valley.” The boy said…no you will bite me and my mother and father will never know about it. The snake pleaded saying, ” If you take me to the warmth….I will never bite you.. you will save me”.
    The Indian boy thought a moment….Then …he picked up the rattlesnake and placed it under his jacket. The boy stated walking into the sun shine warmth of the valley. The snake made no movement….until the warmth caused him to move. The rattlesnake bit the little Indian boy….the boy opened his jacket and threw the snake to the ground. The boy said, “You told me you would nto bite me if I saved you. Now I will die and my parents will never know what happened to me.”
    The rattlesnake smiled and said,
    YOU KNEW WHAT I WAS WHEN YOUU PICKED ME UP.” The lesson: Know what you are picking up (or choosing ). It might well cause your death.

  4. Ken
    Ken says:

    Excellent interpretation Ruth. I was just reading the article to your brother a few minutes ago. So I’m glad you addressed this.

  5. Peg Yelverton
    Peg Yelverton says:

    Hi Ruth, we are so looking forward to your teaching when you come visit us in March for “Spend a Day with Ruth” on Hilton Head. I so agree with your Biblical wisdom on this situation. Even Jesus told the enemy (was he possibly a snake? – scripture doesn’t say) that we are not to put the Lord our God to the test. (Matthew 4:7) Jesus “handled” Satan as we all should, with the power of God’s word!

    Just a quick question: I am doing a TV commercial on WHHI on Tuesday to let the women in our area know about your appearance here on March 15th. Would you like for me to pass on a word to them? Peg Yelverton (“Vern”)

  6. thomasa risner
    thomasa risner says:

    I live in Middlesboro, Ky. and was so thrilled today to hear that you will be coming to speak for our conference at Binghamtown Baptist Church on April 26th. I felt that our choir should reach out to the Coots family, so last night we went with a donation to help Mrs. Coots and I honestly can say that I have never felt so welcomed in a home. The entire family was there with open arms to us even though we had never met before. They are hurt, but their faith is strong. I agree with your blog completely and feel we should never tempt GOD, but I ask anyone who loves the LORD to pray for this family. They do love the LORD and worship in a very different way, but at this time they need prayers for comfort.

    I look forward to meeting you in April. GOD bless!
    Thomasa Risner


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