Believers Do the Darndest Things

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Snake Handling

Some Pentecostal preachers in Appalachian churches that grew out of the Holiness movement interpret this passage in Mark's Gospel literally: "They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (16:18). They also cite Acts 28:3-6, where St. Paul was bitten by a venomous snake and "felt no harm." Many Pentecostal preachers are hurt, however, and even killed. George Went Hensley, a preacher who popularized snake handling as proof of salvation, died of a snakebite. Most Christians, however, don't try this at home -- or church.

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