Biblical scholars address addition of snake-handling verses

East Tenn. Biblical scholars address addition of snake-handling verses to Gospel of Mark

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Pastor Andrew Hamblin takes his scripture very literally, one verse in particular. Pastor Andrew Hamblin takes his scripture very literally, one verse in particular.
Local historians say the very last part of the book of Mark, where the main verse about snake handling is found, wasn't even part of the original manuscript. Local historians say the very last part of the book of Mark, where the main verse about snake handling is found, wasn't even part of the original manuscript.
"The earliest history of the Gospel of Mark as we know, it didn't have those verses as part of the story, but it was added pretty early, probably by the second century," said Dr. Tina Shepardson, an associate professor of early Christianity at UT. "The earliest history of the Gospel of Mark as we know, it didn't have those verses as part of the story, but it was added pretty early, probably by the second century," said Dr. Tina Shepardson, an associate professor of early Christianity at UT.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Pastor Andrew Hamblin takes his scripture very literally, one verse in particular. We've been showing you for more than a year the services at his church in LaFollette that include handling venomous snakes.

The snakes have put him at odds with wildlife and law enforcement officials, who seized dozens of the reptiles and charged him with a crime. The court decided Tuesday there was probable cause to send his case on to a grand jury.

Local historians say the very last part of the book of Mark, where the main verse about snake handling is found, wasn't even part of the original manuscript. It reads, "...and these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents..." 

"The earliest history of the Gospel of Mark as we know, it didn't have those verses as part of the story, but it was added pretty early, probably by the second century," said Dr. Tina Shepardson, an associate professor of early Christianity at UT.

Historians don't know who wrote the longer ending of Mark or why. 

"One speculation is that the original ending of Mark had been lost already by the early second century and people reading it thought, 'Well, that's not how the other gospels end. We should fix that,'" Shepardson said. 

The end of Mark isn't the only place this seems to have happened.

"The story of the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel of John starting in Chapter 7," said Dr. Carl Bridges, a professor of the New Testament at Johnson University in Knoxville, formerly Johnson Bible College.

"The earliest and most reliable manuscripts either don't have that or they have it in some other location which suggests it probably wasn't an original part," Bridges said.

He points out there are two other passages in the New Testament that also talk about power over snakes. Luke 10:19 "...I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions..." and Acts 28:3-6 "...but Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects..."

"All Christian communities pick and chose which pieces of their large collection of scriptural texts they think are important to their day and age," Shepardson said.

Almost all modern-day Christian Bibles include the longer ending of Mark, though many make a note about its history. Both biblical scholars 6 News spoke with say there is no evidence of Christians handling snakes before a century ago.

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