Acts 15:37-40 – A Parting of the Ways: Part 1

[This is another post by a student in my Advanced Acts Studies seminar class, Camron Befus. Camron prepared a lecture on the conflict between Barnabas and Paul, so I asked him to write two blog posts on the topic.]

The first conflict in Paul’s ministry occurs over a particular person (Acts 15:37-40). Paul proposes to his colleague Barnabas to revisit the churchs they had planted from their first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). Barnabas agrees but wants to take John Mark along. Mark had accompanied them on their first missionary journey but abandoned them half way through the trip (Acts 13:13).

Businessmen fightingThe Bible gives no reason for John Mark’s rapid departure in Perga of Pamphylia. Scholars have speculated on the reason for his departure because it caused Paul to be against John Mark coming on the second missions trip. His abandoning the group appears to be the principal reason if not only reason for Paul not desiring him to join them. Some have speculated that John Mark was home sick and therefore decided to return to Jerusalem where his mother is believed to have lived (Acts 12:12).

Another reason for his quick departure was that, James the leader of the Jerusalem counsel, was keeping tabs on Paul and his new ministry, and John Mark was there for the wrong reason. He abandoned them after he had seen what Paul’s message was and reported back to the counsel.

It is also sometimes suggested John Mark was still immature in Paul’s eyes. Paul did not wish to bring a ministry in itself along on what was certain to be a difficult trip as Paul knew hardship and persecution was coming. Acts 15:38 says “but Paul did not think it wise to take him.” This phrase might be translated as, “Paul did not think him ready.” Another factor is that John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10) which meant he would most likely side with Barnabas on any discussion. Whatever the case for his departure Paul was against Barnabas’s desire to bring John Mark along.

Another area that might have contributed to Paul and Barnabas going separate ways is found in Gal. 2:11-13, “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” Barnabas is influenced by the men who were sent to Antioch. These men would not eat with the Gentiles and Barnabas joined them. This is important depending on how Gal 2 fits into the chronology of the book of Acts. If the Antioch Incident occurs after Acts 15, then Barnabas would have sided with Paul in the Jerusalem Counsel against circumcision but then back stabbed Paul because he was influencing the Gentiles to turn back to the Law. If it is placed before the Jerusalem Counsel occurs in Acts 15 then Barnabas would have sided and back Paul up at the Jerusalem counsel. This would have shown Paul his true understanding of the ministry to the Gentiles and that he had a backbone.

Many scholars have argued Gal 2 occurs before Acts 15, perhaps sometime in Acts 11. The reason for this is that in Gal 2 Paul states he went to Jerusalem to meet with the counsel by a revelation and meet in secret (Gal 2:1-2). This was done to further explain and understand the ministry God had called him to. He does the speaking to the counsel while in Acts 15 Paul is just a witness and Peter does the talking. In Acts 15 Paul does not go on his own accord but is sent by the church in Antioch who wanted to understand more thoroughly what to do when it came to circumcision.

Was Paul correct in splitting ways with Barnabas over John Mark? Was the main cause for Paul and Barnabas going separate ways because of the disagreement over John Mark or do you believe that something was adding to it as well? Was Luke trying to mask a bigger problem behind the disagreement over John Mark?

9 thoughts on “Acts 15:37-40 – A Parting of the Ways: Part 1

  1. It can be said more that Paul was stubborn in his faith and who he traveled with. Understandably from class, we learned that Paul was brought under by Barnabas to learn the ropes of the Christian walk and how to preach the gospel effectively. In this case, Paul wants to really spread his wings and go in a different direction, hence choosing Silas. If it was a fight over bringing John Mark, maybe Paul has not taken into effect that:
    1. Paul was a “student” under Barnabas.
    2. (Given the younger age of John Mark), Paul’s gift may have been not to mentor.
    3. (Again, given the younger age of John Mark), Paul may have forgotten what Luke wrote earlier in the gospel when Jesus brought in the little children and blessed them. Jesus says “Unless you accept the God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” (Luke 18:17, MSG).

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  2. Paul wanted to be “Boss” and be in charge. Rather than being sent out by the Holy Spirit as part of a team (of two or maybe more), Paul wanted to call the shots, and decide who would go, where they would go, and what they would do.

    There is no indication that Paul intended to evangelize, so this journey started out more like a modern “Christian vacation” that is dubbed a “short-term mission trip.” Yes, many “short-term mission trips” are indeed worthy and ordained by God – yet there are also a good number that really are just an excuse to take a road trip and have an interesting and fun vacation experience.

    Paul had itchy feet, and he liked to travel around doing his own thing, accountable to no one, and take advantage of the hospitality in churches as he traveled. You don’t believe me? Then listen to Paul’s words, recorded by Luke:

    “Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let’s go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’” [Acts 15:36]

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  3. I think that this story in Acts shows us that there will be disagreements among Christians and that even a great missionary like Paul can allow the human side of himself to show. I believe that God had a plan all along and the argument between Paul and Barnabas still brought about good for the kingdom. Both of them were able to part ways and continue spreading the gospel. Because of their disagreement, more people were able to hear the word of God. I think that Barnabas wanted to have John Mark join them on their journey because he had previously gone with them before and maybe he wanted to give him another chance to prove himself. Paul was still upset at the fact that John Mark left them during their missionary journey. I can understand why Paul would be angry and not want to travel with him again, but this also lets me see that God can take a disagreement such as this one and use it for the good of others.

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  4. I think that there comes a time in ministry when you can do more apart than you could do together. I think that Paul really felt convinced in his own spirit that he should not take John Mark along. Perhaps Barnabas felt this way as well. If it was a personal conviction that Paul had then it was necessary to separate for the sake of conscience. “but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (15:40-41). It appears that Paul was successful in his ministry upon separating from Barnabas. Perhaps the reason that this happened was that Syria, Cilicia, and Cyprus might be ministered to. Regardless of who was right or wrong in the matter, it appears that the gospel was spread to multiple places, perhaps more than what would have been ministered to had they stayed together.

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  5. I would have to agree with Cahara. In Cahara’s post she said, “I think that this story in Acts shows us that there will be disagreements among Christians and that even a great missionary like Paul can allow the human side of himself to show” (Williams 2015). I find that to be so true. I think that wherever there is passion, there will be disagreement. I say that because if I am working with someone to reach the same goal but think my way is better then there will still be conflict. Disagreement and conflict still exists today in the church today. Being raised in the church all my life, and having my family be much a part of the ministry, I have seen firsthand the conflict and disagreements that happen in the church between ministers. I think that Paul left Barnabas because John Mark left the last time and Paul did not want to let John Mark go along with them. I think because of that, Paul decided to do his own thing. I personally think that Paul was right for splitting with Barnabas. I say that because he did not have to work with him. Paul could minister and do whatever else he wanted without the caring what Barnabas would think. Also I think it was good for the both of them because it gave them both a chance to go different directions in their journey so that the gospel would spread to more areas.

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  6. I think when two people are passionate about something conflict is immanent. Here we have Paul and Barbara who were both passionate about their ministry and what they were doing. Both man had an argument and didn’t not see eye to eye. This should not be surprising to us. Like Cahara said this showers “their human side” ( Cahara Williams 2015). Also the fact the the Luke chose to include this disagreement in the book of acts, shows that he was wanted us to learn from it an observe that even those people as great as Paul and Barnabas can have a disagreement. When Paul decided to argue that they should leave mark behind he Was judging based off past experience. Mark had left them before and perhaps Paul thought Mark he would again leave them again. Paul perhaps thought Mark lacked maturity and drive to do the work of God. I think Paul acted on his beloved and because he was so driven by they work of God and didn’t want anyone getting in the way of that.

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    • Asu,
      I don’t want to put words in your mouth. But what I am hearing in your comment is that you are dodging the issue of whether or not Paul was wrong, and saying that even if he was wrong, it doesn’t matter – because you think his intentions were good, and “he was so driven by the work of God and didn’t want anyone getting in the way of that.”

      So Paul’s “weakness” is that he loved God too much, and worked too hard, and was too committed to the work of God? This sounds like the kind of thing they tell you to say in a job interview. Come on, let’s get real 🙂
      Paul was being and obnoxious jerk, selfishly demanding his own way.

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