Acts Lesson Thirty-two: Acts 15:36-16:5 – A Broken Partnership and a New Partnership

36 After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord and see how they’re doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. 39 There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. 40 Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers. 41 He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. 

16 Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him. Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily. (HCSB)

I’ll be dividing this lesson into two parts.

  • A broken partnership – verses 15:36-39.
  • A new partnership – verse 15:40-16:5.

A Broken Partnership

Once again, Luke uses a vague time reference to indicate a major division in the narrative. The phrase Luke uses, “after some time,” is generally thought to be about one year. This view supports the historical data that indicates about one year between the first and second of Paul’s missionary journeys. The second journey begins in verse 41. 

Paul’s vision was to revisit all the churches he established during the first missionary journey. Although Paul didn’t personally visit each church, all the churches were visited by either Paul or Barnabas. Barnabas traveled to Cyprus, and Paul visited all the other churches established on the first journey.

The main point in the first section is the split between Paul and Barnabas. It’s ironic that two dedicated men who had brought unity to the church couldn’t reach a compromise on their own disagreement. Over the years, there has been much scholarly debate about the reason behind the split. Although there has been much debate, there isn’t a definitive conclusion about the main reasons behind the split. Before we look at the possible reasons for the split, it is important to understand Luke’s reasoning for including the detail that a disagreement occurred. Disagreements that cause division are never a good thing in ministry. At the same time, we are all probably aware of splits that have occurred. Very likely, when both Paul and Barnabas looked back at this event later in their lives, they were embarrassed by what had transpired. However, God can turn that darkness into light even when believers act in the flesh. We’ll see why at the end of this section. Now, let’s look at possible reasons for the disagreement.

  • John Mark. 
    • Mark and Barnabas were cousins.
      • Family ties were strong in the cultural setting in which Acts occurred.
      • Barnabas was also known as the “son of encouragement” and was ready to give Mark another chance to serve with them even though he had left the previous missionary journey early.
      • Were the Judaizers in Jerusalem aroused to anger by Mark and his reports from Pamphylia?
      • It is also possible that Mark was a member, or at least agreed with, the Judaizers.
  • Paul was adamant that they not include Mark in the second journey.
    • Mark had abandoned the team on the first missionary journey.
    • In Paul’s mind, this was a sign of weakness. The ministry was too important and the work too demanding to include someone who had proven unreliable on the first journey.
    • Was Mark unrepentant regarding his decision to abandon the team on the first trip?
  • The Galatian’s incident – Galatians 2:11-13.
    • This event took place in Antioch after the Jerusalem Council.
    • Peter would eat with the Gentiles until Judaizers once again muddied the waters. 
      • They pressured Peter to stop eating with the Gentiles, and even though the Jerusalem council had made it clear that it was ok to eat together, Peter gave in to the pressure.
      • Paul was unhappy with Peter’s hypocrisy.
      • Even Barnabas followed Peter’s lead in the matter.
    • Although Paul had reconciled with Barnabas to the point that he wanted Barnabas to join him on the second journey, there may have been lingering wounds and possibly some differences with Paul’s Gentile outreach that precluded adherence to the Law.

Who was right?

When the facts are examined, it would seem that both Paul and Barnabas have grounds for their position.

  • Paul.
    • Paul remembered what happened on the first journey.
    • He knew the dangers that the team would face, and having team members who were unreliable was not a good thing.
    • As noted in Galatians, Barnabas had been swayed by the Judaizers who came from Jerusalem. Would this happen again?
  • Barnabas.
    • He was known as the “son of encouragement.”
    • Mark was only a young man on the first journey and had panicked when the situation got tough.
    • Mark may have settled and matured since that point and needed an opportunity to demonstrate that he would be a capable team member.
    • It is also possible that Barnabas felt some resentment since Paul had been Barnabas’ protege. 
      • Barnabas had introduced Paul to the apostles in Jerusalem after Paul’s conversion.
      • Barnabas went to Tarsus to bring Paul to Antioch and gave him a chance to be a teacher and preacher.
      • Barnabas had started as the lead during the first missionary journey, and at some point, Paul had taken over as the leader.
      • Maybe Paul owed Barnabas a concession on the issue of Mark.
  • This is an example of a classic confrontation.
    • Does one major mistake disqualify a person from a ministry role?
    • Should a person be restored to ministry work even if a major mistake was made?
    • Often it is the circumstances involving the mistake which determine the correct course of action. 

In the end, the two men went their separate ways. However, now we see how God can turn this “event of the flesh” into something good. Instead of one mission team heading out, there were now two teams that evangelized the lost. 

A New Partnership

With the partnership with Barnabas now broken, Paul needed a new partner to accompany him on the journey. The man Paul chose was Silas. Now, let’s take a closer look at Paul’s new partner, Silas.

  • As Paul, Silas was a Roman citizen – Acts 16:37.
  • Silas was a key member in the Jerusalem church – Acts 15:22.
  • Silas was chosen to represent the Jerusalem church as the decision of the council was taken to the Gentiles in Antioch – 15:27.
  • Silas was a prophet – Acts 15:32.
  • He was involved in the ministry with Paul in Antioch, allowing Paul to become familiar with him.
  • Silas was a co-author with Paul of the Thessalonian epistles.
  • Silas was the secretary for Peter’s first epistle – 1 Peter 5:12.
  • Since Silas was a leader from the Jerusalem church, this could prove advantageous on the upcoming journey.

Paul and Silas set out on their missionary journey, moving northward on foot through the Cilician gates to visit the locations where Paul and Barnabas traveled on the first missionary journey. On this journey, the party went from east to west, effectively traveling in reverse order from the first journey. Their first stop was at Derbe, and from there, they continued to Lystra, where another prominent New Testament individual is found, Timothy. Let’s take a closer look at Timothy.

  • Timothy was thought of highly by the believers at Lystra and Iconium.
  • It is quite likely that Timothy was a convert from Paul’s first missionary journey.
  • Timothy was from an ethnically mixed marriage.
    • His mother was Jewish.
    • His father was Greek.
    • According to rabbinic law, a child with a Jewish mother and a Greek father was considered to be Jewish. 
      • Therefore, Timothy would be viewed as a Jew.
      • Jews were required to be circumcised.
    • Paul used the local synagogue as a focal point for evangelism in his travels.
      • If Paul had a member of his party with a Jewish lineage who was uncircumcised, that would prove to be a stumbling block in their efforts.
      • Therefore, that is the reason Paul insisted that Timothy get circumcised. 
    • Timothy was a key companion involved in Paul’s missionary work.
      • Paul considered Timothy his “son.”
        • 1 Corinthians 4:17.
        • 1 Timothy 1:2.
      • Paul sent two letters to him.
      • Timothy was a co-sender in six letters.
        • 2 Corinthians 1:1.
        • Philippians 1:1.
        • Colossians 1:1.
        • 1 Thessalonians 1:1.
        • 2 Thessalonians 1:1.
        • Philemon 1.
      • Paul considered Timothy his “fellow worker.”
        • Romans 16:21.
        • 1 Corinthians 16:10.

The trio of Paul, Silas, and Timothy now continue on the journey. Luke doesn’t mention the towns visited, but it is safe to assume that Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, and any other village where a Christian community was planted on the first journey. The group shared the message from the Jerusalem Council as they traveled. All of the churches were in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia and not part of Syro-Cilicia, to which the message was addressed. It is very likely that these churches were included as they were the result of Paul and Barnabas’ journey commissioned from Antioch.

The final verse in this section is a summary statement. The result of their journey was churches that experienced strengthened faith and growth. Paul wasn’t just concerned with establishing churches. He was concerned with seeing what he and Barnabas had started to experience growth and produce fruit.


  • There is a lesson to be learned from the dissolved partnership between Paul and Barnabas. Although both sides had justification for their position, neither side was willing to compromise. We’ll never know what could have occurred if Mark and Barnabas had traveled with Paul on the second journey. Would Paul’s partnership with Timothy still have occurred? Regardless of what may or may not have happened, unity in the body of Christ is extremely important. Both Paul and Barnabas gave into fleshly actions, yet God still used both teams to advance the Gospel. We should do all we can to avoid these types of broken working relationships but also realize that if they do happen, God is able to turn them into good.
  • Choose your ministry partners carefully. Both Silas and Timothy were exceptional partners for Paul. We won’t all be blessed to have partners of this caliber, but having the partner God desires for us will make our trials easier.
  • As we are involved in evangelism, we need to remember that not only is the conversion important, the follow-up call for discipleship is essential for spiritual growth and a believer who produces fruit.

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