This Week's Focus Passage

Mark 16:17-18 ‘These signs shall accompany them that believe.’

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned. And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.—Mark 16:16-18

 Two points of interest are to be found in the foregoing citation. One point is that of the assertion of these items which are alleged as certainly accompanying them that believe. A second point is the consideration of the acceptance of this portion of the ‘Gospel of Mark;’ namely, the conclusion to his gospel with verses nine through twenty. Many of our copies of the Holy Bible contain footnotes or marginal notes which speak of concerns regarding the inclusion or exclusion of the ending of the book of Mark. The King James Version, along with its variant, the New King James Version, include, without comment this questionable ending. To his credit, C. I. Scofield, in his popular ‘reference edition’ of the KJV, has included an advisory footnote which states, ‘Verses 9-20 are not found in the two most ancient mss., the Siniaticus and Vaticanus; others have them with partial omissions and variations. But the passage is quoted by Irenaeus and Hippolytus in the second or third century.’ This is not dissimilar from the ‘advisory’ found in many other translations such as the ASV-1901. This American Standard Version has a marginal note stating that, ‘The two oldest Greek manuscripts, and some other authorities, omit from ver. 9 to the end. Some other authorities have a different ending to the Gospel.’ The New American Standard offers two footnotes. ‘Some of the older mss. do not contain vv. 9-20,’ explaining the parenthetical marks surrounding 9-20. The second footnote is explanatory of a bracketed addition after the first parentheses:

[And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation]

One highly respected commentator has offered his thoughts on this matter:

“Did Mark write verses 9-20? Though the Authorized (King James) Version of our English Bible contains them, modern translations all indicate in one way or another that there is considerable doubt about their authenticity. Thus, R.S.V. relegates them to a fine print footnote. Phillips calls them ‘an ancient appendix.’ Others add a note in which they call attention to the fact that ‘the two oldest and best manuscripts do not have Mark 16:9-20 but end Mark’s Gospel with verse 8.’—Wm. Hendriksen

These remarks are made in the interest of pointing out the questionable nature of the ending portion of the book of Mark before proceeding further into the question of the adherence of some to the teachings contained in said portion, namely the matter of the signs alleged to necessarily accompany ‘them that believe.’ There are segments of professing Christianity that have laid hold upon these ‘signs’ regarding demons, new tongues, serpents, and drinking of any deadly thing,’ continuing to teach and practice them even in our day. We are referring to churches of professing—and perhaps some true, but misled—believers primarily found in the Appalachian mountain range of the United States. We will set aside, for the time being, the problem of their basing their practice on a disputed portion of Scripture, and consider it from their perspective—a King James perspective—of representing a direction given in the Word of God. How are we to respond to any who would assert, on the basis of this passage, that these ‘phenomena’ are regulatory for those who would profess belief in Christ? What is our answer to these persons professing faith in our Lord Jesus Christ? Is faith to be demonstrated, or proven, by the behavior elicited in this passage of Mark’s gospel? Does the casting out of demons prove that one is a true believer? Is it necessary to speak with new tongues in order for one’s testimony to be accepted? Must we become ‘snake-handlers’ to be received into church fellowship? Shall we drink poison to attest certainty to our profession of faith in Christ? Many of these ‘items’ smack of the Judaistic folly of demanding the act of circumcision as a necessary addition to faith, in order to salvation. Is it not adding to the gospel, in other words? Are these ‘proofs’ prophetic, rather than prescriptive?

We can rest assured that any insisting on the veracity of this passage in the King James Bible is not likely to be deterred by any arguments from textual criticism. It therefore behooves us to come at it from a different perspective. If indeed, this witness be accepted, can we not hold that it’s preceptive, or prophetic, utterances were met, or fulfilled, in the subsequent history of the church. We find subsequent history largely in the book of Acts. Many of the suggested criteria for a believer, it may be argued, was satisfied in the life of the apostle Paul.

The account given us by Luke in Acts 16:16ff. is a record of an encounter between Paul and a certain maid having a spirit of divination— Python is an alternate translation for spirit of divination—which spirit he cast out in the name of Jesus Christ. Would this not answer to the ‘casting out of demons’? And do we not know that He [Jesus] called the twelve together, and gave them authority over all demons? He sent them forth, also, to preach and heal the sick. In Acts 28, we are given actions by Paul that satisfy two of these Markan requirements. After landing on Melita, it was desired to build a fire to offset the cold. When Paul would gather sticks for the fire, a venomous creature, a viper, fastened on his hand. He shook it off and, in spite of the apprehensions of the observers, he did not succumb to the bite. Shortly after, he was called to the bedside of a native of the island and, laying his hands on him healed him. We confess we can find no record where one drank poison without death. Nonetheless, that proves not that such did not take place. We simply find no support for the ‘taking up of serpents’ to testify the reality of one’s profession of faith. Faith in Jesus Christ as the only Lamb of God remains the only viable profession.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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