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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Part Two)

Don Stewart :: Doesn't Scripture Promise That Miraculous Signs Will Follow Those Who Believe?

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Doesn’t Scripture Promise That Miraculous Signs Will Follow Those Who Believe? (Mark 16:16–18)

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Part Two) – Question 14

There are a number of people who assume that miraculous signs will follow those who believe in Jesus Christ. One argument for the sign of miracles to continue in the church is a passage at the end of the gospel of Mark. It reads as follows.

The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:16-18 NRSV).

This passage promises believers in Jesus Christ will do the following five things: they will cast out demons, speak with new tongues, pick up snakes without being harmed, not be harmed by drinking poison, lay hands on the sick and heal them.

These Signs Did Follow

As we look at the Book of Acts we find that these signs did follow the early believers. For example, the believers in Jesus were able to cast out demons. We read in the Book of Acts when demons were cast out of people.

Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed (Acts 5:16 NASB).

This ability did follow the first Christians.

They also spoke with new tongues. We read of this occurring on the Day of Pentecost.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.(Acts 2:4 NKJV).

There is also an example of Paul picking up a snake but not being harmed by it. We also read about this in the Book of Acts.

As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, fastened itself onto his hand. The people of the island saw it hanging there and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.” But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and decided he was a god (Acts 28:3-6 NLT).

Furthermore, we find examples of people being healed with the laying on of hands. Indeed, the man Ananias laid hands on Saul of Tarsus after this persecutor of Christians encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road. The Bible says.

So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17 NRSV).

There is no example of anyone drinking something deadly and recovering from the experience. However four out of the five promises in Mark 16 were literally fulfilled by the believers in Jesus Christ.

Does This Mean the Signs Will Always Follow Believers?

The promise in Mark 16 has been understood to mean that these signs will always follow those who believe in Jesus. Three things should be said in response to this.

There Is a Question of Text’s Authenticity

First, there is a question as to the authenticity of the last twelve verses of Mark. The two oldest Greek manuscripts that contain the Gospel of Mark end at 16:8. The verses that promise the signs following are not contained in these manuscripts. While this, in and of itself, does not prove the verses should not be included in Mark, it should cause anyone to be hesitant about building any doctrine from these verses alone.

It has also been argued that the style of these last twelve verses is radically different from the style of the rest of Mark’s gospel. This is another reason to be careful about forming biblical teaching from these verses.

Some have also argued that the theology of this section is at odds with the remainder of the New Testament. The passage says.

The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16 NRSV).

To some this teaches that water baptism is necessary for salvation – a doctrine that is at odds with the rest of the New Testament.

These Truths Are Not Stated Elsewhere

In addition, we do not find the promises of signs following, which are found in the last few verses of Mark, stated elsewhere in the New Testament. There is nothing anywhere that restates these teachings. Because of the insecure nature on which the text rests, there should be a restatement of the claims if we are to accept them as promises of God. Yet there is no other restatement of these words in Scripture.

This Was Not New Testament Experience

Finally, we should not that it was not the normal experience of New Testament believers that these miraculous signs followed those who believed. Indeed, we do not find these things occurring when people put their trust in Jesus. Miracles surrounding the preaching of the gospel were the exception – they were not the rule. Normally the gospel was proclaimed and received without any supernatural signs following.

Did the Miracles Die Out with the Apostles?

There are some who hold the view that these signs did follow the first generation of Christians. However with the death of the apostles, these particular signs ceased.

Therefore, while the signs were in evidence for Jesus’ immediate followers, there was nothing of this sort to be found among the second generation of Christians. In addition, church history does not testify that these signs have followed those who believe in Jesus.

Consequently, we should not expect these types of supernatural signs to occur when people believe in Jesus Christ.

Summary – Question 14
Doesn’t Scripture Promise That Miraculous Signs Will Follow Those Who Believe? (Mark 16:16–18)

The promises which are found in the last few verses of Mark’s gospel have been used to argue for the continuation of miraculous signs to follow those who believe in Jesus. Those who hold this view usually bring up the following points.

Four out of the five signs promised in this passage are recorded in the Book of Acts as having occurred among the first Christians. The only promise which does not have a recorded fulfillment is the harmless effects of drinking deadly poison.

This has been taken to understand that these signs would always follow believers in Jesus. Therefore, today we should expect to see people speaking with new tongues, the sick being healed with the laying on of hands, protection from being bit by snakes, demons being cast out, as well as no harmful effects from drinking deadly poison

There are a number of problems with this position. We can sum them up as follows. First, there is a real question as to whether this text should be included as part of Scripture. Indeed, the two oldest Greek manuscripts which contain the gospel of Mark do not have the last twelve verses in the text. The text ends at 16:8. While there are those who still argue for the authenticity of the last twelve verses of Mark at the very least we should be careful of establishing any doctrine from these verses.

In addition, we do not find these promises stated elsewhere in Scripture. This should give us further reason to doubt that we should claim these promises for ourselves.

Finally, while there are instances of these signs occurring among the believers as recorded in the Book of Acts, it was certainly not the normal experience for each and every believer. In other words, if signs like this did follow, they were rare. Furthermore, as we mentioned, the New Testament does not record anyone having the experience of deadly poison without harmful effects.

Add to this the possibility that the signs, if they were given, were only given temporarily to a select group of people for a limited period of time.

All of this should caution us about using these verses to expect the continuance of miracles among those who believe in Jesus Christ.

Why Don't Believers Today Perform the Same Miraculous Works as Early Christians? ← Prior Section
Does Paul Say That Signs and Wonders Are Part of the Gospel Message? Next Section →
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