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William Branham and Snake Handling

Seek The Truth Blog

William Branham and Snake Handling:

In the few years that we have been writing articles and publishing research information for Seek The Truth, we have seen several conversations describing a side William Branham that cannot be noticed from his stage persona on recorded tape. Many of you who have researched William Branham in the discussion forums online have stumbled across the same. From the men claiming that William Branham sexually molested their father or grandfather, to the men or women claiming Branham's missions to Africa had a much darker history than his hunting or evangelistic campaigns. If you are willing to take the time, there are numerous questions raised, some of which seem to have some legitimate cause for concern.

One claim that has caught our eye multiple times is the claim that William Branham taught churches in Kentucky and Ohio to handle snakes during the early days of his ministry. From testimony of multiple witnesses, they describe their parents' statements about the history of their churches that included William Branham and snakes. But as third-hand information, even their witness testimony would not benefit our research. For us to publish this claim, we need a stronger tie between William Branham and the snake handling church. We have William Branham's use of the "snake handling passage" in scripture recorded several times, but we have no recordings that describe what transpired after his preaching. But even those require a closer examination.

William Branham quoted the snake handling passage almost one hundred and forty times on recorded tape. He referenced it 1163 times using the shortened version, "these signs." And it was not uncommon for Pentecostal holiness ministers in his time, especially those from this region of the United States to have handled snakes in their churches. Upon closer examination of these statements, we find that some of those recordings include a conveniently placed "[]" immediately after the "Snake Handling" passage is referenced:

"Lived in the hearts of the apostles and opened the eyes of the blind, shall be saved. And he that believeth not shall be damned. These signs shall follow them that believe: in My Name shall they cast out devils. They shall speak with new tongues. If they take up serpents or deadly things it shall not harm them. [—Ed.] ...?... ... If there's any of you...?... [—Ed.]
Branham, 50-0409 - Baptismal Service

"Jesus said, "These signs shall follow them that believe: In My Name they shall cast out devils, speak with new tongues; take up serpents; drink deadly things; lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." [—Ed.]
Branham, 51-0718 - The Angel Of The Lord

"He said, "These signs shall follow them that believe. In My Name they shall cast out devils, speak with new tongues, take up serpents or drink deadly things, it'll not harm them. And if they lay their hands on the sick, they shall recover." God, grant it to our brother, in Jesus Christ's Name. Amen. God be with you, brother. Go rejoicing and happy." [—Ed.]
Branham, 53-0602 - The Authority Of The Word

. If they were believers, "These signs shall follow them that believe," says Jesus. "In My Name they shall cast out devils, and speak with new tongues, and take up serpents, or have drunken deadly things, and they'll lay hands on the sick and they shall recover." God, grant tonight, that each person, no matter how—what level we have to come to, Lord... If the new birth is just like the natural birth, a mess, I don't care, Lord, e—what I have to be a outcast, if I'd have to be called holy-roller, or any kind of a vulgared name that the devil has given the Church [—Ed.]
59-0707 - Balm In Gilead

While William Branham made no claim that Snake Handling was necessary for one's salvation, he did offer his defense of the practice. This is the case with many of the Snake Handling churches -- they don't tempt fate under any sort of obligation; they handle snakes as an attempt to prove that God is with their church.

"These signs follow the believer. In My Name they cast out devils; they speak with new tongues; they take up serpents; and they drink deadly things will not harm them. If they lay their heads on—hands on the sick, they shall recover." And today you do it, they'll laugh at you. They got a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.
Branham, 53-0614A - Earnestly Contending For The Faith

But again, this is still not a link between William Branham and a snake handling church. We cannot make assumptions simply because a portion of the tape was edited or because supporting statements were made. We need more. We need a direct link between William Branham and a snake handling church. We need to see ministers involved with the Branham campaigns who were snake handlers. And this is found with a minister named Kash Amburgy.

"And I think I have one night of the convention, maybe a breakfast also. It depends on how things come out. There is some, one of the speakers that never showed up; hasn't as yet, I don't think. Brother Humburg, or is that... [A brother says, "Amburgy."Ed.] Amburgy, Amburgy, Kash Amburgy."
Branham, 65-0119 - The God Who Is Rich In Mercy

Kash Amburgy is first mentioned on recorded tape at a conference at the Western Home Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. Though he was a southern Ohio preacher who hailed from Owsley, Kentucky, Amburgy had planned to travel all the way to Phoenix to speak with William Branham. And Branham mistakenly thinks that a "Brother Humburg" was the absentee he was to "pinch hit" for. A man corrects Branham, giving him the last name "Amburgy," and immediately, William Branham recognizes the name. Branham places the first name with the last, and announces that Kash Amburgy will be speaking next.

Amburgy became a household name in Cincinnati through several television commercials promoting his "Big Bargain Barn" - a furniture and appliance store in South Lebanon. He would often end the commercial with the slogan, "Follow the signs, follow the arrows to Kash's Big Bargain Barn in South Lebanon, Ohio, where you save cash with Kash."

But he was known for more than just furniture and appliances. Amburgy started his career as a door-to-door bible salesman, often bragging that he had sold as many as 170 Bibles in one single day. He was a minister for over sixty years of his life, gaining popularity through a Bible Church of God Radio Broadcast on WPFB-AM (910) in Middletown, Ohio. But he always displayed pride in his Kentucky roots, calling himself the "Ole Country Boy from South Lebanon, Ohio." with a southern accent.

This was the public view of Amburgy, however, not the view hidden from the public eye. Amburgy was known in the Pentecostal circles as a great snake handler. One nostalgic person memorialized Amburgy with this statement:

"A funny story about Kash Amburgy, ( yes he really did lose some fingers on one hand while handling snakes. The snake bit him and having faith ( evidently not enough faith) he kept right on preaching. By the end on his sermon his fingers had become so swollen and discolored he had to have a couple of them amputated."

Another remembers Amburgy's snake handling days as a bit more trickery than godly:

"We had a local celebrity, Kash Amburgy, who apparently was a snake-handler early on. A story circulated about a couple of boys at one of his backwoods churches deciding to get some rattlesnakes or copperheads who weren't de-fanged (as "de-fanged" was the rumored practice for ol' Kash) for Kash to handle up at the pulpit, because they wanted to see if he really believed God would protect him. Kash was apparently rather surprised when he was bit by one! :D Anyway, I was told he lost part of a finger, but survived the bite. I guess the boys believed him after that."

But still, this is not enough to confirm the testimonies describing a young William Branham starting snake handling churches. It is nothing more than one small piece of the much larger puzzle. Here is what we can now confirm:

* William Branham referenced the snake handling passage from the book of Mark 139 times.

* William Branham did not dissuade men from practicing snake handling, but instead promoted the scripture describing the practice

* After promoting the snake handling scripture, there are numerous sections of tape edited out of the reel

* Known snake handlers were deeply involved with Branham's ministry, insomuch that they made the journey from Ohio to Phoenix Arizona to speak in his meetings.

* William Branham knew at least one snake handler by first name.

* Snake handling is a Pentecostal tradition, one that is not practiced in denominational churches Branham condemned.

* Snake handling churches in the United States started with the Pentecostal movement in 1906, a movement Branham claimed to be created by God.

* In most states, snake handling is illegal. Therefore, it must be practiced underground.

When Christians outside of the United States hear of this usage of Mark 16, the "snake handling" passage, they shudder in disbelief. With the exception of the early influence of Pentecostal-style cults into developing nations, there are very few Christian churches outside the States that practice snake handling. This is a practice better viewed in a pagan temple. But for the many Holiness Christians inside the States -- especially the Southern United States, it is a different story. One must fully explain why this is a bad idea.

Though the Bible does give examples of God's protection for His people, there are many passages of Scripture condemning the act of "tempting fate." Deuteronomy 6 specifically states, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test," and even the Temptation of Christ is an example for us not to do so.

The irony in this situation is the ending of the book of Mark itself. William Branham claimed to have brought back the "original truth." And in his version of truth, uplifting Mark 16 was considered "restoration."

"I read that Mark 16. If that isn't the truth, I don't believe the Bible."
Branham, 50-0815 - Who Is God?

"Said, 'Do you believe Mark 16 inspired?' I said, "Yes, sir. Every...' 'All from 9th verse on?' I said, 'Yes, sir. 'They take up serpents, and drink deadly things.'"
Branham, 53-0513 - God's Provided Way

While his cult followers are not aware of the significance of that his quote in 53-0513 "God's Provided Way," Branham is describing a conversation with a person who is trying to tell him that the ending of Mark 16 is not in the earliest manuscripts. And he specifically pointed to the snake handling and drinking of venom or poison.

At the time of the King James Version being translated, there were very few manuscripts and a limited number of translations. Yet, these translators were describing the issue with continuing to use older translations, which had even fewer manuscripts. Devious minds were adding scriptures, and King James translators were doing their best to only transcribe what they could prove to be the earliest and most accurate passages of text. They wanted the most accurate translation possible. This, they explain in the preface:

This same argument was made when the newer translations were produced. Most newer versions of the Bible include a footnote at the bottom of the page to describe the question of authenticity of Mark 16. One such footnote reads as follows:

Mark 16:9 Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9–20 immediately after verse 8. At least one manuscript inserts additional material after verse 14; some manuscripts include after verse 8 the following: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. These manuscripts then continue with verses 9–20

Most scholars today agree that this addition to the ending of the book of Mark was written approximately 2nd century A. D. But the question today isn't whether or not the ending of Mark is authentic. The question isn't even whether or not to practice snake handling, as the passage describes as a "sign to follow them who believe." The question is about original truth!

William Branham claimed to have been the "restoration prophet," one leading us back into original truth. He also referenced the "snake handling passage," claiming that if he doesn't believe in snake handling, he doesn't believe in the Bible. And 1163 times in his recorded ministry, he referenced this passage of scripture, including it as "original truth."

If he did NOT practice snake handling, did he not believe Mark 16? Was it only partial truth for William Branham? Did he think that his followers should NOT believe that God would protect them from handling snakes? Did he think the Bible was mistaken, and that this particular "sign" would NOT follow his group of people?

Or is there more behind these "blank spots" than meets the eye?