Paul and Barnabas Disagree on John Mark: Part 1 of 3

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

January 6, 2015



Scripture (Acts 15:36-41; KJV)

36 And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.
37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.
38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.
39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;
40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.
41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.


Introduction

The outcome of the Jerusalem council (a decision in favor of accepting the Gentiles without circumcision and adherence to Jewish Law) naturally gave added impetus to the spread of the gospel. Paul and Barnabas would have had no doubts that their earlier decision to go to the Gentiles had been the right one, but to have the approval now of the other apostles and the elders of the church in Jerusalem must have been as encouraging for them as for their converts. A “second missionary journey” was therefore proposed. But they were destined not to make it together. A difference of opinion between them leads to each going his separate way. Barnabas went to Cyprus, and we hear no more of him in Acts. Paul remains the focus of attention as he returns to Galatia and then embarks on a new enterprise.


Commentary

36 And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.

“And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas . . .”
Paul was a tireless servant of Christ; he and Barnabas had been preaching and teaching in Antioch after their return from the Jerusalem Conference (15:35). We do not know how long he remained in Antioch after the reading of the apostolic epistle. All we are told is “And some days after,” which was probably as spring approached and it again became possible to travel. Paul suggested to Barnabas that they should revisit “our brethren in every city” of their previous journey to tell them the good news of the apostolic epistle and to see how they were doing. Nothing more than this is suggested, but it may already have been Paul’s intention to start a new work once this visitation was done.

Like any good pastor, Paul wanted to go back over the ground which he had already covered. The Judaizing element in those churches had misled some of the converts with its false propaganda. With the backing of the council, Paul was certain that he could lead the converts back to the truth of the gospel. Good pastors know that you cannot convert a man and then let him drift. The follow-up is perhaps even more important than the original contact. Paul wanted to follow-up what he had done; he wanted to see “how they are doing.” People do not spring into spiritual maturity overnight. Once the seed is planted it must be cultivated; once the life is undertaken it must be encouraged, confirmed, and trained. The faithful pastor, like Paul, goes back, again and again, to see how his people are doing. Sometimes they are not doing so well and they’d need his guidance or his warning; sometimes they are doing well and they need his friendly interest in their well-being and happiness. Above all, they need to be reminded that the Christian life is not something that can be developed in a two-year course and then dropped. It is something that a person must go over again and again; going back over the same questions, the same affirmations, he can grow in stature and in spiritual wisdom.

The expression “with many others also” (15:35), with which this verse is linked, leads us to the conclusion that Paul soon decided there were plenty of people able to carry on at Antioch. They did not need him there. There was a whole lost world waiting to be evangelized.

A “new division” of the book of Acts begins at this point—Paul’s second major mission. Actually, Paul did not fulfill in person his desire to revisit “all” the churches of their first mission. He did not return to Cyprus. As things turned out, however, all the churches were revisited, with Barnabas going to Cyprus (38:39).

The second journey, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was to open vast new areas to the gospel, mainly in Macedonia and Greece; but the original purpose was that of revisiting the churches already formed so that they might be strengthened in the faith.

“Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.”
For a long time, Paul’s heart had been with his Galatian churches. He had prayed for them. He longed to see them again. What with the trouble at Antioch, the trip to Jerusalem, and the new tempo at Antioch, he had been kept busy. But increasingly, now that things were so successful at Antioch, his thoughts had been on the mission field. So few seemed to catch the missionary vision, and nobody else seemed to want to go. Surely the best way to inspire others with missionary zeal was to go himself.

He would start by revisiting Galatia. But what about the danger? Paul was not concerned about the danger. And Barnabas? Barnabas must come, too. Dear, beloved Barnabas. He was the ideal companion. He had been carried away by the false pretenses and distortions put forth by the Judaizers, true, but a good dose of pioneering would blow the last of those cobwebs away. Barnabas must come too. So he broached the idea with his old companion and friend.


37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.
38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.

“And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.”
Barnabas had evidently made up his mind about that. When back in Jerusalem he had doubtless renewed his contact with Mark. More than likely he stayed in the home of Mary, Mark’s mother, his own sister. Mark would have expressed his regrets over his past failure, apologized, and asked his uncle to give him another chance. The thrilling stories told by his uncle only fired the fervor of the young man. He pleaded to be included again the next time. We can picture it happening. Perhaps Barnabas allowed his judgment to be swayed by genuine affection for Mark. Barnabas had said, “We’ll see, Mark. I’ll give it much thought and I’ll pray about it, but I’ll have to talk to Paul.”

Barnabas had a shepherd’s heart, and probably had personal reasons for knowing better than Paul the depth and sincerity of John Mark’s repentance. On the other hand, Paul—also a spiritual shepherd—was concerned with the spiritual success of the “second journey” in which much depended on the help they might receive from younger men. These must be “tried and proved” in a public fashion, and it could not be said that John Mark had been so tested since his defection

“But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.”
Perhaps Mark had tentatively tried out his proposal on Paul at Jerusalem. Perhaps he had wisely left the matter with his uncle. Perhaps Paul had heard via the Grapevine that Mark was putting out feelers to see if he could come again. Perhaps the proposal of Barnabas took Paul completely by surprise.

Whatever the case, Paul did NOT agree with Barnabas. All Paul could think of was Mark’s failure at a critical point in their previous enterprise. Was it the danger? Was it the drudgery? Was in the displacement of Barnabas as a leader? Mark had let them down, whatever the reason. Whether it was a lack of courage, lack of conviction, or lack of commitment was beside the point. Mark had failed, and Paul had little patience with failure.

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