How to Handle Mark 16

May 16, 2010

by Shawn Brasseaux

This week, we will discuss a very controversial Bible passage in the last chapter of Mark. In modern English Bibles, oddly enough, immediately after Mark 16:8, you will see brackets, a solid bar, or maybe even a huge space, and then you will see verses 9-20. You will also notice an explanation like “the most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” This passage is so heavily misunderstood—and perhaps even hated—to the point where some scholars want us to believe these twelve verses were never in the autographs (original Bible manuscripts)!

Once and for all, let me assure you that Mark 16:9-20 is God-breathed, and that those verses were in the originals (which are no longer extant/in existence). Matthew, Luke, and John all conclude their books with the resurrection—why would Mark stop his book at verse 8, with Christ not appearing in His resurrected body? It makes no sense! Mark 16:9-20 belongs in the Bible, and anyone who removes those twelve verses will have to answer to a righteous and holy God one day for corrupting His Word.

Let me also say that the two “most reliable early manuscripts” to which the footnote refers is actually Codices Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (Aleph)—the most unreliable manuscripts because they are riddled with errors and corrections. About 620 manuscripts contain the Gospel of Mark, and only two—B and Aleph—omit Mark 16:9-20. Dean John William Burgon cites several “church fathers” who quoted this passage, and some of these witnesses—such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus—existed before Aleph and B! The Syrian Peshitta and Old Latin Vulgate (~A.D. 150) contained those verses, predating Aleph and B by 200 years!

With that now settled and Mark 16:9-20 vindicated, we can now move on to a Bible study examining Mark 16:15-20. We will look at each verse individually, comment briefly on each, and then sum it all up at the end.

For now, look at Mark 16:15: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” You usually hear this verse with Matthew 28:19 (“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”). Here, the Lord Jesus has told His eleven apostles (Judas now deceased) to preach the gospel to every creature. Everyone in the evangelical community loves this verse, but it has absolutely nothing to do with us today! Why?

The “gospel” to which Jesus referred is “the Gospel of the Kingdom” (see Matthew 9:35; Matthew 24:14). Today, we are not simply proclaiming Jesus as Israel’s King and Messiah, we are preaching the Gospel of Grace—Paul’s Gospel that “Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Although we are called to witness to the lost, we cannot follow Mark 16:15. Leave it where it belongs; it belongs in Israel’s prophetic program.

Mark 16:16 can be highly popular with some, but very confusing for others. It reads, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Right off the bat, you see this verse says water baptism is necessary for salvation. Understand this verse has nothing to do with us today—this is Israel’s program. Moments ago, we discussed the Gospel of the Kingdom. If a Jew wanted to receive salvation, he/she had to repent, place his/her faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and then get water baptized (Matthew 3:1-6; Acts 2:36-38; Acts 8:37,38). Any Jew that refused that symbolic washing would be killed in the wrath of the Tribulation for their unbelief. Today, we are in the Dispensation of Grace and in the Body of Christ, separate from Israel. Mark 16:16 is true, but it is true for Israel. It is not true for us today because our one baptism is not water (1 Corinthians 1:17, 12:13; Ephesians 4:5). Water baptism does not belong in our dispensation; Mark 16:16 has nothing to do with us.

We move on to Mark 16:17: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;” Like the previous verse, some enjoy “practicing” this verse and the rest ignore it because they do not understand it. (Again, this is a failure to rightly divide the word of truth!) Casting out devils was very prevalent during Christ’s earthly ministry. Satan tried to render Israel useless by possessing the Jews with his devils. If Jews were possessed by the devil, God would be unable to utilize them as priests in the kingdom. Christ was casting out devils to make way for His kingdom (for example, Mark 5:1-13). Peter and the apostles continued to cast out unclean spirits in Acts 5:15-16.

Mark 16:17 is the only time the Lord Jesus Christ ever spoke about the gift of tongues. The modern tongue-talkers like to use this verse, but it has nothing to do with us either. Let me repeat: this is Israel’s program. The believing Jews needed the gift of tongues in Acts chapter 2 in order to convert Jews from other nations. Jews that were scattered into other nations would come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, but they did not speak Aramaic or Hebrew, for instance—they spoke the language of a foreign nation. This gift of intelligent human languages enabled the apostles to speak the Gospel of the Kingdom to fellow Jews who spoke various dialects (see Acts 2:7-11).

Here is Mark 16:18. “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.” My, this is a verse that really gets people moving. Some of them feel the urge to perform healing and handle snakes, and the rest of the crowd feels like evacuating the building! There are churches that are known for snake handling and/or healing miracles, and here is one of their primary verses (also James 5:15). For some reason, no one that I know of ever follows the part of the verse that speaks of drinking deadly poisons. Like so many times before, I will repeat it: this verse belongs with Israel, not us.

Mark concludes his book with the last two verses (19 and 20): “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the signs following. Amen.” This tells us that verses 15-18 occurred during the forty days after the resurrection and before His ascension (Acts 1:3). And yes, the apostles did perform miracles as signs in the early part of the book of Acts, just as the Lord Jesus Christ said they would (Hebrews 2:3,4; cf. Luke 24:49; Hebrews 6:4-6).

Okay, so, what does all of this mean? When did the apostles ever drink poisons or handle snakes? Why is there a need for these types of miracles? Remember, Israel’s prophetic program was all that Israel’s apostles knew. They had no idea that God would set aside Israel for a time, and go to Gentile world through Paul without converted Israel (Isaiah 60:1-3 cf. Romans 11:11,12). They did not know of this 2,000-year period we understand as the “Dispensation of the Grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2). In their minds, the seven-year Tribulation would occur after the ascension, within their lifetimes. Now, the Word of God is complete with Paul’s epistles, and it tells us that the Tribulation is still future, even to us. God postponed Israel’s program, and interrupted it with the mystery (secret) program (Romans 16:25,26). God kept it secret from Israel.

MARK 16:15,16

The 144,000 Jewish men during the Tribulation will proclaim good news to the Gentiles. These Gentiles will have an opportunity to bless Israel by blessing these Jews (see Matthew 25:31-46). This is why, during the Tribulation, there are martyrs in heaven from every tongue, people, kindred, and tribe (Revelation 7:1-9). These verses also apply to the subsequent millennial reign of Christ, when Jews will be priests to the Gentiles, and Gentiles will flock to Jews for the Gospel of the Kingdom (Exodus 19:5,6; Isaiah 60:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23; et al.).

MARK 16:17,18

The Lord God will bind Satan in the bottomless pit during the millennial (1000-year) reign of Christ (Revelation 20:1-3). All devils and evil spirits will be removed from earth after the Tribulation to make way for the kingdom (Zechariah 13:1,2). The speaking with new tongues relates to Mark 16:15, when the 144,000 will be able to instantly speak the world’s languages to convert the nations (Zechariah 8:20-23).

During the Tribulation, the animal kingdom will turn against mankind. Wild beasts will devour people, so the power to pick up serpents will be needed to protect the believers during the Tribulation (Revelation 6:8). Also during the Tribulation, a celestial body (meteorite?) will fall from heaven and poison one-third of the waters on earth (Revelation 8:10-11)—this is where the gift of drinking deadly poisons belongs! That special power will protect the Jewish believers from the poisoned waters.

The healing of the sick of Mark 16:18 parallels James 5:14-15, the power that will make earth ready for the kingdom, as there will be no sickness or death on earth during the millennial reign of Christ (Isaiah 33:24; Jeremiah 30:17).


I hope Mark chapter 16 makes more sense to you. When people come to those last few verses of Mark 16, they panic. They do not know how to handle the passage because it is so often misunderstood and wrested (corrupted). However, if we understand the passage does not apply to us, but rather to Israel, it makes perfect sense.

We do not need to cut those verses out of the Bible once we realize they are not for us. Mark 16:15-20 is true for Israel, which is why it will not work today for us. There are no miracle healings, speaking in tongues, and exorcism (see 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 1 Timothy 5:23; 2 Timothy 4:20). God is doing something different today with a new agency separate from Israel, and it is the Church the Body of Christ! Right division is the key to understanding Mark 16:15-20; leave this passage in Israel’s program, where it belongs.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV).