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.

The 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 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.

Acts 13:1 – Who were the Prophets and Teachers in Antioch?

Barnabas Icon

Barnabas

Besides Barnabas and Saul, Luke lists three individuals as leaders in Antioch.  Luke calls these men“prophet-teachers” of the church rather than elders.

Simeon, called Niger. The word Niger is a Latinism which suggests that this Simeon was from Northern Africa, although the name could simply refer to a person with a dark complexion (BDAG).  The name may also refer to one’s outlook on life (“Antioch,” ABD 1:267). While it is possible, it is unlikely this is Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross of Jesus (Luke 23:26).  The name is spelled slightly differently, and the syntax (“being called Niger) indicates that Luke is trying to distinguish him from other Simeons already mentioned in his work (Witherington, Acts, 392.).  The Greek word Νίγερ appears on a wood tablet referring to an army veteran called “Petronius Niger” (A.D. 94).

Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene was the capital of the Roman province of Cyrenaica in northern Africa (modern Libya). The city was prosperous and it is no surprise that merchants would turn up in Antioch.  Ward Gasque suggests that Acts 6:9 implies enough Jews from Cyrene came to Jerusalem that they had their own synagogue (“Cyrene” ABD 1:1231). It seems reasonable to assume that this Lucius was among those scattered by the persecution against the Hellenist believers in Acts 6-7.

It is unlikely that this Lucius is the author of the book; the name Luke is spelled differently in Col 4:14 and there is no tradition that Luke was from North Africa.   On the other  hand, F. F. Bishop argued that Lucius was from Cyrpus, taking the Greek here to refer to Kyrenia, a town on the island of Cyprus (See “Simon and Lucius: Where did they come from? A Plea for Cyprus,” ExpTim 51 (1939-40): 148-53).

Manaen, a close associate of Herod Antipas. The word used to describe the relationship (σύντροφος) literally means that they shared the same wet-nurse, but it may mean they were foster-brothers.  Josephus, Antiq. 15.373-370 mentions a Manaen who was an Essene and friend of Herod the Great.  It is highly unlikely this is the same man, although it is possible this is the son of the man mentioned by Josephus.  Usually it is suggested that Manaen was Luke’s source of information on Herod Antipas in Luke (for example, Polhill, Acts, 290).  Antipas ruled as Tetrarch 4 B.C. – A.D. 39, so at this point he has already been banished.  The name Manaen is a Greek form of Menachem, “Comforter” (Fitzmyer, Acts, 497, citing LXX 2 Kings 15:14).

Along with Barnabas (from Cyprus) and Saul (from Tarsus), this is a remarkably international group of leaders, although it is likely these are all Jewish men.  This is in contrast to Bock who thinks that these Greek names indicate that “God is gifting the church without ethnic distinction” (Acts, 439).   Each name has a Greek and Hebrew form (with the exception of Lukas, perhaps) and we are certain that three of the group are Jewish.  While only one could be considered from Judea (Manaen), Barnabas would have spent considerable time there as a Levite and we know Saul was educated in Jerusalem.  Three of the group could be considered wealthy (Manaen as a friend of Antipas, Barnabas owned property in Acts 4, Saul have had some wealth as well).

Are these five men the leaders of a single “church” in Antioch?  I suspect that these are the leaders of multiple congregations throughout Antioch.  That there are five names may imply there were five separate Christian synagogues in the city.  That each man has a Hellenistic, Diaspora background implies that they considered themselves as missionaries in Antioch, establishing congregations in the city and surrounding region.

It is the Holy Spirit who sets Barnabas and Saul aside for their mission. While it is entirely possible the churches of Antioch had been considering such a mission, Luke is emphatic that this mission is based on the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  As such, we know that the mission will be successful, even though the gospel is going to go beyond the geographical and social boundaries established at Jerusalem and Antioch.  And as we might guess, there will be some growing pains.

Acts 4:36-27 – Who was Barnabas?

Luke gives an ideal example of a member of the early Christian community in Jerusalem: Joseph the Levite, also known as Barnabas (4:36). Barnabas is a significant figure in the book of Acts, introduced here as a member of the community at Jerusalem. The introduction of Barnabas at this point in the book is a typical Lukan literary style. He often introduces a character who will become significant later in the story (Saul in 8:1, John Mark and James, Jesus’ brother in chapter 12).

BarnabasJoseph is a common name in the first century, so his second name might be a nickname. Luke tells us the name means “son of encouragement” although this derivation is not particular obvious. The phrase “son of ” can mean “characterized by, such as calling James and John “sons of thunder.” The name may be related to Bar-nabi, which would mean “son of a prophet.”

While this seems the most likely explanation for the name, it is not exactly what Luke says the name means. The role of the prophet is not limited to future-telling or condemnation of sin. For example, the second half of Isaiah has been rightly described as a “book of comfort” or “consolation.” Perhaps Barnabas had a personality which could speak the truth with strength and clarity, but in such a way as to bring comfort and encouragement to people as well.

Barnabas was from Cyprus. We know a community of Jews was present on Cyprus as early as 330 B.C., but they were expelled in A.D. 117. It is possible that Barnabas was in Jerusalem to serve his time in the Temple, or he may have been living in the city more or less full time. If he was wealthy, then he may have owned property in Jerusalem and Cyprus.

Luke calls him a Levite. Not all Levites were priests, but typically they were wealthy and well educated regardless of their role in the Temple. Levites could be anything from priests to doorkeepers in the Temple, but they also might be scribes or teachers of the Law. We are not told that Barnabas actually functioned as a Levite in the Temple, he may have simply been from a Levitical family. On the other hand, it is possible that he had worked in the Temple and was quite “traditional” within the spectrum of Second Temple Period Judaism. What matters here is that Barnabas was from the Diaspora, but had deep roots in Jerusalem and perhaps the Temple.

Barnabas sells some property and turns the proceeds over to the apostles. This stands in contrast to Ananias in the next paragraph, who claims to do the same thing but is not telling the truth. We are not told what the property is, although he may have owned some property around Jerusalem which was a source of income for his family while he worked in the Temple.

I think that it is important to observe here that Jews living living outside of Judea are not automatically “more liberal” on matters of Law. In fact, it seems to me that the violent resistance to the preaching of the Gospel in Acts comes first from Diaspora Jews, not the Aramaic-speaking Jews. That Barnabas has two Hebrew names, hast the title of Levite, and had some property in Jerusalem implies that he was less Hellenized and more traditional with respect to his religion.

E. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 1:788-790 for detailed information on Barnabas.

Acts 16:3 – Was Paul a Hypocrite?

In Acts 16:3, Paul circumcised Timothy, a Hellenistic Jew who begins to travel with Paul during the second missionary journey.  The problem is Paul’s reasons for circumcising Timothy at this time. The whole point of the conference in Acts 15 was to deal with the issue of circumcision for converts. Gentile converts should not be circumcised since they are not under the Mosaic Covenant. One option is to dismiss this story as a fiction created by Luke to create the appearance of unity in the Early Church (F.C. Baur). Since it does not seem likely the Paul of Galatians would have circumcised Timothy, this story is taken as evidence Luke to not know Paul or the letter of Galatians. Or perhaps Paul was just inconsistent in the application of the decision of the council.

Timothy_stained-glassThe traditional answer for this dilemma is rooted in Luke’s description of Timothy’s parents in Acts 16:3. Since his mother was a Jew, his father was a Greek, he would have been considered ethnically Jewish. The ruling that the one’s status as a Jew was traced through the mother’s line dates back to the time of Ezra and the Mishnah includes a similar ruling often dated to the first century (m.Qidd 3:12). While it is not absolutely certain that matrilinear descent was always followed in the first century, there appears to be enough evidence to say that likely was (Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 664, n.23).

Shayne Cohen has challenged the relevance of these texts and argued Timothy was actually a Gentile who happened to have a Jewish mother (“Was Timothy Jewish (Acts 16:1-3): Patristic Exegesis, Rabbinic Law, And Matrilineal Descent,” JBL 105 [1986]: 251-268). He states “The Roman law of persons is completely irrelevant” for this case since there is no hint either of Timothy’s parents were Roman citizens. The Rabbinic texts often cited cannot be dated to the first century with any certainty. For Cohen, Ezra use of matrilineal descent is not relevant since it is not mentioned again in any Second Temple document other than the implication in Acts 16:3. Even if matrilineal descent was a principle in the first century, there is no evidence Hellenistic Jews in Asia Minor would have recognized it as valid. Finally, Cohen points out that no other New Testament text implies Timothy was a Jew. Even 2 Tim 1:5 does not require Timothy to be Jewish.

Yet Timothy is circumcised in Acts 16:3. I think it is wrong think Timothy was forced to be circumcised. He was complete agreement with Paul on this matter! I suggest that despite Cohen’s objections, from the perspective of the most observant Jew in Asia Minor, Timothy was a Jew, not a Gentile. Luke also tells us the reason Paul circumcised him was pressure from the Jews in Lystra and Iconium. They presumably knew Timothy was not circumcised and they would have made Timothy’s status with respect to the covenant the central issue whenever Paul attempted to preach the Gospel in a Jewish community.

Craig Keener sees this incident as an example of Luke’s literary-theological agenda (3:2321). After achieving unity on the issue of Gentile circumcision, Luke reports Paul did not excuse Jewish Christians from circumcision. Luke intentionally told this story after Acts 15 to emphasize the fact Paul was not a threat to Jewish heritage.

Does Paul do the right thing in requiring Timothy to keep the Law, even though he argues passionately in Galatians that those who are “in Christ” are not “under Law?”

Acts 15:37-40 – A Parting of the Ways: Part 2

[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.]

Argument 2Barnabas wishes to take his cousin John Mark on a second missionary journey Paul has proposed. But Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had already deserted them in Pamphylia and not continued with them in the work. They had such a “sharp disagreement that they parted company…” (Acts 15:38-39). Luke uses the word παροξυσμὸς for “sharp disagreement,” which is an odd choice of words to describe Paul’s disagreement. The word most often is used as “to stir to anger,” “to be irritated,” to do something that causes a person to get upset at a person. This is exactly what happened to Paul, as he was “provoked to anger” by Barnabas request.

This word is used in the Septuagint to describe God’s anger or wrath when he is provoked:

Deuteronomy 1:34-35 “When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors…”

Deuteronomy 29:27 “Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book.”

Jeremiah 32:37 (LXX 39:37) “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety.”

Luke describes Paul as being very angry at Barnabas wishing to bring John Mark along, and we quickly see they even split up because of this disagreement. From Luke’s perspective Paul evidently believed he is in the right in this discussion. Luke chooses a word commonly used to describe the unfaithfulness of the Israelites towards God to describe Paul’s anger. Did Luke use this word because he was agreeing with Paul decision to be against John Mark coming on the trip? Or did Luke use this strong of a word for this disagreement because he was disappointed in Paul having such a strong reaction against his companion?

Some scholars believe Paul is the one who is in the wrong: he did not wait for the Holy Spirit’s leading to go on a second missionary journey. It was the Holy Spirit who had moved Paul and Barnabas to be commissioned and go on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-4). Perhaps God used Paul’s impatience to show him that good does not come from not waiting on God.

Paul was not going to change his mind about bringing John Mark and Barnabas must have felt the same way, so they parted ways. Their solution to the problem was to continue reaching the Gentiles, although they will no longer work together. Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus and Paul recruited Silas and went to Derbe. They went to the towns Paul had visited on his first missionary journey.

What did Luke intended by using this particular word to describe Paul’s anger? Who was in the right in this conflict over John Mark?

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?

Galatians 1: Where’s Barnabas?

The opening lines of Galatians are perhaps the most significant of all of Paul’s letters.  By comparing this introduction to the other letters of Paul, Bible students have usually focused on the absence of praise for the Galatian churches.  This is certainly true, but something else is missing from the introduction of this letter.  Paul normally includes others in the address of a letter (1 Thess 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1).  In this case Paul alone is writer of the letter.  Barnabas, the logical person to include, is missing.  Where is Barnabas?

Richard Bauckham wrote a short article on Barnabas in Galatians in which he suggests that Paul purposely did not include Barnabas because at the time of the writing of the letter, he was still estranged from Paul.  When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after planting several churches in Galatia, two things happened.  First, men from (allegedly) from James came to Antioch and complained about table fellowship.  Peter and Barnabas withdrew from eating with Gentiles, resulting in a stern condemnation from Paul (Gal 2:11-14).  Second, Paul hears a report that Gentiles in his Galatia churches are also being pressured to keep the Law, including circumcision.  (These events could be reversed chronologically, it does not matter for the point of this argument.)

While it appears that Barnabas and Paul reconcile before Acts 15, it may be that the rift goes deeper than either Galatians or Acts lets on.  By the end of Acts 15, immediately after the Jerusalem conference, Barnabas and Paul part company again.  The reason Luke gives is the presence of John Mark in a renewed mission to Gentiles.  While Bauckham does not say this, I think that the presence of John Mark indicates that Barnabas is unwilling to do Gentile ministry in the same way Paul does.  The Incident at Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12) is the key.  John Mark leaves after Paul’s dramatic condemnation of unbelieving Jews.  In my view, John Mark is reacting to Paul’s ministry to Gentiles who are not God-Fearing Gentiles within the context of a synagogue.  In addition, he may have disagreed with Paul over a gospel which did not require Gentiles to at least become God-Fearers, let alone not keep food laws or Sabbaths.

In addition, it is likely that Barnabas was the leader of the first mission effort to Cyprus and Asia Minor.  Remember that at Lystra he was thought to be Zeus, implying he was older and “in charge” while  Paul was Hermes, the spokesman for Zeus.  Paul’s actions on Cyprus and his sermon in Acts 13 make it clear that his theology was going beyond Gentiles in the Synagogue.   By taking John Mark back as a travel companion, Barnabas may be signaling his unwillingness to minister outside of the synagogue in quite the way Paul does in Acts 16 and following (balancing synagogue with marketplace ministry, engaging pagan philosophers, etc.)

Admittedly this is speculative, but Bauckham’s reconstruction (and my slight extension of it) seems to explain the absence of Barnabas from the introduction of the letter.  If Paul could say “even Barnabas agrees with me,” he would have since that would have silenced the opponents.  However, he cannot say this at the time Galatians was written.

Bibliography:
Richard Bauckham, “Barnabas in Galatians,” JSNT 2 (1979): 61-70.