The Challenge of Mark 16

Sam Shamoun

One common trick that Muslim debaters like Ahmad Deedat and Zakir Naik bring up in their debates against Christians is to issue the challenge of Mark 16:14-18. Essentially, this entails the Muslim speaker to quote Jesus' promise to believers that nothing will harm them, not even the drinking of poison:

"Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 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." Mark 16:14-18

If the Christian backs down from the challenge this is then taken to mean that the Christian speaker lacks true faith in Christ.

The Muslim is guilty of misinterpreting Jesus' meaning in this passage since a sound rule of exegesis is to interpret scripture in light of scripture. Once this is done, we discover the true meaning of Jesus' words:

"The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 'If you are the Son of God,' he said, 'throw yourself down from here. For it is written: "He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."' Jesus answered, 'It says: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."'" Luke 4:9-12

In light of this passage, Jesus was not telling his followers to go around picking up snakes or drinking poison. Christ's point was that no matter what the enemy tries to do in thwarting the efforts of the believers, he will never succeed. This is based solely on the promises of Christ that his authority rests upon all true believers to accomplish his will in our lives:

"'The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.' He replied, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'" Luke 10:17-20

The Holy Bible proceeds to document how Jesus' promises in Mark 16 were fulfilled in the lives of true believers:

"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: 'Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!' Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?'" Acts 2:1-12

"The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed." Acts 5:12-16

"God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, 'In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.' Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. [One day] the evil spirit answered them, 'Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?' Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor." Acts 19:11-16

"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. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, 'This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.' But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The 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. There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured." Acts 28:3-9

Furthermore, there is also a spiritual meaning behind drinking poison and suffering no ill effects. The Holy Bible teaches that the tongues of the wicked are like poisonous snakes that try to destroy believers with all their lies and deceit:

"Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; protect me from men of violence, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day. They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent's; the poison of vipers is on their lips. Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from men of violence who plan to trip my feet." Psalm 140:1-4

"'Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.' 'The poison of vipers is on their lips.'" Romans 3:13

"... but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." James 3:8

Finally, Muhammad failed Jesus' test since not only did Muhammad fall under demonic influence but he also died due to the effects of poison!:

Narrated Aisha:

Once the Prophet was bewitched so that he began to imagine that he had done a thing which in fact he had not done. (Sahih Volume 4, Book 53, Number 400)

Narrated 'Aisha:

Magic was worked on the Prophet so that he began to fancy that he was doing a thing which he was not actually doing. One day he invoked (Allah) for a long period and then said, "I feel that Allah has inspired me as how to cure myself. Two persons came to me (in my dream) and sat, one by my head and the other by my feet. One of them asked the other, "What is the ailment of this man?" The other replied, 'He has been bewitched" The first asked, 'Who has bewitched him?' The other replied, 'Lubaid bin Al-A'sam.' The first one asked, 'What material has he used?' The other replied, 'A comb, the hair gathered on it, and the outer skin of the pollen of the male date-palm.' The first asked, 'Where is that?' The other replied, 'It is in the well of Dharwan.' " So, the Prophet went out towards the well and then returned and said to me on his return, "Its date-palms (the date-palms near the well) are like the heads of the devils." I asked, "Did you take out those things with which the magic was worked?" He said , "No, for I have been cured by Allah and I am afraid that this action may spread evil amongst the people." Later on the well was filled up with earth. (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 490)

Narrated 'Aisha:

A man called Labid bin al-A'sam from the tribe of Bani Zaraiq worked magic on Allah's Apostle till Allah's Apostle started imagining that he had done a thing that he had not really done. One day or one night he was with us, he invoked Allah and invoked for a long period, and then said, "O 'Aisha! Do you know that Allah has instructed me concerning the matter I have asked him about? Two men came to me and one of them sat near my head and the other near my feet. One of them said to his companion, "What is the disease of this man?" The other replied, "He is under the effect of magic.' The first one asked, 'Who has worked the magic on him?' The other replied, "Labid bin Al-A'sam.' The first one asked, 'What material did he use?' The other replied, 'A comb and the hairs stuck to it and the skin of pollen of a male date palm.' The first one asked, 'Where is that?' The other replied, '(That is) in the well of Dharwan;' " So Allah's Apostle along with some of his companions went there and cam e back saying, "O 'Aisha, the color of its water is like the infusion of Henna leaves. The tops of the date-palm trees near it are like the heads of the devils." I asked. "O Allah's Apostle? Why did you not show it (to the people)?" He said, "Since Allah cured me, I disliked to let evil spread among the people." Then he ordered that the well be filled up with earth. (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 658)

Narrated 'Aisha:

that Allah's Apostle was affected by magic, so much that he used to think that he had done something which in fact, he did not do, and he invoked his Lord (for a remedy). Then (one day) he said, "O 'Aisha!) Do you know that Allah has advised me as to the problem I consulted Him about?" 'Aisha said, "O Allah's Apostle! What's that?" He said, "Two men came to me and one of them sat at my head and the other at my feet, and one of them asked his companion, 'What is wrong with this man?' The latter replied, 'He is under the effect of magic.' The former asked, 'Who has worked magic on him?' The latter replied, 'Labid bin Al-A'sam.' The former asked, 'With what did he work the magic?' The latter replied, 'With a comb and the hair, which are stuck to the comb, and the skin of pollen of a date-palm tree.' The former asked, 'Where is that?' The latter replied, 'It is in Dharwan.' Dharwan was a well in the dwelling place of the (tribe of) Bani Zuraiq. Allah's Apostle went to that well and returned to 'Aisha, saying, 'By Allah, the water (of the well) was as red as the infusion of Hinna, (1) and the date-palm trees look like the heads of devils.' 'Aisha added, Allah's Apostle came to me and informed me about the well. I asked the Prophet, 'O Allah's Apostle, why didn't you take out the skin of pollen?' He said, 'As for me, Allah has cured me and I hated to draw the attention of the people to such evil (which they might learn and harm others with).' "

Narrated Hisham's father: 'Aisha said, "Allah's Apostle was bewitched, so he invoked Allah repeatedly requesting Him to cure him from that magic)." Hisham then narrated the above narration. (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 75, Number 400)

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

A Jewess brought a poisoned (cooked) sheep for the Prophet who ate from it. She was brought to the Prophet and he was asked, "Shall we kill her?" He said, "No." I continued to see the effect of the poison on the palate of the mouth of Allah's Apostle. (Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Number 786)

From Ibn Sa'd's biography, the Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir (Book of the Major Classes), Volume 2, p. 249:

Verily a Jewish woman presented poisoned (meat of) a she goat to the apostle of Allah. He took a piece form it, put it into his mouth, chewed it and threw it away. The he said to the Companions: "Halt! Verily, its leg tells me that it is poisoned." Then he sent for the Jewish woman and asked her; "What induced you to do what you have done?" She replied, "I wanted to know if you are true; in that case Allah will surely inform you, and if you are a liar I shall relieve the people of you."


The apostle of Allah and his companions ate from it. It (goat) said: "I am poisoned." He [Muhammad] said to his Companions, "Hold you hands! because it has informed me that it is poisoned!" They withdrew their hands, but Bishr Ibn al-Bara expired. The apostle of Allah sent for her (Jewess) and asked her, "What induced you to do what you have done?" She replied, "I wanted to know if you are a prophet, in that case it will not harm you and if you are a king, I shall relieve the people of you. He gave orders and she was put to death.

From al-Tabari's History, Volume 8, p. 124:

The messenger of God said during the illness from which he died - the mother of Bishr had come in to visit him - "Umm Bishr, at this very moment I feel my aorta being severed because of the food I ate with your son at Khaybay."

In light of this, we are left with the following conclusions. Either Allah was not powerful enough to protect his prophet from being bewitched or poisoned, making Jesus more powerful and greater than Allah. Or Muhammad was not a true prophet of God. We let the readers decide for themselves.

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