Could someone explain Mark 16:16-18?

Dec 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Questions You Ask (click for the full answer)

Could someone explain Mark 16:16-18?

It basically says believers will speak in tongues, will be able to survive drinking deadly poison, and will be able to heal people just by placing their hands on them. Maybe I’m taking it too literally, but how do Christians decide which passages to take literally and which to take metaphorically?

**Mark 16:16-18 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.  (17)  And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;  (18)  They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

As seen below the end of the Gospel of Mark is spurious (meaning not in the original manuscripts).

To answer your question about knowing when to take things literally or symbolically, one has to look at the context. One also has to study the entire subject, with all applicable scriptures that have a bearing on the topic. When one puts all the scriptures side by side, it is easier to see which has a symbolic or metaphorical meaning. In other words there is no easy answer, to understand God’s Word, one has to study it.

**From verse 9 to the end of this chapter is wanting in the Vat. M.S., and in many other ancient copies. Griesbach marks the whole passage of very doubtful authenticity, but retains it in the text. Tishendorf rejects the whole clause.

Robertson: If they drink any deadly thing (k’an thanasimon ti piōsin). This is the only N.T. instance of the old Greek word thanasimos (deadly). Jam_3:8 has thanatēphoros, deathbearing. Bruce considers these verses in Mark “a great lapse from the high level of Matthew’s version of the farewell words of Jesus” and holds that “taking up venomous serpents and drinking deadly poison seem to introduce us into the twilight of apocryphal story.” The great doubt concerning the genuineness of these verses (fairly conclusive proof against them in my opinion) renders it unwise to take these verses as the foundation for doctrine or practice unless supported by other and genuine portions of the N.T.


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  1. Good answer.

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  2. Not too bad an answer, but there should never be a doctrine or belief picked up with only one witness. Scripture itself declares 2 or more – so anything you pick up by one author must be corroborated by another. That’s a good answer for every so called “stand alone” text. Generally you find they match with another somewhere, but not always.

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  3. We fully agree, the scriptures must harmonize. We know of no other scriptures that promote snake handling and such. The incident where the Apostle Paul was bitten by a snake was an accident which the Lord overruled as a witness, but that there is a promise of never dying of a snake bite, we don’t find it. Nor do we find another promise that one won’t die of poison.

    We do see in history where supposed men of God have poisoned those that disagree with them and because they died they used that of a proof that those men where not of God.

    Thanks for your comment

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