How are we to understand Mark 16:15-18 (about the signs which would accompany the believers) if we take it literally. We do not see these signs today.
Mark 16: 17-18 of the NIV translation reads: “And these signs will
accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they
will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and
when they drink poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place
their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” My question about
this passage is since we don’t see many christian believers performing in
these manners, what did Jesus mean by this if we should be taking this
Actually, this is a somewhat complicated question. The reason is that of
the entire New Testament, Mark 16:9-22 is the most controversial in terms
of whether it actually belongs in the original. There is significant
evidence that the original Mark did not include these verses. You
probably have a footnote in your Bible about this issue. This is
literally the only significant passage in the New Testament about which
there is significant doubt. If we are not entirley sure that this passage
was in the original, this might have some effect on the importance of
interpreting, as you can imagine.
Let me do this. Let me assume that this passage represents actual words
of Jesus and proceed from there. You can do your own research on the
textual support for the passage and decide what you think about that.
I believe that here Jesus is not necessarily talking about what will
accompany all believers for all time from then on. To give an analogous
example, Jesus spoke to the apostles in Acts 1:4,5, telling them to wait
in Jerusalem for the gift his Father had promised them. This was a
prophecy of the miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in
Jerusalem. This certainly was a sign which accompanied the ushering of
the Kingdom of God. However, it was not a statement about what was to
happen at all church services from then on. What I am saying is that it
is possible to read Mark 16:17 to say this: These signs will accompany
those who believe: it will be a sign to you that the Kingdom of God I
have been telling you about has come. It is even possible that Acts 1:4-5
is describing the same or a similar discourse by Jesus as Mark 16:15-20.
If I am right, Jesus is not talking here about what one will find in
Christianity in general from then forward, but rather he is talking about
what would accompany the coming of the Kingdom. To what extent these
phenomena were to continue is a bit of an open question, as Jesus did not
Bear in mind two things:
1. This is my interpretation. You should think about yourself and
perhaps read other commentators.
2. Your feeling about the importance of the interpretation of this
passage might be radically affected by consideration of whether or not
this passage was in the original Mark.
John Oakes, PhD