For the last year, we have been dissecting and discussing the Gospel of Mark during our Sunday Morning Bible Classes at Riverside. This Sunday, we conclude our study with Mark 16: 9-20. It causes much debate and curiosity, to say the least.
A couple of weeks ago, Mark Wolford, a Pentecostal Preacher in West Virginia, died after a rattlesnake bit him in an outside, traditional Pentecostal worship service. During the service, Wolford passed around the rattlesnake for everyone to hold, and read Mark 16: 17-18, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After he read the passage, he told the audience, “Anyone can do it who believes.” How strong was Wolford’s belief? When it was his turn to hold the snake, the snake bit him, and Wolford died eight hours later.
You can develop your own interpretation of this passage. I believe the ability to drink deadly poison, and pick up snakes without being hurt, was similar to the “miraculous” gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 13 such as speaking in tongues and prophecy. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that these “gifts” no longer exist, because “prophecies will cease” and “tongues will be stilled.” I also think we have to contextualize Jesus’ statement. In these verses, Jesus is speaking to the eleven remaining apostles. One could argue that only the apostles would have the ability to drink poison and avoid the dangers of snakes. You might disagree with me, and that’s fine; many do.
However, this we can know for sure—God gives us a brain, and He expects us to use it. What makes this even more tragic is that Wolford’s father died the same way years ago at the age of thirty-nine. He also believed that if he had faith, snakes couldn’t touch him. A snake took his life.
We can’t test God just to confirm our ambiguity. Didn’t Jesus say, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”? (Matthew 4:7)
My sympathy goes out to the Wolford family; but I also pray for all Bible students, including myself, that we may humbly, and logically, seek after the true interpretation of God’s word.