The proof text I am most often given concerning deliverance ministries and casting out demons is Mark 16:17, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues…” 

A popular false teacher says, “If you are a believer, that’s you!  If you believe you believe in Jesus, in His name, it says you WILL cast out demons. You WILL speak in other tongues (he does not specify that tongues are actual languages not previously learned by the Apostles).”  

So, I began to study Mark 16:17 in its context to understand what this passage means.

First, we must determine to whom Jesus was speaking: the Apostles. Look with me at Mark 16:14-16:

“14 Afterward he appeared to the ELEVEN themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.  15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

For the purpose of my study, I must also emphasize the purpose of Acts (also called Acts of the Apostles), and how it is distinct from any other book of the Bible, to help us understand the distinct purpose and calling of the Apostles.

Theologian Grant Osborne wrote:

Most ancient books trace the “acts” of heroes like Odysseus, Alexander the Great, or Julius Caesar. Luke’s is unique because these are the “acts” of a movement. As the second part of a two-volume work, it is a historical narrative tracing how the Christ followers built on their founder and became a worldwide force. They began as a fairly narrowly conceived Jewish “sect” and by the end of the book had expanded to “the ends of the earth” (1:8). This work tells how that came to pass in just a little over thirty years, from the ascension of Jesus (AD 30) to the imprisonment of Paul in Rome (AD 60–62). Virtually an entire nation turned against and sought to eradicate one small religious movement and ended up empowering a world-changing force. Thus the book should be labeled not “the Acts of the Apostles” but “the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.” It is the Triune Godhead who is the central figure in this book. The progression of these acts is both geographical (from Jerusalem to Judea and Galilee, to Samaria, to Antioch, to Asia Minor, to Macedonia and Achaia, to “the ends of the earth,” 1:8) and personal (from the Twelve to Stephen to Peter to Paul), as God orchestrates all the details.”

Luke is called the primary historian of the early Church… .Luke’s purposes are closely tied to his theological emphases, but they are not identical. I find five major purposes for this work:
• To preach the gospel. Luke wanted to proclaim the good news of Christ by relating its history in the early Church. It is mainly a historical work showing how the presence of the Holy Spirit moved the people of God from a small Jewish sect in Jerusalem to a worldwide force bringing the gospel of salvation to a lost world.
• To trace the Spirit’s activity and show the divine impetus behind the Church’s mission. Here Luke is a theologian of salvation history as well as the “father of Church history.” The goal of this book is to forge a new movement whose mission is to bring God’s truths to all the world.
• To defend the faith. This is an apologetic work with two audiences: to defend Christianity against Jewish antipathy and the demands of the Judaizers, and to show the tolerant attitude of Roman officials, proving that Christianity was no political danger to Rome and should be tolerated.
• To bring together the Jewish and gentile elements of the Church into one united new Israel. Both sides need to understand that God’s will is for them to come together and form the new messianic community together.
• To teach the historical beginnings of the Church for the benefit of new converts and to tell those in Jerusalem about the spread of the Church into gentile lands.” [1]

Next, we must define Apostles.  Here is how GotQuestions defines this:

“Every apostle was a disciple, but not every disciple was an apostle. Every person who believes in Jesus is called His disciple. Matthew 28:19–20 records Jesus saying, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The Greek word for “disciple” simply refers to a learner and is used throughout the New Testament to refer to people who believed in Jesus and followed Him (Luke 14:26–33). For example, Acts 6:1 says, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing.” The word disciples simply means “believers” or “Christians” in this context.

The Greek word for “apostle” literally means “one who is sent” and can refer to an emissary or anyone sent on a mission. An apostle is given the authority of the one who sent him.

All of the apostles were disciples—they were among the many believers in Jesus—but only a select group of disciples were chosen as the Twelve Apostles (Matthew 10:1–4; Mark 3:14; Acts 26:14–18).

This included the original twelve disciples (although Judas Iscariot eventually reversed his loyalties and rejected Christ) and either Paul or Matthias. That there is a select group of twelve apostles is seen in the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem: twelve foundations, each inscribed with a name of an apostle (Revelation 21:14).

Other men who are named “apostles” in the New Testament—although not members of the Twelve—include:
Matthias (Acts 1:26), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:6–9), Timothy and Silas (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2:6), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), and two unnamed apostles (2 Corinthians 8:23, possibly already included in the previous list). These men were “sent ones” in that they were chosen for specific work on behalf of the church, but they were not part of the Twelve who were hand-picked by Jesus. Jesus is also called an “apostle” in Hebrews 3:1, indicating that He was sent by and had the authority of His Father.

Ephesians 4:11–16 speaks of apostles along with other church leaders whose role was to equip the believers for works of service. The main distinction of apostles from the rest of us, disciples,  regards their authority. The apostles’ teaching forms the foundation for the truths of our faith (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 2:20). The qualifications for being an apostle included:
– having been with Christ during His ministry,
– having personally witnessed Jesus after His resurrection,
– and having been empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform miracles or signs (Acts 1:21–22; 10:41; 2 Corinthians 12:12).

Paul was an exception to part of the qualifications. Although he did not accompany Jesus on His earthly journeys, Jesus made a special appearance to him on the road to Damascus and set him apart as an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 26:14–18). This is why Paul compared his place among the other apostles as “one born at the wrong time” (1 Corinthians 15:8).

There are no apostles, in the special sense of the word, alive in this world today. There were only twelve, and they had a special task in the founding of the church. The word apostle, however, is still used by some Christian groups in reference to a missionary or entrepreneurial leader in a general sense. But these people do not meet the same qualifications as the twelve apostles in the Bible.

In summary, every person who believes in Jesus as his or her Savior is a disciple of Jesus. However, only a select group of early believers were chosen as apostles and given authority to perform signs and share the revelations found in the New Testament.” [2]

Now let’s look at this Mark 16:17. We cannot take only one verse out of context, but must look at the entire passage, so let’s continue from where we left off in the above passage where Jesus is clearly speaking to the Apostles, about the Apostles. Mark 16:17-18 (ESV) says:

“17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new languages; 18 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.” 

John MacArthur writes: “Mark 16:17–18 These signs were promised to the apostolic community – the Apostles (Matt. 10:1; 2 Cor. 12:12), not all believers in all ages (cf. 1 Cor. 12:29–30).
All (with the exception of drinking poison) were experienced by some in the apostolic church and reported in Scripture (e.g., Acts 28:5), but not afterward (cf. Mark 16:20).
Mark 16:20 confirmed the message by accompanying signs. (Acts 2:22; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:4.)” [3]

So, if someone tells you they have the authority to cast out demons based on this passage, they must also qualify as an Apostle and be able to perform the other signs in the passage, such as drinking lethal poison or poisonous snake handling.

GotQuestions helpfully writes:

“Snake handling, as practiced by some misguided churches, is not a biblical endeavor. Mark 16:17–18 is used by some as a basis for handling snakes: “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will . . . pick up snakes with their hands.” Churches that practice snake handling have special services in which people actually handle venomous snakes, supposedly giving evidence that the church members are true believers who are empowered and protected by God. It’s true that Mark 16:17–18 says Jesus’ followers will “pick up snakes,” but there are several problems with the modern practice of snake handling.

First, the practice of handling snakes for the purpose of “proving” one’s faith (or proving God’s protection) is a violation of God’s command not to put Him to the test: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7; cf. Deuteronomy 6:16).

Trying to force God’s hand by requiring that He perform an obvious miracle is more than foolish; it is sinful.

To test God’s presence and power by purposely placing oneself in an unsafe situation is expressly forbidden in Scripture. Daniel did not seek out the lions, but when he found himself surrounded by them, through no fault of his own, he found God was there. Likewise, we trust God in dangerous situations, but we never purposely seek out danger.
Does Mark 16:17–18 teach that we should be handling snakes in church? Absolutely not. Mark 16:17–18 contains no imperatives. The verse does not say, “Go out and handle snakes”; it says, “They will pick up snakes with their hands.” It is a declaration that something will occur, not a command that someone make it occur.

Jesus’ words were fulfilled by the apostle Paul in Acts 28:3–5: “Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. . . . But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.”

Notice that Paul was not seeking out snakes to handle. He was handling firewood and was bitten by a snake against his wishes. God intervened and miraculously protected Paul from the effects of the snake bite. Jesus’ words in Mark 16:17–18 gave His apostles the assurance that, as they faithfully served God in the spread of the gospel, He could protect them from anything that crossed their paths.

If the snake-handling churches were consistent, they would also observe the second part of Mark 16:18: “And when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all.” Why not drink a vial of strychnine or arsenic and “prove” one’s faith that way? Why stop with the demons or snakes?

God can and will protect us, according to His will, as we are serving Him. But we are not to put the Lord to the test. Just as Jesus refused to jump off the pinnacle of the temple and just as Daniel did not go lion-hunting, so are we not to intentionally seek out situations that require God’s miraculous intervention.

While not speaking directly of snake handling in churches, 1 Corinthians 10:9 could apply: “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.” [4]

Finally, let’s look at a few other commentaries on this passage.

Matthew Henry wrote:

Our blessed Lord renewed his choice of the eleven as his apostles, and commissioned them to go into all the world, to preach his gospel to every creature. Only he that is a true Christian shall be saved through Christ. Simon Magus professed to believe, and was baptized, yet he was declared to be in the bonds of iniquity: see his history in Acts 8:13-25. Doubtless this is a solemn declaration of that true faith which receives Christ in all his characters and offices, and for all the purposes of salvation, and which produces its right effect on the heart and life; not a mere assent, which is a dead faith, and cannot profit. The commission of Christ’s ministers extends to every creature throughout the world, and the declarations of the gospel contain not only truths, encouragements, and precepts, but also most awful warnings. Observe what power the apostles should be endued with, for confirming the doctrine they were to preach. These were miracles by the Apostles to confirm the truth of the gospel, and means of spreading the gospel among nations that had not heard it. [5]

Can Christians Cast Out Demons/Should They Be Casting Out Demons Today?
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson appeals to Scripture and church history to provide an answer.

First of all, I think there is a notion around in the evangelical church that demon possession and casting out demons was a commonplace event in Scripture. If I can put it boldly, the truth of the matter is that demon possession and casting out demons is hardly ever referred to in Scripture. It’s very rarely referred to in the pages of the Old Testament and it’s hardly referred to in the New Testament either, outside of the Gospels. So if someone were to sit down, say with a concordance or some electronic method of looking through the number of times demon possession, exorcism of demons, evil spirits are mentioned, and for example, to print them out, I think they would be absolutely astonished by the result.

I say that because we live in a subculture, or at least there is a subculture, or evangelical subculture, where demons are being cast out every day of the week and demons are being associated basically with almost everything that goes wrong. There are some amazing stories about how wrong things can be that are attributed to demon possession.

The fact of the matter is almost all the references to evil spirits and possession by demons and to the exorcism of demons is found within the four Gospels, almost exclusively within the four Gospels” a couple of references in the Acts of the Apostles, a reference in 1 Corinthians to the worship of demons, a reference in 1 Timothy 4:1, I think it is, to the doctrine of demons.

So, I think that statement is bound to make us ask this question: Why is there so little demon possession referred to in the Old Testament, and why so little outside the pages of the Gospels? The answer to that question, I think, is pretty clearly the presence of Jesus Christ.

The presence of Jesus Christ in the flesh, come to bring our redemption “and you can almost work out what the conclusion of this sentence will be “was bound to draw the most ferocious attack of the evil one in order to withstand the coming of the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ.

If you think about, for example, the Gadarene demoniac, when he is asked what his name is, he says, “My name is Legion” (Mark 5:9). Even if it doesn’t mean an entire Roman legion, which I think was about eight thousand soldiers, it is an indication of a vast number of demons. The number of pigs that the demons go into is an indication of a vast number of demons. But it only takes one demon to drive a man out of his mind. So why this phenomenal concentration of demons? I think the answer is that the demons are not so much interested in the man we know as Legion the Gadarene demoniac as there is this upsurge of demonic activity in order to withstand the presence of Christ and to destroy the purposes of God. Thereafter there is very little exorcism that takes place. So, I think those things help us to understand that there is a framework of reference here and we need to be very cautious for that reason when we hear people attribute all kinds of things to demon possession.

Speaking for myself, I do not think I have met anyone that I could be sure was demon possessed. Occasionally, I have wondered. My guess is that would be true of most Christians. So, I think first of all one needs to be on one’s guard about people who have “the gift of exorcising demons.” I say that partly because apart from the seventy who were sent out by Jesus in Luke 10 and said that the demons were subject to them (v. 17), there seems to be no gift in the New Testament apart from the Apostolic ministry of the exorcism of the demons. And so, I think all of this helps us to develop a framework of great caution about the framework of reference that many Christians employ today in thinking about the way in which there is evil in the world. Of course, that statement needs to be balanced by the fact that the New Testament says a great deal about satanic activity. But, emphasizing satanic activity, it doesn’t emphasize demon possession.

Now, there are questions here that I think are difficult for us to untangle. But, one of the things I think is important to understand is that something happens to the kingdom of Satan in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In terms of what John sees in Revelation chapter 20, at least as I understand Revelation chapter 20 and Revelation chapter 12, the coming of Christ binds Satan so that he no longer deceives the nations. In that sense, wherever the gospel has been preached, the nations in a sense have been set free from that demonic activity. That does not mean that there will be no demonic activity. But, I think what it does mean is that on the analogy of the demonic activity and the Gospels, we would expect to see that demonic activity either where the kingdom of God has not already come and where the church, Christians, are not already present or where that kingdom has been so beaten back where it seems to be in danger of being destroyed. I think all of those thoughts should be going around in our minds.

Now, having said that, the idea of us as ordinary Christians going somewhere else, perhaps even discovering demon possession and thinking that we can cast out demons, again I think we need to be cautious and listen to the wisest voices in the church who have actually of some kind reflected on this. Since this answer has gone off long enough, let me refer to a nineteenth-century American Presbyterian missionary in China called John Nevius, who dates, I think, 1829 to 1893. He was a missionary in China. He wrote a very, very fine book on demon possession, in which he had spoken to many missionaries, asked counsel of many missionaries, reflected on the phenomenon for years. One of the things that’s very striking about that is that the presence of Christians, the presence of Christians in areas where the gospel has not penetrated, in the case of people who are demon possessed, will arouse the presence of the demon to such an extent that the demon will react to their presence  of Christians in areas where the gospel has not penetrated, in the case of people who are demon possessed, will arouse the presence of the demon to such an extent that the demon will react to their presence. And as far as I remember, in the vast majority of cases where demons were cast out, they were actually cast out by prayer and only in moments of confrontation. In the sense that when Christian missionaries said that their backs against the wall, have they directly, as it were, in the name of Jesus cast out the demon. In all of these cases, sometimes they’ve been actually quite young Christians, sometimes older Christians, but they’ve taken to heart Jesus’ words. Remember when the disciples failed to cast out the demon? “But this kind goes out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29). Prayer is our resource in every instance.

I think this very, very wise, extraordinarily wise, Christian missionary really helps us to see that we shouldn’t be thinking about, in terms of going overseas and I’m going to cast out demons. If we were to encounter this, I think we would be naive if we just dealt with the situation on our own on a mission. But the way people are delivered, it is by prayer and by their consecration to Jesus Christ. Because of the one thing that we can be absolutely sure of is that it’s not possible to be possessed by a demon when you’re possessed by Jesus Christ. So prayer and repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, in a sense, are the simple answer to this question. But it’s a question that has a great deal of complexity about it. [6]

[1] Is acts a work of fiction, history, or theology? Word by Word. (2021a, January 27).  Grant Osborne.

[2], G. Q. (2017, July 17). What is the Difference Between Apostle and Disciple?

[3] MacArthur, J. (2005). The MacArthur bible commentary: Unleashing god’s truth, one verse at a time. Thomas Nelson, Inc.

[4] (2015, July 11). Home.

[5] Henry, M. (2017). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible. Hendrickson Publishers.

[6] Can Christians cast out demons? Ligonier Ministries. (n.d.). 

Another helpful article:


No products in the cart.