Mack Wolford – Needlessly Dead at 44

The crueler part of me wants to make a joke and be done with this, but I think that there is an important message to get out in the wake of Mack Wolford’s death by snake bite.

Mack Wolford, like his father who also died from a venomous snake bite, was a Pentecostal Pastor who handled snakes to show is faith. He had been bitten before, trusted in God and prayer and had come through. This time however, the Yellow Timber Rattlesnake injected more venom than his body could handle, and after 10 and 1/2 hours of agony, he died a needless death, one day after his 44th birthday. He made it 5 years longer than his father, who he saw die the same way.

It is always somewhat inspiring to see someone carry their beliefs through to the bitter end, but he was not dying by the oppressive hand of a government that he sought to overthrow. He was not even a religious martyr in any real sense. He simply let himself die for misplaced faith; just like members of Heaven’s Gate, or the followers of Jim Jones, who had the ultimate faith in false beliefs.

If you’re reading this then you probably already know my views on faith in general, but that is not what this is about. This man, and perhaps even his father, should be alive today. With timely medical care, they probably would have survived their envenomations.

No matter what you think of prayer, the evidence is clear; in most (and I believe all) cases, medical professionals will do more than God to intervene and help a person who is sick or injured. If seeking medical help shows a lack of faith, then it is a lack of faith that is well warranted, but I believe that it shows only a concern for a person’s wellbeing and has no bearing on faith.

The most important thing to let Pentecostals know about though is the fact that Mark 16:9–20, the verses that the peculiarities of their religion hinge upon, are almost certainly not original to that book. Not one of the oldest manuscripts in existence contains these verses, and there are multiple different endings that were added on later, including the one that we see in modern English copies.

As Wolford’s mother said in the With Signs Following documentary trailer above, "the word is still the word"; except when it’s not.

If these verses are later additions, which seems almost certain to be the case, then it leaves even faithful Christians with no reason to believe that handling venomous snakes or drinking poison is a good idea. So please, don’t do it, and if you are envenomated, seek medical attention at least as quickly and fervently as prayers.

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About Kazz

My name is Shawn Esplin and I am an advocate of Free Thought and general good sense and thought in general. To that end, I encourage people to seriously question the things that they have been taught, especially as children, because many of these things - religious and secular - are taken on faith until we actively choose to seriously examine them for ourselves.

4 thoughts on “Mack Wolford – Needlessly Dead at 44

  1. I heard about this, it’s been all over the wire for a few days now.

    As someone who grew up around rattlesnakes, I have learned a healthy respect for them — it’s horrific that this man died by snakebite; it is not a pleasant experience (and also not pleasant to attempt to treat.)

    It’s an ugly misfortune that could have been avoided. It’s odd that I’m curious as to how I’d react if he’d done it for thrill-seeking reasons instead of part of his religious customs. I wonder if any of these folk also work as venom milkers (a profession who do get bitten quite often) but also have a practical humanitarian benefit attending the risk.

  2. Shawn:
    Your descriptions of the manuscript-evidence are somewhat inaccurate. Two early Greek copies of Mark end the text at 16:8, followed by the book’s closing-title. All the other undamaged Greek copies of Mark 16 have at least part of verses 9-20, including early copies such as Codex A, Codex C, Codex D, and Codex W. The passage is also in the Gothic version, and in the Vulgate. Plus, the two copies in which the text stops at 16:8 were made in the 300′s; considerably earlier, in the 100′s, the passage was utilized by Justin Martyr (160), Tatian (172), and Irenaeus (184).
    Also, there is really only one alternative ending (the “Shorter Ending”) that does not involve the presence of verses 9-20.
    There is already enough inaccuracy and false claims in the commentaries and Bible-handbooks about the manuscript-evidence pertaining to these verses; we don’t need more!
    Yours in Christ,
    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church

  3. I must admit, I’ve heard the statement that these lines do not exist in the “earliest manuscripts” we have of Mark multiple times; but looking over at least the Wikipedia article there’s no mention of this (certainly not directly.) However, the controversy over the discrepancy between the short and long endings appears to be quite extensive affording a lot of serious scholarship hypothesizing that it was indeed added after the final draft by someone other than the original author.

    …although I still cannot tell the origin of this hypothesis from what I’ve read, just that it exists and that it’s seriously considered.

    I’m curious, why does this matter outside of scholarship? I ask in a cultural context—I can see why it matters in a scholarly context focused entirely on the history of this religious document.

    Is there a common thread amid Christian sects that following the current version contemporary to that sect is better or worse than attempting to follow the what-might-have-been-original to the manuscript?

    I suppose that there’s a lot of political stress riding on this. Larger, more popular sects appear to find the activity of the snake-handling sect to be odious and may use the possibility that praxis extending from these lines is “not from the original manuscript” to discount them. Of course, this also means that anything else found to be not-original might also shift the political landscape between Christian sects.


    Sadly, snake handing and poison drinking are still both extremely risky even for religious customs.

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