Mark 16:14-20 - Is it a parable?
An examination of the Revivalist understanding
By Drew Dixon
Mark 16:14-20 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; 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. 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 word with signs following. Amen.
Mark 16:14-20 was for a long time in the RCI an unusual scripture. Often quoted as "believers shall speak with new tongues" it was rarely fully expounded. The piece on tongues was quoted in support of the stand that all true believers will speak in tongues. The obvious difficulty with a literal interpretation of the entire scripture is the implication that the RCI would need to apply all the other signs in the same manner to all believers i.e. casting out devils, taking up serpents, protection when drinking deadly things and laying hands on the sick and seeing them recover. Though they maintain all Christians must speak in tongues, they realised it was folly to insist all must display these other signs in a literal sense as a display of their spirituality.
Another explanation was required.
The RCI Solution
A number of years ago, Pastor Lloyd stated these verses were actually a parable, thus untangling a number of inherent problems. Their parable status is now a forgone conclusion for many. So much so, that an article supporting this theory was written in the 1999 June edition of the Voice of Revival as well as the April 1997 edition 1. In examining these articles, I will admit I had some trouble following in parts as there does seem to be a variation in explanations, so I hope I have given an accurate interpretation.
1. ..... they shall cast out devils
The spiritual meaning of this part of the parable is not clearly defined in the 1999 article. They allude to the fact that devils at the time of Christ were simply psychological / physiological conditions 2. Some oversight I know also referred to the fact that these devils in Mark 16 were false gods or false ideas. This understanding was based on Acts 17:18 where the Epicureans and Stoicks stated that Paul was a setter forth of strange god's (doctrines or false ideas). In the 1997 article, they state that Mark 16 means;
"that when people are filled with the Holy Spirit, they are no longer subject to belief in strange or false gods. These include everything that people venerate as a substitute for the God of the Bible"
2. .......They shall speak in new tongues
According to this, the real meaning of this part of the parable is that speaking in tongues is really praying in the Holy Ghost (1 Cor 14:14-15).
3. .......They shall take up serpents
The RCI meaning of serpents is that they were the Pharisees and Sadducees and the false prophets (Mat 23:27-33). The 1997 article speaks about "removing artful, malicious persons". It maintains that those who are protected by the Holy Ghost will not be subject to the deceit of those who oppose God.
4. .......If they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them
The RCI version is that the true believers would not be killed (spiritually) by false doctrines. As the article states;
"To drink any deadly thing is to embrace false doctrine".
The 1997 article says;
"We are all partakers of the world system surrounding us. It is a deadly system, but Gods people, who are walking in the Spirit, will be unharmed"
5. .......they (believers) shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover
To quote the RCI article:-
"Jesus....healed all that were sick:" and we still heal those who ask in faith. "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up (James 4:15-15)."
The RCI maintain these verses are part of a parable and the signs should be interpreted as such. Many reading this would be familiar with Pastor Lloyd's often quoted saying when he refers to some of the 'harder' teachings of Jesus (harder from the RCI perspective):-
"without a parable spake he not unto them (Mark 4:34)".
If the above scriptures in Mark 16 can be shown as not being a parable, then this creates problems in the linking of tongues with the other signs, and then implying that all these 'signs' must apply in every true Christian's life.
This point needs to be examined.
 April 1997 Voice of Revival, page 8-9 "Understanding Mark 16"
 This a point not supported at all by the Scriptures, nor with the fact that Christ addressed the demons directly. The RCI's very poor treatment of the demons topic will be addressed in another article entitled 'Devils & Demons'.
Parables were generally used by Jesus to present spiritual truths in an everyday context or setting of the time. Jesus used word pictures and contemporary events or happenings that the people of his day could easily relate to (so they would hear), but the real meaning or principle behind the story was, for various reasons, often not understood by them (but they would not understand). For those who did understand, the parables also helped to explain the underlying principles, as they could understand the workings of the parable explanation and apply that to the spiritual meanings. There are many different parables that Jesus used, and while some may be a little unusual, all the stories seem to be at least plausible. This too, I think, is also an important aspect of Jesus' parables.
13Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
see also Mat 13:10,34,35 Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10.
Two very simple reasons why it not a parable
In the four articles that follow, I go into some depth to show that the RCI explanation of Mark 16 is incorrect. Before that, I would like to offer two very simple reasons why this is so, a sort of pre-article summary.
Every item listed in Mark 16 is already a supernatural occurrence. Each 'event' required the intervention of God. Quite simply, this nullifies the possibility of Mark 16 being a parable. Jesus did not use supernatural events to explain supernatural events. That is simply not how a parable works and to assume so misses the whole point and intent of Jesus teachings.
Marks gospel concludes with the following verse:-.
20And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
The author of Mark sees absolutely no reason to further explain what form these signs were that followed the preaching of the Gospel. To him it would seem, they were simply the signs that had been designated in the previous verses. As Mark was written after the time of Acts and Pentecost, the author is quite comfortable in his reflection upon the events that took place and that they were simply the signs already mentioned. He did not see any need to expound upon their hidden 'spiritual fulfilment' for clarity (because there was none).
The signs he spoke of were simply the signs that took place. The Bible also confirms this. One could also point to the fact that it seems to be the Apostles and their ministry that is the focus.
Part 1- What of the literal fulfilments?
In support of their argument that Mark 16 is a parable, the RCI 1999 VOR Article begins by quoting the following verses from Matthew:-
34All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: 35That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
Now I may be stating the obvious, but, the literal meaning of a parable was not generally meant to be fulfilled then highlighted.
What do I mean by that?
There is no specific record of either Jesus or his disciples going out and sowing tares, growing mustard trees, sweeping for coins, or digging up pearls etc. I am sure we would all understand that the literal fulfilment of a parables was not the ultimate intent of the teaching (in reality it was not even considered in the context). If Scripture had highlighted these literal fulfilments, it would have reduced the impact of the teaching and introduced considerable confusion as to the intent of Jesus' words (the current situation being a good point in case).
The above point highlighted
The RCI begin the parable application at verse 17, but Jesus begins to talk to them in verse 15. Verse 15 & 16 should also be reconciled to the parable interpretation as well. For some reason this is often over looked:-
........And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature
In this I can see no easily understood contemporary event, hiding a deeper spiritual principle, it seems straight forward and was something the disciples literally went and did after Pentecost. They also did a bit of preaching prior to Pentecost as well. No hidden meanings here and we continue to see it in this day and age.
........He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned
In this too there is no contemporary event hiding a deeper principle. It is straight forward and was something the disciples literally went and did after Pentecost. We continue to see this today.
........In my name shall they cast out devils
Both before and after Pentecost, Jesus and the disciples literally cast out devils (Acts 5:16, Acts 8:7 and the myriad of Gospel examples). They did exactly what Jesus said would happen. As explained previously, a parable is not generally something that was to attain a literal fulfilment.
The actual casting out of devils was also a significant sign, even in the establishing and spreading of the Gospel. In this it fulfilled one of its purposes as described in Mark 16:17. Though Revivalists shut their eyes to the wider reality of the Body of Christ, we still see these events in our current day and age.
.....they shall speak with new tongues
As for 'Prayer in the Spirit', the Revival fellowships have misunderstood 1 Corinthians 14:14 in relation to this (see article on Praying in the Spirit). Also, the fact remains, that on and after Pentecost, they spoke in tongues and it was still referred to in 95% of all references as 'speaking in tongues'. All through the book of Acts, from its inception, Luke sees no need to describe it in any other way (and he does not). He never calls it prayer with the spirit. 2000 years later we still use the exact same terminology.
Also, it was the literal 'speaking in tongues' (understood gentile languages), that was a definitive sign to the Jews at Pentecost (again fulfilling the sign function, see the article on Acts 2 - Pentecost) It was not the 'praying with the spirit' in 'unknown tongues' that fulfilled the sign that Mark speaks of. The speaking in unknown tongues at Corinth (where Paul talks of tongues as 'his' spirit praying), does not seem to have been a very positive sign. Indeed these unknown tongues, on their own, had the ability to turn away unbelievers (see 1 Cor 14). In Mark 16, Jesus speaks of positive, not negative signs.
......They shall take up serpents
Once again, this is not an easy to understand, contemporary event of the time. People did not go round taking up serpents, without being hurt (as is the point of Jesus discourse). As it happened, Paul was literally bitten by a viper, which again, proved a significant sign to all those that witnessed the event. So much so, they thought he was a god (Acts 28:3). Eventually many were healed on Melita.
........and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them
No record is given of someone drinking any deadly thing in the NT, so I cannot comment from that angle. It should be remembered though, that in the Apostles time, they were not blessed with healthy, non-contaminated water on tap, contaminated water was a real issue. In the Greek of this passage, the Scripture is given in the subjunctive mood, hence the word "if" is used, a 'perhaps' situation if you will. Again, it is helpful to remember the general intent and direction of a parable i.e. usually a contemporary event understood by the local people. To say that the people of Jesus' day drank deadly things and were not harmed (as would be required if the parable were to be valid) is unlikely.
It is of note that I have heard Revival testimonies of people accidentally drinking toxic substances without getting sick (children especially). I see no need to dispute this and it confirms Mark 16. I am sure many Christians could testify of the same miracle. Again there is no need to spiritualise this verse and it is still quite relevant and finds fulfilment in our day and age.
Further, the RCI article says that to drink any deadly thing is to embrace or preach false doctrine (without harm I assume). This seems a bit odd. Consider that Paul's letter to the Galatians was essentially about false doctrine. (see also Eph 1:14, Rom 16:17, Titus 1:9-11). Paul saw this false doctrine as a very real and present danger to his Spirit-filled brothers and sisters. He spent a great deal of time writing and explaining to them the right doctrine.
.......they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover
I found the Revivalist parabolising in this instance a little confusing. Essentially, they did not do so. The VOR seems to confirm that those things which Jesus spoke of in the 'parable' did indeed take place literally afterward in the Church in like manner, for they quote the scripture in James referring to the anointing with oil and prayer for healing. I cannot easily see the significant spiritual difference in the Mark 16 'parable' and the Scripture quoted in James?
That aside, the healing of Mark 16 was no contemporary event hiding a deeper spiritual principle. Healing is a straight forward supernatural event and was something the disciples went and did both before and after Pentecost (through God, not natural abilities). In the Acts of the Apostles they literally laid hands on the sick, who were then healed (Acts 28:8). Again it also fulfilled it's sign value as spoken of in Mark.
The Church continues to see this healing sign in this day and age.
Part 1 summary
The above shows Jesus was not putting forth plausible, contemporary, understood events or principles to convey deeper spiritual meanings. Every sign spoken of in Mark 16, with the exception of the 'perhaps' clause of drinking of deadly things, was reported and saw a literal fulfilment in the Acts of the Apostles. All these signs were supernatural and provided a very powerful witness to those involved, just as Jesus designated. All these signs, while not on call, continue to see fulfilment in this day and age.