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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)They shall take up serpents.—The instance of St. Paul at Melita is the only recorded example of the kind (Acts 28:1-6). Power over “serpents and scorpions” had, it will be remembered, been given before (Luke 10:19).
If they drink any deadly thing . . .—Of this there is no recorded instance in the New Testament, but it finds an illustration in the tradition of the poisoned cup which was offered to St. John.Acts 28:5-6.
Any deadly thing - Any poison usually causing death.
Shall not hurt them - There is a similar promise in Isaiah 43:2.
The Ascension and Triumphant Proclamation of the Gospel Thereafter (Mr 16:19, 20).See Poole on "Mark 16:15" Acts 28:3.
And if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; not that they were hereby warranted to drink poison, to show what power they had; but should they accidentally drink it, or rather should they be forced to it by their enemies in order to destroy them, they should find no hurt by it: and Papias (x) reports of Barsabas, surnamed Justus, who was put up with Matthias for the apostleship, Acts 1:23, that he drank a poisonous draught, and by the grace of the Lord, received no hurt: and the Jews themselves report (y), that
"a son of R. Joshua ben Levi, swallowed something hurtful; and one came and whispered to him in the name of Jesus, the son of Pandira (so they call our Lord), and he did well.''
and they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover; as the Apostle Paul did on the father of Publius, who was thereby healed of a fever, and a bloody flux, and also others, Acts 28:8; nay, some were healed by the shadow of Peter, Acts 5:15, and others, by handkerchiefs and aprons taken from the body of Paul, Acts 19:12. The Persic version adds, without any authority, "whatsoever ye ask in my name, shall be given unto you".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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Mark 16:18. Ὄφεις ἀροῦσι] They shall lift up serpents (take them into the hand and lift them up). Such a thing is not known from the history of the apostolic times (what took place with the adder on the hand of Paul in Acts 28:2 ff. is different); it would, moreover, be too much like juggling for a σημεῖον of believers, and betrays quite the character of apocryphal legend, for which, perhaps, a traditional distortion of the fact recorded in Acts 28:2 f. furnished a basis, whilst the serpent-charming so widely diffused in the East (Elsner, Obss. p. 168; Wetstein in loc.; Winer, Realw.) by analogy supplied material enough. The promise in Luke 10:19 is specifically distinct. Others have adopted for αἴρειν the meaning of taking out of the way (John 17:5; Matthew 24:39; Acts 21:36), and have understood it either of the driving away, banishing (Luther, Heumann, Paulus), or of the destroying of the serpents (Euthymius Zigabenus, Theophylact, both of whom, however, give also the option of the correct explanation); but the expression would be inappropriate and singular, and the thing itself in the connection would not be sufficiently marvellous. The meaning: “to plant serpents as signs of victory with healing effect,” in which actual serpents would have to be thought of, but according to their symbolical significance, has a place only in the fancy of Lange excited by John 3:14, not in the text. The singular thought must at least have been indicated by the addition of the essentially necessary word σημεῖα (Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 11:12), as the classical writers express raising a signal by αἴρειν σημεῖον (comp. Thuc. i. 49. 1, and Krüger thereon).
κἂν θανάσ. τι πίωσιν κ.τ.λ.] Likewise an apocryphal appendage, not from the direct contemplation of the life of believers in the apostolic age. The practice of condemning to the cup of poison gave material for it. But it is not to be supposed that the legend of the harmless poison-draught of John (comp. also the story of Justus Barsabas related by Papias in Euseb. H. E. iii. 39) suggested our passage (in opposition to de Wette and older expositors), because the legend in question does not occur till so late (except in Abdias, hist. apost. v. 20, and the Acta Joh. in Tischendorf, p. 266 ff., not mentioned till Augustine); it rather appears to have formed itself on occasion of Matthew 20:23 from our passage, or to have developed itself out of the same conception whence our expression arose, as did other similar traditions (see Fabricius in Abd. p. 576). On θανάσιμον, which only occurs here in the N. T., equivalent to ΘΑΝΑΤΗΦΌΡΟΝ (Jam 3:8), see Wetstein, and Stallbaum, ad Plat. Rep. p. 610 C.
καλῶς ἕξουσιν] the sick. Comp. Acts 28:8 f.
 Lange knows how to rationalize this σημεῖον also. In his view, there is symbolically expressed “the subjective restoration of life to invulnerability.” Christ is held to declare that the poison-cup would not harm His people, primarily in the symbolical sense, just as it did not harm Socrates in his soul; but also in the typical sense: that the life of believers would be ever more and more strengthened to the overcoming of all hurtful influences, and would in many cases, even in the literal sense, miraculously overcome them. This is to put into, and take out of the passage, exactly what pleases subjectivity.
 Not the believers who heal (Lange: “they on their part shall enjoy perfect health”). This perverted meaning would need at least to have been suggested by the use of καὶ αὐτοί (and they on their part).18. they shall take up serpents] And so we read of St Paul shaking off the viper at Malta (Acts 28:5). Comp. Luke 10:19.
and if they drink] As is related of St John that he drank the cup of hemlock which was intended to cause his death, and suffered no harm from it, and of Barsabas surnamed Justus (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. iii. 39).
they shall lay hands on the sick] As St Peter did on the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple (Acts 3:7), and St Paul on Publius in the island of Malta (Acts 28:8). “Gifts of healing” are mentioned both by this last Apostle (1 Corinthians 12:9) and by St James (Mark 5:14-15) as remaining in the Church.Mark 16:18. Θανάσιμον, deadly) The resurrection of dead men is not here mentioned: Jesus Christ performed more than He promised. But we read of only Tabitha being raised by Peter, and Eutychus by Paul: for now that the Saviour has entered His glory, it is more desirable [more to be wished for] to wing one’s flight by faith out of this world into the other, than to return to this life.
See on Mark 6:5.
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