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Whom Do Signs Follow?

A reader has asked about Mark 16:15-18. Her question is too long to reproduce here, but concerns the reference of verse 17. Does that verse, she asks, refer to every believer, to all believers during the time of the Apostles, or to the Apostles themselves? She asks especially whether the believers in verse 16 and verse 17 are the same people.

As most of our readers know, the Charismatics and Pentecostals part ways here with those who believe that the special gifts of the Spirit have ceased. These people are convinced that these Mark 16:17 refers to gifts that continue yet today and are to be sought by every believer. Those who believe that they do not continue, teach that they were "signs of the Apostles" (II Cor. 12:12) which ceased at the end of the Apostolic age.

Over against Pentecostalism, some teach that the believers in Mark 16:17 are only the Apostles, since vs. 17 literally says: "And these signs shall follow them that have believed" and it clearly refers to all Christians.

Nevertheless, while these signs follow all believers, there is no evidence in the text (1) that all believers were able to do, or required to do these signs; and (2) that they would continue beyond the time of the Apostles.

It needs to be pointed out that if these signs continue today, then all of them do, including taking up serpents and drinking of deadly poisons. It is wholly arbitrary to claim some of the gifts and not others - to believe in tongues and not in serpents, or to claim the gift of healing and not that of drinking poison.

To avoid this difficulty, some Pentecostals argue that the taking up of serpents and drinking of poison are to be understood figuratively. The serpents, then, are a reference to Satan, and the poison to false teaching. The trouble is, that the same thing can then be done with the other signs. Why, then, is the healing not the salvation of souls, spiritual healing, and the speaking in tongues, simply the preaching of the gospel in foreign lands? We believe that all these signs are to be understood literally.

The signs themselves give us some clue, however, that they are "signs of the Apostles" (II Cor. 12:12). If the different signs are listed with those who actually performed them, this becomes abundantly evident:

(1) Casting out of devils - recorded only of Paul the Apostle (Acts 16:18), Philip, one of those ordained by the Apostles, and of the 70 who were sent by Jesus (Luke 10:17).

(2) Speaking with new tongues - this gift was conferred on the 120 at Pentecost (Acts 2:3,4,11,26); on the house of Cornelius in connection with Peter's preaching (Acts 10:46), and on a few believers at Ephesus by Paul the Apostle (19:6). It is interesting to note, however, that in Acts 8, the gift of the Spirit had to be bestowed by the Apostles (vss. 14-17). Even Philip could not give it, though he was able to do miracles.

(3) Taking up serpents without harm - recorded only of Paul (Acts 20:3-6).

(4) Drinking of poisons - no incident recorded in Scripture.

(5) Healing the sick - recorded only of the Apostles and of those ordained by them.

We believe, then, that Mark 16 is talking about apostolic signs (II Cor. 12:12), and not signs that continue today. Though the believers referred to are indeed all believers, these signs followed them only through the ministry of the Apostles, and only for a time.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 7
  • Issue: 17
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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