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The Split between Paul, Barnabas, and Mark

Shortly after Paul and the Jerusalem “Pillars” hammered out an agreement on the terms for non-Jews joining the Christ movement, another controversy broke out at Antioch. According to Galatians 2:11-14, the issue was that emissaries sent from the Jerusalem leader James encouraged Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with non-Jews and even Barnabas followed suit, while Paul voiced his disapproval. According to Acts 15:36-41, Barnabas wanted John Mark to accompany him on further travels after he had abandoned the team on a prior mission (13:13), but Paul flatly refused to give John Mark a second chance, even though Barnabas had offered Paul a second chance too (9:27). Some commentators are suspicious of Acts at this point, arguing that it covered up a more serious split between Paul and Barnabas along with the Jerusalem Pillars over how the “Gentile mission” was to be conducted. However, C. Clifton Black counters in Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter that John Mark failed to continue in “the work” (to ergon) of being ministers of the gospel to the nations (p. 38-42). Although Black differentiates John Mark from Paul’s faithful co-missionary Mark in the epistles (pp. 28-29), it seems to me more likely that we are dealing with the same person who is consistently associated with Paul or a Pauline co-worker like Barnabas and Silas/Silvanus (Philemon 23; Colossians 4:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:11; cf. 1 Peter 5:13). Perhaps the reason why Acts ends the narrative about Barnabas and John Mark here, rather than narrating how Mark rejoined Paul’s team as is clear from the epistles, is that the book is just concerned with the missionary expansion of the Jesus movement, even if it was sometimes the result of conflict. Another possibility that I have suggested in an article and book is that the author of Acts may have been aware of traditions about Mark as the writer of a Gospel and may have viewed both the person and the text as important (i.e. connected to apostles) yet flawed. But if the author of Acts was unaware of the traditions about the evangelist Mark that I think may have been developing among certain elders located in Asia Minor at the end of the first century CE (i.e. the Elder John), it is sufficient that Acts abruptly moves Barnabas/John Mark off stage just as he did earlier with Peter (12:17) so that the spotlight could shine on the advancement of the gospel through Paul’s missionary journeys until it arrives in the heart of the Empire.

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