Did Jesus Promise That All Who Believe
Will be Accompanied by Miracles?
by Ron Rhodes
In Mark 16:17-18 we read: "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 deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."
Certainly we find ample evidence for some of these activities in New Testament times. Indeed, in the New Testament we witness the casting out of demons (Acts 8:7; 16:18; 19:15-16), speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4-11; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:1-24), and even protection from a poisonous snake (Acts 28:3-5).
A few observations are in order, however. First, the construction of the verse in the original Greek of verse 18 utilizes "conditional clauses." The verse carries the idea:
"And if they be compelled to pick up snakes with their hands and if they should be compelled to drink deadly poison, it shall by no means harm them." What this means is that if some pagan or non-Christian authority or persecutor forced a Christian to engage in such activities (a real possibility in the early church), God would supernaturally protect them.
Understood in context, this verse certainly gives no justification for Christians to voluntarily drink poison or handle snakes in church services. We see no such activity in the early church. Note that Paul's encounter with the snake at Malta was completely unintentional (Acts 28:3-5).
Further, it should be noted that Christians today are divided over whether such phenomena as speaking in tongues and the gift of healing occur today; Charismatics say yes, cessationists say no. The cessationists argue that the gift of healing and tongues passed away in the first century after the Bible had been delivered and verified by miraculous phenomena. Charismatics say there is nothing in Scripture to sustain such a conclusion.
Whichever side one ends up on, it is very important for both sides to understand that Mark 16:17-18 is most certainly not teaching that if you do not experience such phenomena, you are not a true Christian. That is an unwarranted conclusion that violates the broader context of Scripture.
Let us consider the issue of tongues as an example. It is clear that even
though all the Corinthian believers were "saved" and had been baptized in
the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), they had NOT all spoken in tongues
(14:5). It is the Holy Spirit who decides on what gifts each believer
receives (12:11), and the Spirit certainly DID NOT give all Christians the
gift of tongues in the first century. Thus it should not be considered a
definitive sign of whether one is a Christian or not.