“These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover,” (Mark 16:17-18).
Following this reasoning, some small groups likewise take into account “snake handling” as part of normal worship, given that picking up snakes is likewise something this passage appears to state that believers will do. All of this, nevertheless, misrepresents the passage’s real interpretation. The verses right before this say:
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned,'” (Mark 16:14-15).
An essential rule in scriptural analysis is, “be sure to follow the pronouns.” Observe that it states “he who has believed” will be saved and “he who has not believed” will be condemned. The pronoun is the singular “he.” Each and every single individual who believes will be saved. Each and every single individual who does not believe will be condemned. When we get to verses 17-18, on the other hand, the pronouns alter. It does not continue by stating “these signs will accompany him who has believed,” as one would assume if we were still speaking about each and every single person. It alters to “these signs will accompany those who have believed.” It continues to mention that they will do these numerous things. The grammar shifts from speaking about the individual believer (” he who has believed”) to the group of all believers (” those who have thought”). The passage is not stating that these signs will accompany each and every single individual believer. It is stating that such signs would accompany believers as a whole. As we go through the remainder of the New Testament, that is precisely what we see: numerous validating signs like these taking place amongst numerous believers at different times. For instance, we see:
- some believers casting out demons (Acts 5:16, 8:7, 16:16-18, 19:11-12)
- some believers speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4, 10:46, 19:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 12:28)
- believers laying hands on the sick and healing them (Acts 9:17, 28:8)
- one believer bit by a snake and not harmed (Acts 28:3-5)
So believers, as a group, definitely showed these different signs, which is exactly what Mark 16 stated would take place. None of this indicates that every believer carried out such miracles. There is no exegetical evidence for snake handling here. If anything, the very point that each of these stories was so notable suggests that such things were not universal to every believer. The reality that believers brought the ill to the apostles to get healing, for instance, appears to show that such believers were not healing the ill by laying their own hands on them.
The objective of these signs is likewise crucial to keep in mind. The passage in Mark concludes by stating:
“And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed,” (Mark 16:20).
The point of the signs was to confirm the message preached, not to offer a litmus test for evaluating the salvation of each single believer. The Bible does offer us tests by which we can assess the authenticity of our faith, however we are never ever one time instructed to judge by searching for these miraculous signs. Certainly, it would make little sense for these particular signs to be required for salvation. There are areas on the planet that have no snakes, yet Mark 16:18 clearly states that those who believe WILL handle serpents. If this suggested that each and every single individual believer needed to manifest this sign, then salvation might solely come to areas with snakes, otherwise missionaries would be needed to bring snakes to snakeless areas so that individuals there might manifest this sign. Is faith truly impossible in places that do not have snakes to handle?
Obviously not! That is clearly ridiculous and unbiblical. Yet, if handling snakes is not a required sign of salvation for all believers, then neither are the other signs in this passage, including things like speaking in tongues. Undoubtedly, the Bible is specific in other passages that the gifts of tongues and healings are not needed to be saved or to get the Holy Spirit.
Based upon the grammar, the immediate context, and the rest of scriptural revelation on the topic, it is a clear exegetical evidence for snake handling that Mark 16:17 -18 does not teach that speaking in tongues (or any of these other miraculous signs) are required signs of salvation.