Gospel expansion into Greece, 15:36-20:38

i] The stage is set for a new mission


Paul and Barnabas decide to revisit the churches they founded on their last mission, but Paul is not happy with Mark joining the company because afisthmi, "he withdrew", from the mission at Pamphylia. The dispute is unresolved, and so Barnabas and Mark head back to Cyprus and Paul sets off to Cilicia.


Even human frailty cannot check the spread of the gospel.


i] Context: See 1:1-11. We now come to the fourth section of Luke's Acts of the Apostles, Gospel Consolidation and Expansion into Greece, 16:1-20:38. Of course, calling Luke's work the Acts of the Apostles misses the point somewhat. From the third section of his book, The Gospel moves outward from Antioch, 13:1-15:41, Luke records the Acts of the Apostle Paul and tells us very little about what the other apostles are up to.

Having established the authority by which Paul undertakes his mission to the Gentiles, both divine and ecclesiastical, and having also fully recorded the approval of the apostolic church in Jerusalem for Paul's Law-free gospel (although see "Background"), Luke now records the next stage of the Gentile mission. This stage records the expansion of the mission into Macedonia and the consolidation of Paul's mission churches around the Aegean coast, both in Macedonia, and Asia. Here we have the heart of Paul's missionary endeavours , a period when Paul writes the bulk of his letters.

This section entails what is commonly called the second and third missionary journeys, although for Luke, it serves as a single period in Paul's missionary enterprise. It begins in Troas the vision of the man from Macedonia, and ends with Paul's farewell sermon at Miletus, 20:13-38. In between these events, Paul and his mission team establish new churches and consolidate those already established. It is likely there are numerous trips between the different churches, most not recorded in Acts. In Macedonia, Paul evangelises numerous towns, ch. 16-17, and then sets up a base-camp in Corinth around AD50; he works from this base for around a year and half, ch. 18. He then moves his base camp to Ephesus around AD53-54 and works from this base for over two years until he is forced to leave, ch. 19. Paul and his team then move back to Macedonia, spending some three months in Corinth around AD55, before heading off to Jerusalem, ch. 20.

Luke gives a cursory summary of events between the conclusion of the Jerusalem Council, 15:29, and Paul's move eastward into Europe, 16:6. The Jerusalem Council agreed with Paul that Gentiles are not bound to obey Mosaic Law as a requirement for divine approval and thus full membership of the Way. The Council did lay down some requirements to assist table-fellowship between Jews and Gentiles, cf., 15:29. Yet, given what follows, it is possible that, although the Council agreed that a person is saved by grace through faith in Christ, they may not have gone as far as abandoning the notion that going on in the Christian life (progressing one's sanctification) is a matter of obedience. So, it is possible that a large segment of the Jerusalem church, although agreeing that Gentiles don't need to obey the law for justification / salvation, may still hold to the view that ethical behaviour is necessary for sanctification / holiness. As to whether the Jerusalem church is properly reformed, Luke doesn't go there, rather he recounts the events in such a way as to not undermine the Pauline proposition that holiness, as well as salvation, is found in union with Christ, by grace, through faith, apart from obedience to the law.

So, it does seem that Luke is not telling us the full story of what happened at the Jerusalem conference, nor what followed. Luke tells us that following the conference a team from the Jerusalem church visits the Antioch fellowship to explain the regulations. They later return to Jerusalem, leaving Paul and Barnabas in Antioch to manage the issue, 15:30-35. We know from Paul's letter to the Galatians that when the regulations for table fellowship are applied in Antioch, there is a major falling out between Paul and both Peter (and Barnabas???). For Paul, the regulations are little more than a guide, but for Peter and the other Jewish believers in Antioch, they are regulations which impact on their holiness, irrespective of table fellowship. As far as Paul is concerned, the law cannot make a believer holy; holiness is found in Christ as a gift of grace through faith.

Leaving aside the troubles at Antioch, Luke simply tells us that Paul and Barnabas had a falling-out over Mark and that consequently Barnabas took Mark and headed for Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas and journeyed through Syria toward Asia, 15:36-41, visiting Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, etc., strengthening his mission churches on the way, 16:1-5, until he arrived at Troas, v6-8. It is possible that the dispute in Antioch not only disturbed Paul's association with the church in Antioch, but also with Peter and members of the Jerusalem church. The increased attempts to counter Paul's antinomian theology by members of the circumcision party in Jerusalem indicates that the rift is deeper than Luke lets on - Dunn argues that it is terminal. Luke is not interested in widening the rift and so stays with a glass-half-full scenario. For Luke, Paul's mission and gospel rests not only on divine authorisation, but also on the authorisation of the apostles and the Jerusalem church.

In this fourth section, Luke records the development and expansion of Paul's mission churches around the coast of the Aegean sea over the years AD50-55, chapters 16-20. Although Paul is constantly forced to defend his gospel from visiting members of the circumcision party, he none-the-less seeks to maintain his standing with the other apostles and the believers in Jerusalem. Luke's account of Paul's subsequent visit to Jerusalem serves to reinforce the fact that Paul is no secessionist. None-the-less, the consequences of this visit give us some idea of how deep the rift goes - the chasm between the temple / Jerusalem and Rome, Jew and Gentile, law and grace, "the righteous" and "sinners". There will always be those who find it difficult to understand that good people don't go to heaven, but only bad people, Mat.9:13, Lk.15:7.

The episodes of this fourth section in Luke's Acts of the Apostles are as follows:

The stage is set for Paul's second missionary journey, 15:36-41

The call to Macedonia, 16:1-15

Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi, 16:16-40

The mission to Thessalonica and Beroea, 17:1-15

The mission to Athens, 17:16-34

The mission to Corinth, 18:1-17

Apollos and the followers of John the Baptist, 18:18-19:7

The mission to Ephesus, 19:8-20

The Ephesian riot, 19:21-41

Paul's final missionary circuit, 20:1-16

Paul's farewell sermon, 20:17-38.


ii] Background:


iii] Structure: The stage is set for a new mission:

Decision for consolidation and outreach, v36;

Disagreement over the participation of Mark, v37-38;

Division between Paul and Barnabas, v39-40;

Into Cilicia and beyond, v41.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul is obviously concerned for his mission churches and so decides to revisit them to exercise pastoral oversight, but as Luke explains, a dispute develops between Paul and Barnabas over the inclusion of John Mark. Mark is a relative of Barnabas, a man who is known for his ministry of encouragement, and so, irrespective of past events, Barnabas wants him on the team, cf., 4:36. Luke tells us that, during the first mission, Mark left the team at Pamphylia. We are not told why, nor does Luke make any moral judgment about Mark's decision to leave. Clearly, there was a problem, but whatever it was, Barnabas chooses not to make an issue out of it. The trouble is, Paul does, and is quite determined not to allow Mark to join them.

In describing the dispute, Luke uses the noun paroxusmoV, a word that means "a sharp dispute, or disagreement, often associated with anger." The disagreement becomes irreconcilable. Given that the church has just resolved a theological issue which could have split the early church wide open, it is somewhat shameful that two grown men of faith are unable to settle their differences. Again, Luke doesn't pass judgment; who is in the right, or who is in the wrong. What he does do is show how, despite the machinations of mere humans, the gospel continues its progress to the ends of the world / age.

So, as both Paul and Barnabas move off to their respective corners to assure themselves of the propriety of their position, one mission turns into two, and one assistant becomes two. Barnabas and Mark sail back to Cyprus to exercise pastoral oversight of the churches founded there, while Paul and Silas head north through Syria and into Cilicia. It is often a fact that time heals all wounds, and so Paul, Barnabas and Mark did eventually reconcile, cf., Col.4:10-11.

Paul's new companion, Silas, is presumably the same Silas who served as one of the delegates of the Jerusalem church, although Luke doesn't specify this fact. What we do know is that this Silas, a Roman citizen, becomes a trusted colleague of Paul, serving with him as the gospel makes its move into Greece.


v] Homiletics: It sells better if it smells better

[Perfume room] This is the motto of Cox Findlayson & Co, my father's business: manufacturers and suppliers of essential oils, perfumes and essences. I started work in the perfume laboratory, learning to differentiate all the different essential oils used in perfumery, and as you can see, there is quite a few of them. What amazed me was that some of the worst smelling oils, when used minutely, helped to create a beautiful scent. Like civet tincture, the making spray of a Civet cat. No words can describe the smell.

My father was training me to take over the family business. To have a father who sets up a business to hand over to his son, was a rare stroke of luck for me. Of course, as you can guess, I ignored the luck, even threw it back in his face. I had other plans; I wanted to be a school teacher. To this day I can remember the way I told him what to do with his business, and it shames me deeply.

Paul and Barnabas were two great men, and yet the depth of their faith didn't stop them entering into an unresolved bitter dispute which left them going their own way. The work of the gospel continued despite them, but it was a shameful moment in the lives of two men who should have known better.

Christians are not immune to bitter arguments. We live in an age when truth is relative, rather than revealed. Today we twist Descartes' cogito, ego sum, "I think, therefore I am", to "I think, therefore it's true", and of course, that means you're wrong and I'm right. We take up a position while devaluing the other person's opinion, and consequently, bitterness ensues.

The answer to our condition is simple - give respect where respect is due, 1Peter 2:17. "Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves", Romans 12:10.

Text - 15:36

The stage is set for a new mission, v36-41: i] A decision for consolidation and outreach, v36. Pastoral oversight is most likely the intended purpose of the visit, but possibly also to "maintain contact between Antioch and the daughter churches", Barrett.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

meta + acc. "some time later" - [but/and] after [certain days]. Temporal use of the preposition, introducing a temporal clause, unstated time.

dh "-" - [paul said to barnabas] indeed. Emphatic particle.

epistreyanteV (epistrefw) aor. part. "let us go back" - having turned back [may we visit the brothers]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the hortatory subjective "to visit"; "Let us return and pay a visit to those of our brothers", Cassirer.

kata + acc. "in [all the towns]" - according to [every city in which we announced the word of the lord]. Distributive use of the preposition, "city by city." Barrett suggests that pasan, "all, every", is emphatic, so "from city to city, every one of them."

pwV "to see how [they are doing]" - how [they have = are]. This particle introduces a nominal interrogative clause which serves as the object of an assumed infinitive such "to see" (purpose), so forming a dependent statement of perception expressing what they want "to see, perceive, know, ......"; "let us return and visit the brothers in every city ........ in order to see how they are getting on"; "to find out how they are faring", Cassirer.


ii] A disagreement over the participation of Mark, v37-38. Luke presents the following events in bulleted note-form by the use of a transitional de and te arrangement:

de, Barnabas wants to take Mark;

de, Paul doesn't want Mark along;

de, They have a sharp disagreement;

te, Barnabas heads off with Mark;

de, Paul heads off with Silas;

de, They travel to Cilicia.

sumparalabein (sumparalambanw) aor. inf. "[wanted] to take" - [but/and barnabas was wanting] to take with them [and = also = as well]. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Barnabas wanted, "he wanted to take with them as well .....", although often just classified as complementary, completing the sense of the verb "to want, will", so Culy and Kellum.

ton kaloumenon (kalew) pres. mid. part. "called [Mark]" - [john] the one being called [mark]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "John"; "John who is also called Mark." "Mark" serves as the complement of the direct object of the infinitive, standing in a double accusative construction and stating a fact about the object, "John the one being called", namely that "he goes by the name Mark." "Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them as well."


Barnabas boulomai, "wanted", to take John Mark, but Paul axiow, "reasoned, deemed, considered = resolved" otherwise (to make a choice on the basis of greater worth*), and as we know, he stood his ground on the issue (rightly or wrongly).

Note how Luke brings forward the appositional referent of touton, "this one", "the one having withdrawn from them from Pamphylia and not having gone with them into the work", so emphasising John Mark's action of apastanta, "leaving, departing." Does this mean that Luke thinks Paul had good reason for not including John Mark?

mh sumparalambanein (sumparalambanw) pres. inf. "[did] not [think it wise] to take [him]" - [but/and paul was resolving ...... this one] not to take along with them. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Paul resolved, namely "this one, the one having withdrawn from them ..............., not to take along with them." The accusative subject of the infinitive is touton, "this one", and its appositional restatement.

ton apostanta (afisthmi) aor. part. "because he had deserted" - the one having departed, withdrawn. As with the negated participle "not having gone with", the participle serves as a substantive, part of a nominal phrase standing in apposition to touton, "this one", the accusative subject of the infinitive "to take along with." Often translated as causal, "because", as NIV, ESV, CEV, .... given that the appositional statement implies reason, but better translated as the REB, "Paul insisted that the man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on to share in their work was not the man to take with them now."

apo + gen. "-" - from [them]. Idiomatic repetition of the apo prefix of the verb "to withdraw from."

apo + gen. "in [Phamphylia]" - from [pamphylia]. Expressing separation, "away from."

autoiV dat. pro. "[not continued with] them" - [and not having gone together with] them. Dative of direct object after the sun prefix verb "to go together with."

eiV + acc. "in [the work]" - into [the work]. Expressing movement toward and arrival at, metaphorical; "in their task", Cassirer; "on active service", Moffatt.


iii] A division develops between Paul and Barnabas, v39-40. As noted above, the noun paroxusmoV, "sharp disagreement", is emotionally charged. This is something more than an argument between friends, as CEV, but rather "a disagreement of the most violent nature", Cassirer.

wJste + inf. "that [they parted company]" - [but/and there became a sharp disagreement] so that [to be separated]. This construction serves to introduce a consecutive clause expressing result; "with the result that they were separated / parted company."

ap (apo) + gen. "-" - from [one another]. Idiomatic repetition of the apo prefix of the infinitive "to be separated from."

paralabonta (paralambanw) aor. part. "took [Mark]" - [and barnabas] having taken [mark set sail into cyprus]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to set sail."


Luke is probably describing a prayerful commissioning, similar to 13:3, although is this paradoqeiV (singular), "handing over, commending [to the kindness of the Lord / God]", for both Paul and Silas, or just Silas? "Paul took Silas, who was heartily endorsed as a dedicated Christian worker by the Antioch congregation", Junkins, so Barclay ......

epilexamenoV (epilegw) aor. mid. part. "chose" - [but/and paul] having called = chosen [silas he departed]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to go away, depart", as NIV.

paradoqeiV (paradidwmi) aor. pas. part. "commended" - having been delivered over to. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal; "after he had been committed to the Lord's grace (kindness, mercy, favour)"

uJpo + gen. "by [the believers]" - by [the brothers]. Instrumental, expressing agency.

th/ cariti (iV ewV) dat. "to the grace" - the grace. Dative of direct object after the para prefix verb "to deliver over to."

tou kuriou (oV) gen. "of the Lord" - of the lord. The genitive is adjectival, limiting "grace", idiomatic / source, "from the Lord", or with a verbal sense, subjective, something like "the kindness which is providentially provided by the Lord."


iv] Paul revisits his mission churches in Syria and Cilicia, v41. The Western text assumes that Silas is the same Silas who was one of the delegates from Jerusalem, adding at the end of the verse "handing over to them the commands of the elders." This assumption is probably correct, and it would certainly help Paul's cause to have a Jerusalem delegate with him as he revisits his mission churches.

dihrceto (diercomai) imperf. "he went through [Syria]" - [but/and] they were passing through [syria and cilicia]. The imperfective aspect of the verb may express duration, or serve to indicate a background note.

episthrizwn (episthrizw) pres. part. "strengthening" - supporting, strengthening [the churches]. The participle is adverbial, usually treated as modal, expressing the manner of their journey through Syria and Cilicia, ie., they were encouraging the churches.


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