By Cecil Willis
I want to direct your attention to the passage most frequently quoted by those seeking to prove that miracles are yet being performed. Therefore, I think it timely that we study Mark 16:14-20 to discover what bearing it may have upon the discussion of the duration of miracles. If this is the strongest proof text, and I think that it is, and we should find that if offers no support to their contention that miracles are yet being performed, then people ought to be willing to turn away from these false teachers. And if Mark 16:14-20 is not the strongest proof text, I would be glad to be informed of what Scripture is. I would be glad for the opportunity to investigate it to see if it lends support to their contention that miracles are yet being worked.
Before citing the passage, just a word that might help us get the setting of the passage. Jesus had already been crucified and raised from the dead. But some of the disciples refused to believe that He had been raised. Therefore the events mentioned in the first part of the passage. “And afterward he was manifest unto the eleven themselves as they sat at meat; and he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned. And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover. So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed.” (Mk. 16:14-20)
Now it is apparent from this passage that Jesus promises that certain individuals will be enabled to work miracles. It is true that the apostles were given the power to work miracles. Yet this passage seems to indicate that those who believed the words of the apostles would be able to work miracles. The disciples or Christians were to be able to have their words confirmed by the signs that would follow.
But there are two or three things we need to notice concerning these people who were to be given the power to work signs. The first important fallacy in thp argument of those who use this passage to prove that miracles are yet being performed is that they would have one to believe that only the preachers are to be given the power to work miracles. I know of no church which believes that all believers can work miracles. But if one will notice the wording of the passage, he will see that Jesus makes a categorical statement that those who believe and obey the Gospel will be given the power to perform miracles. But the denominations of today maintain that only the preachers have the power to perform miracles. They do not hold that all believers can perform the miracles. If this passage teaches that believers today are given the power to perform these miracles, then it teaches that every person today who cannot do all the miracles in the passage is an unbeliever.
One time I heard this passage quoted as infallible proof that miracles are yet being performed. The same preacher began going through the New Testament books citing passages which state that miracles were performed, and he would then give the date of that particular book and declare that miracles were still being performed at that particular time. I do not know who he had in mind, but I do know that if he intended to be replying to any of my beliefs, he misunderstood what I said about the matter. I do not know of any, save the modernists, atheists and infidels, who deny that miracles were performed in New Testament times. I am very confident that they were. I believe that the apostles could perform miracles, and that those on whom the apostles laid their hands could perform miracles. So one can cite every passage in the New Testament which says that Christians performed miracles and I believe it. But that does not prove that they are being performed today. If we were correct in what we said about the purpose of miracles, there is no need for the performance of miracles today. In the passage under investigation we read, “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed” (Mk. 16:20). The signs were to confirm the word, and once it was confirmed, it needed no reconfirmation.
But notice what Jesus said the believers would be able to do: “And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover” (Mk. 16:17,18). All believers were to be given the power to perform all these signs; not just the preachers. But I want you to notice one other thing about the so-called miracles of today. Is it not passingly strange that it is still necessary for God to use these denominational preachers to confirm His word by the sign of healing, but that it is no longer necessary for Him to enable them to be bitten by serpents and to drink deadly things without injury?
The point I am trying to make is this: the preachers who maintain that this passage teaches that they can work miracles only try to perform one or two kinds of these miracles. They will try to get a demon out of a man, and they maintain that they can heal, and speak with tongues. Later we will have considerable to say about the modern manner of speaking with tongues. But notice what else these believers were able to do: they were able to take up serpents, and to drink deadly things without injury.
Not too many years ago different ones of the groups who pretended to work miracles would try the handling of serpents. But they found out that it does not work so well. Some have even died trying to do it! Now they prefer to declare that this particular part of Jesus’ statement has been fulfulled. They will cite the instance in which Paul was bitten by a serpent and suffered no injury from it as recorded in Acts 28:3-6, and then will declare that this event fulfilled the prophecy. But is it not strange that when Paul was bitten by a serpent, it fulfilled the prophecy, but when Paul healed a man, as he did in Acts 20, it did not fulfill the portion of the Scripture which spoke of healing? Why is this? Well, it just so happens that trying to heal a man will not get a preacher killed, and several have been killed from handling serpents. Hence they now teach that this part of the Scripture was been fulfilled.
Some years ago, I preached in Cortez, Florida. There had been a preacher there who sought to prove that he could work miracles, by handling diamond-back rattlesnakes. Finally one of them bit him and he died. So, to cover up this instance, and many other ones similar to it, they declared that the man’s faith failed, or else the serpent bite would have done him no harm. But let me ask this: have you ever heard of one of these snake handlers who has died from a deadly snake bite but that his faith has failed? You certainly have not! Everyone of them that I have heard of or that others have heard of that has been bitten by a poisonous serpent has either died or been very, very ill. So they have decided that Jesus did not mean that this particular sign was to continue.
But what about the others? Well, not all of them have continued. Jesus said that if the believers drink any deadly thing, it will in no wise hurt them. Now how many preachers do you know today who can drink deadly poison that it will not hurt them? Usually when one asks one of them to drink some deadly poison, they reply that to do so would be to tempt God, and they cite the passage in Matt. 4:7, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” But there are some other Scriptures that need to be brought out on this point. The Lord commends the the church at Ephesus for having tried, or tested some who were claiming falsely to be apostles: “I know they works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false” (Rev. 2:2). All I want to do is to try these men of today to test their claims. The apostle John further said, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jno. 4:1). If these men can work miracles, they should not hesitate to do so. If they cannot, they should admit they cannot, and quit pretending that they can-and quit stalling, so as to deceive people.
Jesus says, in our text, that if one drinks any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt him. The common dodge on this point is to say that if one should drink poison unknowingly, it would not hurt him. But, this is not what Jesus says. You let someone slip some poison into his food, and the modern miracle-worker will be affected like any of the rest of us. I expect that these fellows who rely on this passage so heavily to come forth and say that this part of the statement has also been fulfilled. Jesus says that these signs shall follow them that believe. Now if this refers to individuals today, and denominational preachers say that it does, then they ought to be able to drink some carbolic acid or arsenic without harm. If they cannot, and these signs are to follow believers, then they must not be believers. Does it not apply today, or are they unbelievers?
A preacher in Trinity, Texas (which is just 26 miles from my hometown) accepted the challenge to drink the poison. If you were really interested, I guess you could go see where he is buried. Furthermore, there is not any preacher today that is about to try to handle serpents, and drink poison-at least not without extreme safety precautions being taken. Again, I reply that the reason why they are not is because these things will get a preacher killed.
There is not a denominationalist today who believes that this passage is applicable to people today. If there is, let him do all that the believer is supposed to do, handle serpents, and drink deadly things. And if he is not willing to test his faith, let him cease parading this passage as his proof text in his effort to show that miracles are yet to be worked. Miracles served their purpose of confirming the word, and once the word was confirmed, they were no longer needed. What people today need to do is to receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save their souls (Jas. 1:21), rather than look for yet other signs to be done.
Truth Magazine XXI: 9, pp. 134-135
March 3, 1977