Paul vs. Barnabas re. John Mark

Paul and Barnabas were "set apart by the Holy Spirit" to go on a missionary journey. They took with them a young man named John Mark. He shared their adventures on Cypress. They met some opposition, but God showed his power in support of their ministry. In contrast to Paul’s later troubles, their problems had been minor. Yet no sooner had their boat touched land, than Mark left them, and headed back home. Maybe he was just seasick, but he had had enough of the vigors of mission work. Paul was very disappointed in Mark.

Without Mark, Paul and Barnabas continued a journey full of hardships in which, they had first been hailed as gods, then Paul was stoned by the same crowd that had wanted to worship him. They stoned him until they thought he was dead, but he survived, continued his mission work, and finally with Barnabas returned home to give his "mission story."

In due time Paul proposed a second missionary journey; Barnabas was happy to join him. BUT! Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them again.

Acts 15:36 [NIV] Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." 15:37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 15:38 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. 15:39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 15:40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.

Paul: You have got to be kidding! Are you talking about the same Mark who abandoned us last time when the going got a little rough?

Barnabas: Yes Paul, but I think he has great potential, and he needs another chance.

Paul: Now Barnabas, I fancy that I have some ability to judge a man’s character. And just as I know you to be steadfast and reliable, I know that Mark is a fair-weather friend, who has no inherent stability. We are going to have troubles again, and Mark would abandon us again.

Barnabas: No Paul, you are judging Mark too harshly, too soon. Yes, he abandoned us last time, but that was an isolated incident. He has never behaved like that before.

Paul: Are you sure? I have heard that when our Master was betrayed, except for John, all of His followers abandoned Him. Isn’t that true?

Barnabas: Yes.

Paul: And among those who deserted Jesus, was a young man who happened to be wearing a one-piece linen garment, and who was in such a hurry to run away, that he left his clothes in the hand of a soldier, and ran away naked; isn’t that true?

Barnabas: Yes.

Paul: And I have talked to a lot of people, who think that young man was the same Mark who ran away when we needed him.

Barnabas: Paul, that’s just a rumor, and you know it.

Paul: Why is it that we don’t know for sure who that young man was? We know Peter denied his Lord. He freely admits it, he tells his story in almost every sermon. Although I sometimes disagree with Peter, I admire the fact that he is always open and honest. But why is Mark so quiet about the events in the garden? I think he has something he wants to hide, and hasn’t been honest about it.

Barnabas: Paul, that attitude is unworthy of you. You are being suspicious without good evidence, and have been prejudiced by rumors.

Paul: Well, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Barnabas: We can’t make important decisions on the basis of rumors. Remember I once heard a rumor that your conversion was phony, that you were merely pretending to be a Christian to entrap and kill the lot of us. Remember you tried to convince the people of Damascus you were a Christian, then you disappeared for three years, then came back. As for you being a judge of character, I was the only one of the believers who correctly judged your character, and refused to believe the rumors about you.

Paul: Barnabas, I must admit that I owe you a debt for befriending me, and I must compliment you on your eloquent defense of Mark, but in his case I’m positive your judgment is wrong. And I can’t help but believe that your head would be clearer if Mark were not your own nephew.

Barnabas: Yes Paul, Mark is my sister’s son, and I love him, but more important, he is a young man of great potential. He has failed once, but needs another chance. Given the right training, he will be a successful minister for our Master.

Paul: Look, Barnabas, we are not offering a Bible school for infants. I am happy to go face the dangers that you know as well as I, but I can’t take along someone who is undependable. I need your help and support in this journey, but I have no place for your nephew.

Barnabas: Paul, I insist that Mark be given a chance. If he doesn’t go with you, I can’t either.

Paul: Have it your way then, you take your nephew and do what you will with him. But I am convinced that he is totally unprofitable to me in my ministry.

Barnabas: And that’s final?

Paul: Yes, final; Mark is a waste and a burden.

And with that, they separated. But that’s not the end of the story.

Barnabas and Paul were both good men, who disagreed about something very important. God let them disagree, and even separate. But in the process God got two missionary teams instead of one.

And in the end Paul would admit that Barnabas was right. During Paul’s final imprisonment he wrote to his friend Timothy:

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

Mark proved himself. It was later reported by Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, that Mark worked closely with Peter, and wrote out Peter’s story of Jesus. And thus we have the Gospel of Mark, one of the earliest books of the New Testament.

R. Wresch M.D. 1994.