How do you answer the exvangelical or God-denier or self-proclaimed atheist who says,
Go read Mark 16:18 and then drink up or shutup!
Let’s look at the words of Jesus recorded in Mark 16 and see if we can provide an apologetic answer
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
This sounds like an example of an internal critique. If the Christian is truly convinced that they are a follower of Jesus (so the skeptic would challenge), then the signs spoken of above will be exhibited in their life. Should a Christian immediately go out, find some serpents and slurp up some venom? Mmmm – No. Here are a few tips for how to respond to our skeptic friends.
- When faced with a similar temptation from Satan, Our Lord responded with scripture. Flip over just a few pages to the right in your Bible, to find the history of Jesus’s temptation as recorded in Luke 4. Starting in verse 9 “And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” So, the first of our possible responses is that we are not to put God to the test. Jesus, in the face of the same temptation as our skeptic friend (although He also had the assurance of God’s protection), did not yield to the whims of Satan and his petty temptation. In like manner, let the skeptic know that as a follower of the Way, you will act as Jesus did in the same situation
- We see from Mark that remaining healthy after drinking deadly poison as a possible “sign”. But not every Christian is associated with every sign in the Bible. Acts 2:3, Acts 5:12, 2 Cor 12:12, I Cor 12:4, Acts 9:6 are all examples of signs that have accompanied some believers. Not every believer casts out demons. Not every believer has spoken in tongues. Not every believer has the gift of healing, so in logical progression, we can can say that not every believer will survive drinking serpent venom. From the context and from the rest of scripture, we see that this sign is not intended as some sort of entry exam or comprehensive conditional test. It was in fact recorded several times that not every disciple was exhibiting every sign but was still a faithful disciple of the Eternal Monarch (Mark 9:28, Mark 14:66-72). Not every Christian has every gift, so it’s a false expectation for someone to say that “if you don’t survive drinking venom, then you are not a Christian.” It’s a false expectation
- We have indisputable proof that the poison of a deadly serpent did not harm the Apostle Paul as recorded in Acts 28. So shocked were the onlookers that they recognized the divine protection afforded to Paul. So, God remained faithful to his Word in protecting Paul for the glory of God. It does not logically follow, however that EVERY instance of encounters with asps by Christians will be health in this life
- From Genesis to Revelation we see the serpent as the enemy of God and his people both literally and figuratively. Because of what Jesus has done, the works of the devil are both destroyed in this life and in eternity. Either way, the Christian need not fear the works of the devil (Matthew 10:26-31)
- Like the young men, who were exiled in Babylon, it may very well be that a Christian is called upon to stand for his faith in the face of persecution. Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego faced the dire choice of purposeful apostasy or death. They bravely faced their accuser and rather than obeying his unrighteous mandate, “drank the poison” of death by fire. Their testimony rings powerfully “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” In that instance, God protected his people with power and effectiveness. God has proven Himself capable, but He is not obligated to go against his eternal plan (of which only the part of his plan recorded in scripture is known) for the sake of earthly comforts or long life for Christians
- Lastly, all modern translations note that Mark 16:9-20 is not found in the earliest or most reliable manuscripts from which the book of Mark has been translated. Scholars have debated the reasons as to why this segment of scripture does not have the same kinds of support as the rest of scripture. You can hear some of the information in this video.
We can see, that this challenge from the skeptic is not a proper internal critique. Whereas a proper internal critique would take into account the other assumptions of the Christian from above. So, there’s no need to wilt or despair should you encounter the “venom” of the skeptic. God is faithful and we can trust his eternal Word