Acts 15:39

ESV And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,
NIV They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,
NASB Now it turned into such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.
CSB They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus.
NLT Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.
KJV And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;

What does Acts 15:39 mean?

Because we are limited, and fallible, it can be difficult to sense when God has a significant change for our lives or ministry. He may allow our circumstances to change or move a close friend in another direction. If we're not paying attention, we can feel betrayed. We might struggle to adapt and react to a tragedy, not realizing God is just moving us on.

Paul and Barnabas seem to have experienced some hurt feelings as they planned their second missionary journey. The Greek term translated as "sharp disagreement" here is paroxysmos. Modern English uses derivatives of this term to define sudden, intense experiences such as seizures or a sneeze. The same root word depicts Paul's response to the many idols of Athens (Acts 17:16). But it also is used in Hebrews 10:24, speaking of believers inspiring one another to do good. The disagreement here is intense, deep-seated, and emotional.

Barnabas wants to take his cousin John Mark. Paul doesn't. Paul still stings from their first trip when Mark abandoned them on the coast of Pamphylia (Acts 13:13). Apparently, Mark has done nothing since to make Paul think he is any more dependable. Barnabas, known for his encouraging spirit (Acts 4:36) and willingness to give second chances (Acts 9:27), passionately disagrees. There's merit on both sides of the argument. Paul and Barnabas argue and split up, not seeing a way to continue travelling together.

It's important to note that neither man condemns the other, nor attempts to interfere with their work. Their decision to pursue God's will, separately, does not mean they discourage the other from doing the same. In truth, this is probably the best possible choice, and what God had intended in the first place. Scripture is not clear about whether the two men recognize God is sending them on different paths. However, it's likely both come to understand this later. Paul takes Silas, a fellow Roman citizen, and travels through Syria, up into Galatia, across into Macedonia, and down into Greece. Although Paul had survived being stoned on his first trip (Acts 14:19), Barnabas seems to have avoided physical attack. Silas will be imprisoned and beaten with Paul in Philippi (Acts 16:19–40). It may be that such treatment is too much for Barnabas or Mark at this time.

Meanwhile, Barnabas will take Mark to the island of Cyprus, where Barnabas is from. Whatever encouragement Barnabas has for his cousin works. Paul will later write fondly of Mark, telling Philemon he is a "fellow worker" (Philemon 1:24) and Timothy that he is "useful" (2 Timothy 4:11). From Paul, that is high praise.
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