In the last installment in this series of articles on the life of Paul I described the reason for, proceedings of, and result of what is known as the Council of Jerusalem. The council decided that Gentile believers did not have to be circumcised in addition to believing in Jesus to be saved but should abstain from a few things especially disturbing to the Jews. It sent two men from the church in Jerusalem, Judas Barabbas and Silas, to Antioch in Syria with Paul and Barnabas to deliver a letter stating its decision. I concluded my account with: “The men delivered the letter to the church at Antioch, with the result that joy replaced the discord of a few days earlier. After spending some time there encouraging the Christians, Judas and Silas returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching (along with others) the word of the Lord.”
Separation of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41)
After Paul and Barnabas had ministered in Antioch following their return from the Council of Jerusalem, Paul proposed to Barnabas that they “return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). He may also have intended to follow up on his letter to the Galatians and to share the decision of the Council of Jerusalem.
Barnabas agreed and suggested that they take his nephew, John Mark, with them again. However Paul objected to their taking with them someone who had left them partway through their first missionary journey. Mark had returned from Pamphylia to his home in Jerusalem (Acts 13:13) but apparently was now in Antioch, perhaps on an invitation from Barnabas when Paul and he were in Jerusalem for the Council of Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” and separated, Although Luke attributes their separation solely to their disagreement concerning Mark, it may have been exacerbated by the incident at Antioch. Paul’s telling the Galatians that “even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:13) indicates how bitterly he felt over Barnabas’ defection on that occasion. There is no evidence that Paul and Barnabas ever met again, but Paul did mention Barnabas twice later (1 Corinthians 9:6; Colossians 4:10) and came to regard Mark highly (1 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24).
Although it is unfortunate that Paul and Barnabas were separated by a disagreement, good resulted from it, more people’s becoming involved in the ministry of the gospel to the Gentiles. Barnabas took Mark with him to revisit Cyprus (Barnabas’ home, Acts 4:36); and Paul took Silas with him to go through Syria and Cilicia and added Timothy and Luke during their journey (Acts 16:3, 10). Luke observes that Paul strengthened the believers as he went through Syria and Cilicia. Probably the same could be said about Barnabas as he revisited Cyprus.
Paul’s selection of Silas to accompany him was a good choice. Silas was a leader in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22) and was authorized by it to speak on its behalf regarding the decision of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:17), He was also a prophet (Acts 15:32) and a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37), both of which would prove helpful. Judas and he had returned to Jerusalem after delivering the Council’s letter to the church in Antioch (Acts 15:33), and apparently Paul summoned him from there.
Although Luke’s saying just with regard to Paul and Silas that on departing on their journey they were “commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” might be taken to indicate that the church in Antioch sided with Paul and not with Barnabas in their disagreement over Mark, it doesn’t necessarily show that. Luke was likely speaking of a special public service in which the church in Antioch recognized the new mission, and apparently Barnabas and Mark had already left for Cyprus.
Timothy’s Joining Paul and Silas and Being Circumcised (Acts 16:1-5)
Luke begins a detailed account of Paul’s second missionary journey with his arrival at Derbe and Lystra, the last cities in the province of Galatia which he had visited on his first missionary journey. At Lystra he met a young man, Timothy, who was highly spoken of by believers there and in the neighbouring city of Iconium. Thinking that Timothy would be a good companion and assistant, Paul invited him to accompany Silas and him just as Mark had accompanied Barnabas and him.
Timothy’s mother was Jewish and a believer and his father, who evidentally was dead, was Greek. Probably Timothy and his mother had become believers on Paul’s first visit to Lystra. In letters which Paul later wrote to Timothy, he referred to Timothy’s youth (1 Timothy 4:12), his faith and the faith of his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), his acquaintance with the Scriptures from childhood (2 Timothy 3:15), and his becoming like a son to Paul (1 Timothy 1:2; see also 1 Corinthians 4:17).
Although by Jewish law Timothy was a Jew because his mother was Jewish, he had not been circumcised. Paul generally began his ministry in a city in its synagogue(s) and having an uncircumcised Jew with him would make such difficult. Thus Paul had Timothy circumcised. This may seem inconsistent with Paul’s resistance to the Judaizers’ insistence that his Gentile converts be circumcised (and obey the law of Moses). However it is consistent with his own observance of the Jewish law and with his later telling the Corinthians “neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision” and “[t]o the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews” (1 Corinthians 7:19; 9:20). What Paul opposed was not circumcision in itself but its being required, in addition to believing in Jesus, for salvation. This was not the case here.
Although the letter sent out by the Council of Jerusalem was addressed specifically to the churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilica, its content was relevant to all Gentile converts. Thus Paul and his companions shared the decisions of the Council in all the cities which they visited. Luke concludes his account of this part of Paul’s second missionary journey by observing “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”
The Macedonian Call (Acts 16:6-10)
After revisiting Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, Paul (and his companions) followed the road west, planning to minister in the province of Asia. Although Paul would later spend about three years in its most important city, Ephesus, at this time he and his companions were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. We aren’t told how the Holy Spirit revealed his will, but it may have been through Silas, his being described as a prophet in Acts 15:32.
They went north to the region of Mysia and attempted to enter the province of Bithynia, a Roman colony lying along the North Sea, but the “Spirit of Jesus” prevented them from doing so. “The Spirit of Jesus” is another name for the Holy Spirit (this is the only place in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit is so described) and may refer to Jesus’ working through the Holy Spirit. Again we aren’t told how the Holy Spirit revealed his will, but again it may have been through Silas.
“So passing by Mysia, they came to Troas.” Since they would have to go through Mysia to get to Troas, a major port on the Aegean Sea, their passing by it would be in the sense that they didn’t attempt to preach the word in it.
At Troas Paul had a vision in the night of a man of Macedonia standing there and urging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Immediately he and his companions concluded that God wanted them to preach the gospel in Macedonia and sought to go there.
Paul’s companions seem to now include the writer of Acts, Luke, because he uses “we” instead of “they” in verse 10 in describing the group’s actions. He continues using “we” instead of “they” to verse 17 and does the same in Acts 20:5-21:18 and 27:1-28:16. Nowhere does he indicate under what circumstances he joined the group.
What I’ve described above illustrates well what Paul later told the Christians in Rome, “[F]or those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Certainly the sharp disagreement between and separation of Paul and Barnabas wasn’t something foreordained (or even foreknown and allowed) by God, and surely it disappointed and saddened Him. Yet He brought good out of it, as I observed above in “Separation of Paul and Barnabas,” and He continued to provide guidance to them, as I described above in “The Macedonian Call.” Let us trust Him to do the same for us when we fail Him.