The Story Behind the Story: Acts 15:36-41
“36) After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37) Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38) But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39) And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40) But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41) And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Acts‬ ‭15‬:‭36‬-‭41‬ ‭
This text is often introduced with the caption; “The Second Missionary Journey.” There were undoubtedly many other trips taking place, especially from Jerusalem. Philip the evangelist most likely continued other trips, as did Peter and the other apostles, but for some reason Luke took special interest in following the ministry of Paul.
This was providential. Paul emerged as the theologian and scholar who defined and defended the gospel. Study Galatians 1-2 and Philippians 1 carefully. His life was set aside for the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (See Philippians 1:7)
Much has been written about the conflict that emerged between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark. Being true to his name, Barnabas was the “Son of Encouragement.” (See Acts 4:36) He was much more patient with people and committed to the long term growth process in his team members. He saw potential in John Mark.
Paul on the other hand was black and white and most likely so focused on the ministry he neglected the welfare of his team. He saw John Mark as a deserter. (See Acts 15:38). This was very providential.
It not only resulted in two teams, it also helped Paul grow in his understanding of different spiritual gifts. Not everyone was wired like him. The details recorded about the first missionary journey intrigues me. (Acts 13-14) I wonder who the team recorder was?
It was most likely non other than John Mark. According to Acts 16:11-13, Luke joined Paul and Silas for the second mission trip. Look at the multiple inclusion of the word “we.” Paul was a preacher, John mark was a recorder. Paul was in the spot light, John Mark was content to stay behind the scenes.
Eventually the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul the incredible insight about various spiritual gifts recorded in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Right in the middle is the famous love chapter. We sometimes forget that the Christian life is a journey. Even Paul went through a growth and maturing process.
There is one more insight about John Mark. Paul may have viewed him as being distracted on the first missionary journey. Why? Because he was most likely preoccupied with writing the Gospel of Mark.
The Jerusalem counsel may have been an occasion for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to gather more stories from eye witnesses and compare notes. This in no way distracts from Divine Inspiration, but it does show how people are often drawn to others with similar gifts and motivations.
2 Timothy 4:11 is very interesting. Luke was traveling with Paul and suddenly Paul sends an urgent request to bring John Mark. I suspect that the historian Luke was working on the book of Acts and needed John Mark to fill in the details of the first missionary journey. His gifts suddenly became very important to Paul.
I concede, much of this is speculation, but plenty of clues and hints are provided in the story. But this does highlight a significant point, it is important to capture the stories. History only unfolds once and details not recorded are quickly forgotten.
One of the regrets of my life is that I have not kept a daily journal. Many stories of mighty deeds of God have long been forgotten. We have much to learn from John Mark and Luke. The story helps illustrate and color in the doctrine.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global