Two for the Price of One

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 15:36-41

In this brief passage we get some interesting insight into the humanity of these two New Testament giants. I think that in passages like this, it is best to take the text at face value, resisting the temptation to fill in the gaps with speculation and opinions that the text itself doesn’t quite provide. In that spirit, here’s what we actually know about the incident: Paul had an idea that he and Barnabas ought to retrace their first journey’s steps and see how the churches were doing that they had established. Barnabas thought they should take Mark along on the trip and Paul did not because he hadn’t completed the first one; they couldn’t agree on this, so they didn’t go on the trip Paul suggested. In the aftermath of this, Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas through Syria and beyond. At this point, Luke hasn’t told us where Barnabas and Mark went after Cyprus or where Paul and Silas went after Cilicia.

Here’s what Luke did not tell us: He did not tell us that there was a personal break between the two men, there is no mention of drama, just that they had a sharp disagreement, which doesn’t necessarily mean they fell out. You also might have noticed that neither of the men got mad and left the church or spread division and gossip about the other; they just didn’t decide to go on the trip Paul suggested. Unless Luke provides details later, or Paul does in one of his letters, that’s the story.

Do you see, dear reader what I’m doing here?

I’m quite familiar with what many commentators like to do with this story at this point in a study of Acts, filling in details that aren’t in the text. The problem with that is that if we allow ourselves to indulge in such speculation, we tend to miss something really cool: Instead of one missionary trip, there will be two, and thus these two guys, by having a disagreement, just doubled the Gospel’s reach. Have you ever asked yourself why our disagreements result in division and discord, and their disagreement benefitted the Gospel? You see, these early “greats” were still human, and the early church wasn’t perfect or without the humanity of its members, but at least in this instance, the parties involved responded by building the Kingdom twice as fast, instead of just being pissed off and sulking.

Personally, I think there’s a great lesson for us here; don’t you?

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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9 Responses to Two for the Price of One

  1. ” the parties involved responded by building the Kingdom twice as fast, instead of just being pissed off and sulking.” Now why isn’t this in a creed somewhere? 🙂

  2. Mike B. says:

    I do. Very good point and insight.

  3. JJS says:

    I like your take on this scripture. Have to admit, I’m often tempted to “fill in the blanks.” Nice to think of the two mission trips as complementary, rather than competing.

  4. Citizen Tom says:

    Compromise is not always necessary When two men of strong character make up their minds, sometimes they just won’t yield. I doubt Paul and Barnabas were angry with each other, both of them could not be in charge. Yet both were use to leading. As you suggest, two leaders made one of the men redundant.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Yes, to put it quite bluntly, that was the case; rudundancy, which is also the whole point of discipleship, for by making new disciples, we tend to replace ourselves, and the Word goes forth more rapidly than we could have done on our pwn.; great comment!

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