After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.Acts 15:36-41
Both Paul and Barnabas are focused on going back to strengthen the churches they have begun in all the places they visited on their first missionary journey. Barnabas was just as courageous as Paul in going wherever the latter went despite the dangers. As the Son of Encouragement he is only too willing to help the believers in all of the places they have been before. The issue between them was not what they were going to do but who to take with them. Barnabas wanted to take with them (John) Mark. I bracketed (John) because we know him as Mark rather than John Mark. John Mark had already proved himself unreliable and had turned back at the first sign of trouble. Paul didn’t want to take the risk of including him in the team again. Barnabas however had suggested that they take John Mark along, clearly to give him another chance. Paul strongly disagreed. Our question needs to be why was Barnabas so willing to take Mark along in the face of Paul’s stand of rejecting him. We can understand more why Paul rejected him? It is clear that he had let the team down once and was likely to do it again. Paul says, “Not again.” Let’s turn our attention to why Barnabas stood firm in the face of Paul’s strong unwillingness to allow Mark to come with them.
Remember that Mark was a relative of Barnabas and both likely came from Cyprus. We know Barnabas was from Cyprus but it was highly likely that Mark was from there as well. Mark’s mother Mary is mentioned but there is no mention of his father. It is highly likely therefore that Mark had lost his father and Barnabas has taken him under his wing. He had been converted through Peter’s personal influence (1Pet 5:13) and had already won a large place in the esteem of the leaders, as is shown by his being chosen to accompany Barnabas and Saul to Antioch, a little later. Mark’s home was a clearly a place where the Christians stopped often, so that Mark had plenty of opportunity to get to know other leaders such as James and John, and James the brother of the Lord. He had been taken on the first part of this First Missionary Journey to “minister” to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:5), something like an attendant. They were clearly trying him out. Whether it meant more than an attendant is hard to say. Yes the word could also suggest they took him along to “minister” or teach. But there is no hint of the latter sense in his short time with them on Cyprus, and remember Cyprus was home territory for him. But it was there he made up his mind to leave them.
Why did he turn back? There is no hint that he was homesick, or worried about his mother’s safety or concerned over the dangers ahead. That is left unstated. Some commentators think it was because he objected to the offer of salvation to the Gentiles on condition of faith alone. There are hints that Mark’s family, like Paul’s, were Hebrews of the Hebrews, and it is not without significance that in Acts 13:5 and 13 his Hebrew name is included. The terms of Paul’s objection are very strong in Acts 15:38, and we know nothing stirred Paul’s feelings more deeply than this very question. The explanation of it all may be found in what happened at Paphos when the Roman Sergius Paulus became a believer. At that time Paul (the change of name is here noted by Luke) stepped to the fore, and henceforth, with the exception of 15:12, 25, where naturally enough the old order is maintained, Luke speaks of Paul and Barnabas, not Barnabas and Saul. We must remember that, at that time, Paul stood almost alone in his conviction. Barnabas, even later than that, had misgivings (Gal 2:13). Perhaps, Mark was less able than Barnabas himself to see his relative take second place. But we are only guessing in reality.
We are aware that Mark went on to record the Gospel which bears his name. There was worth hidden within him, but something about him in the early years suggested to Paul he was not worth persevering with. It stands to reason that Barnabas would be intent to give Mark another chance. After all he is family and he is a fellow Cypriot. Also given the nature of Barnabas’ heart it is little wonder that Barnabas is willing to persevere with one who deserted the the first time around. Understandable too why Paul was not willing to take the chance on Mark again. Thus Paul and Barnabas have a falling out over whether Mark should accompany them or not. Both were adamant regarding their own personal opinion on Mark. So much so that they part company.
Now what about Paul’s relationship with Barnabas? Was that destroyed because of the disagreement over Mark inclusion on the following expedition or not? Luke doesn’t mention Barnabas again in his second volume. He focuses his attention on Paul. However, there is a reference to Barnabas from Paul in 1 Cor 9:6 “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves?” where Paul speaks of Barnabas favourably as a fellow apostle. Paul and Barnabas might have had a falling out over John Mark, but they were both fellow workers. Even though Paul and Barnabas had had a passionate and bitter argument over John Mark, it appears that each was able to restore the sense of unity between them, even though they went in two different directions. Barnabas’ faith in John Mark was substantiated and even Paul came to recognize and acknowledge that. But curiously we find no further reference in Paul’s writings to time spent with Barnabas again. Paul has contact again with Mark but it apparently not with Barnabas.
There are times when God will utilize division in the ranks of believers to further the work. In this case it is interesting isn’t it that from this division, multiplication occurs. Barnabas and Mark head for Cyprus, the place where Barnabas and Paul’s first journey began, while Paul and Silas head for Syria and Cilicia. Did you note anything significant in where these two “antagonists” go? Are you aware that both went back to their roots? Barnabas and John Mark head for Cyprus (their home area). Paul and Silas passed through Syria and Cilicia from Antioch and then on to Galatia, Phrygia and Mysia, where they delivered the decree of the Jerusalem council and strengthened the churches, and were joined by Timothy, they eventually reached Troas. Tarsus is found in the Province of Cilicia. While Barnabas and John Mark head to familiar territory for them, so does Paul. We don’t know exactly where Silas was from but it seems Paul heads back home to Tarsus after passing through Syria. A perfectly natural thing to do from Antioch in Syria.
Whatever the nature of this tension between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark, the end result was now two missionary teams to strengthen the believers, one tried and trusted where both members have a proven track record in strengthening others and the other with a proven component in Barnabas and an as-yet-unproven member in John Mark. I am sure part of Mark’s success would have been a desire to prove himself in Paul’s eyes. He already had the support of his cousin/uncle but he would have wished to show Paul that he was not to be written off.
Let’s now follow Mark’s track record. It’s about 11 years before we hear of Mark again in Col 4:10 and Philemon 1:24. The problem between Paul and Mark has been healed. He is now one of the faithful few among Jewish Christians who stand by Paul. He is Paul’s honored “fellow worker” and a great “comfort” to him. The Colossian passage may imply a contemplated visit by Mark to Asia Minor. It may be that it was carried out, that he met Peter and went with him to Babylon. Peter sends Mark’s greeting along with that of the church in Babylon (1 Pet 5:13). Thence Mark returns to Asia Minor, and in 2 Tim 4:11 Paul asks Timothy, who is at Ephesus, to come to him, pick up Mark on the way, and bring him along. In that connection Paul pays Mark his final tribute; he is “useful for ministering” so useful that his ministry is a joy to Paul’s heart. So things have come full circle and Mark has proved himself in ministry. That fact alone must have restored in Paul esteem for Barnabas and his willingness to stick with John Mark despite there not being another record indicating that Paul and Barnabas met up again.
When Grace is extended to others, you call it injustice. But when it’s extended to you, you call it amazing!Hart Ramsey
The three hardest word you’ll ever say: “I was wrong!”Anon
I don’t care how many times it’s underlined in your bible, if you aren’t doing it you don’t know it.Joyce Meyer
I don’t know what you’re going through but even the smallest step forward is a step forward.Ian Vail