During several recent conversations, I have heard people mention the problem with basing a belief on one verse in the Bible. The idea is that since the teaching is only mentioned one time in the Bible, it must not be as important as something mentioned many times. I see the logic with that idea, but it also makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Here is my thinking. We believe that God inspired human authors to write the canon of Scripture. We also believe that every word and thought was inspired by God. We also believe that “all Scripture” is given by God and is profitable. Since that those statements are true, statements that are “mentioned only once in the Bible” are inspired by God and are profitable for us to learn from.
So, what do we do when we come across these “one verse” statements in the Bible? Some examples of these “problem texts” are baptism for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29), handling snakes (Mark 16:18), and the ban on women preachers (1 Tim. 2:12). Since these statements are inspired by God, we mustn’t ignore them. Instead, we should look at each Bible verse and then determine a few things: (1) What does the passage say?, (2) what does it mean? and (3) what is the problem?
- Baptism for the Dead (1 Cor. 15:29)
a. What does it say?
In context, Paul is making an argument for the resurrection. Some did not believe that it was possible for some to be resurrected after being dead. So Paul gave multiple examples of things that would not be true if there was not a resurrection. Earlier in the chapter, he said that if there was no resurrection then Christ is still dead, your faith is worthless, and your sins are not forgiven. In verses 29-30, Paul wraps up his arguments with two more questions: If there is no resurrection, why are people being baptized for the dead? And if there is not resurrection, why do Christians willingly face persecution?
b. What does it mean?
This is the only place in the Bible where being baptized for the dead is mentioned. We know that the practice of water baptism was commonly practiced and prescribed for living believers to demonstrate their faith in front of others. But nowhere is baptism for the dead mentioned. In this case, we are left to wonder. While we may never completely understand this verse, we can note a couple of things.
First, Paul use “they” when referring to baptism for the dead and “we” when referring to suffering persecution. We can infer from this that Paul did not practice baptism for the dead. Second, since this is nowhere commanded in Scripture, we are safe to wonder about it without fear of disobeying the Lord. Third, ancient history tells of a mystery religion near Corinth where people did baptize people for the dead in hopes of giving them bliss in the afterlife (see Lowery for more details). This may have been what Paul was referring to.
Whatever the case may have been, we know that Paul was addressing the foolishness of not believing in the resurrection. And when his original readers read this verse, it bolstered his argument.
c. What is the problem?
The Mormons (who practice a false religion loosely based on parts of the Bible) practice baptism for the dead based on this solitary verse. According to their church manual, “Many people … have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf” (“Baptisms for dead”).
The problem with this belief is that it is nowhere commanded in the Scriptures. We are told to disciple, baptize, and teach (Matt. 28:19-20). This can only be done for living people. When you go back and read 1 Corinthians 15:29 armed with the proper context, you will understand that Paul was (1) bolstering his argument for the resurrection, and (2) mentioning something that other people (not him) were doing. Therefore, this is not a command for Christians to practice. God inspired this verse and made it profitable (despite it being hard to understand) so that we would greater appreciate the resurrection.
- Handling snakes (Mark 16:18)
One of the more interesting signs given to the early church is found in Mark 16:18. Among other things, Jesus promised that those who believed would “pick up serpents.” This could get interesting.
a. What does it say?
In context, Jesus was telling his disciples about their future evangelistic outreach to the world. They were to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone. After explaining the need for faith and baptism, Jesus talked about signs that would follow faith. Those who believed would (1) cast out demons in Jesus’ name, (2) speak with new-to-them languages, (3) pick up serpents, (4) not be harmed by poison, and (5) heal sick people.
The part about picking up serpents is not explained; He merely states that believers would pick them up. It is implied by the later reference to protection from poison that believers would not be harmed when picking up serpents. The passage ends by saying that God confirmed the gospel preached by the disciples by these signs (v. 20).
b. What does it mean?
Handling snakes is not something to be taken by itself in this passage. Jesus did not ordain snake handling as part of daily Christian living or weekly church services. He only said that this was one of the signs given by God to authenticate the gospel message. And, as verse 20 indicates, this along with the other signs confirmed the truth of their gospel preaching.
The idea is also found in Luke 10:19 (see also Psalm 91:13). After the 70 had returned from their preaching tour, Jesus promised that they would be able to trample on serpents and scorpions with no harm coming to them. Notice that in both Mark 16 and Luke 10, Jesus was promising the same thing. They would be protected while preaching God’s truth. We find an example of this in Acts 28:3-6. Paul was bitten by a serpent while gathering firewood. True to His promise, the Lord kept Paul from being harmed by the venomous snake. This sign caused the people to take special note of him. God also enabled Paul to heal sick people in the same place (another one of the signs from Mark 16).
After a careful reading of Mark 16, we can see that picking up serpents was not a command but was one of the signs that God used to confirm the gospel message preached by the early Christians. “Jesus’ words in Mark 16:17–18 gave His apostles the assurance that, as they faithfully served God in the spread of the gospel, He could protect them from anything that crossed their paths” (Gotquestions).
c. What is the problem?
In the early 1900’s, a preacher named George Hensley popularized the use of venomous snakes in church services. “If believers truly had the Holy Spirit within them, Hensley argued, they should be able to handle rattlesnakes and any number of other venomous serpents. They should also be able to drink poison and suffer no harm whatsoever. Snake handling as a test or demonstration of faith became popular wherever Hensley traveled and preached in the small towns of Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana” (Wikipedia). Hensley eventually died from a snake bite in 1955.
Sadly, there are still some churches that practice snake handling today. I have been told that many of the followers are missing fingers and some have died from snake bites. Why then do they continue this strange practice? The first problem is that they have taken a statement and interpreted it as a command. “The verse does not say, ‘Go out and handle snakes’; it says, ‘They will pick up snakes with their hands.’ It is a declaration that something will occur, not a command that someone make it occur” (Gotquestions). The second problem is that they are presuming on the Lord. Even Jesus refused to jump off the pinnacle of the temple to test God’s willingness to protect Him (Luke 4:9-12). “God can and will protect us, according to His will, as we are serving Him. But we are not to put the Lord to the test” (Gotquestions).
Instead of handling snakes as a sign of faith or Spirit-filling, Christians should stick to the main command of Mark 16—preaching the gospel to the world. When we do that, we can be sure that the Lord will be with us, enabling us to proclaim His truth with the protection only He can provide.
- No women pastors (1 Tim. 2:12)
While teaching a high school Bible class, I was confronted by a female student who believed that women could be pastors and used the examples of Deborah (Judges 4) and Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:8-9). The argument was that if God used Deborah as a leader in Israel and allowed Philip’s daughters to prophesy, how could there be a ban on women preachers? This idea is probably continued by women preachers such as Victoria Osteen, Beth Moore, and Joyce Meyer.
Those who believe that God has prohibited women from being pastors have been accused of using “one verse” in the Bible to prove their point. That “one verse” is 1 Timothy 2:12. It will be the subject of our study today.
a. What does it say?
In context, Paul was addressing men and women and their particular roles in the church and home. He presented several topics for women: modesty (2:9), good works (2:10), submission (2:11), silence (2:12), the order of creation (2:13), Eve being deceived (2:14), and childbearing (2:15).
In the middle of this section, Paul stated that he did not allow women to teach or to have authority over a man. Instead, women were to be silent. It appears that this verse is addressing the role of women in the church. To summarize, a women is (1) not to teach men, (2) not to have a position of authority over a man, and (3) is to keep silent in the church.
b. What does it mean?
As with the other verses in the Bible, this “one verse” statement is a part of the Scriptures which are inspired by God. Because of that, we must agree that the verse itself has a meaning which God wants us to recognize and follow. Thankfully, this particular verse is not alone and is surrounded by context.
Look at verses 8-15. The paragraph is for both men and women. Before addressing women in the church, Paul tells us that God desires for men to be leaders in prayer, holiness, and attitude (2:8). Women are to dress modestly and be more concerned with good works than their outward appearance (2:9-10). Then in verses 11-12, Paul taught that women were to let the men teach and to submit to their leadership in silence. This order was the result of Adam being created first (2:13) and the fact that Eve had been deceived by the serpent (2:14). He concluded with the privilege women have of bearing and training their children (2:15).
After looking at the context, you can see that this is not a “one verse” doctrine. It is plain teaching which reveals God’s plan for leadership and teaching in the church. Women are not any less valuable but do have a different role to play. Men are to lead in prayer, teaching, and leadership. During church services, women are to be silent. Wait… what? Women can’t speak in church?
“They should not attempt to turn the tables by clamoring for the office of congregational teacher or by grasping for authority over men. Rather they should, literally, ‘be in quietness.’ The word … translated ‘quietness’ in 1 Timothy 2:11 and silent in verse 12, does not mean complete silence or no talking. It is clearly used elsewhere (Acts 22:2; 2 Thes. 3:12) to mean ‘settled down, undisturbed, not unruly.’ A different word … means ‘to be silent, to say nothing’ (cf. Luke 18:39; 1 Cor. 14:34)” (Litfin 735).
Paul’s command to Timothy was that women are not to take church leadership positions from men but should submit to God’s order and take the opportunity to listen and learn during church services. Their value is seen in other equally important areas such as working with their children (2:15) and encouraging other women (Titus 2:3-5).
c. What is the problem?
Now that we understand God’s desire for the church, what do we do with women who have decided to become pastors and teachers? You may have heard some of these women and have been encouraged by what they preached. Are these women disobeying God by preaching and holding religious meetings? The simple answer is yes.
If these women disrupt God’s plan for church order by taking the leadership from men and by preaching to men, then they are being disobedient to the clear teaching of Scripture — even if their motive for doing so is good. I can believe that some women preachers are doing so with a good motive. They see a need and feel moved to address it from God’s perspective. That is a good desire but it is not the role given to them by God.
As we have studied through these “one verse” doctrines, I hope that at least one thing is clear. When God inspired the Scriptures, He inspired all of them equally. Jesus confirmed this when he said that “one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18). In other words, every part of the Bible is important. God put each verse in the Bible for a reason. And it is our job to study and find out what each statement means (2 Tim. 2:15).
“Baptism for the dead” as viewed at https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/baptisms-for-the-dead?lang=eng&adobe_mc_ref=https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/baptisms-for-the-dead?lang=eng&adobe_mc_sdid=SDID=05967BD7C734DED7-62610939DA8E9598|MCORGID=66C5485451E56AAE0A490D45%40AdobeOrg|TS=1664986417 on 10/5/2022.
Lowery, David K., “1 Corinthians,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, as viewed in PocketBible for Android.
“A look at the snake-handling churches of Appalachia” as viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwBVcsWYJd8 on 10/12/2022.
“Snake handling in Christianity” as viewed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_handling_in_Christianity on 10/11/2022.
“What does the Bible say about snake handling?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=594 on 10/10/2022.
Litfin, A. Duane, “1 Timothy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 735-36.
McGee, J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. V, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983, pp. 439-40.
“What does the Bible say about women pastors?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=1751 on 10/19/2022.