Handling Snakes and Mishandling Scriptures

Gregory James Coots (November 17, 1971 – February 15, 2014) was a Pentecostal pastor in Kentucky who was featured in the National Geographic Channel reality television show Snake Salvation, which documented the lives of people who practice snake handling. Coots died from a rattlesnake bite during a service.


Jamie called himself the pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, KY.

Coots was bitten by snakes eight times prior to his fatal snake bite. One bite in 1993 nearly killed him, according to Cody Coots. Jamie Coots lost part of a finger from a bite in 1998. A 28-year-old Tennessee woman in his congregation was bitten by a snake in 1995 during a church service Coots led. She died from the bite in his home. Coots was charged in connection with the death but a judge decided not to pursue the case. Coots was fined in 2008 for keeping 74 snakes in his home. He was sentenced to one year of probation in 2013 for illegal wildlife possession after he entered Tennessee with five venomous snakes.


The Huffington Post said, “In 1995, 28-year-old Melinda Brown, of Parrottsville, Tenn., died after being bitten at Coot’s church by a 4-foot-long timber rattlesnake” (Sieczkowski). Why did Jamie Coots and Melinda Brown die? One might think they simply died from venomous snake bites, but in truth they died because they did not do what Paul told Timothy to do: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The purpose of this article is not to mock them or be disrespectful toward them or their families, but to help others learn a lesson that may save their lives and their eternal souls.

Just because one reads something in the Bible, that does not mean it directly applies to people today. One may read, “make thee an ark of gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14), but does that mean he should start building an ark like Noah? If Bible passages are not kept in proper context, they will cause one to go off into all kinds of errors. Jesus said, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures…” (Matthew 22:29). Jamie misunderstood and misapplied Mark 16:17, 18.

Coots said in February 2013 that he needed the snakes for religious reasons, citing a Bible passage in the book of Mark that reads, in part: ‘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; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover’… We literally believe they want us to take up snakes,’ Coots told The Associated Press at the time.


So, herein lies the problem—Jamie failed to understand that: 1) Snakes were never meant to be used in worship assemblies; and 2) Miracles have ceased, just as the Bible said they would, when the perfect system of knowledge came (the completed Bible; Micah 7:15; Zechariah 13:1-3; 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; Ephesians 4:7-16). The Apostle Paul was bitten by a viper and was miraculously unharmed, but that was not in a worship assembly, and it was during the temporary age of miracles (Acts 28:3-6).

One wonders, the first time Jamie got seriously injured by a snake, should he not have realized that his experience was different from the Bible, which says they would not get hurt at all? (Mark 16:18). After all, Paul had no swelling and “felt no harm” (Acts 28:5, 6), but Jamie almost died from a snake bite in 1993 and lost part of a finger in 1998. Jamie had 21 years to contemplate, study his Bible, and seek wise counsel from the time that first bite nearly killed him until the time of his death by snake bite. He had also witnessed Melinda Brown’s death from one of his own snakes. These were deadly mistakes, not just for him, but for others he was leading into error. Mark 16:18 also says, “they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover,” but nobody could recover Melinda Brown or Jamie Coots.

Perhaps Melinda Brown’s mistake was trusting “her pastor” instead of diligently studying for herself (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). That is unknown, but putting too much trust in religious leaders has always been a serious problem in the religious world (Matthew 7:15-20; 2 Corinthians 11:3, 13-15; Galatians 1:6-9; 1 John 4:1). They should be questioned and scrutinized, because everlasting souls are at stake.

Jamie had a huge viewing audience and the potential to teach people the Truth, but instead he led people astray (though likely unintentionally). In the end, he caused many to blaspheme the one true God, saying He must not be real, but the reality of God’s existence cannot be diminished in the slightest (Psalm 14:1; 19:1-3; Romans 1:20-22), certainly not by a man’s failure to study and rightly divide God’s Word.

The official statement from National Geographic after Jamie’s death said, “We were honored to… give context to his method of worship” (Sieczkowski). That statement is very telling, because it confirms that what Jamie was doing was “his method of worship,” but not God’s method. God’s pattern for New Testament worship is singing, praying to the Father in the name of His divine Son, preaching God’s Word, giving a money offering and observing the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week (Matthew 26:26-30; John 16:23; Acts 20:6, 7; 1 Corinthians 11:20-34; 16:2; Ephesians 5:19, 20; Colossians 3:16, 17).

The worship assembly is not a circus or a concert, and it is not for sensationalism or man’s entertainment. The worship assembly of true New Testament Christians is a time of reverent homage to the Lord God Almighty, coming before Him on His terms, with all things done “decently and orderly” (1 Corinthians 14:40; John 4:23, 24). There must be authority from the rightly divided Word for everything done in word or deed (Colossians 3:17; 2 Timothy 2:15). Giving Jamie Coots the benefit of the doubt, he may have honestly believed he was honoring God, but the Bible says it is possible for people to think they are honoring God while they are actually in error, just as Saul of Tarsus did (Acts 23:1; 26:9-11; cf. Proverbs 16:25; Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46).

There are churches today who may not be handling snakes, but they claim they can “speak in tongues” and/or do miraculous healing like the early church did. Even though they do not handle snakes, they are making the same mistake Jamie made, applying things to people today which only applied to the church of the first century A.D. When people in Bible times spoke in tongues, they were speaking in earthly languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, etc.). On Pentecost, “…every man heard them speak in his own language,” and they said, “…how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?…we do hear them speak in our tongues…” (Acts 2:4-11).

The apostles were not speaking unintelligible syllables that nobody on earth could understand. What would be the point in doing that? They were preaching the Gospel of Christ to people in their own languages so they could understand and obey for their salvation! Does that not make more sense? They were told to “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost…save yourselves” (Acts 2:38, 40). After they were baptized in water to be forgiven (cf. Acts 10:47, 48; 1 Peter 3:20, 21), the apostles could lay hands on them so they could “receive the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:12-18; 19:5, 6; Romans 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:6; cf. Acts 10:45-47). However, there are no apostles to lay hands on people today to give them miraculous power. An apostle was specially chosen by Christ, could do all types of miracles, was an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ, and could lay hands on people to bestow miraculous powers to them. Nobody on earth today fits this description.

Someone may ask why Paul said he spoke with the tongues of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1), but that is not literally what Paul said. Paul was speaking hypothetically, as in, “even if I spoke in the tongues of angels…” He goes on to say, “…though I give my body to be burned…” (13:3), but Paul had not actually given his body to be burned. The word “though” is better translated as “if.” Again, he was saying, “even if I gave my body to be burned” and “even if I spoke in the tongues of both men and angels.”

In the same context of 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul clarified that he was talking about languages of the world: “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me” (1 Corinthians 14:10-11). These earthly languages all have a “signification,” a meaning, but if one were speaking Hebrew to a mainly Greek audience, how would they understand? If any were speaking in tongues, a translator was required to translate from Hebrew to Greek, or whatever “languages of the world” apply, because “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Notice the word “unknown” in the phrase “unknown tongue” is always in italics in the King James Version, which means it was not in the original inspired Text but was supplied by the translators. While it is true that early Christians were speaking in earthly languages that were unknown to many (Latin, Aramaic, etc.), they were not unknown to everyone on earth.

One may wonder why early Christians were speaking in foreign languages in the worship assembly. Paul explained that it would have been better to simply preach/prophesy God’s Word in an understandable way in the assembly than to speak in various languages that could cause confusion (1 Corinthians 14). He said,

I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying…tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe (14:5, 22).

Those today who put so much emphasis on “speaking in tongues” in the assembly are emphasizing the very thing Paul said was not as important as preaching plainly, and they are not truly speaking in “languages of the world” they have never studied.

Besides apostles’ hands, the only other way the early church could receive miraculous power was to be “baptized with the Holy Ghost,” which was an extremely rare occurrence (Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-4; cf. 10:44-47; 11:15-17). By the time Paul wrote Ephesians, there was only “one baptism” remaining—“the washing of water” for sanctification and spiritual cleansing (Ephesians 4:5; 5:26). Water baptism, not Holy Spirit baptism, is the baptism of the Great Commission, which was to last until the end of the world (Matthew 28:18-20; cf. John 3:5; Acts 8:36; 10:48; 16:33; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:20, 21). The one remaining baptism is not Holy Spirit baptism. Therefore, if there are no apostles and no Holy Spirit baptism, there is no way for people to get miraculous power today. With those things in mind, it should become clear why Jamie and the young lady sadly suffered and died.

Many questions could be raised to any who object to the Truth revealed above. If people can still do miracles, why could they not have flown someone in to heal Jamie or raise him from the dead? He was known internationally because of the success of the show, so was there nobody in the world they could have flown in to raise him? That would have been a great opportunity to show the world that miracles are still happening today, but the truth is they are not.

The purpose of miracles was to confirm the Message as it was being revealed (Mark 16:20; John 3:2; Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2:3, 4). The Word of God has been completely revealed and completely confirmed, so God’s purpose for miracles has been completely fulfilled. That is why Jamie repeatedly got harmed by snake bites until he finally died, that is why nobody could heal him or the other church member after the snake bites, and why nobody could raise them from the dead. That is also why nobody today can speak fluently in foreign languages they have never studied, and why nobody can raise anyone from the dead, though people in Bible times could be raised four days after death! (John 11:17).

True miracles were so amazing that people knew God was behind them, because they could not be faked (John 3:2). No disrespect is intended, but any child could fake the “miraculous healing” or “speaking in tongues” that people are doing today. If someone who had never studied Chinese began speaking a lengthy discourse fluently in Chinese in a way that could be critically verified, that would be different. If someone who had just been in a bad car accident with terrible external wounds had someone immediately and completely heal them, with no need for surgery, medicine, physical therapy, or anything else, that would be different, but nobody can do that today. The early church could do those kinds of things, but God said that would all cease when the perfect system of revelation came (the completed Bible — 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; cf. Micah 7:15; Zechariah 13:1-3; Ephesians 4:7-15).

Friends, please do not make the same mistake so many have made–failing to understand God’s Word, and thus failing to live by it (John 4:24; 8:31, 32; Ephesians 3:4; 5:17). False doctrine is more deadly than any venomous snake. Focus on the Word, not the tools that were used to reveal and confirm the Word. Handle it carefully, because both physical lives and eternal souls are at stake.


People.com. “Jamie Coots, Snake Salvation Pastor, Dies from Snake Bite.” Associated Press. Accessed September 22, 2020. https://people.com/celebrity/watch-people-the-tv-show/

Sieczkowski, Cavan. “‘Snake Salvation’ Preacher Jamie Coots Dead From Snakebite.” Huffington Post. Accessed September 22, 2020. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/jamiecoots-dead-snakebite_n_4799851

Wikipedia.org. “Jamie Coots.” Accessed September 22, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamie_Coots

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