Acts 15:36-40 – Disagreement with Barnabas

After staying some time in Antioch, Paul suggests a return to the churches established in Galatia (15:36).  This tour of established churches is not unexpected since Paul has already made a return trip through Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium for the purpose of continued development and encouragement of these churches.

Barnabas IconThe suggestion that John Mark re-join the ministry team results in a “sharp disagreement” (verse 37-38).  Barnabas wants to have John Mark travel with Paul once again.  Sometimes Barnabas is presented as acting like a protective uncle, hoping to give the young and inexperienced John Mark another “chance” to prove himself.  While this makes good preaching, that is not the way Luke describes the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas.

Paul “did not think it wise” (NIV) since John Mark has already abandoned them once. The NIV’s translation is adequate, but the word has the sense of being  “worthy” or even “suitable to an activity” (BDAG).  This could be taken in a positive sense (Paul does not see John Mark as a good “fit” for his vision of the ministry team), or negatively, Paul sees John Mark as unworthy since he has already abandoned the ministry.

John Mark did not depart because he was afraid of the tough travels or potential persecution. Rather, Paul’s rather harsh words to the Jewish sorcerer Elymas on Cyprus was a bit of a shock and perhaps even the idea that gospel should go to a Gentile like Serguis Paulus was a theological error.  Luke uses the Greek word ἀφίστημι (afistemi, aorist participle).  This word can mean more than simply “depart,” it can have the sense of “fall away” or “become a backslider.”  The word appears in Daniel’s prayer of confession (Dan 9:9) and  LXX Jer 3:14 to describe “faithless Israel.”

More significantly, Luke used the word in the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:13 to describe the seed which does not take root and “falls away” when persecution comes. Perhaps there is a hint here that John Mark was not quite “rooted” in Paul’s mission and when he experienced the theologically disturbing idea that Paul was going to turn to the Gentiles, he fell away.

The way Luke describes this disagreement is significant – Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement,” a word used for provoking one to “love and good works,” Heb 10:24, but also anger, exasperation, etc.  The word appears in the LXX for “furious anger of the Lord” in Deut 29:27 and LXX Jer 32:37.  Paul and Barnabas are in such a heated disagreement over John Mark that there is no solution other than to separate their ministries.

This is another chance to observe some diversity within the early church. Whatever the reason, John Mark disagreed with Paul and separated from him, then later Barnabas did the same thing.  If John Mark and Barnabas represent the “Jerusalem Church,” then I think there is a hint here of serious tensions between the Pauline Mission and the style of ministry happening in Jerusalem.

50 thoughts on “Acts 15:36-40 – Disagreement with Barnabas

  1. What, if anything, does this say to the church today? Is it OK for two parties to have ‘sharp disagreements’ and simply agree to disagree? Or do you think, if Paul or JM (not me or John Mayer. The other JM) had their way they would have preferred for the other to either a) completely agree with them or b) not be preaching/believing a different version of the gospel story?

  2. I believe that this all comes down to, what does Paul and Barnabas want others to view the situation. If they allow John Mark back into ministry then there will be certain views, on the other hand, if they do not accept him what will be thought then? This is a great internal battle for Paul and Barnabas, espeically since there are a lot of people watching them and this is also the foundation of Christianity as we know it today, not to mention written in the Bible.

    I do feel like Paul and Barnadas need to look to God for an answer to this one. I feel like they are leaning onto their own understanding rather than calling on God for the decision. I also feel that Paul is not doing the right thing by thinking that John Mark is not a good “fit” for his ministry team. We all have spiritual gifts that God gives us to use for His glory. I think that Paul is selling John Mark short of his calling.

    I think that by doing this, Paul is setting an example that only certain people can serve the Lord in only what Paul does. I get the impression that Paul is saying “if you want to serve God you have to be in my ministry and follow my rules.” I do not think he is meaning for it to look this way, but that is what he is doing by not letting John Mark re-join the ministry.

    Lastly, I think taht because Paul is doing this, he is also giving off the idea that people cannot be forgiven for their mistakes. That once you mess up and leave, you are out for good. This is not the mind-set of a born-again Christian.

    • I disagree that Paul was wrong about John Mark at this point. Paul did not have time to “baby” John Mark. He had been given an assignment and it was obvious that John Mark was not ready to participate in helping him do this. He needed someone to assist him that was able to stand against the “wiles of the devil” and it was not John Mark. Paul was not dismissing John Mark forever. He is saying “you are not ready yet.” Later Paul wants Mark’s help and asks that he come to help him. A person may have spiritual gifts, calling, etc. but not be ready to use them in the way they need to be used. We have to be perfected first.

      • Thanks Carol, you are right that Paul “did the right thing” although I did try to argue that John Mark’s defection from the mission trip was based on theology rather than the tough life of a missionary or a lack of giftedness / preparation.

      • Good morning to all the believers that’s fighting the good fight of faith. I personally love how Paul handled the situation. He did the right thing. However, the majo word that’s not being added to summarize this sticky history between Paul and John Mark boils down to, (“John Mark’s perspective.”) Both, (mindset, how they (“we”) see/look at things from different angles), to be qualifie for their (our) calling here in the natural.
        In addition, when one person mindset isn’t fully equipped how and when GOD is ready to be a living witness, to release the gifts that he has stored inside of his chosen ones, there shall be no time for baby sitting. Simple reason being is because, living in a fixed mindset kill, steal, and destroy the growth mindset of GOD.

  3. I think if two partners have a disagreement and they are able to work it out then great but if they aren’t able to work it out, then I think they should split up. No sense in staying together if you can’t work things out. As far as Barnabas bringing John Mark with them, I think it would be fine but yet again he did leave him and Paul, so that doesn’t make him look good.

      • I am not sure what you are asking, what do you mean by “reasoning”? Paul does reconcile with John Mark, Colossians 4:10 mentions him and in 2 Timothy 4:11 he says John Mark is “very useful to me in ministry.” So although there is no “story” describing Paul forgiving John Mark, that seems to have happened. There is nothing on a reconciliation between Paul and Barnabas, and no traditional outside of the Bible of which i am aware.

  4. Now I am always going to think of Barnabas as the protective uncle, but that’s okay. I bet that if we were actually there when Barnabas and Paul had their argument, it would have been intense. It had to be because in the end they ended going their separate ways. If I had to choose a side to take, I would choose Paul’s. If John wanted to come back, then he should not have left in the first place. I do not understand why John left in the first place, because he was not the one being persecuted. He should have guessed that sometimes words need to be said in order to make a point, like Paul did. Obviously, John was not “rooted” well. If John was not “rooted” well, then why did he go with Paul and Barnabas in the first place?
    I guess there is something good that comes out of Barnabas and Paul separating. That is them going off and doing their own ministries. However, both John and Barnabas did leave Paul. Ever since then, there have been disagreements within the church.

  5. I don’t think Paul can be lumped in with quarreling modern church-goers. Paul was a no-nonsense guy, and he did what was necessary to get the job done. Most of the New Testament exists because God entrusted Paul with getting the job done. Jesus even told Paul that he (Paul) would suffer greatly for his name. Paul was not out to make friends, he was out to make history. Later when he was about to leave some friends, he told them that he would not see them again, and he had no problem dying for Christ. Paul had a fire that drove him, sometimes to the point of needing to be restrained. If there was a better way to resolve it, Paul didn’t wait to find out. I think (unfortunately) sometimes we just need to cut ties, if it means the bigger goal is being preserved, and God can help with the reconciliation, if need be, as something secondary to be hopeful for.

  6. This disagreement is always interesting, and is defiantly abused when preaching, Barnabas the uncle trying to Mentor John Mark. John was with them the first time and then he left them, and Paul and Barnabas established the churches. I see Paul’s point of view and that is maybe that since we (Barnabas and Paul) established these churches, we want them to have a good set of leaders to look up to, and if John Mark comes, then the churches will look to him too, which is fine, but Paul does not know John. To Paul, John is a young cousin of Barnabas, who helped out but quit, with Paul probably sees this as a down fall to John’s character and maybe even wonders about how strong John is as a Christians. We hear it all the time, it is hard to finish well in ministry, and maybe Paul views John as not finishing well. We see it today, Pastor starting a ministry and quitting and now they want to be back in ministry, no way. The average youth pastor stay 18 months, the time needed to see any rewards from your work 3 years. Paul knows ministry is hard, and I think when we look at the case from this point of view, it makes sense that Paul wanted nothing to do with John.

  7. I really like what Joe said in his post. A lot of what he stated was in my Paul paper. Paul was a very passionate guy, and had a very extreme personality. He reminds me of a drill instructor. Not that he was barking orders around and making people do ridiculous things, but he had that kind of toughness. I also think we need to find the good in this. So often when tragedy, or seemingly bad things happen, Christians will say, “God has a purpose”, or “There’s a reason for everything”. I believe this to be true, and you don’t need to look very far to see the good that comes from this disagreement. Instead of two or three men going out together to one place at a time, you have 2 groups of 2 men going out, covering 2 places at one time. They are getting more done, and reaching more people at one time. As ‘Boys Like Girls’ once said, “And I’m thinking two, is better than one”.

  8. The missionary journeys of Paul are not looked at as easy and people pleasing trips. The missionary journeys were tough and grueling challenges for Paul and whoever came alongside him. There would be rejection and there would be persecution, and this is what John Mark was afraid of; this is why he left in the first place. Paul needed/wanted companions on his trips but he needed people that were, as P. Long said, “Rooted in Paul’s ministry” and he did not feel like John Mark was “rooted.” So when Barnabas comes with the idea of John Mark rejoining the team Paul “did not think it wise” (Acts 15:38) and disagreed with Barnabas. This caused an argument that resulted in a split between the two. I feel that i have been pretty angry in my young life and have had many arguments that I felt would ruin relationships but I have always come back and reconciled the issue. I don’t think i am some amazingly wise person and because of that fact i do think that Paul and Barnabas left on deceit terms. They went their separate ways because they saw the ministry suffering as a result of the staying together not personal problems being so overwhelming that they couldn’t stand each other. These were two grown men who knew that they would not be able to accomplish what they desired if they continued together so they decided to depart from eachother.

  9. We were not there, I believe that we will never truly know what the disagreement was SPECIFICALLY about, all we know is what is conveyed to us in the passage. Like it said we know that their was a “sharp disagreement” but we we never understand the full story until we can ask the questions in person. I see Paul’s point in that it might not be a good idea for John Mark to come especially if he is just going to leave again. Whatever the reason for John Mark not coming, it was obviously significant in the story of Paul’s missionary journey. He did what he felt God called him to do.

  10. Mcporter is right. We were not there and can not know what happened. However it is still good to search to see what it is that did happen, to the best of our abilities. I think this episode shows that people can do great things for God in different circumstances. Even though Paul and Barnabas separated they still committed to serving God. They may not have agreed on who should be with them, they could still carry the banner of Christ forward. Like Dunn said 2 people can cover more ground.

  11. P.Long, I love your description of this situation between Paul and Barnabas regarding John Mark. Everything in me wants to understand this story as a Spirit-led parting of ways in a positive sense. And it seems that this is possible given your explanation and possible interpretations. If Paul had discerned that John Mark was not well suited for the work that Paul was pursuing and if this “sharp disagreement” could be explained as an impassioned challenge to one another for the purpose of each of their particular ministries, I would be content. But regardless, I recognize that Paul was human, zealous, and a strong leader, as was Barnabas, and this situation could very well have constituted a classic conflict when we find one too many cooks in one kitchen.
    However, I don’t find this too alarming. Maybe this is because church splits are so common today, but I guess more so because I see denominational differences as distinct fields of ministry, and this a providential thing. Of course, ideally each person of each denomination must understand that s/he shares a common Gospel with thousands of other people and see this unity to a greater extent than s/he sees the differences for these divisions to be more beneficial than harmful- and- this is far too rare a perspective.
    So as much as I wish the ideal were the case in Paul and Barnabas’ situation, I imagine that Luke would have likely communicated that rather than the tense tone that underlies this passage. And so, I accept that this disagreement saw mistakes by both/all parties, yet God again converted the less-than-ideal choices of men to fulfill His purposes.

  12. I like the point that McPorter made about not being there so we will NEVER know what the argument was actually about. I am not going to lie, one thing that kind of bugs me is when people try to focus on the small details like what the argument was about. We know that Paul talks about not wanting John Mark to come along because he is not sure if he will stick around or just leave, but were not sure if that is the cause of the argument, but why is that important? It isn’t. We will never be able to know for sure what the argument was about and that is the final answer. 🙂

  13. I would agree, that it can’t be known for sure why John Mark had left,becuase the text doesn’t state it specifically.
    I also wonder why Barnabas would have put his nephew before the ministry, especially if John Mark could be potentially detrimental to the ministry or at least not very effective in moving the gospel along. It seems that either John did not have good reason to desert them, so Paul was right and Barnabas just wanted to ‘redeem’ his nephew, and let him “prove his worth”, becuase they were family. But if the reasoning behind Mark’s desertion was a legitimate excuse(I can’t think of one now), then maybe Paul was just being proud…
    From the text, it appears to me that Barnabas was being unreasonable, quite unlike the spirit led Barnabas that we have seen up to this point…He is of course human and to be human is to not be perfect. But I still get the feeling that Paul was the one more concerned about the ministry at this time…And Mark was not prepared/ his heart was not in it…


  15. I think this is an important piece of scripture and must be understood clearly as so many in the church use it for an alignment of their situations. I find it incredibly interesting that Mark is considered the same John Mark who wrote the book of Mark. Perhaps this was the spiritual ground that was plowed for Mark’s spirit to prepare him to write the scriptures we all love and want to manifest in our lives.
    We are all people on a journey of working out our salvation and having the difficulties of journeys is presented for us shows that we deeply are in need of a savior no matter who we are.

  16. Our first allegiance is to God and the ministry of reconciliation…..everything else is secondary. I feel Paul’s passion–in that he did not want to jeopardize ministry for a good friend’s, nephew….and I feel Barnabas…give John Mark a second chance….he’s developing, growing, learning. I won’t pick sides….but I truly believe that when we as Christian’s can’t get along….it is better for the sake of the gospel to separate in order to stay focus on the real mandate which is to win the world for Christ.

  17. We see that the Best of Men are men. And God gave John Mark a second chance to prove himself. Thank God he has given each of us a second chance after we have “fallen away” from him.

  18. If Barnabas had not believed in John Mark, and not taken him under his wings and shepherded and guided him, and not had their journeys together, would we have the same man of God in Mark, and same gospel of Mark?

    Would any of us be who we are today, if someone dear hadn’t believed in us, after our many failures in life?

    If Paul had not split with Barnabas, and had been dragged down by a still developing or untrustworthy John Mark, would Paul’s ministry have been as effective?

    The gospel was spread, the church prospered and grew in number…….

    • Thanks Joe, that is all certainly true. I suspect that Paul’s ministry would have prospered regardless since that was God’s plan and God is certainly capable of overcoming a “untrustworthy” person on the mission team.

      I guess my main point here is that John Mark was not necessarily untrustworthy in his character, he was not a “bad person” or even sinful in his defection from Paul. He was in sharp disagreement theologically with Paul about the nature of Gentile salvation and did not agree with Paul’s “missions strategy” for reaching Gentiles who were not like Cornelius, God-Fearing Gentiles already associated with synagogues.

  19. This is my point of view paul felt that mark and john was not true to the ministry becaue they was not ready to accept the gentiles so he could not get them to see that. It was part of god plan for paul to teach preach the gospel to everyone. The mission paul was on he need john and mark to have a true heart and to be able to reach all peoples. When you have been chosen to do the work of god you not going be in agreement of doing was not pleasing to god.

  20. Paul has gotten into trouble with the Church at Jerusalem, which is lead by the Apostles. They had repremained Paul for teaching against Moses. Acts 21:17-26. Paul was teaching that the Jewish Christians need not follow the mosaic by not circumsizing their children nor walk after Jewish custom.

  21. 3/13
    Acts 15:36-41 displays a sharp argument between Paul and Barnabas over if they should bring John Mark or Silas with them on their next missionary journey. It is important to realize that Paul does not want John Mark to come with them because he in the past has abandoned them. This is a good indicator that Mark was not sufficiently rooted in Christ and was not completely ready spiritually if he faltered. It is vital that as Christians we are constantly growing and being guided by the Holy Spirit so that we can stand strong in hard times. The result to this argument causes both sides to split up. In ministry there will always be problems and disagreements. What is interesting is to see if one should split up or stay together. Maybe the split up because of their different ideas of what ministry looked like and how to follow through with it. It could have been a bigger issue that having John Mark come and that was just the “straw that broke the donkey back”. It is good to take a look that even Paul had disagreements and that we are all human and in the case for Christ we will come across hard times and problems. We need to realize that we are all at different level spiritually and sometimes it important to take a step aside. This is sad because both had the same common goal and yet they could not get over their disagreement.

  22. Paul and Barnabas come to the argument based on whether they need more helpers to join them and if they need more individuals to be present with them. Barnabas leans towards more of the favor of having John Mark walk alongside them during this journey. But Paul, who reflected on who the man and reflected on if he would bring more good or bad, did not want John Mark walking alongside them. Their disagreement lead to them splitting and going there on ways. It is important to note and understand the man reason that Paul did not want John Mark was the fact that he fell to the issue of not being properly right in his relationship with Christ. Paul viewed him as not taking his “relationship” with Christ seriously and also did believed that Christians and believers should constantly pursue their walk with Christ and not fall and be half hearted in it.
    One thing that I thing this disagreement portrays is the importance of friendship and the importance of pouring into others. Barnabas and Paul disagreed on a specific situation. Because of it they lead away from each other instead of coming together and brainstorming the best way that both individuals could come out and be successful. It is a personal encouragement to not turn away from each other but to walk together hand in hand.

  23. Paul understands the seriousness of his journey. It is not for the faint of heart. Paul sees that John Mark needs to take time to strengthen his relationship with the Lord. I think both parties needed to see the other side of their argument. They did ministry in different ways and it is important to look at the pro and cons of teaching in different ways. God does not call us to preach in one way but instead gives us the Holy Spirit to help reach more people.

  24. This is an interesting passage to me personally. I think it really shows the humanity in these people. I think when interpreting the actions of these men, it is important to look with a bigger perspective. From what we know of Paul, I think it is safe to say that he is a passionate man. He seems to be a doer, and when he focuses on a task, he is relentless. Paul also seems to be a little harsh. He is honest, and he is fierce. I think this is the reason why he reacted the way he did to John Mark. Paul may have seen a lack of full commitment, or a clinging to previous ideals. Paul may have seen this as a potential impediment on his ministry or as the first step of John Mark leaving the ministry. Since Paul doesn’t want anything to get in the way of spreading the Gospel, he cuts this potential risk down at the source by trying to get rid of John Mark.

    Barnabas, on the other hand, seems to be more forgiving compared to Paul. I think the description of a protective uncle may not be far off. Though Barnabas may see weakness in John Mark, Barnabas thinks that he isn’t a lost cause, and wants to teach and to grow him spiritually. Barnabas obviously doesn’t feel the same way towards Mark as Paul does, which is why they got in a heated argument which caused them to split. Paul didn’t want the risk of Mark and cut him off. Barnabas saw potential in Mark causing Barnabas to leave with Mark.

    I’m curious what anyone else thinks about this interpretation. Am I reading too much into it, or do you think it may be correct?

    • I think this is a real possibility. Aside from Barnabas helping out his nephew, he does seem open to working with people who are not quite on the same page as him (for example, when he gets Paul to come to Antioch). Paul really thought Mark had “defected” from the truth, at least in Acts 15:36-40.

  25. Paul and Barnabas have an argument in Acts 15:36-41 over the idea of bringing John Mark or Silas with them on the missionary journey that they are planning on taking. Paul did not want John Mark to accompany them on this missionary journey because of the past experience they had with him leaving or abandoning them. Paul could have been worried about John Mark not being spiritually ready for this journey if he was not ready for the one they took him on before. Maybe the two, Paul and Barnabas, struggled with the idea of staying together or separating on their missionary journey for a while when this argument came up. This may have been a deciding factor for the two on their decision of splitting up or remaining together. This decision to separate makes me wonder what their missionary journey would have been like if they had worked through the disagreement and remained together.

  26. I think that we can see this in the light of the Jerusalem Church, or in our churches today. There are disputes all the time that we either choose to ignore, or split the church in half and go our separate ways. Their decision to not continue together, could have been the most healthy decision, as sometimes a church deciding to change pastors, or split is the most healthy. It is interesting what Alex said, I am also curious what would have happened if they continued to work together on their ministry, it could have gone either way I think.

  27. For a GGF dispensationalist who holds Paul on a rather Large pedestal this passage of scripture may be one of the more humanizing moments in scripture as it shows Paul in a position where he may not actually be correct in his frustration. Paul is uninterested in having John Mark him and Barnabas because he left before. Although Paul is upset this hardly meant that John mark would have been of no use and it would seem that Barnabas was able to see this truth while Paul in his frustration could not. One might be able to see that even Paul later came to the conclusion that John Mark had value once his anger passed because in both 2 timothy 4:11 and Colossians 4:10 Paul speaks well of him suggesting both that he is useful and should be treated well. Perhaps Paul and John Mark were not able to see eye to eye at first but over time and once the initial issue had passed the two were able to see the other in a better light that allowed them to have reconciliation and a ministry at a later point.

  28. I find both parties point of view here very interesting. First off I think it shows even more how radical Paul’s theology was compared to the Jerusalem church. Honestly it seems to me a little start to different denominations. People today get so bent out of shape over what other Christian’s believe or don’t believe and it ends up separating the church. I can understand why Paul separated from those two, for not having the same theology and for John Mark to have already fallen away once. But this is already starting separation among the church. Maybe if they went with Paul they could have better understood why he believed what he did, and the way that God was working through him to not only reach the Jews but also the Gentiles, which was so controversial back in Biblical times.

    • Interesting view and point Ren about denomination possibilities in the beginning stages of the early church becoming what we see as the modern church with hundreds of different denominations. In the same way, should Paul show grace to John Mark and allowed him to understand the theology and heart of God’s desires to unite Jews and Gentiles together or is it that John Mark won’t change his mind or heart on a position that makes rational sense to himself. Does John Mark seek the truth of teaching others or does that mean within his comfort zone of people like-minded that Christ is the Savior and Redeemer to the church of Jerusalem in their ideology? Furthermore, the question forms around what could have caused the two to be reunited in there mission. I believe that we all want to claim to be right and we all have something theology that we claim as sound, yet we all strive to serve Christ and we all desire to reflect Christ as Christians. In different denominations, we have varying opinions that we try to live out the truth in sound theology beliefs. Yet we focus on our own personal beliefs more than God’s. The odds that one denomination has the perfect denominational structure without error or flaw. Like Paul and John Mark we have to understand we are one body that meets people and individuals in ways that look and are articulated differently that still strive to present the gospel to others.

  29. I find it to be quite interesting that Paul turned John Mark away when he was hoping to rejoin the mission of Paul and Barnabas. Paul’s journey was one that taught of God’s grace and he did not give John Mark a second chance like Barnabas wanted. I think that allowing John Mark back in would have been a bad idea, but it would have been a good teaching/ preaching moment/story because of the grace that would have been shown like you mentioned. Paul made a decision based on previous patterns and behaviors of John Mark which is reasonable. Barnabas and John Mark probably realized that he wasn’t showing grace, which was what they were so adamantly preaching, so they decided to part ways from Paul. Their disagreement about John Mark and showing him grace after he decided to depart from them once before is understandable, and I think that there is still such a big division over the topic of grace (more specifically how grace is to be shown). The grace of God is to be shown and taught to people, but we are not God and therefore do not need to be as gracious. There is a difference between divine grace from God and human graciousness which I think Paul knew to be different and separate not required to be together; and Barnabas and John Mark thought they should intertwine and be thought of similarly (Luter).

    Luter, Boyd A. “Grace,” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by J. Barry et al. (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2016).

  30. What I find interesting in this story is not necessarily the disagreement, but the result. Because of our sin nature, disagreements will happen regardless of the spiritual maturity of the individuals involved. I think we can see that in churches today. While it is not desired, it is unfortunately a natural part of life. However, what I found interesting is that out of this disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, the message of the gospel had a larger opportunity to spread throughout the Mediterranean. It is clear God had a plan in this seemingly negative episode. Polhill reminds us of the sovereignty of God even in a seemingly divisive situation, as Barnabas went on to encourage the churches in Cyprus while Paul went to Syria, Cilicia, and Galatia (2166). Additionally, both Mark and Silas continued to have “significant ministries themselves” (2166). While dissension and disagreements within the church are never desired and do have a negative impact on the spiritual growth of the church, it is important to remember that even out of such situations God can (and does) still work. Church splits are never a desired outcome, but even so God’s word might be able to spread farther than expected.

    I think it is also a reminder that some differences are not the “make it or break it” when compared with the message of God’s salvation. Yes, there are certain things which are pivotal to salvation. However, to “fall out” over issues which could be considered inconsequential in the grand scheme, is not helpful. There is no better way to show the love of Christ than the ability to be considerate, and even loving, to those we may have sharp disagreements with.

    Polhill, John B. (Ed). The Acts of the Apostles. In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

  31. In Acts 15, Paul, after staying in Antioch proposes that he and Barnabus travel to Galatia to spread the gospel. This proposition would fit within the framework of his ministry, as Long notes, Paul and Barnabus had already traveled through Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium. This leads to Barnabus suggesting to Paul that John Mark, who had previously abandoned their ministry in Acts 13, should rejoin the ministry. Luke recounts that Paul and Barnabus had a “sharp disagreement” on this issue, with Paul vehemently refusing this proposal, thinking it was an unwise decision. This argument ultimately leads to the separation of Paul’s and Barnabus’s ministry, which displayed the early diversity of the developing church within the book of Acts.
    Nevertheless, the question of why John Mark left Paul’s ministry in Acts 13 needs to be answered, or else we cannot understand the depth of Paul and Barnabus’s disagreement. It is often proposed, usually by pastors during sermons, that John Mark was scared of persecution or difficult traveling. Yet, this rendition of the story is most likely not a narratively or theological accurate portrayal of John Marks’ abandonment of Paul’s ministry. Rather, the separation is more likely a result of theological differences and uncertainty. For example, it is likely that Paul’s harsh reproach of Elymus of Cyprus, the Jewish sorcerer, shocked John Mark. Along with Paul’s evangelism to Sergius of Paulus, which John Mark might have believed to be a theological misstep, it helps paint a picture of a man unsure of Paul’s radical theological-leanings. John Mark, after witnessing what he felt was questionable theology, desired to depart from Paul’s ministry. This separation of Paul and Barnabus, along with the disagreement over John Mark, presents a perspective of diversity among the early church, with theological differences and conversations that shaped the New Testament landscape.

  32. Since I had not yet read Acts 15 in detail until recently, the separation between Paul and Barnabas was a new story for me to learn about. Before this, I did not know that Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp” disagreement, which resulted in the separation of their ministries. The argument between the two men resulted in Paul pairing with Silas and Barnabas pairing with Mark, to continue their ministries separate from one another. Upon reading this story, there is one thing that sticks out the most to me; God had not specifically spoken to Paul and Barnabas to make the decision of leaving one another. After all, the two men had been through a lot together within their ministry, and they had been called by God to work together in Acts 13. This is one instance where Paul exercises his own will to chose, whether it was a wise decision or not, and Paul went with his “best” instinct that Mark was not fit to travel with him because he had left them before. From an outsider’s view, Paul’s decision may seem harsh, but comparably to modern-day churches, to me, it could be seen as an elder of the church chose not to let someone into church leadership because they are not living out their lives as faithful Christians. Interestingly enough, Polhill points out that despite Paul and Barnabas’ decision to part ways, God still used them to further the kingdom of God. Polhill states, “In the sovereignty of God, out of this disagreement came a doubling of labor, Barnabas went to strengthen the churches in Syria, Cilicia, and then in Galatia. In addition, both of their assistants have significant ministries themselves” (p.2116). Polhill makes a great point in the fact that despite human choices, whether they are wrong or right, God is able to transform them into something for his good, and the furthering of the kingdom of heaven.

  33. Paul and Barnabas are companions throughout the first half of the book of Acts. They traveled as companions, workers, and delivered the message of the gospel to many nations. As Paul and Barnabas traveled there were many different companions that joined them periodically. John Mark was one of these companions, and it was over taking him that they ended up disagreeing. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, but Paul was hesitant. Paul basing his opinion of John Mark on his previous experience with him, did not want to take him. As Long (2019) emphasizes this was not just a little tiff, there was a sharp disagreement most likely accompanied by a fight, that ended in separation. This is also an example of diversity in the early church, similar to the modern church not everyone agreed fully on every concept. Looking over the Paul and Barnabas situation, I think there is a lot to be gained however regarding how to handle conflict. Paul and Barnabas obviously made the decision that it was best to separate, and sometimes that is the healthiest way to proceed. But as Polhill points out, God sovereignty is glorified even though this situation, “In the sovereignty of God, out of this disagreement acme a doubling of their labor, for Barnabas went to strengthen the churches is Cyprus and Paul went to the Churches in Syria, Cilicia, and Galatia” (2116). This also provided Silas with the opportunity to occupy Paul and grow in his ministry, as well as for John Mark to gain a second chance traveling with Barnabas.

  34. Paul and Barnabas had just come from a tough journey. I am sure they were exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. I feel like it is very uncommon to not see people agree within the Bible but there is the old saying, ‘let’s agree to disagree. Sometimes two people just cannot simply fully see and agree with the other side, especially when they are already emotionally exhausted. Both men have reason to support their side. Paul is right in the fact that John Mark has already deserted them once and he does not want to go through that again. He could give someone another chance instead. Barnabus is also right in saying that John Mark deserves another chance since as believers we are supposed to show forgiveness and grace to all people.
    Disputes between Christians are sadly very common in our modern age. God is omniscient and we are not and sometimes that is hard for Christians to understand. It’s hard for us to know that maybe there are parts of God that have not been revealed to us yet or that our minds couldn’t function if God gave us all the answers we ever wanted. We are not made to hold all that knowledge. This is why I am so glad we serve a loving and gracious God who uses our downfalls to bring glory to him. This story of Barnabus and Paul’s disagreement while it may have been heated at the moment is not a powerful tool for teaching and out the Bible in a real modern-day perspective. We aren’t perfect and God did not create us to be otherwise we would not need him.

  35. When I first read about this “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas, I didn’t think much of it and didn’t think it was very serious. After thinking about it in more depth after reading this article, it seems more serious when dug into. I think it an interesting idea is, just like P. Long mentioned, the fact that both John Mark and Barnabas ended up both leaving the ministry mission of Paul because of Paul. It is a pretty serious thing obviously because they could not find an agreement better than splitting up, but is that a good thing to put into perspective? Looking at the church today (building, people, etc), what would happen to the church and body of Christ if people would just split up and part ways after having a disagreement. The passage (ESV) didn’t go into much detail about the disagreement, but I can imagine there could have been some compromise. After reading this article, it almost makes me question the mission of Paul. Why would two people want to part ways with him. Is it something he did? Or is it something to do with the other people?

    Now I can also see a positive side to this disagreement. By them parting ways, it shows that God is still in control in both of their lives. They both went on their way to serve and preach the word of God. Another positive thing is that it gave both John Mark and Silas another chance to serve and preach the word of God as well.

  36. Before reading this post, I’ve actually never had heard the notion that John Mark left Paul’s ministry because of his fear of persecution in the ministry. I’ve only heard briefly before that it was because of theological conflicts, which I would agree with, and what seems to be the point Long is trying to make. The interpretation of what the disagreement between Barnabas and Paul was really does hold some importance, because if we are to attempt to pull out some form of application for this passage it would differ for which view you hold. If John Mark was afraid of the persecution, then this would be helpful to how we should respond when one might feel that way. Paul strongly felt that he shouldn’t go with them alongside their ministry, and with this view that is because of fear and lack of confidence. If you hold to the view that they had theological differences, this brings light to a whole new topic. The contextual evidence in previous passages holds true to this view. For example, John Mark was shocked with Pauls approach with Elymas. If you hold to the view that this is not a pagan/magic issue, but an issue with false teachings like Rick Strelan believes in his article, “Who is Bar Jesus?”. This view supports the theological differences between the two. Also, Paul’s evangelism to Sergius of Paulus, was possibly seen as a “theological error” (Long). These perspectives point to the issue being more in differences theologically and in teaching styles. With that view, it brings light to Lukes view of importance on correct teachings and understanding the word of God (Luke 5,l;Acts 13,44; 15,7). So, what I believe we should take from this view is an importance of theological teachings and corrections.

  37. In this situation, I think it’s clear that no one is completely right or wrong in their choices about John Mark. Paul had his reasons for rejecting John Mark as part of his ministry team, and Barnabas had his reasons for mentoring John Mark and taking him under his wing. Polhill (2008) brings up the point that, despite the disagreement and ultimate separation of Paul and Barnabas, it led to a doubling of the labor. Now, Barnabas and John Mark were ministering elsewhere while Paul and Silas were ministering as intended. Despite their disagreement, God was still using the men for good.
    Likewise, in the blog post, Long points out that John Mark may not have abandoned Paul originally out of fear, but rather out of his expectations of what the ministry was to look like had been broken. Paul was extreme in his case toward the Gentiles, and to John Mark, this may have been off-putting and perhaps even breaking his theological perspective. John Mark didn’t abandon the cause because he was afraid of persecution, he did so because he wasn’t under the same impression of what the ministry was going to look like as Paul was. From Paul’s perspective, it’s obvious why he wouldn’t want John Mark to rejoin him on his journey—he would be likely to leave again. But, from Barnabas’s perspective, bringing John Mark along was a great opportunity to reignite his passion for ministry and perhaps sway his theological perspectives to align with Paul’s extreme views on the Gentiles. But, Barnabas would have to do this alone with John Mark, which may have been for the better if Paul was still dealing with concerns over John Mark’s original departure.

  38. Paul and Barnabas were planning to revisit the places they spread the Gospel of Jesus where they’d been through but Paul wanted to bring Silas with them this time to build and establish or equip him to grow in a spiritual way. But Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark again. John Mark was with them before in the first missionary journey but left them in the midst of the journey. This affected the faith of Paul.
    Paul is a person who is Zealous. Since, before he became a Christian or before his conversion, He eagerly worked hard to keep the law of Moses what he believed, also after conversion, He eagerly served for God and shared the Gospel of Christ until the end of his life. Doesn’t matter with many afflictions, I never give up and make it out. He said: ‘’I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’’(2Ti 4;7. ESV). So, What Paul wanted from John Mark was to finish the mission that he started. doesn’t matter what afflictions he had or will have for Christ but face through. Also, Paul does not want to work with a person who does not have the same vision as him. Now Barnabas had a different view on John Mark than Paul then they departed each other and journeyed a different path. This is good evidence that we can see about God. He only wants to work with those who have the same vision as him and Believe.

  39. I think that the author hints at why this disagreement came up. The first hint is taht John Mark had previously abandoned Paul and Barnabas on a mission trip. Paul may have been hesitant to include him again because he did not want to risk another abandonment. Barnabas, on the other hand, appears to have been more forgiving and willing to give John mark another chance. This implies that there were differing perspectives on how to deal with individuals who had previously failed in their duties or responsibilities. Another hint that is used by the author is that John Mark’s split from Paul and Barnabas may have been due to doctrinal differences. Luke’s use of the term “afistemi”, which means “fall away”, suggests this hint. This implies that John Mark had doubts about Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, which would have represented a significant shift between the early Christian church and the Jerusalem church. However, the fact that Paul and Barnabas were able to part peacefully and continue their work on their own demonstrates that the early Christian church was able to tolerate and adapt to diversity in its leadership and mission tactics.

  40. I see things very similarly as you have articulated above.
    As further exploration of the topic, we’re told elsewhere that the apostles had given him the name Barnabas (meaning ‘son of encouragement’), though he was originally called Joseph (Acts 4:36-37); he’s an encourager. Meanwhile, Paul is the apostle to the gentiles; there is a different personal emphasis in their callings, though each chosen by God as apostles.

Leave a Reply