The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (Part 4)

Stumbling and Separating

While they were in Antioch, Peter came up to visit, and was in full fellowship with the Christians there—both Jew and Gentile. Barnabas and Paul were spending time with them as well, but then trouble arose. Some Jews from Jerusalem came up, and Peter was afraid of what they would think and say if they saw him eating with Gentiles—regardless of the fact that they were Christians—so he got up and ignored them. The other Jews that were there saw Peter leave the company of the Gentiles, and so they followed suit.[1] This mass exodus from showing fellowship with the Gentiles was so pervasive and persuasive that even Barnabas fell prey to it. He joined Peter—a man who had been his friend for years—and avoided eating with the Gentiles. Paul was shocked and appalled at the hypocrisy of these Jewish Christians—but then he adds the words “even Barnabas.”[2] The hypocrisy was so overwhelming that it even got Barnabas—the last person Paul ever expected to turn away from the Gentiles.

How horrible must Barnabas have felt when he listened to his protégé put Peter in his place, realizing that those words also condemned him. Barnabas humbly repented of his hypocrisy, and no doubt apologized to the Gentile Christians for getting caught up in peer pressure. Barnabas even apologized to Paul, and all was forgiven.

Some time after that event, Barnabas was approached by Paul with an idea: “Let’s go visit our brethren in every city where we’ve preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.”[3] Barnabas was open to the idea, but wanted to bring John Mark with them. Paul was very insistent that John Mark had abandoned them before, and that he didn’t want such a person accompanying them.

Luke says “the contention was so sharp between them that they departed asunder from one another.”[4] Barnabas tried to reason with Paul, but Paul was hard-headed in this matter. You can imagine the argument.

Paul: Barnabas, no! John Mark cannot be trusted. I will have nothing to do with him.

Barnabas: Paul, that’s exactly what the Christians in Jerusalem said about you. I stood up for you then, and I’m standing up for John Mark now. Give him another chance.

Paul: No, I’m not going to risk being abandoned by him again.

Barnabas was willing to give John Mark another chance, but Paul wasn’t. As a result, the two men who had been so closely linked for years divided. Barnabas was disappointed in Paul’s decision, but that didn’t mean he didn’t still love him. Barnabas and Paul were still in full fellowship with each other, even though they were no longer working together. Barnabas takes John Mark with him, and they sail off to his home country of Cyprus,[5] where they work with the churches that Barnabas had helped plant years earlier.[6] But because Barnabas insisted on giving John Mark another opportunity to prove himself, he basically disappears from the rest of the biblical record.

Paul does bring his name up one last time in his letter to the Corinthians, years later, showing that (1) Barnabas was still very well-known and well-respected throughout the churches, (2) that he and Paul were still friends and fellow-workers in the kingdom, and (3) that Barnabas was seen as a person in the church whose actions and teachings could be trusted. Paul appeals to the example of the apostles, of the brothers of the Lord (James and Jude among them), and then of Barnabas. This tells us that Paul still thought highly of the man who defended him, who sought him out, and who worked side-by-side with him for years.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] For at least some of them—perhaps even most of them—this was done because they were following the example of an apostle of Jesus Christ, and not out of an animosity towards the Gentiles.

[2] Galatians 2:13, ASV.

[3] Acts 15:36.

[4] Acts 15:39.

[5] See Acts 4:36, 15:39.

[6] See Acts 13:4-13, 15:39.

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