The Jerusalem Council, 1-35
15:1 Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 15:2 When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this point of disagreement. 15:3 So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they were relating at length the conversion of the Gentiles and bringing great joy to all the brothers. 15:4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all the things God had done with them. 15:5 But some from the religious party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe the law of Moses.”
‘A close study of the Acts of the Apostles dispels at once the notion men would fain cherish, that the apostles and the early Christians lived just like angels without any trace of human passion or discord. The apostles had their differences and misunderstandings very like our own. Hot tempers and subsequent coolnesses arose, and produced evil results between men entrusted with the very highest offices, and paved the way, as quarrels always do, for fresh disturbances at some future time.’ (Expositor’s Bible)
THE JERUSALEM CONFERENCE
Precursors 1. Peter and Cornelius, Acts 10 (10 years earlier). 2. Peter in residence in Antioch. 3. Under pressure from the Judaeans, Peter withdraws from Gentile society. 4. Paul perceived this as a threat to Christian unity and a denial of the gospel of grace. 5. Paul persuades Peter. 6. But the trouble spreads from Antioch to the churches of Galatia. Lessons 1. Even the early church was subject to disputes and divisions. 2. Doctrinal error does matter. 3. Internal discord is more damaging to the gospel than persecution from outside. 4. The cause of Christianity is furthered by solving problems, not avoiding them. 5. The importance of the relationship of the two testaments, and of the law and the gospel. 6. On the temporary nature of some aspects of the law, see Mk 10:5.
15:6 Both the apostles and the elders met together to deliberate about this matter. 15:7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe. 15:8 And God, who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 15:9 and he made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith. 15:10 So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 15:11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.”
15:12 The whole group kept quiet and listened to Barnabas and Paul while they explained all the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 15:13 After they stopped speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 15:14 Simeon has explained how God first concerned himself to select from among the Gentiles a people for his name. 15:15 The words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written,
15:16 ‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David;
I will rebuild its ruins and restore it,
15:17 so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord,
namely, all the Gentiles I have called to be my own,’ says the Lord, who makes these things 15:18 known from long ago.
This is a quotation from Amos 9:11f. But ‘whereas Amos was referring to the rebuilding of the Jewish state and the welcoming of Gentiles into it, James said this prophecy was being fulfilled as Gentiles entered the church of Jesus the messiah.’ (Travis, I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, p127).
15:19 “Therefore I conclude that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 15:20 but that we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood. 15:21 For Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, because he is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
“Things defiled by idols” – lit. ‘the pollution of idols’ or ‘the defilements caused by idols’ (Peterson, who explains: ‘What James is demanding in the first instance is a complete abandonment of the spiritual defilement that comes from idolatry.’). Such abstinence is out of consideration for the ‘weaker’ Jewish brethren (1 Cor 8; Rom 14).
“Sexual immorality” – ‘It has…been argued that the admission of the Gentiles into the people of God, following the council in Acts 15, offers a paradigm for the church’s response to those with same-sex attraction. The difficulty with this is that it ignores the nature and rationale of the fourfold prohibition in Acts 15.29, which correspond to the laws that apply to ‘resident aliens’ in Lev 17–18, including the prohibition on same-sex activity.’ (Ian Paul)
Ian Paul cites Andrew Goddard:
‘Acts 15 requests Gentiles to refrain from certain activities which were viewed as part of their Gentile identity and there is a strong case that amongst these was homosexual practice…[T]he value of Acts 15 for those seeking further to revise traditional church teaching on homosexuality is very limited. Indeed, by focusing attention on the Jerusalem council, revisionists may, ironically, have highlighted yet another biblical basis for insisting that, even as the church continues to struggle with this issue, to repent of its past hostility to gay people, and to welcome them into the church and learn from them as gay Christians, it must appeal to all disciples of Christ to refrain from homosexual conduct.’
“What has been strangled” – Most commentators think that the rare word pniktos refers to strangled meat. Peterson: ‘The meat of strangled animals refers to meat from which the blood has not been drained because of the way it was killed (e.g., Ex 22:31; Lev 17:13–16).’ So also Marshall, Polhill, and others.
But according to a new proposal by Instone-Brewer (Moral Questions of the Bible) it probably refers to infanticide; to babies that have been smothered at birth. Instone-Brewer notes: ‘Like the three other sins, infanticide was common and acceptable in the Gentile world, but it was absolutely abhorrent to Jews and Christians.’ The author argues that this command should be extended to abortion (which was comparatively rare in the ancient world, because of the risks to the most), which is tantamount to early infanticide.
In the past, the law regarded children as the property of their parents, with limited rights before adulthood. Modern society has learned, largely from Jesus, that children have full human rights, and their vulnerability makes us especially responsible for looking after them. However, somehow we’ve managed to concede that a fetus is not a child, so it’s not due the same legal protection. Perhaps this is because churches have so often condemned those who are accidentally pregnant instead of offering to help take care of the child.
Schnabel allows that if the prohibition is moral, rather than ritual, then Instone-Brewer’s suggestion may be correct.
These prohibitions have often been viewed as a compromise between two warring parties, which nullified the effect of James’s earlier words and made the decision of the Jerusalem Council unacceptable to Paul. But in reality they should be viewed not as dealing with the principal issue of the council but as meeting certain practical concerns. They were not primarily theological but more sociological in nature—concessions to the scruples of others for the sake of harmony within the church and the continuance of the Jewish Christian mission. Therefore James added the rationale of v.21, suggesting that since Jewish communities are found in every city, their scruples are to be respected by Gentile believers.
15:22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to send men chosen from among them, Judas called Barsabbas and Silas, leaders among the brothers, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. 15:23 They sent this letter with them:
From the apostles and elders, your brothers, to the Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greetings! 15:24 Since we have heard that some have gone out from among us with no orders from us and have confused you, upsetting your minds by what they said, 15:25 we have unanimously decided to choose men to send to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul, 15:26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15:27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas who will tell you these things themselves in person. 15:28 For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: 15:29 that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well. Farewell.
Stot identifies the three main points in the letter:
‘The Jerusalem church and its leaders made three important points in their letter.
First, they disassociated themselves from the circumcision party and, therefore, by clear implication, from the requirements of circumcision. These men went out from us but without our authorization (RSV, “although we gave them no instructions”). The unauthorized message, moreover, had disturbed their hearers (24, the verb is tarasso, “to trouble, upset, or throw into confusion,” interestingly, the very word which Paul uses of them in Galatians 1.7 and 5.10).
Secondly, they made it abundantly clear that the men they had now agreed to choose…and send… (25), namely Judas and Silas, did have their full approval and support. They would not only deliver the letter, but also confirm, by word of mouth what it contained (27).
Thirdly, they enunciated their unanimous decision (made by the Holy Spirit and…us) not to burden Gentile converts with anything (certainly not with circumcision) beyond the following requirements (28), namely, the four specified abstentions, which we have already considered. The letter’s conclusion, which expresses more a recommendation than a command, was: You will do well to avoid these things (29).’ (Stott, paragraphing added)
15:30 So when they were dismissed, they went down to Antioch, and after gathering the entire group together, they delivered the letter. 15:31 When they read it aloud, the people rejoiced at its encouragement. 15:32 Both Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with a long speech. 15:33 After they had spent some time there, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 15:35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming (along with many others) the word of the Lord.
Barnabas, Paul and Mark
Paul and Barnabas Part Company, 36-41
15:36 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return and visit the brothers in every town where we proclaimed the word of the Lord to see how they are doing.” 15:37 Barnabas wanted to bring John called Mark along with them too, 15:38 but Paul insisted that they should not take along this one who had left them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 15:39 They had a sharp disagreement, so that they parted company. Barnabas took along Mark and sailed away to Cyprus, 15:40 but Paul chose Silas and set out, commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers and sisters. 15:41 He passed through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
After some days – Perhaps in the spring, when travel became possible again.
“Let’s return” – ‘This was a natural proposal. Paul and Barnabas had worked well together. Ever since Barnabas had retrieved Paul from Tarsus to help with the ministry in Antioch, their teamwork had been charmed with grace. Barnabas’ relational gifts coupled with Paul’s immense mastery of the Law and his brilliant intellect produced dramatic results. Moreover, the vicissitudes of that first missionary journey had produced a profound exchange of soul between these two men of God. Sharing not only wounds but vision, they were soul brothers. To be sure, they had disagreements and even occasionally disappointed one another, but never ever did they dream of being separated, except perhaps by death. Certainly the two missionaries did not expect what was about to happen.’ (Kent Hughes) That is, in the churches which they had established in Asia Minor, Acts 13,14.
‘That Israelite literature reported the failings of its heroes even during the epic period may be noteworthy, but by this time it had long been standard for Greco-Roman biographers to admit their heroes’ weaknesses. Luke surely intends us to see God’s blessing on the new Paul-Silas team (15:40; cf. 16:37), but this does not signal his approval of the dispute between Paul and Barnabas, handled so unlike the council in 15:22.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
Note, we are expected to make progress in the Christian faith, and to hold one another to account for that progress. There was no lack of willingness to risk life and limb for the sake for the gospel: the only question was who was most suitable to undertake the trip.
“Let us…see how they are doing” – ‘It was not merely a compliment that he designed, nor did he take such a journey with a bare How do you do? No, he would visit them that he might acquaint himself with their case, and impart unto them such spiritual gifts as were suited to it; as the physician visits his recovering patient, that he may prescribe what is proper for the perfecting of his cure, and the preventing of a relapse.’ (MHC) However, what began as a follow-up trip to places previously evangelised became a full-scale campaign taking Paul and Silas out of Asia Minor and into Macedonia aand Greece where they established churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and Corinth. ‘We notice here, for the first time, a trace of that tender solicitude for his converts, that earnest longing to see their faces, which appears in the letters which he wrote afterwards, as one of the most remarkable and attractive features of his character.’ (JFB)
Acts 15:37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them,
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark – They were bound by family affection (they were cousins, Col 4:10). Moreover, it was in Barnabas’ nature to be sympathetic towards someone who wished for a second chance after having failed, Acts 9:27. ‘Luke does not explain why Barnabas wants to take John Mark along. Is it that this encourager’s sympathy reaches out to restore the deserter? (compare Acts 4:36 9:27) Is it Barnabas’s sympathy with the viewpoint of the strict Jewish Christians, which he may share with Mark, and which may have occasioned Mark’s earlier defection? (Gal 2:13) Is it simply the family tie between them? (Col 4:10) What we do know is that from Paul’s perspective, John Mark’s desertion in the midst of the first missionary journey rendered him unfit for the second (Acts 13:13; compare Lk 8:13 1 Tim 4:1). Luke has not told us why John Mark deserted. Paul does say that Mark had not continued with them in the work, and earlier that work was defined as “the door of faith” being opened to the Gentiles (14:26-27). It may be that on a journey to communicate the Jerusalem church’s affirmation of the Gentile mission, this defector would have proved more of a liability than an asset.’ (IVP NT Cmt’y)
Acts 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.
Paul did not think it wise to take him – Whereas Barnabas allowed himself perhaps to be ruled by his heart (“Let’s give him another chance”), Paul took a more rational approach (“his presence might jeopardize the mission”). ‘It is a classic example of the perpetual problem of whether to place the interests of the individual or of the work as a whole first, and there is no rule of thumb for dealing with it.’ (Marshall) He had deserted them in Pamphylia – See Acts 13:13. The reason for this is not recorded, but Paul evidently thought it an unsatisfactory reason. See Pr 25:19. ‘St. Paul just experienced here what we all must more or less experience, the crosses and trials of public life, if we wish to pass through that life with a good conscience.’ (Expositor’s Bible)
Acts 15:39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,
Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus – This was Barnabas’ home country, 4:36. Although the disagreement was regrettable, God was able to further the gospel through it, in that more places were visited, and more workers enlisted. ‘As to who was to blame, that is not an easy question. Scholars have had paroxysms over it. I feel for Barnabas, and yet Paul is the greatest of the apostles. Perhaps they were both right. No one can rightly blame Barnabas for wanting to give his cousin a second chance, nor can we fault Paul for fearing to trust him again. Our judgment goes with Paul, but our hearts go with Barnabas. According to verse 40, the church sided with Paul, and perhaps that is where we should leave it.’ (Hughes)
‘Even the best Christians do not always agree. Sometimes good Christians intensely disagree! When two believers disagree over an important issue, at least one of them must have something wrong in his life-if not in his walk, at least in his viewpoint. All Christians walk with limps. We all rely on the grace of our Lord.’ (Hughes)
‘Some of the church’s greatest leaders have been difficult people. Luther in a famous self-evaluation said, “I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether war-like, fighting against innumerable monsters and devils. I am born for the removing of stumps and stones, cutting away thistles and thorns, and clearing wild forests.” This was a rather sober evaluation, but Luther was not exaggerating. He could indeed be a difficult man…He was also one of God’s princes. Similar things could be said of George Fox, John Wesley, and other Christian leaders.’ (Hughes) Underlying this dispute may have been Barnabas’ uncertainty over the Gentile issue, Gal 2:1-10 (assuming that passage is describing the same event as the earlier part of Acts 15).
‘This is the last glimpse Luke gives us of Barnabas, one of the noblest figures in the New Testament. In leaving Paul, Barnabas was separating himself from the greatest servant of Christ of all time. And Paul was losing the man to whom he owed more than any other human being. When Barnabas sailed away with John Mark to his native Cyprus, he sailed into further fruitful ministry, but out of history. In contrast, the continuing ministry of Paul and Silas is well-known. The point here, however, is that the relationship between two great men of God had failed. Nowhere in the account does it say that the two prayed and that it seemed good to them and the Holy Spirit for Mark to remain or for the two of them to double their ministry by going in different directions. The omission of a harmonious conclusion indicates the unstated but undeniable failure of two of the greatest souls the church has ever known.’ (Hughes)
‘It is impossible to say whether Barnabas or Paul was right. But this much is certain, Mark was supremely fortunate that he had a friend like Barnabas. In the end, as we know, Mark became the man who redeemed himself. It may well have been the friendship of Barnabas which gave Mark back his self-respect and made him determined to make good. It is a great thing for a man to have someone who believes in him. Barnabas believed in Mark and in the end Mark justified that belief.’ (DSB)
‘The best of men are but men, subject to like passions as we are, as these two good men had expressly owned concerning themselves (ch. 14:15), and now it appeared too true. I doubt there was (as usually there is in such contentions) a fault on both sides; perhaps Paul was too severe upon the young man, and did not allow his fault the extenuation it was capable of, did not consider what a useful woman his mother was in Jerusalem (ch. 12:12), nor make the allowances he might have made to Barnabas’s natural affection. But it was Barnabas’s fault that he took this into consideration, in a case wherein the interest of Christ’s kingdom was concerned, and indulged it too much. And they were certainly both in fault to be hot as to let the contention be sharp (it is to be feared they gave one another some hard words), as also to be so stiff as each to stick resolutely to his opinion, and neither to yield. It is a pity that they did not refer the matter to a third person, or that some friend did not interpose to prevent its coming to an open rupture. Is there never a wise man among them to interpose his good offices, and to accommodate the matter, and to put them in mind of the Canaanite and the Perizzite that were now in the land, and that not only Jews and heathens, but the false brethren among themselves, would warm their hands at the flames of the contention between Paul and Barnabas? We must own it was their infirmity, and is recorded for our admonition; not that we must make use of it to excuse our own intemperate heats and passions, or to rebate the edge of our sorrow and shame for them; we must not say, “What if I was in a passion, were not Paul and Barnabas so?” No; but it must check our censures of others, and moderate them. If good men are soon put into a passion, we must make the best of it, it was the infirmity once of two of the best men that ever the world had. Repentance teaches us to be severe in reflections upon ourselves; but charity teaches us to be candid in our reflections upon others. It is only Christ’s example that is a copy without a blot.’ (MHC)
‘We are not to think it strange if there be differences among wise and good men; we were told before that such offences would come, and here is an instance of it. Even those that are united to one and the same Jesus, and sanctified by one and the same Spirit, have different apprehensions, different opinions, different views, and different sentiments in points of prudence. It will be so while we are in this state of darkness and imperfection; we shall never be all of a mind till we come to heaven, where light and love are perfect. That is charity which never fails.’ (MHC)
‘Paul and Barnabas, who were not separated by the persecutions of the unbelieving Jews, nor the impositions of the believing Jews, were yet separated by an unhappy disagreement between themselves. Oh the mischief that even the poor and weak remainders of pride and passion, that are found even in good men, do in the world, do in the church! Now wonder the consequences are so fatal where they reign.’ (MHC)
‘What we have learned of gospel peace as a peace of love and unity, brings a seasonable exhortation to all the saints, that they would nourish peace what they can among themselves. You all profess to have been baptized into the spirit of the gospel, but you do not show it when you bite and snarl at one another. The gospel, that makes wolves and lambs agree, doth not teach the lambs to turn (into) wolves and devour each other. Our Saviour told the two disciples whose choler was soon up, that they would be fetching fire from heaven to go on their revengeful errand, that they little thought from what hearth that wildfire of their passion came: ‘Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of,’ Lk 9:55. As if he had said, Such fiery wrathful speeches do not suit with the meek Master you serve, nor with the gospel of peace he preacheth to you. And if the gospel will not allow us to pay our enemies in their own coin, and give them wrath for wrath, then much less will it suffer brethren to spit fire at one another’s faces. No, when any such embers of contention begin to smoke among Christians, we may show who left the spark -no other but Satan; he is the greatest kindlecoal of all their contentions. If there be a tempest, not in the air, but in the spirits of Christians, and the wind of their passions be high and loud, it is easy to tell who is the conjurer. Oh it is the devil, who is practicing his black art upon their lusts, which yet are so much unmortified as gives him too great an advantage of raising many times sad storms of division and strife among them. Paul and Barnabas set out in a calm together, but the devil sends a storm after them -such a storm as parted them in the midst of their voyage: ‘And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other,’ Acts 15:39. There is nothing, next Christ and heaven, that the devil grudged believers more than their peace and mutual love. If he cannot rend them from Christ, stop them from getting heaven, yet he takes some pleasure in seeing them go thither in a storm; like a shattered fleet severed one from another, that they may have no assistance from, nor comfort of, each other’s company all the way; though, where he can divide he hopes to ruin also, well knowing this to be the most probable means to effect it. One ship is easier taken than a squadron. A town, if it can be but set on fire, the enemy may hope to take it with more ease; Let it therefore be your great care to keep the devil’s spark from your powder. Certainly peace among Christians is no small mercy, that the devil’s arrows fly so thick at its breast. Something I would fain speak to endear this mercy to the people of God. I love, I confess, a clear and still air, but, above all, in the church among believers; and I am made the more sensible what a mercy this would be, by the dismal consequence of these divisions and differences that have for some years together troubled our air, and filled us with such horror and confusion, that we have not been much unlike that land called Terra del Fuego-the land of smoke, because of the frequent flashings of lightnings and abundance of smoke found there. What can I compare error to, better than smoke? and contention to, better than to fire? a kind of emblem of hell itself, where flames and darkness meet together to increase the horror of the place. But, to press the exhortation a little closer, give me leave to provoke you by three arguments to peace and unity.’ (Gurnall) ‘And then, which is much to be laid to heart, there are the divisions of God’s people. God’s own tribes go to war. In Tertullian’s time it was said, See how the Christians love one another. But now it may be said, See how the Christians snarl one at another, ‘They are comparable to ferocious bears’. Wicked men agree together, when those who pretend to be led by higher principles are full of animosities and heart-burnings. Was it not sad to see Herod and Pilate uniting, and to see Paul and Barnabas falling out? (Acts 15:39) When the disciples called for fire from heaven, ‘Ye know not (saith Christ) what manner of spirit ye are of’. (Lk 9:55) As if the Lord had said, This fire you call for is not zeal, but is the wildfire of your own passions. This spirit of yours does not suit with the Master you serve, the Prince of peace, nor with the work I am sending you about, which is an embassage of peace. It is Satan who kindles the fire of contention in men’s hearts and then stands and warms himself at the fire. When boisterous winds are up, we are accustomed to talk of conjurors. Sure I am, when men’s spirits begin to bluster and storm, the devil has conjured up these winds. Discords and animosities among Christians bring their godliness much into question, for ‘the wisdom which is from above is peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated’.’ (Jas 3:17) (Watson)
Acts 15:40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
Paul chose Silas – ‘Silas is well suited to the task. He is spiritually gifted, a prophet (15:32). He embodies the church’s commitment to a Gentile mission with the law-free gospel, for he was one of the envoys bearing the council’s letter (15:22, 27). As a Roman citizen, he can move about easily within the Empire (16:37).’ (IVP NT Cmt’y)
‘What does this reveal about how God directs his servants? While God did not cause the disagreement or the fateful separation, he used it to guide both men into increased fruitfulness and service. There were now two missionary teams instead of one. Moreover, Silas brought to Paul’s ministry some ingredients that Barnabas did not have. He was a Roman citizen (16:37). He was a prophet (15:32). He probably spoke Greek (compare 15:22, 32). And he served as Paul’s stenographer (1 Thess 1:1 2 Thess 1:1; compare 1 Pet 5:12). Though Barnabas was a great loss, Silas was a great gain.’ (Hughes)
Commended by the brothers – Paul and Silas clearly had the local church’s blessing. It is clear too, however, that the ministry of Barnabas and Mark was blessed, for, even though we hear nothing more of it, we do Paul later came to value Mark and regarded him as a Christian co-worker, Col 4:10 2 Tim 4:11.
‘Paul afterwards seems to have had, though not upon second thoughts, yet upon further trial, a better opinion of John Mark than now he had; for he writes to Timothy, (2 Tim 4:11) Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry; and he writes to the Colossians concerning Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, that if he came to them they should receive him, bid him welcome, and employ him, (Col 4:10) which teaches us, (1.) That even those whom we justly condemn we should condemn moderately, and with a great deal of temper, because we know not but afterwards we may see cause to think better of them, and both to make use of them and make friendship with them, and we should so regulate our resentments that if it should prove so we may not afterwards be ashamed of them. (2.) That even those whom we have justly condemned, if afterwards they prove more faithful, we should cheerfully receive, forgive and forget, and put a confidence in, and, as there is occasion, give a good word to.’ (MHC)
Acts 15:41 he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
‘Paul, though he wanted his old friend and companion in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, yet went on cheerfully in his work: (Acts 15:41) He went through Syria and Cilicia, countries which lay next to Antioch, confirming the churches. Though we change our colleagues, we do not change our principal president. And observe, Ministers are well employed, and ought to think themselves so, and be satisfied, when they are made use of confirming those that believe, as well as in converting those that believe not.’ (MHC)
‘In regard to this unhappy contention between Paul and Barnabas, and their separation from each other, we may make the following remarks: (1.) That no apology or vindication of it is offered by the sacred writer. It was undoubtedly improper and evil. It was a melancholy instance in which even apostles evinced an improper spirit, and engaged in improper strife. (2.) In this contention it is probable that Paul was, in the main, right. Barnabas seems to have been influenced by attachment to a relative; Paul sought a helper who would not shrink from duty and danger. It is clear that Paul had the sympathies and prayers of the church in his favour, Acts 15:40, and it is more than probable that Barnabas departed without any such sympathy, Acts 15:39. (3.) There is reason to think that this contention was overruled for the furtherance of the gospel. They went to different places, and preached to different people. It often happens that the unhappy and wicked strifes of Christians are the means of exciting their zeal, and of extending the gospel, and of establishing churches. But no thanks to their contention; nor is the guilt of their anger and strife mitigated by this. (4.) This difference was afterwards reconciled, and Paul and Barnabas again became travelling companions, 1 Cor 9:6 Gal 2:9. (5.) There is evidence that Paul also became reconciled to John Mark, Col 4:10 Phm 1:24 2 Tim 4:11. How long this separation continued is not known; but perhaps in this journey with Barnabas, John gave such evidence of his courage and zeal as induced Paul again to admit him to his confidence as a travelling companion, and as to become a profitable fellow-labourer. See 2 Tim 4:11 “Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” (6.) This account proves that there was no collusion or agreement among the apostles to impose upon mankind. Had there been such an agreement, and had the books of the New Testament been an imposture, the apostles would have been represented as perfectly harmonious, and as united in all their views and efforts. What impostor would have thought of the device of representing the early friends of the Christian religion as divided, and contending, and separating from each other? Such a statement has an air of candour and honesty, and at the same time is apparently so much again, st the truth of the system, that no impostor would have thought of resorting to it.’ (Barnes)
‘This incident shows us that past performance reveals character and properly serves as a basis for judging suitability for future service. Further, even though differences in judgment may produce schism, God can so rule and overrule that there is no permanent barrier to the advance of his mission.’ (IVP NT Cmt’y) ‘Though the remainder of Acts contains no further record of Paul working with Barnabas, Paul mentions Barnabas in a positive light in 1 Cor 9:6. Paul’s later high regard for Mark is evident in Col 4:10 Phm 1:24 2 Tim 4:11.’ (New Geneva)
‘It seems clear that Paul, Barnabas and John Mark shared a longer working relationship than Acts implies. Paul’s reference to Barnabas in 1 Cor 9:6 shows not only that the Corinthians knew Barnabas but that Paul continued to respect him. Calvin and Luther were convinced that 2 Cor 8:18-19 also referred to Barnabas: “With him (Titus) we are also sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.” Likewise, the mention of John Mark in Philemon 24 and 2 Tim 4:11 shows that Paul and this younger disciple were later reconciled.’ (DPL) ‘Luke did not shrink from recording this incident and said nothing about the reconciliation that we know from Paul’s letters took place later; Col 4:10 2 Tim 4:11 Phm 1:24; all three letters also mention Luke within a few verses!’ (NBC)