Snakes and Scripture


My daughter Ember and I are reptile enthusiasts. We currently have two pet snakes, a ball python named Hershey and a Saharan sand boa named Pumpkin.

Both species are nonvenomous, small to moderately sized and are usually very docile (although Pumpkin does occasionally have his sassy moments). In fact, ball pythons are sometimes used to help people get over their fear of snakes.

I realize that not everyone shares my interest. If snakes are not “your thing,” that is fine. However, if you hate or fear snakes or are of the persuasion that “the only good snake is a dead snake” then I would respectfully ask you to examine the reasons why you feel as you do. Much animosity towards these fascinating creatures is unfounded and based in superstition rather than in fact. The purpose of this article is to examine some of these misconceptions and hopefully to present them in a new light.

There are approximately 80 references to snakes in the Bible. Some of them describe literal snakes, other times they are used as symbols for other things. Sometimes the connotation is indeed negative, but other times, as we shall see, it is quite positive. That in itself should prompt us to avoid hasty generalizations. With that in mind, let us proceed:

Snakes are not “evil”: Snakes are not monsters or devils. They are animals. Like other land animals, they came into being on the sixth day (or period) of creation and were declared by God to be “very good.” God does not create evil. Evil is the absence of good. Like all of creation, they were affected by the fall and that is where all of the hostility comes from. ¹

Keep in mind, animals are not made in the image of God like people are (Genesis 1:26–27). We do not classify them as good or evil because they really do not perceive morality like we do. An animal’s life basically centers around the impulses to eat, sleep and reproduce.

If you see a lion killing a gazelle for food, it might be unpleasant to watch but we do not think of it as evil. The lion is simply acting out its survival instinct. Us humans are held to a higher standard because we are created in God’s image and we have God’s breath of life in us. We do know right from wrong.

Of course, there is always the question of “the serpent” who tempted Eve in the events leading up to the fall. There are a number of possible explanations for this. Perhaps Satan assumed the form of a snake or possessed a snake. It is also possible that the word “serpent” is figurative. Regardless, none of these factors make snakes inherently evil. The Bible also records pigs becoming possessed by demons (Mark 5:1-20,Luke 8:26-39), but we don’t regret all pigs as evil. Both Jesus and Satan are compared to a lion (1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 5:5) but obviously for very different reasons. This does not make lions inherently more good or evil. Again, symbols are only limited representations of the reality they illustrate.

Most snakes pose no threat to humans at all: Certainly there are some snakes that we should have a healthy fear of, such as venomous species and giant constrictors. Yet these are the exception, not the rule. In the wild most snakes are very shy and timid and will avoid humans as much as possible. Yes, if they feel threatened they will defend themselves but even that is usually a last resort if they do not feel they can escape. Regardless, a Chihuahua or other small dog could give you a far worse bite than most snakes. Consider the following:

  • Only about 5% of the roughly 3,500 snake species are capable of killing humans.
  • Dogs kill five times more people than snakes in the US,
  • In the US, you are nine times more likely to die from a lightning strike than a snake bite. ²

So if you see a nonvenomous snake on your property, it means you no harm. Your best course of action is to simply leave it alone. Is you see a venomous snake, however, contact your local animal control agency immediately.

Snakes are beneficial: They serve a vital ecological role by keeping down the rodent population. Also keep in mind that snakes go where there is food. If you see a snake on your property, you likely also have mice or rats. In addition, some snakes, such as king snakes, even eat venomous snakes. So killing harmless snakes might actually increase your chances of encountering a venomous one.

Snakes are not slimy: Snakes’ scales are made of keratin, the same substance as your fingernails. Touching a snake feels similar to touching a football.

Jesus said that we can learn from snakes : Does that surprise you? The Bible sometimes uses animals as object lessons to teach us important lessons. Examples would include ants (‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭6:6‭-‬8‬) and sparrows (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:25‭-‬26‬). Snakes are used in this manner in ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭10:16‬, in which Jesus tells Him disciples:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

So what is the point Jesus is making? Like Christians, snakes live in a world where they are widely viewed as enemies. The Greek word Jesus uses here is phronimos, which means “shrewd and cunning.” We should never be naive. We live in a very harsh world and we need wisdom on how to navigate it effectively. Snakes are also calculating and opportunistic. They know how and when to strike. Further, because of how they are designed, snakes can get into places that other creatures cannot. How does that apply to us? These are the words of the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon:

If you cannot induce them to read the gospel, get them to hear it; if you cannot induce them to hear a sermon, drop a verse into their ears; if a tract is refused, put a word in edgeways for your Lord and Master. There is a way into everyone’s heart if you know how to find it: be wise as serpents and discover it. ³

Jesus also used a snake to illustrate the Gospel;

Next we are going to look at an example of a biblical type. Webster’s Dictionary defines a type as “a person or thing [in the Old Testament] believed to foreshadow another [in the New Testament].”

In ‭‭Numbers‬ ‭21:4‭-‬9‬, we read an account from Moses leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. As they often did, the people became restless and impatient: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food (v 5, ‭ESV‬‬).” Sometimes following God leads us in ways that are difficult. We still have to trust His plan and provision for our lives. The Israelites saw God provide them with food every day, but that wasn’t good enough for them. As a result of their ungratefulness and rebellion, they were punished by “fiery serpents.”

It is not clear exactly why the serpents are described as “fiery.” While it may refer to their color, it also seems likely that it refers to the painfulness of their venomous bites. This serves as a powerful illustration of sin. While sin may be pleasurable for a season (Hebrews 11:25), it eventually leads to pain and death (Romans 6:23).

Thankfully, it does not end there. Beginning in verse 8, God tells Moses to “…Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Jesus later uses this event in sharing with a respected Jewish leader named Nicodemus.

In John 3, we see Nicodemus visit Jesus. Their encounter completely destroys the notion that we can reach God by means of “religion.” Despite all of Nicodemus’ religious credentials, Jesus tells him that in order to see God’s Kingdom, he would have to be born again.

Jesus further illustrated this related to Nicodemus by referring to an event he would have been very familiar with. The bronze serpent was a shadow of the reality that Jesus brought. Just as the serpent was lifted up on a pole, Jesus would be lifted up on the cross. And just like the Israelites were saved by looking to the serpent, we are saved by looking to Jesus and putting our trust in Him.

Furthermore, He calls to each of us, in the words of Isaiah 45:22-25 . “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.” Friends, THIS is the Gospel, and again , Jesus used a snake to make the point!

A word on “snake handling” churches: I hope this message has been clear that I am talking about harmless snakes. I do not in any way condone handling venomous snakes as a means to “test one’s faith.” For the record, these sort of practices stem from a gross misinterpretation of Mark 16:18, which states that belevers “… shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them…” While, unlike some revisionist scholars, I firmly believe that these verses are authentic, this practice takes them severely out of context.

The practice was introduced to some Appalachian churches in the early 20th century by a man named George Went Hensley. Ironically, Hensley would later die from a snakebite himself. Pentecostal Bible scholar Finis Dake points out:

“The whole idea is immunity from snake bites (as in Acts 28:1-5) and power over them in conflict (as in Luke 10:19; Psalm 91:13). Handling snakes in public is no more proof that one has faith or that he is a Christian than the snake charmers of India or Burma, who are better at this than Christians, and who do not even believe in Christ.” (taken from the Dake’s Annotated Referance Bible).

Those who practice these things are tiny fringe groups, and are certainly NOT endorsed by any mainline Pentecostal church or denomination. We can never forget the solemn command of Jesus “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord.” (Matthew 4:7). However, for those who would like to study this phenomenon further, I recommend Dennis Covington’s fascinating book Salvation on Sand Mountain.

In conclusion, as Christians we look forward to the return of Christ when the curse of the fall will be lifted and the enmity between humans and animals, including snakes, will end. As Isaiah 11:8 beautifully promises “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den..”

Keep It Real,



1. Ham. Ken. Are Snakes Evil? Blog post, March 4, 2023.

2. Altman, Karina. Satan’s Serpents or Creator’s Creatures? Blog Post, June 11, 2023

3. Spurgeon, Charles H. Sheep Among Wolves. Sermon preached August 19, 1877.

James H Boyd Gospel Ministries:
The Best of James and Dave’s Bible Page:


“Keeping It Real” with James H Boyd

On iTunes:
On Google:
On Podbean:
On SoundCloud:



James H Boyd Gospel Ministries Facebook Page:
James H Boyd Gospel Ministries Twitter Page:


#jameshboyd #keepitreal #yourfriendjames

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.