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​Sharp Contention

Acts 15:36-39

It began simple enough.

Acts 15:36
And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the LORD, and see how they do.

Paul said, let’s go back and visit our brothers in Christ, we have been gone for a while.

Immediately, they agreed on this goal of returning to southern Galatia to see the disciples.

Two leaders, one heart.

Acts 15:37-38
And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.

Here is their one point of contention, the point that incites irritation between these mighty men of God. Whether it would be good to take John Mark with them on this new journey. 

Barnabas says yes, and Paul says no.

The godly way of handling the situation would be for these two men to sit down and talk through the point of contention. However, we do not see any further conversation laid out in God’s Word. 

Acts 15:39
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.

The Greek word translated sharp contention is paroxysmos. We get our English word paroxysm from this Greek word. Paroxysm means “a sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion or activity.”  Paroxysmos in the Greek comes from the root paroxuno and means “a sharpness, incite irritation, provoke anger.”

They are both believers. 
They are both apostles. 
But they are handling the situation with emotion.

When Paul returned to Jerusalem, from Damascus, all the believers were afraid of him. But not Barnabas. It was Barnabas who brought Paul to see the apostles, declaring, that Paul had “seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” 

Then, when Barnabas was sent forth to see about the Word of God moving in Antioch of Syria, he took it a step further to go to Tarsus and find Paul. From there Barnabas brough Paul back to Antioch in Syria and for a year these two gathered with other believers in Antioch and taught God’s Word.

When Elymas was confronted, they were side by side. My mind’s eye can see Elymas step between Paul and Sergius Paulus, and immediately Paul closes the distance between Elymas and himself. As Paul opens his mouth to speak, I can see him feeling the hand of Barnabas upon his shoulder. I understand that is my mind picture and not scripture, but that is how close I see these men from the scriptures.

When jealous Judeans wanted their blood in Antioch of Pisidia, they worked side by side to diaphero, carry the word of the Lord throughout the area. As Iconium rose up against them, they were at each other’s side to move forward under pressure, hypophero. You know Barnabas was in that circle of disciples around Paul and he was praying as Paul’s battered and bleeding body lay on the ground from the stoning. 

How can they go their separate ways when they were separated by God to minister (Acts 13:2) the gospel together? The how is unrenewed mind!
​How can they arrive at the place that by each other’s side is now a thing of irritation, paroxysmos?

How much pain is in the heart of God to see this separation taking place?

Paul is walking away from the man that has given him unconditional love, agape, for the last fourteen years of his life. Barnabas is walking away from the man, chosen by God, to receive, to understand, and to teach the Gospel of God’s Grace.

Who is this John Mark that has come between them?

What does God’s Word tell us about John Mark, who is also called Mark and Marcus? John Mark is the writer of the Gospel according to Mark, that is a long way from breaking his commitment to Barnabas and Paul. Outside of the gospel, Mark is mentioned in only nine other verses of scripture.

Acts 12:12
And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

Herod had just killed the Apostle James and now arrested Peter with the same intent. While Peter was held in prison John Mark’s mothers’ home, was the place believers came to pray for his deliverance. A bold move when believers are being hunted and killed.

Acts 12:25
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.

The prophet Agabus prophesied there would be a great famine throughout the world (Acts 11:28). Therefore, the disciples in Antioch of Syria determined to send an abundant sharing to Judea by the hands of Barnabas and Paul. When they returned to Antioch in Acts chapter 12 Barnabas and Paul brought John Mark with them.

Acts 13:5
And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.

As Barnabas and Paul leave Antioch in Syria on their first missionary journey, John Mark makes a commitment to work with Barnabas and Paul. We see the commitment John Mark made in the Greek word hyperetes, translated minister.

Acts 13:13
Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.

The word “departing” means to withdraw. Obviously, there had to be some conversation between the three of them, but God did not preserve those words for us. So, John Mark broke his commitment to Barnabas and Paul, and returned home to Jerusalem. 

Acts 15:37
And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.

Barnabas wants to take John Mark with them on their return to Galatia. Paul disagrees.

The Greek word for ‘determined” is bouleuo which is about making a decision. Before looking at the Greek word bouleuo I had always considered that Barnabas was making an emotional decision because he is related to John Mark. But bouleuo is a decision that is being made without emotion. Consider Acts chapter 2.

Acts 2:23
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel [boule] and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:  

The difference between Acts 2 and Acts 15 is Acts 2 is the noun form and Acts 15 is the verb form. Both are speaking of a decision being made without emotion. 

Jesus was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” because there was no other way to save mankind. It was not about the emotion of God allowing His son to be sacrificed, it was about God knowing and understanding what was required to redeem mankind.

In Acts 15 Barnabas was not making an emotional decision because it was his cousin, he thought it was what John Mark needed to do or what was best for their return journey to southern Galatia. Barnabas believes he is making a godly decision.

Colossians 4:10-11
Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) and Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.

These two verses provide us with a lot of information concerning John Mark and some very interesting information about Barnabas.

First, John Mark is a cousin of Barnabas. The Greek word anepsios means cousin. “Sister’s son” is a poor translation since it makes John Mark sound like the nephew of Barnabas. Next, it identifies John Mark as a “fellowworker” with the Apostle Paul. 

Then, John Mark has been a “comfort” to the Apostle Paul. “Comfort” is paregoria which is not the normal word translated comfort or encouragement. Paregoria means a relief or alleviation, something that is soothing to the irritation you are experiencing. This is an interesting irony since John Mark was the source of irritation in Acts chapter 15 that caused Barnabas and Paul to separate. 

Verse 11 also states that John Mark is a believer out of Judaism, or the circumcision.

I will come back to the information about Barnabas after we finish looking at John Mark.

Philemon 1:24
Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

Philemon and Colossians were written from Rome while Paul was under house arrest. Both place John Mark in Rome with Paul. In Philemon John Mark is a fellow laborer, they worked together. (Fellowlaborer and fellowworker are the same Greek word, synergos).

2 Timothy 4:11
Only Luke is with me. Take Mark and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.

Paul is at the end of his life when he is writing 2 Timothy. He has been condemned to death by beheading. In his last letter to Timothy, Paul says only Luke is with him and he awaits the arrival of Timothy. Paul also asks Timothy to stop and pick up John Mark and bring him along as well. It would appear that Luke, Timothy, and John Mark were with Paul at the end of his life, by the request of the Apostle Paul.

The nineth verse is in the first epistle of Peter.

1 Peter 5:13
The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.

First let’s work on some traditions. We have the tradition that God had Peter write Babylon when Peter was really in Rome. There is no indication God meant anything other than Peter was in Babylon. We have seen in the past that many times tradition gets believers in trouble as traditions become more important than God’s Word, consider Matthew chapter 15. 

Christian tradition tells us Peter died around 68 A.D. It also tells us that Peter died in Rome by crucifixion. Then, it tells us Peter refused crucifixion because it was how his Lord died, so Rome accommodated him and crucified him upside down, because we all have read how Rome granted a “last wish” to those they were executing.

Tradition also tells us Peter more or less dictated the Gospel of Mark to Mark while they were together in Rome. There are also other unscriptural traditions about Peter and the Gospel of Mark. However, God tells us in 2 Timothy 3 that, “all scripture is given by God.” Peter adds in his second epistle, “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 

We must always remember our primary source of Truth is the words of God and not traditions.

What does the Word of God tell us?

God tells us in His Word that there was a diaspora, Israelis from the twelve tribes that were scattered around Mesopotamia. This diaspora did not know the Messiah had come.

1 Peter 1:1
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered (diaspora) throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.

The areas Peter addressed his epistle to are what use to be known as Assyria. It has always been a point of interest that the Apostle Paul was told, by God, not to go into these same areas that Peter went to later.

Acts 16:6-7
Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

God did not allow Paul to preach the Gospel of Grace in Bithynia. Instead, God had Peter go to Bithynia, Pontus, and northern Galatia to the diaspora of Israel. Peter’s second epistle is addressed to the same group of believers (2 Peter 3:1).

Peter wrote to the diaspora in these areas because he is the one who brought the knowledge of the Messiah to them. Otherwise they would have been asking, “Who is this Peter?”

When did Peter die?                                                               That is not in God’s Word.
How did Peter die?                                                                That is not in God’s Word.
When did Peter write the two epistles that carry his name?    That is not in God’s Word.
Did Peter ever go to Rome?                                                    Not in God’s Word.
From where did Peter write his epistles?                                 Babylon 1 Peter 5:13.

Traditions are only godly when they are backed-up by God’s Word.

Why would Peter be in Bithynia and Babylon?

After the ten northern tribes were taken by Assyria and the two southern tribes were taken by Babylon the diaspora in northern Mesopotamia aligns with the former location of Assyria, and Babylon is where Nebuchadnezzar brought the diaspora of the two southern tribes.

It is also interesting to note that the diaspora that Peter is working with from Assyria and Babylon places these Israelis on the east side of the Euphrates River. With the teaching of Peter, they have the opportunity to be recognized, once again, as Hebrews. If you have forgotten what it means to be called a Hebrew see Covenants: A Completed Record of Israel.

So, what have we learned about John Mark?

John Mark had a strong spiritual influence from his mother, perhaps comparable to Timothy with his mother and grandmother. We learned he was the source of irritation between Barnabas and Paul that led to their separation. We also saw that John Mark spent some time with Barnabas on Cyprus and later with Peter, even going to Babylon with Peter and Silas.

We also saw that later in his walk with God, John Mark was a worker and laborer with the Apostle Paul, and that he was one of the circumcision that believed the Gospel of Grace, and further that he had a soothing effect on Paul, even to the point Paul specifically asked for John Mark to be with him when he faced the end of his life.

John Mark made a poor decision in Acts 13 when he broke a commitment he had made to Barnabas and Paul. But we can also see that an act of unrenewed mind does not end the spiritual impact of a believer who decides to get up and start walking with God once again.

Now, what was the information Colossians gave us about Barnabas?

Colossians 4:10
Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)

The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 was held around 51 A.D. When Paul and Barnabas decided to return to southern Galatia at the end of Acts 15 it was probably still 51 A.D. The Epistle to the Colossians was written around 62 or 63 A.D. 

There are two points of grammar in Colossians 4:10 we should consider. 

A parenthesis, the words held in brackets, follows the word Barnabas. The purpose of a parenthesis is to give a further explanation about something in the verse. This parenthesis is giving us a further explanation concerning Barnabas. Twelve years after Paul and Barnabas separated in Acts 15, they are working together again when Colossians is written, “if he comes receive him.”

The word of God does not tell us to what degree they were working together, but the separation of Acts 15 did not become permanent. Also, a rule of grammar states that a pronoun relates to its closest associated noun. Barnabas is the closest associated noun to the relative pronoun “whom” in the parenthesis. Barnabas and Paul had a working relationship ten years after Acts 15. But their relationship started up again prior to 62 A.D.

Paul’s third missionary journey was to Asia between 54 and 57 A.D. While Paul was in Ephesus, he wrote his first Epistle to the Corinthians. Further evidence of their renewed relationship can be seen in 1 Corinthians 9.

1 Corinthians 9:6
Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?

Paul would not be using Barnabas as an example if they were not working together once again. The question remains, to what degree were they working together, but that is an answer I do not have. Yet this glance at two men of God once again working together for the glory of God and the movement of His Word is a tremendous blessing and joy.

Acts 15 gave us a glimpse of not holding God's Word in your mind. The Judaizes to circumcision for Gentiles, the unwillingness of the leadership in Jerusalem to carry out the commission Jesus gave in Matthew chapter 28:19-20 to all nations, the council not accepting the words of Peter, the Apostle James relying upon the Law of Moses read every Sabbath to change the Gentiles, and Paul and Barnabas separating because they disagreed on John Mark. Unrenewed mind only lasts if we give credence to the words of the world, and that can be momentary.

Even when we, fail to renew our minds to God’s words of life, God loves us; fiercely, completely, unequivocally, without reservation and without hesitation.

©   Auxano Ministry 2022

A Journey through the Book of Acts