A friend brought to my attention a story coming out of West Virginia yesterday. Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford, a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher, has died from a poisonous timber rattlesnake bite.
You can read the ABC report here.
Wolford was profiled just 6 months ago in an article by the Washington Post. He’d been bitten several times before and survived. As Discovery News explains, it’s impossible to predict whether a snake will deliver “a harmless ‘dry bite,’ or a deadly injection of toxins that can kill a full-grown human within hours.”
No doubt, these past brushes with serpents emboldened Wolford to believe that he owed his survival, not to the lack of venom in those bites, but to the power of God:
“Anybody can do it that believes it,” he says. “Jesus said, ‘These signs shall follow them which believe.’ This is a sign to show people that God has the power.” … “I know it’s real; it is the power of God,” Wolford says. “If I didn’t do it, if I’d never gotten back involved, it’d be the same as denying the power and saying it was not real.”
The sad irony is that, at the age of 15, Wolford watched his father, also a snake-handling preacher, die from a snake bite. In what has to be one of the most mind-boggling rationalizations I’ve ever read, Wolford said of his father’s death, “I hated to see him go, but he died for what he believed in.” Given that what his father “believed in” was that he could be bitten by snakes and not die, it’s hard to understand how death by snakebite amounts to dying “for what you believe in.” Seems more likely dying to disprove what you believe in.
The other sad irony is that Mark 16:17-18, the passage on which Pentecostal snake-handlers stake their lives, is part of the longer ending of Mark that scholars have long recognized as inauthentic. Death from lack of textual criticism. Tragic, really. Perhaps the King James Bible should come with a warning label.