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I was studying the words of Christ this morning where he charged His disciples in Mark 16:17-18.

Jesus said,

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.

And when I got to verse 18, the expression "...they will pick up serpents" began to suggest several meanings to me. I quite understand the use of imagery across the verses of the Bible. Is it best to interpret "serpents" as imagery in verse 18? If it will help to interpret it that way, then what does "picking up serpents" really imply in Mark 16:17-18?

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    Tyndale (1534) and the Matthews Bible (1537) have 'they shall kill serpents'. Geneva Bible (1560) has 'take away'. Bishops Bible (1568) has 'drive away'.YLT has 'take up'.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 25 '20 at 12:02
  • Ernest - Thanks for offering a fantastic question regarding the puzzling prophecy in Mark 16:18! I look forward to hearing your interpretations of this verse as well in context to other parables and scripture. - Blessings! Aug 25 '20 at 14:04
  • While not answering your question directly, this article is interesting to note: Should Mark 16:9-20 be in the Bible?
    – agarza
    Aug 25 '20 at 14:17
  • @Nijel J: I resonate with “take away serpents”. But still having some reservations. To “pick up” sounds more positive than to “take away”??? Aug 26 '20 at 7:45
  • Code Sinaiticus and Vaticanus both conclude Mark at 16:8 Hence 9-20 should not be in the Bible Aug 26 '20 at 20:51
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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.” (Mark 16:18 - ESV)

Pick up serpents and if we drink poison it will not hurt us, in same vers is healing the sick by laying of hands the sick shall recover. Jesus is talking about power over heavenly beings hear on earth.

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. (Luke 10:19 - English Standard Version)

We have been given power and authority over fallen entities. Satan and his fallens angels symbolized as serpents and scorpions to symbolize demons. The Sons of Sceva in Acts 19:11-20 were not authorized to cast out demons and because of this they were beaten and humiliated Acts 19:16d "they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out. (Luke 4:36 - KJV)

With same authority Jesus rebuke unclean spirits in Luke Ch 4 the very same authority have we been given by him as mentioned in Luke Ch 10.

Also in 1 John 4:4 we can see the spirit of anti-Christ can't affect those with the Spirit of God.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4 - KJV)

Spirit of God vs the spirit of anti-Christ (1 John 4) He that hath the Spirit of God has overcome this world and can both stand against and rebuke the entities from the dark-principality that satan has under himself.


A rebuttal to the problem with discrediting Mark 16:9-20 by lifting the issue that some manuscript (Sinaiticus & Vaticanus) have a shorter version of Mark 16 that ends at vers 8, it is not a valid argument to do away with Mark 16:18 because the very same account made by Jesus is repeated in the next book, that is in the Gospel of Luke chapter 10 vers 19 in same manuscript (Sinaiticus & Vaticanus) that excludes Mark 16:9-20 does include it in Luke 10:19!

ϊδου δεδωκα ϋμιν την εξουϲιαν του πατειν επανω οφεων και ϲκορπιων και επι παϲαν την δυναμιν του εχθρου και ουδεν ϋμαϲ αδικηϲει

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall in any way hurt you. Codex Sinaiticus - Luke 10:19

Codex Vaticanus - Luke 10:19 enter image description here

Also something that has to be mentioned in this issue is that a huge empty space occur in Codex Sinaiticus & Codex Vaticanus were Mark 16:9-20 should have been but removed/excluded, this is the only empty New Testament column in these Codex.

CODEX SINAITICUS - Mark 16
enter image description here

CODEX VATICANUS - Mark 16
enter image description here

Manuscript that includes Mark 16:9-20;

  • Codex Alexandrinus.
  • Codex Bezae.
  • Codex Gigas.

Latin Vulgate (382 A.D.) include both Mark 16:18 and Luke 10:19

serpentes tollent et si mortiferum quid biberint non eos nocebit super aegrotos manus inponent et bene habebunt. Latin Vulgate - Mark 16:18

ecce dedi vobis potestatem calcandi supra serpentes et scorpiones et supra omnem virtutem inimici et nihil vobis nocebit. Latin Vulgate - Luke 10:19

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  • Your stress on Luke 10 verse that it exists in those mss seems like you're proving that it exists and it made me think that it is doubtful in textual transmission but it is not. So the mention and unnecessary emphasis on Luke verse is confusing and unrelated. Are you suggesting that the scribes forgot to add the longer ending due to the empty space (it was authentic) or that some other scribe finding the similar empty space in his mss filled in by inventing the longer ending?
    – Michael16
    Jul 29 at 11:18
  • @Michael16 forgot?? I said removed/excluded NEVER did I claim they forgot, you need to stop read want you want it to be. I said Sinai & Vaticanus both has same account about serpents & Scorpions in Luke 10:19 I am referring to those among the answer that try to say "picking up serpents" really wasn't there from the begging well it was and stil their in Sinai & Vati same account in Luke 10:19. "the mention and unnecessary emphasis on Luke verse is confusing and unrelated" Tell me because you confuse me, how it can be unnecessary to mention Luke 10:19 when Mark 16:18 .. Jul 29 at 11:58
  • @Michael16 is being discredit as being valid when instead Ernest can make same question with Luke 10:19 instead and that verse are in ALL manuscript please tell me how that was unnecessary to mention then.. Jul 29 at 12:00
  • It is unrelated bec we/they don't question the validity of the miracles mentioned, but the textual authenticity. It is solely about textual criticism. What do you mean the portion is removed from those? Erased? On what basis. If so you need to prove bec they can find everything erased by the scientific techniques as they found on other mss where old erased text was seen on which they wrote new text. Such a vague insinuation by you.
    – Michael16
    Jul 29 at 12:10
  • @Michael16 We? I said among the answer. make an answer and then we now its they. "The missing verses of Mark 16:9-20 cause contextual questions about the validity of later editions" its being disregarded as valid an looked as being added later on, that's why I add Lu 10:19 to show that Sinai and Vaticanus does include this so to make the question valid. stop being my adversary and be my brother in Christ instead! Jul 29 at 12:17
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Contemporary English Version, Mark 16:18a

They will handle snakes

they will handle
ἀροῦσιν (arousin)
Verb - Future Indicative Active - 3rd Person Plural
Strong's Greek 142: To raise, lift up, take away, remove.

This was fulfilled in

Acts 28:5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.

The natives were convinced by this sign: serpents could not harm the servants of God.

Else where, Jesus says in

Luke 10:19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.

Literally, serpents are poisonous snakes. Metaphorically, they are poisonous enemies. No matter, neither can harm the servants of God.

Mark 16:17-18 reinforces this same idea in Luke 10:19. God will protect his workers from all harms while they are working for God and it is a sign that you are God's workers.

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  • [Luk 20:43 NLT] (43) until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.' [Rom 16:20 NLT] (20) The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. [Heb 1:13-14 NLT] (13) And God never said to any of the angels, "Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet." (14) Therefore, angels are only servants--spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 25 '20 at 15:14
  • Good point. I updated.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 26 '20 at 16:08
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    Thank you Tony, for this post. I'd rather lean towards the understanding of snakes being poisonous enemies much rather than taking it from the literal interpretation surrounding Paul's experience - although I agree it’s a part of it. But, going by this version of your post, how do we reconcile the phrase? Is it by way of saying that we shall “pick up” those poisonous enemies? Aug 26 '20 at 18:39
  • ἀροῦσιν means pick up or remove. The remove part was fulfilled in Paul. The pick up part could have been fulfilled but not recorded in the Bible. In any case, the word is ambiguous.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 27 '20 at 13:52
  • @TonyChan Ernest are right "rather lean towards the understanding of snakes being poisonous enemies much rather than taking it from the literal" this is not literal but a spiritual meaning, Jul 28 at 14:23
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Regarding the modern Gospel account of Mark 16:18, what is meant by "they will pick up snakes with their hands"?

[Disclaimer] - In the ancient Greek Gospel of Mark found in the Codex Sinaiticus, Mark 16 ends at verse 8. * [Reference : http://www.codex-sinaiticus.net/] . - The missing verses of Mark 16:9-20 cause contextual questions about the validity of later editions (400 AD-Present) of Mark 16 manuscripts.

In the modern Gospel account of Mark 16:18 we read a strange prophecy from the resurrected Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth regarding His disciples' supernatural ability to be immune to snakes and poison.

Mark 16:18 [NIV] "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."

The Greek Translation of Mark 16:18 rephrases "they will pick up snakes with their hands" and states : "with (ἐν) their (ταῖς) hands (χερσὶν) serpents (ὄφεις) they will take up (ἀροῦσιν)".

What does "with their hands serpents will they take up" refer to in parallelism with Yeshua's ministry and in terms of the future abilities of Yeshua's disciples?

Consider Yeshua's parable about a bad Father giving snakes to son in Luke 11:11 [NIV] : " Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a serpent (ὄφιν) instead? " - The point is made later in Luke 11:13 that Serpents (False Teachings) in reference to [Genesis 3:1-4] will be replaced with the Holy Spirit (God's Teachings).

In parallel to Yeshua's parables of Luke 11:11-13, the prophecy of Mark 16:18 is claiming Yeshua's disciples will metaphorically replace false teachings concerning God with the Holy Spirit through charitable works of their hands to feed God's children.

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  • This is an interesting take +1
    – Robert
    Jul 28 at 18:29
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There are some nice interpretations in these answers, all related to the overcoming of evil in some form. I think the reason for the variety of answers is that "serpents" have such rich symbolism and thus the airo or lifting up/taking of serpents can be interpreted in many ways, depending on whether the emphasis is not letting the serpents harm you or overcoming the serpents, and whether serpents are viewed as a proxy for Satan, for evil spirits, or for false teachings (the serpent is associated with lying and lying spirits are referred to as "anti-Christs" elsewhere).

Let me point out one additional interpretation just to round out the answers here, even though I would not recommend marking this interpretation as the best answer (Daniel's answer is my favorite).

Serpents are also symbols of fallen humanity. E.g. in Genesis 3.15 we have "the seed of woman" overcoming "the seed of the serpent", and thus there is an imagery of the serpent having descedents, and the idea of men being descedents of the serpent occurs in many places in the New Testament:

  • Matt 3.7, Luke 3.7 John the Baptist calls the Pharisees "offspring of vipers" (LEB) gennemata echidna

  • Christ called the Pharisees the "offspring of vipers" as well in Matt 23.33

  • In Isaiah 59.3-8, those who practice idolatry are said to "hatch viper eggs"

Thus the "lifting up/taking" of these vipers can be a metaphor for conversion as well:

Jude 1.23

Save others by snatching [harpazo] them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh."

harpazo has as a gloss: "seize, snatch away" which is similar to the airo "raise, take up, lift up"

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Is it best to interpret "serpents" as imagery in verse 18? What does "picking up serpents" really imply in Mark 16:17-18?

Suppose we dispense with the charge that Mark 16:9-16 does not belong in the Bible.

We have the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus. It has been argued that these Codices are celebrated historical treasures. The codex is an Alexandrian text-type manuscript written in the 4th century in uncial letters on parchment. Scholarship considers the Codex Sinaiticus to be one of the best Greek texts of the New Testament, along with the Codex Vaticanus.

These are the major Codices. So, while it's true that Mark 16:16 is missing in the Codex Vaticanus — a blank half-column where there should be text, the Codex Vaticanus leaves out a lot of other scriptural passages as well. If we are to press this point, then we have a problem because we'll have to abandon other significant passages as well based on that manuscript. However, God was very clear on this matter:

Matthew 24:35: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away."

The Diatessaron, the most prominent early Gospel harmony was created in the second century, contains Mark 16:9-20. The Syriac versions have it in there. Irenaeus, quoted, had it in there. These men quoted and accepted it as the inspired word of God. For the unbiased observer, this matter should be settled: the strongest piece of internal evidence mustered against the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20 is really no evidence at all. And, to argue the point brings the veracity of Scripture into question. Do we really want to open this unnecessary can of worms?

The two strongest arguments offered to discredit the inspiration of these verses as the production of Mark are seen to be lacking in substance and legitimacy. The reader of the New Testament may be confidently assured that these verses are original—written by the Holy Spirit through the hand of Mark as part of his original gospel account.


With that in mind, precisely what is Mark 16:17-18 referring to? Well, perhaps we should recall the words from the Book of Acts:

Acts 28:3-6: "But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. 4When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, 'Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.' 5However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god."

This is just one example of how God protected the apostles/disciples from harm on many occasions. Such was necessary in order that the Gospel be preached throughout all the known world.

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