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?

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

  1. 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]

  2. 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.

  3. There is often debate on whether Paul was justified or not to exclude John Mark from his second missionary journey. Although some scholars have argued that Paul was not interested in taking someone who was immature, I wonder if a counter argument could be made on why he then decided to include Silas but also Timothy later on. However, Paul does write to Timothy later on, when Timothy was becoming a church planter, to be mature in the believers’ eyes in spite of his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). Therefore, I wonder if Paul saw more potential in Timothy, despite his age, rather than John Mark whom he had worked closely with before. I also wonder if Paul’s and Barnabas’ feelings came into play when disputing whether to take John Mark with them or not since Paul could be hurt that John Mark abandoned them while Barnabas had loyalty to his family. I find this account saddening since Paul and Barnabas had such a close relationship and great ministry together, yet they allowed a disagreement that sent them on separate ways.

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