By Tyson Thorne

August 28, 2014

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Speaking of division, at the end of chapter 15 we see a divide grow between the apostles Paul and Barnabas. The timing of their dispute should not be overlooked. They had just returned from Jerusalem where they were able to debate and amicably defend the gospel and Christian doctrine to everyone’s satisfaction, yet they can’t work out a personal disagreement.

Lest we forget, after Paul’s conversion when he was still greatly feared by the Messiah-followers, it was Barnabas that met with him and fought for his inclusion in the apostolic ranks. Their friendship blossomed afterward and they turned into fast friends and ministry partners. What was so pressing as to drive a wedge between them? What created a gulf in their relationship that would never be breached again as long as they both lived?

We don’t know. Seriously, we know it had to do with taking Barnabas’ cousin John Mark along on their second missionary journey, but the details as to why this blew up into a major dissent is unexplained. Back in 13.13 we read of how John Mark left the duo after reaching the region of Pamphylia to return home. Again, we are not told why. Since Barnabas did take John Mark back to Cyprus it wasn’t due to sea sickness or other illness. Simple home-sickness wouldn’t have been enough to keep Paul from wanting him on the trip.

What we do know is that something significant had to have occurred. Either Paul and John Mark clashed in personality so much that he didn’t want to repeat the experience, or John Mark did something that might have injured the rest of the mission were he to continue with them. Either way, at the time it seemed right to both apostles to send John Mark home. Barnabas however, being the king of second chances, wanted to extend another opportunity to John Mark; Paul on the other hand simply wouldn’t work with him.

Whatever the dispute, while it may have kept the two from ministering together, it did not diminish Paul’s evaluation of their worth to the kingdom mission. Later in life Paul would reunite with John Mark, claiming “he is a great help to me in ministery” (2 Timothy 4.11) and again Paul asked the church of Colossai to receive John Mark with open arms (Colossians 4.10). Paul also told the church at Corinth to financially support Barnabas’ ministry (1 Corinthians 9.6).

Paul’s support of these two may have been a magnanimous gesture. While the account does not say who was right, it is observed that the church at Antioch commended Paul and Silas on their journey while Barnabas and John Mark apparently received no such action. The account ends with Barnabas and John Mark sailing to Cyprus and strengthening the southern churches, and Paul and Silas encouraging those to the north.

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