The Disagreement

Acts 15:30-41

So, when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message. And after they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out. [But it seemed good to Silas to remain there.(added later, most likely to counter confusion)] But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching, with many others also, the word of the Lord. And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Really? The dynamic duo of Paul and Barnabas, set apart by the Holy Spirit after much fasting and prayer, split over the cousin of Barnabas? Even after the rejoicing over the letter from the apostles; I guess blood is thicker than water. I will put all kidding aside, well, most kidding aside, because this is a meaningful matter and a serious split–the first sincerely serious schism in the history of the church. We saw last time that the Pharisees and others were split from the elders and apostles but that division was silenced by Peter. However in today’s text, a true division arises and Paul and Barnabas go their separate ways. We are going to do an exercise​ in taking sides. Before we begin, I ask, whose side are you on? If you can, pick one without thinking that both were right or that both were wrong. If you had to chose sides; if you were there and were asked by both parties to join them, with which one would you go? Between Paul and Barnabas, who had the better claim?

Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. We call this the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, to unlock the caged Scripture which has been caged by our traditions, teachings and presumtions. Therefore considering the schism between Paul and Barnabas we consider the greater context, the culture of the time, the Biblical account and examine all of which, or some of which for time’s sake, we can considering this divorce. That’s right, divorce, Paul and Barnabas were like husband and wife, Zues and Hermes, Forrest and Jenny, Batman and Robin, Meat and Potatoes, Peas and Carrots, Peter and John, Chip and Dale, Brad and Angelina, Bill and Hillary, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Milk and Shake, Shake and Bake, Love and Marriage, John Lennon and Paul McCartney– not all of these are great examples but we get the point. As far as bringing the gospel to the gentiles, there was no equal to the partnership of Paul and Barnabas. Leaving us with the question; what happened? Could the greatest duet of all time be split by one man? Now is the time, choose a side. Also as an exercise in considering the greater context, try to estimate the size of my squash by a snapshot. 20191026_142137

How large is it? Is it record-setting? Huge, average or small? Or do we need more context than this small snapshot?

Paul: his argument is that they should not bring John-Mark, and for good reason. John-Mark had abandoned them; “Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” Paul was being rational and practical, pragmatic and thoughtful, if Mark abandoned them before, it would be entirely possible that he would do it again. Paul didn’t think that Mark would be reliable. Think of all the uncertainty surrounding the bringing of Mark considering he had already absconded away from the apostles. Also think of the testimony that Mark would be; especially to those who saw him flee. What would they think? Here is a man who ran off before the church was established, abandoning the apostles, now returning after the church was established–a real Johnny-Mark come lately–John-Mark would reap what others sowed.

Paul was the writer of a dozen or so Biblical books, was chosen by Jesus, himself in Acts chapter nine, was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and imprisoned for his faith. Paul rightly confronted Peter over Peter’s sin, argued before kings and governors, raised the dead, didn’t die from a snake bite and preached the gospel to Rome, in chains. Paul instructs us all on how to live through his letters to the churches. It is fair to say that without Paul, there would be no us. The single, biggest source of Christian doctrine comes from the epistles written by Paul. Paul also seems to know the Old Testament tutor more than any of his contemporaries. Paul was given direct revelation by Jesus. The list of Paul’s accomplishments continues to the point where we should probably assume that he was right and Barnabas was wrong. Luke writes in a historical-narrative genre and it stands to reason that he wouldn’t say who was right and who was wrong but Luke himself sticks with Paul until the end, though Luke has yet to arrive on the scene in today’s text.

Look at what Luke wrote concerning Paul’s concerns; “Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” The context is clear, Paul didn’t only insist, he kept insisting, meaning he continually countered Barnabas’ desire to take along John-Mark–this was a real argument with real divisions. We notice also Paul’s good reasoning for not bringing John-Mark; he didn’t work. Mark, by abandoning them, did not prove himself as a worker but certainly suggested that he was not a worker. Which one of us would not be like Paul in a similar situation?

Picture yourself as an employer owning  a drywall hanging business, who has hired a man to work for you. He shows up late the first day, goofs off on the second and in the middle of the third day, as you are holding a large 4’x12′ sheet of drywall over your head, he abandons you, so that you are holding the sheet by yourself. Would you hire him again, even if your business partner told you to give him a second chance because he was his cousin? I realize that the scenarios are far from identical but do have similar issues. Those issues are past unwillingness to work and abandonment. How could any one of us fault Paul for not wanting to bring along the unwilling to work, and abandoning, Mark?

Barnabas: considering that Paul was The Apostle Paul, and that Barnabas’ cousin Mark, was a nonworking, abandoning type of person, does Barnabas even have an argument here? I have written before that you don’t mess with the apostle Paul, ask Peter. Nevertheless it would be prudent to examine examples to enlighten us about Barnabas and his argument because we quickly forget about the ministry of Barnabas and it actually appears that Paul has as well. Could it be that the great, apostle Paul was wrong? Consider the greater context.

We first meet Joseph, aka, Barnabas, back in Acts 4, well before we are introduced to the murderous fiend, Saul, aka, Paul. In Acts 4 we read; “And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Barnabas was one of the first and most obedient disciples. Notice he sold land, only to become a traveling evangelist. His name means son of encouragement and was given to him by none other than the twelve apostles. From almost the beginning, Barnabas was an integral part in the church and the spread of the gospel, charity and good living. While Barnabas comforted christians, Paul was conniving to confront and kill christians.

We see Barnabas again after the conversion of the murderous fiend, Paul, to christianity. In an irony of ironies, it was Barnabas who defended Paul; “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.” We see a pattern of grace found in Barnabas. I will be honest, I am kind of mad at Paul at the moment–Barnabas defended Paul when no one else would, stood up for him and has been at his side for a long time. We even see that they were set apart together by the Holy Spirit. Many a mile have Barnabas and Paul traveled together, how can one man come between them? How could Paul possibly discount Barnabas’ desire to bring along John-Mark?

John-Mark: the x-factor, the one of whom was at the center of the argument between Paul and Barnabas. Was John-Mark really such a scoundrel? While little is known about him, we do know a few interesting things and can assume certain things as well. For instance, I assume that John-Mark is the author of the gospel of Mark. I also believe that John-Mark is the person described in the following, embarrassingly written statement about himself: “And a certain young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he left the linen sheet behind, and escaped naked.” What a wonderful introduction to John-Mark! This scene was when Jesus was arrested, John-Mark fled from the forces that be. This goes well with Paul’s belief that Mark was a deserter. It’s no wonder that in Paul’s mind, Mark’s reputation was one of a follower who flees. Nevertheless, all of the disciples fled or hid at some point that night of nights, even our beloved Peter denied Jesus three times.

We first see Mark mentioned in Acts, in chapter 12 after Peter’s jailbreak. “And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” We see that there was a church in the house of Mark’s mother, yet we don’t know that Mark was there, Luke doesn’t tell us. It is possible that Mark was not there. Is this another indication that Paul was correct in his apprehension of Mark, because it appears that he was not praying with the people present in pleas for Peter? No, because in only a few sentences, Paul and Barnabas leave Jerusalem after providing provisions, bringing Mark with them.

We also have the opportunity to fast forward and see that Paul changed his mind concerning Mark. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, and certainly secular scholars argue that John was the most common Hebrew name of that time and that Mark was the most common Greek name of that time, therefore this Mark mentioned to Timothy could be any of the thousands of Marks in that eon. To them I suggest two things; the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics and God is a God of order, not confusion. Why would the Lord preserve the words of Paul if they meant nothing to us? We consider the context and the sovereignty of God. Timothy would have known which Mark Paul mentioned and I believe we do as well.

Whose side are you on? Who has the better claim? How huge was my squash? 20191026_142208

This is either the smallest squash ever seen or the largest oak leaf ever seen. Therein lies another wrinkle in the fabric of contextual consideration. By comparison to a leaf, the squash appears to be tiny, yet we don’t know the size of the leaf. Therefore we see that the squash is small, however, how small, we don’t know because we don’t have an exact reference point. In the same way, although we have searched some scriptures, we don’t know whose side to take concerning the dispute between Barnabas and Paul. I always hesitate to do this, but we also notice what is not written. We remember that the world changed because the apostles and disciples prayed and fasted. Along the way, we have also seen much prayer and fasting. We don’t see it here. We also never see a reconciliation between Paul and Barnabas even though we do see a reconciliation between Mark and Paul. By considering the Bible as a whole and it’s message, keeping things in context, understanding that the genre is a historical narrative and dividing rightly we certainly see that at a personal level, this was a sad schism. And yet, by considering the Bible as a whole and it’s message, keeping things in context, understanding that the genre is a historical narrative and dividing rightly, we certainly see that on the level of spreading the gospel and encouraging the churches, everything worked out for the greater good. Much like my meal, made up of a small steak, a small potato and a smaller squash, each person present did their part despite the division. 20191026_212518

It is entirely possible that if they had prayed and fasted before the dispute, everything would have worked out the same–the Holy Spirit sending Paul and Silas to encourage some churches and to destinations unknown, while Barnabas and Mark go to the churches off the coast. The only difference being that Paul and Barnabas would have left each other with an embrace rather than a division.

Since it is the day of which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let’s examine what his mother was, and said, concerning herself and her offspring. “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.'” We venerate Mary as if she was a perfect person, worthy to carry the King of kings in her womb and to raise him to be the Messiah. But Mary was like the rest of us, a sinner. Notice what she says; “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Sinless people don’t need a savior.

Abraham the liar, Isaac the ignorant, Jacob the liar, Joseph the arrogant, Moses the murderer and all the other sinners say the same thing–a Savior was needed. We have to remember that the apostles were human and had their faults but the Spirit is God, and he is faultless. While unfortunate for their relationship, in a Romans 8 fashion, the greater good came from the sins of Paul and Barnabas. Paul being the foremost.


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