Bible Study Opportunities
"By The Signs That Followed”
By Jon W. Quinn
Recently, a lady enrolled in our Bible Correspondence Course asked about tongue speaking. She attends where the church practices such, but seems unsure about it herself, though she still likes to attend there. She asked two questions: “Is speaking in tongues today evidence that a person has the Holy Spirit?” and “What does Mark 16:16-18 mean when it talks of 'these signs following them that believe?'”
She has been doing very well in the course. The following is my answer to her questions.
Thanks for your letter. You asked some questions about speaking in tongues. I will try to respond as briefly as I can. I am sure you realize that there is much disagreement on the matter today. God's word is true and it does speak on the subject.
First, you asked “Is this irreconcilable?” (I didn't know how to spell it either, but my word processor has a spelling checker on it - you had spelled it correctly). I think you were asking if the church where you attend and its beliefs about tongues can be reconciled with what the Bible says.
I want you to know that I have much respect for people I disagree with on this and other matters. I must teach what I believe the Bible does, but expressing my disagreement is not to be taken as mean-spirited.
No, I do not believe the practice and teaching of the church where you attend is reconcilable with what the Bible says. They evidently say that speaking in tongues is evidence of the Spirit. But not every Christian spoke in tongues even in the first century (1 Cor. 12:30). But they had still been baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). So, what evidence of the Spirit is every Christian to have? That would be the “fruit of the Spirit” which is love, joy, peace, etc. (Gal. 5:22-25).
Your second question had to do with Mark 16:16-18 and the signs that will follow “them that have believed in (Jesus') name.” Please note that there are two different groups of unbelievers becoming believers being discussed in this context. This is very important in understanding this promise.
1) The first group is the apostles. They, for a while, had become “unbelievers.” They had seen Jesus die, but then had heard reports of His resurrection. The Bible says that they would not believe it (see Mark 16:10,11 and 16:12,13). But Jesus appeared to them and reproached them for their unbelief (16:14). They were being sent out to preach the gospel. It was time to stop doubting and to believe!
2) The second group of believers are those who would believe the words of the apostles. They would hear the apostles preach the gospel, believe it, and be baptized (Mark 16:15,16).
Now, to which of these groups are the promises given of verses 17-20? Who are the “those that believe” that are promised the signs, picking up snakes, etc. ? Is it the first group - the apostles who are preaching the word? Or is it the second - those that are hearing the word? Reading the verses shows plainly that it is the apostles. Note especially verse 20… the signs are accompanying those Jesus sent out to preach, not those who are being taught.
We also notice the purpose of the signs. They were to “confirm the word” being preached by the apostles. This way the apostles could show that God had truly given them the word and that they had not just made it up (16:20). Other passages speak of this process as well. The Hebrew writer talks of those who had been with Jesus (that would be the apostles) taking what they had heard from Him to others, and confirming it with signs (Hebrews 2:1-4). See also Paul's reference to these signs as “the signs of an apostle” (2 Cor 12:12).
But Christians other than the apostles in the first century did also receive the ability to do signs. But not in the same way. The apostles received their signs directly from the Lord. They could pass on the ability to do signs to other Christians through the laying on of their hands. Read carefully Acts 8:4-21. Note the following: Philip was not an apostle but had had the apostles lay their hands on him (Acts 6:5,6) and so he could do miracles. He preached to the Samaritans and they obeyed the gospel (8:4-13). But they could do no signs, and Philip, though he could do the signs, could not pass them on to others. So, apostles travel from Jerusalem to lay their hands on the Samaritans so they could receive these gifts as well (8:14-22). Note that Simon saw the Spirit was given “through the laying on of the apostle's hands” (Acts 8:18, see also 2 Tim. 1:6).
Do you see how important this is in helping to answer your question. If the ability to do these signs (for a whole list of them, including tongues, see 1 Cor 12:8-10) could only be given through the laying on of an apostle's hands, then when the last apostle died, then tongues and the other soon gifts ceased because all the apostles were gone. Add that to the purpose of the signs being to confirm the word being delivered as we saw in Mark 16, then it stands to reason that once the word was delivered in its completeness, the purpose of these signs would be fulfilled. And the word has been delivered in its completeness (that is why there are no more books being added to the Bible - it is complete: revealed, delivered and confirmed by signs).
One final point… on the picking up of snakes which you mentioned. We do have one occasion recorded for us in the New Testament where this actually occurred. It happened to the apostle Paul. It was an accident while he was gathering firewood. He had not picked it up intentionally, and it was not done as a part of a religious service (see Acts 28:1-6).
“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)
Reprinted From the Bradley Banner Bradley Church of Christ Bradley, Illinois September 17, 2000