Why Did Paul and Barnabas Separate?

10 Dec

The separation of Paul and Barnabas had always troubled me whenever I read it in Acts 15:39. This seemed to have been a serious matter, and it probably was for both Barnabas and Paul. I do think reconciliation eventually occurred, because Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark with him to assist Paul when it seemed Paul was near the end of his life (2Timothy 4:11). We are not told when the reconciliation occurred, but there is little doubt that it did happen.

So, what did take place way back in Acts 15 (cir. 49-50 CE)? I think we have to return to Acts 13 to figure this out, because the reason for the separation was Paul’s unwillingness to take Mark with Barnabas and himself to visit and encourage the churches in Galatia, where they went on their first missionary journey (Acts 15:38).

Paul and Barnabas took Mark from Antioch in Syria on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-5). However, Mark left the two after they arrived in Perga. The curious thing is, Mark did not return to Antioch from where he embarked on the evangelistic mission, but to Jerusalem, which up to this point had been considered the “headquarters” church. Everyone looked to the apostles as the leaders of the Jesus movement.

Some believe Mark may have gotten sick, but if this is true, why was Paul so opposed to his rejoining them on their second trip to Asia? Others believe Mark may have gotten homesick, but this doesn’t seem to fit either. He was perfectly willing to go after the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, and he never seemed to have trouble missing mommy afterward, for he was the companion of Peter for quite awhile after he went with Barnabas. Neither homesickness nor health matters seem to fit the context of what we know about Mark.

I think we need to look at what Luke records immediately after Mark left for Jerusalem and Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch. Not long after returning from their first missionary journey, “those of the circumcision” came to Antioch saying the gentiles had to become circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1)! Nothing is really set in cement here, but the context seems to show Mark was offended with the manner in which Paul preached the Gospel to the gentiles. He may have been a little wary of receiving the gentiles into full fellowship without their having to become Jews. This was the manner of the Jews that had always been used regarding gentiles and worshiping the God of Israel, and remember that the Jewish faith up to the time of Christ was the only faith ever begun by God! So, why not; isn’t this opinion perfectly understandable, if one did not take the teaching of Christ into consideration?

Whatever did in fact occur, the context at least points to the possibility that Mark may have been instrumental in bringing about the ruckus that developed, thereby causing a need for the council in Acts 15. It may be that he brought back to Jerusalem a negative report about the manner in which Paul was receiving the gentile converts (cp. Numbers 13:32). While the leaders of the Jerusalem church may not have been upset (considering Acts 10), the Pharisees, among whom Paul mentions were false brethren (Galatians 2:1-2; Acts 15:5), would have been concerned. Often it happens that men who are opposed the purity of the Gospel have an influential voice when it comes to creating dissension.

Both Barnabas and Paul acted in character, Barnabas the encourager, willing to forgive the repentant Mark; and Paul the protector, wanting to see evidence of repentance before he entrusted new believers to the young man. It also may be true, considering Paul’s background in the Pharisaical sect, that he knew of earlier secret plans in the Jewish community by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to infiltrate the church and seek a way to control the Jesus movement (cp. Acts 5). He may have suspected Mark was one of them.

In any case, whether what I believe to be true is so or not, relationships were healed as testified in the NT, and God did indeed work all things together for the good of the whole church. After all, there were now two teams going out on missionary journeys, while at first there was only one!


Related Posts:

Dividing Barnabas and Paul

Why Did Mark Leave Paul?


Posted by on December 10, 2009 in Mark, Paul and Barnabas


Tags: , , , , , ,

6 responses to “Why Did Paul and Barnabas Separate?

  1. lampu

    April 18, 2015 at 11:56

    I believe God has a purpose here, Paul been mature can continue his ministry, where as John Mark a young men need a guidance, which we see today the chronological of the Synoptic gospel, Mark became the first writer of the Gospel and the main source of the other gospel.

    • Eddie

      April 19, 2015 at 07:27

      Greetings Lampu, and thank you for reading my blog and for your comment. I don’t believe God “caused” Barnabas and Paul to separate; Mark did, but God works all things out for the good of those he calls. So, God did use what Mark caused for the good of all. It was inevitable that Barnabas and Paul would separate if only to train new people and double the ministry effort of the Gospel. Mark caused that to occur before it normally would have under ideal circumstances. So, as you say above, Mark (the young man) did receive good training and guidance.

      That said, I wouldn’t be so certain that Mark’s Gospel narrative was written first. I know this is the opinion of many modern textual scholars, but not all. Second century fathers conclude that Mark’s Gospel was Peter’s Gospel. Mark wrote it in Rome for the Roman people after they had heard Peter preach. Peter’s Gospel was known in Aramaic or Hebrew decades before Mark wrote it in Greek. Clement of Alexandria (2nd to 3rd century father) tells us the Gospels with the genealogies (Matthew and Luke) came first and Mark came third. My point is that many scholars today try to put the gospels so far into the 1st century AD that there were no witness left to verify that what they wrote was true. That would be wrong. Matthew and Luke and Mark (in the form of Peter’s Gospel in Aramaic or Hebrew) were written well before the 60s when most modern textual critics place Mark’s Gospel.

      Lord bless you Lampu and all you do for the Lord.

  2. Brother Taylor

    August 18, 2012 at 06:58

    Paul and his company now continued their journey, going to Perga, in Pamphylia. Their way was toilsome; they encountered hardships and privations, and were beset with dangers on every side. As they advanced, they were compelled to face “perils of waters,” and “perils of robbers.” … [beginning with paragraph 9 to the end of the article]

    • Ed Bromfield

      August 18, 2012 at 09:20

      Mr. Taylor, this is a blog, meaning we share what “we” have learned and what “we” share comes from our hearts — IN OUR OWN WORDS. I am not in the habit of accepting cut-n-paste comments and do not intend to begin today. If anyone wishes to know what you have “commented” he or she may go HERE beginning with the words I provided from your submission. Please do NOT do this again. If you do, and I remember you, I will neither print any part of your comment, nor will I provide the link. This blog is for discussion and information shared from one’s heart. While I have no problem believing Ellen G. White has shared from her heart, I have no idea how you would express yours. Have a good day.

  3. Kenny K'ore

    March 10, 2012 at 21:35

    Acts 3:2; While they were worshiping the Lord and going without eating, the Holy Spirit told them, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to do the work for which I have chosen them.”
    Soon afterwards Paul and Barnabas separated and denominationalism was birth in principle.

    Notice that God personally commissioned Paul and Barnabas, but when they were going to separate they didn’t consult God.

    It appears that breaking into two teams even got the job done quicker, but their action is a precedence for dis-unity in the faith today.

    • Ed Bromfield

      March 11, 2012 at 08:20

      Kenny, thanks for stopping by to read and for taking the time to leave a comment.

      Let’s quote the Scripture in question:

      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; (Acts 15:39 KJV)

      There is absolutely nothing in the above verse to support your contention for the beginning of denominationalism. In fact, Paul preaches against such a thing in 1Corinthians. The word there is “eris” (G2054; see 1Corinthians 1:11) meaning “contention, strife, debate”, but in Acts 15:39 the word is “paroxusmos” (G3948) meaning “contention, provoke”. This word is used in Hebrews 10:24 for provoking unto love, which, I suspect, was the motive behind both Barnabas’ and Paul’ decision to separate. Barnabas had a great love for Mark and believed he was repentant. Paul had a great love for the churches he and Barnabas raised up and didn’t want to take a chance on Mark. Later, when Mark proved himself, Paul used him in his own ministry (2Timothy 4:11).

      There is absolutely no sense of division between Barnabas and Paul in the sense that denominationalism takes today. We separate over doctrine which is more like the “contention” or “debates” of the Corinthians which Paul spoke against.

      Take care, and Lord bless you in your understanding of his word.


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