Time To Move Forward (Reconciliation after apochoœrizoœ)

Time To Move Forward
Robert Wurtz II

Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:9–13 KJV)

It is hard to read the book of Acts and not be troubled by the situation that arose concerning Mark (John Mark), the nephew of Barnabas. Because John Mark did not go to the work with Paul and Barnabas when they travelled to Pamphylia, Paul did not “think it worthy” to take him on the new journey in Acts 15. The statement “think it worthy” is a little stilted, but that is the import of the Greek words used to describe the incident. I concur with Matthew Henry’s assessment of the matter, “Paul did not think John Mark worthy of the honour, nor fit for the service, who had departed from them […].” It is possible that there was more to the quarrel than Luke has told us. The incident of Galatians 2:11-14 may have occurred at this time, in which Barnabas as well as Peter vacillated on the question of eating with Gentile believers. The matter seems to have been quickly settled, but the memory of it may have remained to exacerbate this present dispute. (David J. Williams, NIBC on Acts 15:39, 272-273).

“Dispute” is probably not a strong enough term to describe the event. In fact, both renowned Greek scholars Marvin Vincent and A.T. Robertson describe the event as an angry outburst.

The contention was so sharp (paroxusmos). More correctly, there arose a sharp contention. Only here and Hebrews 10:24. Our word paroxysm is a transcription of paroxusmo\ß. An angry dispute is indicated. (Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament).  

A sharp contention (paroxusmos). Our very word paroxysm in English. Old word though only twice in the N.T. (here and Heb. 10:24), from paroxunoœ, to sharpen (para, oxus) as of a blade and of the spirit (Acts 17:16; 1 Cor. 13:5). This “son of consolation” loses his temper in a dispute over his cousin and Paul uses sharp words towards his benefactor and friend. It is often so that the little irritations of life give occasion to violent explosions. If the incident in Gal. 2:11-21 had already taken place, there was a sore place already that could be easily rubbed. And if Mark also joined with Peter and Barnabas on that occasion, Paul had fresh ground for irritation about him. But there is no way to settle differences about men and we can only agree to disagree as Paul and Barnabas did. So that they parted asunder from one another (hoœste apochoœristheœnai autous ap’ alleœloœn). Actual result here stated by hoœste and the first aorist passive infinitive of apochoœrizoœ, old verb to sever, to separate, here only and Rev. 6:4 in the N.T. […]. This is the last glimpse that Luke gives us of Barnabas, one of the noblest figures in the New Testament. Paul has a kindly reference to him in 1 Cor. 9:6. No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again. One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas […]. Paul and Barnabas parted in anger and both in sorrow. Paul owed more to Barnabas than to any other man. Barnabas was leaving the greatest spirit of the time and of all times. (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament) 

Passing Blame

When situations such as these happen it is not helpful to work to assign blame. What God had joined together was now being put asunder. That is where our vexation should focus. The Holy Spirit had separated these two men for the ministry and now they have gone their separate ways. What a travesty. A chorus of a thousand theologians could not convince me that this was God’s will. Both men should have focused on the ministry they were both utterly devoted too and not become incensed at the situation at hand. Their separation had greater consequences than anything John Mark would have caused. But what was done was done and they had to find a way to go forward.

We know that Paul changed his opinion of John Mark as Colossians 4:10 clearly demonstrates. At some point Mark had changed his conduct and was “profitable” for the ministry. Paul told Timothy, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” Where once Paul suggested he was “unworthy” now he is “profitable.” As A.T. Robertson puts it, “Most assuredly Now Paul longs to have the man that he once scornfully rejected (Acts 15:37ff.)”

Moving Forward

When Paul reached the end of his life he looked around and some of the people he had trusted to the end had forsaken him. Yet here is John Mark still being faithful after all these years. God even used him to pen the Gospel of Mark if tradition is to be believed. That is a profound demonstration of God’s grace. 

Sometimes we think that men like Paul are too great to make mistakes — if we want to call it that. It’s not true. It wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. One thing we can say is that Paul changed his mind about Mark. The embrace wherewith he desired him in the end exceeded the rejection he felt for him in the beginning. Unworthy? Nay verily, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” If the order of words indicates Paul’s emphasis he placed John Mark ahead of everything. He wanted to see him one last time before he died. Undoubtedly he wanted to confirm his love towards him.

I like happy endings. This was a happy ending. No loose ends to tie up. Everything made right. This is how it ought to be. Matters that seem so important in the moment often do not stand the test of time. It’s easy to talk tough when you have your whole life ahead of you. But oh how feelings change when you have time to really think about things. Paul thought about it. I don’t think myself a blasphemer to say that there was probably not a day that went by that Paul did not feel regret. It’s not too bad a word, regret. Have you ever felt it? It just means we feel sad and disappointed about something that happened in the past that we cant go back and change. We have to live with it. But what we do with regret is what matters. The anger he felt that day he and Barnabas separated transitioned into a slow burn of an aching sadness that undoubtedly taught him much about what it means to truly love. This is love in shoe leather. Had Paul lived to be a hundred years old he would have still sought out this man John Mark. He had to make sure 100% that John Mark knew that he accepted him as a legitimate man of God and fellow worker in the Gospel. 

“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”” (1 Peter 4:8 NKJV)  


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