Dividing Barnabas and Paul

29 Dec

It was only a matter of time before Barnabas and Paul would have split with each heading up his own evangelistic effort, thus training other brethren to labor in the glorious work of Christ, and bringing his Name to places where he was not known. Nevertheless, Luke makes a point of showing that this separation took place earlier than it would have under natural circumstances, and he uses Mark as the impetus in that division.

The division is put into the context of the threat of dividing the Jewish and gentile believers. We can only speculate about why Paul was so adamant about not taking Mark, but I believe, through his placement of the surrounding events, Luke implies Mark played a major role in bringing to pass those events which brought about the need for the Jerusalem Council. Moreover, how Mark is introduced in Acts 12 seems to give him an important status when we should not even know him, if Luke’s work follows an exact chronological order, but it doesn’t. Acts 12 is a pivotal chapter where Luke changes from recording the ministry of Peter to recording that of Paul, and, as was done in literary works of that day, some overlap was used to bring the two accounts together.[1] How should we understand this? It would be foolish to place our speculations in cement, saying **this** is what occurred, but, if what Luke leads us to believe is actually true, he tells us that what we do and what we say concerning one another can have significant consequences, and we need to beware.

Acts 15:37 puts Mark in Antioch, where he had been in Acts 13 at the beginning of Luke’s first recording of Paul’s missionary efforts (cp. Acts 13:5). There he is called John and is so called in verse-13 as well. However, this same John is introduced to us in Acts 12:12, where Luke says he was surnamed (G1941) Mark. Markus is a Roman name, so John would not be called Mark in Jerusalem, because that name would imply he approved of Roman occupancy of the Holy Land. The Greek word used for surnamed is also used in Acts 4:36 for the Apostles calling Joseph by the name Barnabas. So, it seems that Luke is telling us in Acts 12:12 that John already has the surname Mark, but if he wasn’t given this name in Jerusalem, he had to have been given this name later. But, when would his have been?

If Luke is showing us that John, surnamed Mark, is embarking on an evangelistic ministry for the first time in Acts 13:5 and was at this time known as John, then his name Mark was given him later, sometime after the Galatian ministry. While we may postulate many reasons why the Latin name Mark would have been given him, ranging from the mark given Cain in Genesis 4 to the mark given Job by God to endure suffering for a divine purpose, the fact remains that we do not know why he was given this surname. Nevertheless, it seems logical that the name Mark, since it is a Roman name that would not have been used in Jerusalem where he had lived, was given John sometime after his departure from Paul and Barnabas at Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13).

A reasonable claim, then, can be made that Acts 12:25 also refers to a time after that first missionary journey and to Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem for both the famine-relief effort and for the Jerusalem Council. I think it is significant that Luke refers to Mark by only his Hebrew name, John, in Acts 13:5 and Acts 13:13, but in Acts 12:12 and Acts 12:25 he not only calls him John but also states he has the surname, Mark. Luke does this for a third time in Acts 15:37, but from Acts 15:39 and onward John is not called by his Hebrew name again, but is thereafter known as Marcus or Mark (cp. Colossians 4:10; 2Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24; 1Peter 5:13).

If these comparisons point to a logical conclusion, then John (Mark) was keenly observed for awhile by Paul and, by implication, gentile believers who knew his history, to ascertain that he was a true brother in Christ. Barnabas, that son of consolation, knew Mark’s heart from the beginning, but Paul had his doubts. Neither, however, would deviate from the stand he had taken and so they separated. Nevertheless, this separation was not so unfriendly that it should mean they separated one from another, never again to speak to the other. No, this should be seen in the manner in which we view the separation of the Hellenist believers from the Hebrew believers in Acts 6. It is a friendly one, and Paul refers to Barnabas in 1Corinthians 9:6, as someone the Corinthians should have known, because he labored among them, just as Paul had done, i.e. without their financial support. So, Paul’s reference could be seen as he and Barnabas working together from time to time after this incident involving John Mark. Moreover, Paul also came to view Mark as a trusted fellow laborer, as the above scriptures referencing Mark imply.

[1] “For, though all parts must be independently perfected, when the first is complete the second will be brought into essential connection with it, and attached like one link of a chain to another; there must be no possibility of separating them; no mere bundle of parallel threads; the first is not simply to be next to the second, but part of it, their extremities intermingling.” [The Way to Write History 55; Lucian of Samosata; cir. 120 CE to 180 CE (emphasis mine)]. The complete work can be found HERE. The point is Luke was following a rule of ancient history by overlapping the accounts of Peter and Paul; so the events of Acts 12 are intermingled with the account of Paul’s ministry to Galatia in Acts 13 through 15 with Barnabas taking Mark with him back to Antioch (Acts 12:25) after the Jerusalem Council with the next chronological event being Acts 15:30.


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5 responses to “Dividing Barnabas and Paul

  1. cliffordjonessr

    August 17, 2016 at 16:53

    I have a little reservation of your description of Paul’s and Barnabas’ split because the several versions I see all seem to state that the disagreement was very sharp to the point where it caused them to depart from each other.
    There’s also the fact of John being Barnabas’ relative.
    “Son of my sister” is apparently the original wording that is translated nephew. For some reason I am inclined to think of John Mark as Joseph’s actual son.

  2. Eddie

    August 18, 2016 at 08:38

    Clifford, please note that I have corrected the typo you referred to and deleted the post mentioning the typo.

    I think I may be missing your point here, unless it has to do with the split being because of Mark being related to Barnabas—i.e. Barnabas takes the side of a relative over Paul. If that’s it, I don’t think the disagreement was that petty. Paul had real reasons why Mark couldn’t be trusted, and Barnabas had real reasons why Mark could be trusted. I’m not certain, but I have to wonder, if this wasn’t the source of John being named “Mark” – he was marked as someone who couldn’t be trusted. The Scriptures show that Paul was wrong in his assessment and Barnabas was correct. Reconciliation did occur later, but the conflict is there to teach the reader about disagreements in the Lord.

    Lord bless.

  3. cliffordjonessr

    August 18, 2016 at 10:33

    Yes, I agree with you, Eddie. I find it interesting that Paul later refers both to Joseph (Barnabas) and John Mark and also someone called Jesus Justus as being part of the circumcision.

    Colossians 4:
    10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

    I’m not sure what his point is in making that assertion. I’m thinking on it. There seems to me to be something we are missing in the dispute between Paul and Barnabas.
    I think there may also be a hint here that the three men are related. Think about it. A man named Joseph with two close relations named John and Jesus…

    In any case, I find that prayer and study make for better hermeneutics than study alone, as I’m sure you have.
    God bless you sir!

  4. Eddie

    August 18, 2016 at 21:20

    Greetings Clifford, it is my opinion that the reference to the “circumcision” in Colossians 4:11 has to do with Mark’s and Justus’ strictness of behavior among the Jews. Paul is **not** as is assumed by many referring to them as Jewish brethren, because I believe Luke is also a Jew and Paul mentions him with gentile names in verse-14. By the way, you may wish to read my study HERE, which helps to explain my thoughts about Mark leaving Paul and company. Incidentally, below the linked study you will find four other “Related Posts” that may be helpful in determining why Mark left for Jerusalem.

    Paul’s point seems to be that believers “of the circumcision” have openly disagreed with him and earlier sought to undo his work in Christ in Galatia, Cilicia and Syria (including parts of Galilee). Remember this group of Jewish believer also opposed Peter’s accepting Cornelius in Acts 11:1-3. Now there is nothing wrong with Jewish believers to worship God in this manner; it was the custom of the Jews, after all. God is not against Jewish custom. Rather, it becomes wrong when Jews require gentiles to embrace Jewish custom to be saved. God doesn’t require gentiles to become Jews. Mark believed this way, but was able to accept gentiles as gentiles into the faith after the Jerusalem Council defined the point. Mark repented, but Paul wanted evidence of his repentance, while Barnabas was more willing to take Mark at his word.

    In Colossians 4 Paul is alerting the churches in the gentile communities that these men “of the circumcision” and **only** these men “of the circumcision” are his helpers, and they may be given welcome in the churches, if they come.

    It was difficult for me to learn that lesson—bath one’s study in prayer. I love the word of God and often dive into my study without prayer. It is really a problem when everything I think of comes out dry and unappealing. Last year, I spent a month reading and studying Peter’s epistles before I could write a word down on the computer. I prayed and prayed until the crust finally broke away from the letters. I almost despaired, because I intended to (and presently) teach Peter’s letters in Sunday school. I was beginning to think God was calling an end to this ministry for me. But, in the end of December, after more than a month of reading, study and prayer, I put a few words down on the computer and kept going until it was complete. Coming from Paul to Peter was very difficult for me. Paul thinks like a gentile in his letters, but Peter like a Jew. Paul writes with wisdom, Peter in pictures.

    Well, enough of this diversion. I agree. Study without prayer is dry and unproductive. Lord bless you, Clifford.

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