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It is written:
Mark 16:14-20-Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” 19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
Many believe and teach that in this passage of Scripture, Jesus declares that all saved individuals will work miracles.
Does Jesus teach this?
This account in Mark’s Gospel chronicles what many refer to as the Great Commission. These are Jesus’ “marching orders” for the church of Christ in the world.
Let us turn to the issue of the “signs” of verses 17-20.
Jesus says that the signs of this text will follow “them” that believe.
But who is “them?”
Some teach that when Jesus says “them that believe,” He is referring to all individuals of Mark 16:16 who believe and are baptized and are thereby saved. So, it is affirmed (by some) that the signs of Mark 16:17-20 are for every saved invidious to perform.
This is incorrect.
There is a rule in the Greek New Testament which states that verbs must agree with their subject in number. As Betts reminds us:
“In Greek a finite verb is defined in terms of person, number, tense, mood, and voice. Person and number are determined by its subject: a finite verb must agree with its subject in both (just as in English we cannot say we is). First person is the person( s) speaking, i.e. I or we; second person is the person( s) spoken to, i.e. you; third person is the person( s) or thing( s) spoken about, which can be a pronoun (he, she, it, they) or a noun (e.g. the donkeys are in the field). The concept of number is the same as with nouns; we have either singular (e.g. is, was) or plural (e.g. are, were).” (Gavin Betts, Complete New Testament Greek: A Comprehensive Guide to Reading and Understanding New Testament Greek with Original Texts, 689-695 (Kindle Edition); McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc)
When we apply this rule of New Testament Greek, we see that the ones who will be performing the signs of Mark 16:17-20 are the Apostles of verse 14.
“The Lord then used the plural pronoun, and refers back to the plural noun ‘ELEVEN,’ of verse 14, when he said: “And these signs shall follow THEM that believe; (those unbelieving apostles who would become believers in his resurrection) in my name shall THEY cast out devils; THEY shall speak with new tongues; 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.’ (Mk. 16:17-18). Let us bear in mind the fact that the plural pronouns ‘THEM’ and ‘THEY’ in verses 17-18 refer back to the plural noun ‘ELEVEN,’ of verse 14, and not to the SINGULAR NOUN ‘CREATURE,’ to be preached to, in verses 15-16. All pronouns must agree with their antecedent nouns in number. Hence, the promise of signs to follow was for the apostles, to encourage them to carry out the great commission.” (Gus Nichols, Sermons: Volume 3, 120; Jasper, AL.)
“The antecedent of “them” is “the eleven themselves” (Mark 16:14); and the only way this can be avoided is to change the singular pronouns in Mark 16:15-16 into plural pronouns contrary to the Greek text. There is nothing difficult in this interpretation, since it is simply basic English… The antecedent of “they” is likewise “the eleven apostles themselves,” determined by the primary allusion to “them” in the same clause. There is no grammatical device by which this word may be understood as reference to any persons whomsoever except the eleven apostles. (Burt Coffman, http://www.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=mr&chapter=016)
Respected scholar Barton Warren Johnson notes:
“These signs shall follow them that believe. It is generally held that this is a promise limited to the apostolic age and to a few of the disciples of that age. Perhaps the plural them does not have for its antecedent the singular he in verse 16, but the plural them in verse 14. If it does not, why is the number changed in verses 15 and 16? The grammatical construction requires us to look to verse 14 for the antecedent of them in verse 17. In verse 14 the apostles are “upbraided for their unbelief because they believed not them who had seen him after he had arisen.” They are commanded to go and tell the glad story, and assured that miraculous credentials shall be given to those of “them who believe” and tell the wonderful tidings.” (Barton Warren Johnson, People’s New Testament – Enhanced Version, 232 (Kindle Edition); Christian Publishing Company)
The promised signs of Mark 16:17-20 are to be accomplished by the Apostles of Mark 16:14, not every believer!
Indeed, we see that clearly revealed in Mark 16:20 as well as in the Book of Acts.
Acts 2:43-Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
Acts 5:12-And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.
Acts 14:3-Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
Notice also that the only other persons in the New Testament besides the Son of God and the Apostles who had the ability to perform these miracles were those upon whom the Apostles laid their hands:
Acts 6:5-8-And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. 7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. 8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
Acts 8:14-19-Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 19:6-And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
Romans 1:11-For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established—
2 Timothy 1:6-Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
Since there are no more Apostles today (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Corinthians 15:8), there are no more miraculous gifts being conferred.
The Apostle Paul was adamant that not every Christian worked the miraculous gifts:
1 Corinthians 12:29-30-Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
In the original Greek of the New Testament, there is a negative answer attached to the ending of every one of these questions.
“A list of rhetorical questions strongly asserts the one fact that not everyone has the same gift. Not all do the same things in the community. The questions begin with the word “not” (μή), which requires a negative response. This Greek is best translated with an affirmative question, since in English it is this that requires a negative response. In order to keep the Greek negative form, the questions would have to be phrased like this: “All are not apostles, are they?” As we have noted on a number of occasions, rhetorical questions like this are not functioning properly as real questions but as definite statements. The fact is that no one does all these things because no one is given all the necessary gifts by the Spirit.” (Paul D. Gardner, 1 Corinthians (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 550 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan)
With this knowledge in mind, consider this translation of the passage:
1 Corinthians 12:29-30 (CEV)-Not everyone is an apostle. Not everyone is a prophet. Not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone can work miracles. 30 Not everyone can heal the sick. Not everyone can speak different kinds of languages. Not everyone can tell what these languages mean.
The miraculous gifts served their purpose, and they ceased with the completion of God’s Word (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).
Mark 16:14-20 does not teach that all believers would work miracles. The promise of this text was for the Apostles.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.