Paul and Barnabas in Acts
by Paul Kalfa


Bible Reference Events in Acts back to top

  • 4:36-37 First mention of Barnabas.
  • 9:27 Barnabas brings Saul to the apostles.
  • 11:22-29 Sent to Antioch and Tarsus to look for Saul.
  • 12:25 Returns to Jerusalem with Saul and John Mark
  • 13:1-3 Teacher and missionary companion of Paul.
  • 13:7 Proconsul sends for Barnabas and Saul.
  • 13:42-50 Paul and Barnabas preach at Pisidian Antioch.
  • 14:1-3 Paul and Barnabas preach at Iconium.
  • 14:14-20 Paul and Barnabas perform miracles in Lystra.
  • 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appoint church elders.
  • 15:2-3 Paul and Barnabas debate salvific nature of circumcision.
  • 15:12 Paul and Barnabas report miracles to council at Jerusalem.
  • 15:22-35 Paul and Barnabas choose men to join them in Antioch.
  • 15:36-41 Paul and Barnabas dispute over John Mark.

Paul and Barnabas back to top

The dispute over John Mark, in Acts 15:36-41, has caused debate concerning the relationship Paul and Barnabas might have had after this event. There is not any Scriptural proof that Paul and Barnabas reconciled to the point of continuing in active ministry together, however, Scripture strongly suggests that there was favor between Paul and Barnabas after the dispute. The dispute involved the fact that John Mark returned home during the first missionary journey and therefore Paul believed Mark was unreliable. Barnabas did not think the issue was so extreme as Paul thought, and Barnabas was willing to give Mark another opportunity. It is also important to note that John Mark is Barnabas' cousin (Colossians 4:10), and that relation may have allowed Barnabas the understanding that Paul did not seem to have. Was Paul being too hard on Mark? Was this dispute really worth breaking fellowship in ministry? In order to answer this question we must be cognizant of the fact that Paul was attempting to spread the gospel message with two major obstacles. The first obstacle was that Paul was causing upheaval in the moral and social orders of the lands, and secondly, Paul was having to deal with disputes among the Christian converts. With these issues looming over the mission of the gospel, it was no wonder Paul did not look kindly upon Mark's sudden departure. What Paul was looking for was reliability in his mission team. Paul felt that if the Holy Spirit set apart these men to accomplish a heavenly goal, then there should not have been a problem amongst its members. To Paul, the bond of Christian faith transcends the barriers of class. Christian faith involved spreading the gospel message of Jesus Christ as savior to sinners. All of this, however, is scholarly speculation because neither Paul, nor any other New Testament author write about the underlying issues surrounding Mark's departure, or Paul's reaction to that departure.

The text does show that whatever the tension might have been between Paul, Barnabas, and Mark, the disagreement was not long lasting. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes, "Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living" (1 Corinthians 9:6). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul refers to Barnabas in 2:1-13. In this text Paul recounts his acceptance by the apostles, and speaks of Barnabas as an equal. However, he also writes that along with Peter "even Barnabas was led astray" (v. 13) concerning circumcision. In his final greetings to the Colossians and Philemon, Paul sends greetings on behalf of Mark which leads one to believe that Mark continued active ministry with Paul at some point in time. If Paul ministered actively with Mark then the assumption would be that Paul reconciliated with Barnabas. It does not seem likely that Paul would maintain such a relationship with Mark if there had not been some understanding with Barnabas.

Early in Paul's ministry, Barnabas was a vital link to the Jerusalem church. According to Luke, Barnabas brought Paul together with the church and probably acted as mediator. In much the same way Paul had Ananias' friendship in Damascus, Barnabas filled this important role in Jerusalem. Barnabas was an important cohort to Paul at a time when Paul's former Jewish friends treated him as a radical, and the apostles still treated Paul like the persecutor he was. It was Barnabas who brought Paul to the apostles (Acts 9:27), and it was Barnabas who served as diplomat to the leaders at Jerusalem. Barnabas also went to Tarsus to find Paul and sought his assistance regarding the church at Antioch because the population was flourishing. Barnabas was also a trusting partner of Paul's when it came to monetary funds for the famine in Judaea. Was Barnabas an apostle? Paul never explicitly calls Barnabas an apostle, however, he tends to use the title "apostle" in a wider sense than Luke. It is also evident from Scripture that Barnabas was a gifted orator. It was common for Paul and Barnabas to visit the synagogues of the cities in which they were evangelizing. Both Paul and Barnabas debated and argued with various religious groups concerning the gospel. Luke also attributes leadership in his writings. Luke refers to "Barnabas and Saul" throughout Acts until Paul's name change, then referring to them as "Paul and Barnabas." This name order was probably Luke's way of illustrating leadership (see above table for name order). If this is true, then Paul lead the missionary journeys.



Bibliography back to top
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  • Carson, D.A., Moo, Douglas J., Morris, Leon An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992
  • Filson, Floyd V. Pioneers of the Primitive Church. New York: Abingdon, 1940
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