Mark 16 – Falsification test?

Mark 16:14-18—”This is a falsification test—true followers of Jesus should speak all languages and drink poison according to this passage.”

Critics of the Injīl like to misinterpret these words to challenge Jesus’ followers to understand all languages and drink poison based on this passage. The same variety of ridiculous logic would demand that since Muhammad said, “He who keeps quiet gains salvation”, anyone who utters even a single word loses their salvation. Even agnostic critics who believe the Bible to be uninspired myths concur that any rational person can see that these are figurative speeches.

This passage never says that every believer would perform these miraculous signs; it simply states that these signs would be seen among the community of believers. This is clearly not a “falsification test” (δοκιμάζω) believers should perform. These departing words of Jesus are a promise that no matter what Satan tries to do in thwarting the efforts of the believers, he will never succeed. These predictions of signs were fulfilled in the early church—Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and survived (Acts 28:3-9), and the twelve disciples miraculously spoke in multiple languages when the Holy Spirit was first given (Acts 2). We know from the Injīl that speaking in tongues was a gift of some believers and not all (1 Corinthians 12:10); likewise there is no reason to believe the other “signs” in this passage were for every believer.

Second, demanding instant miracle demonstrations are not God’s method. When Satan tried to challenge Jesus to a falsification test, Jesus answered by quoting the Tawrat: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Likewise when the Pharisees challenged him to perform a miracle, he gave them none (Luke 11:16). Yet this was not because he couldn’t perform miracles (he performed hundreds of miracles as both the Qur’ān and Injīl record), but it was because this is not how God works. In the same way the skeptics of Muhammad challenged him to perform “falsification test” miracles to prove his revelations, and he never did but chided them instead. Jesus said that miraculous signs were not to be used to distinguish believers from nonbelievers, for he said,

“… false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24)

Jesus specifically condemned the use of miraculous signs to distinguish believers from nonbelievers.

Third, “new tongues” and “all tongues” have very different meanings. The Greek word used in Mark 16:17 is καιναι which literally means “unknown, new.” Some interpret this to mean simply the capacity to learn new languages while preaching the gospel abroad. Others believe this refers to the ‘gift of tongues’ or ‘heavenly language’ that many Christians are given as a result of the work of God’s power in their lives.

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