Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch…
Judea is at a higher altitude than Antioch. Judea is hill country, Antioch is near the coast of the Mediterranean. We read ‘go down’ and we think ‘south’ because of how we read maps. Again, an example of how we can read the bible with a western mind and misunderstand even some of the simplest of notions.
…and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
Politics. I’m not real fond of politics. But it seems impossible to say that there weren’t politics in the early church. Pharisees and Sadducees were the predominant forces to recon with in Jesus’ day, but you also had Essenes and Herodians. There were several other factions and groups like Zealots as well, but the groups of those days that would most correspond with Republicans and Democrats today, are the Pharisees and Sadducees. It’s not an exact comparison, but I think it’s helpful to get a feel for the times. Their religion and their politics were pretty much the same thing. They were a religious state.
If you’ve ever visited, or lived in, or now live in, a religious state; you’re probably able to get a better picture of what it was like 2000 years ago. In a true religious state, the civil law and religion are inseparable. With Israel the law of Moses was the law of the land. It got complicated with Rome’s invasion and dominance; and sometimes watered down because, well, the Lord’s law wasn’t exactly easy to follow. But it helps if we understand that when the bible talks about Jesus being questioned by lawyers, their law books were the old testament and Jerusalem held one of the greatest law schools ever. Most believe Gamaliel was the dean of that school, so to speak, in Jerusalem; Paul was like a grad student who’d come from Tarsus to further his education with the great man, and evidence is that he did part company over their different view of how to deal with the Jesus movement. But Israel was a religious state, the Sanhedrin it’s supreme court and the law of Moses its constitution; and bill of rights; and declaration of… you get the idea.
Religious states are scary. Only yesterday I heard a news report about a London woman who reported having been raped in Qatar. The young woman had been drugged and woke up in the man’s apartment and realized what he’d done to her. She went to the authorities to file a complaint, which unfortunately, is almost always brave thing for a woman to do in any country. But sharia law is the main source of Qatar civil law; and with sharia law in Qatar, there is no such thing as rape, and someone who says they were raped is guilty of sex outside of marriage. That’s what you call a religious state.
She was arrested and though eventually released, she payed over $800 in fines for having sex outside of marriage. The man she accused of rape was sentenced to 100 lashes for sex outside of marriage.
Israel in Jesus’ day was a religious state, even though it had to submit to the Roman Empire. So, when it says that some of the believers belonged to the party of the Pharisees, it’s an indication that in the church there at that time, the Jewish brethren who were still having the most trouble “nailing the old law to the cross” were upset with what was going on with gentiles nearly 700 miles away.
Needless to say, I don’t think you had any believers who tried to hang on to their Sadducee roots. As you know, Sadducees did not believe in resurrection.
6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up.
This is James, author of the book of James; brother from the same mother as the Lord; probably the eldest after Jesus, and probably carrying the babies in his arms when the family came with Mary to take Jesus home because they thought he’d lost his mind. James would later be martyred for his faith; thrown off the pinnacle of the temple and then stoned. I think about him, perched on the edge of his own death, standing in the same spot where Jesus was tempted by Satan, “throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘I will command my angels concerning you that they will lift you in their arms so that even your foot would not strike against a stone…’
That James is now the elder statesman of the Jerusalem gang. How it worked with Peter and him, I know not. He seems to carry the weight of making a final decision even though the keeper of the keys is right there. I imagine it was his age; he was likely a good 10 – 12 years older and had the kind of seniority that comes from having more white hair; along with a wealth of stories to tell about growing up with the son of God.
“Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
16 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’
18 things known from long ago.
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers
22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
I’ve often heard a number of speakers, not necessarily learned men, say that this passage proves that Paul was right and Barnabas wrong: that the brothers commended Paul and Silas and not Barnabas and his team. I think that’s a stretch and comes from a desire to paint a picture that Paul, wonderful as he was, was kinda incapable of making a mistake. I’m not sure that there’s a mistake made in this situation. It’s just sad. It’s always sad to me when friends fall out.
This song, and band, is kinda sad in it’s own way. Oh, Canada. Ah, memories. The memories that clutter a brain that once thought the Guess Who and The Who were the same band. I was a child.
But, yeah, it’s sad when friends fall out. And Barnabas and Paul fell out. But, when it says that Paul was commended by the brothers, it’s not necessarily ‘instead of Barnabas’; or that Barnabas wasn’t commended, too. In all of our prior experiences with Barnabas, when was he ever not commended?
It may be stated just to keep it straight that Paul’s apostleship, questioned by others everywhere, wasn’t in question there in Antioch.
And can you imagine anyone ever getting mad at Barnabas? And look what Barnie is doing; wanting to give John Mark another chance. This spat between the two was unfortunate, but all in all, what did it cause?
1). Two teams went out instead of one. There are going to be times when people are not going to get along, but they need to get on with their work. Sometimes maybe it’s better to live and let live.
2). There is reason to believe that they made up. In 1 Corinthians 9:6 Paul writes, “Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?” Were they together? Reconciled? This was definitely written several years after Acts 15.
3). They didn’t split anything. Other than themselves, we don’t see Antioch split over the spat. Or anywhere else. False doctrines and sectarianism will soon be entering the churches of the first century, and already the seeds of anti-nominism and the Judaizers are dividing brethren, but as far as we know, never was there a division in the churches because of Paul and Barnabas fighting with each other.
On another tangent, it’s time for me to fess up: you know I could be all wrong about John Mark.
When we were young and thought we knew everything and were always under self imposed pressure to find ‘something new’ every time we read the bible, I carefully studied Mark and for some reason got fixated on him; and painted this picture that, well, it could be true; but I made almost every man named Mark in the new testament be the same guy. No one really knows.
Hippolytus, a third century Roman church theologian thought he knew and had his opinions. I know a lot of you may think that the guys who lived ‘closer’ in time to when the events happened… especially if they were converted by apostles or by someone who was converted by an apostle… that they are more likely to be right in the things which they wrote 1700 or 1800 or even nearly 1900 years ago.
That’s bogus. Don’t ever believe that.
The first apostasy was caused by guys who were the closest in time to the ministry of Jesus. I don’t trust much of anything as absolutely true just because someone in the hundred or so years after the apostle’s were alive says it’s so. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to know and insightful. But I save some of my worst bad attitudes towards a lot of those guys; and it’s not just because they gave me fits as a freshman theology student.
Let me tell you a story to put it in perspective.
When I lived in New York we had a pond in our back yard. It was spring fed and part of a series of old farm ponds, all flowing into and feeding a huge reservoir that provides drinking water for New Jersey and part of Rockland County, New York.
I was curious about the ponds. Who built them? What were they for? Who used to live here?
I went everywhere asking these questions and could get no further back then about 50, 60 years of history on the property before it was a subdivision. But zilch on the pond. No info at all on who built it or why. Now there were a lot of theories; and a lot of, “oh, of course those were built for livestock.” or “those were built for fire prevention; you know, if there was a fire they’d have those ponds to put it out.”
The ponds couldn’t have been more than 150 years old, if that old; I’d always guessed by some of the structure (some were reinforced with concrete walls), that they were built in the 1920s… but no one, and I talked to geezers who’d lived there forever… no one knew; no one documented; no one could tell me where these ponds running through the middle of a populated area 30 minutes from Manhattan came from or why. And that was relatively ‘recent history’.
Things get lost in time all the time. Always have.
So when someone tells me they believe something to be absolute about the bible because someone in 180 or 180 a.d. says it’s so… nah. Maybe. “But they know more than you!” Nah. Maybe. Ok, a lot of people know more than me. Big surprise. And one of the few things I love about the internet is how you can find resource material that was virtually unavailable not that long ago, in my lifetime; and it’s all there at the click of a button. But when someone says that they knew more about what was true because they lived a lot longer ago than we did, that flies in the face of biblical prophecy. People have intentionally or accidentally got things wrong over and over again. And do I need to say, don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
You find a flood of misinformation about this on the internet; very few threads telling the truth. Sound like a bible verse in there somewhere?
I certainly make no claims that I am more right than anybody else. But I dig for this biblical history stuff for myself, not just so I can sit and ramble and try to convince people of my opinions. I’m of the opinion that the kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field and that when you trip over it, you sell everything you have to obtain it. I’m a treasure hunter, and the treasure is abundant, so I never mind sharing the few clues I get along the way. But you better believe there’s a gazillion false leads. From the beginning of the church there were people who saw political advantage both being against the church and by being in the church. And there’s a lot of astronuts and dragons eating ice cream along the way.
And did you know, that by 70 a.d. when Jerusalem fell, there was more toleration of Jesus’ church by their Jewish brethren; and the Pharisees, Sadducees, even many of the zealots and others; thought that the church would fight the Romans with them…? They were in for a surprise, when the disciples, warned by prophecy to flee, were already in the hills when Jerusalem was sacked. All to say, that many people mistakenly viewed the church as just another sect of Judaism.
So there’s just so much to know. And there’s just so much we can and can’t know.
So, listen: it’s better to know what Hippolytus wrote than not; but I don’t believe he’s an uncorrupted source anymore than I believe a talking head on T.V. They may be right, they may be wrong. But I’m not trusting them totally. Do you?
So, as I fess up, I like combining all the Marks into one character and maybe they were. The Mark who wrote the gospel, and the cousin of Barnabas and the young man Peter calls his son in 1 Peter as well as the John, also called Mark, son of Mary, who had the house in Jerusalem (where we get John Mark, along with the citation here in this very chapter)… and no one can prove they are not all the same.
But it’s a stretch.
There were a lot of people populating these stories. John was a very, very common name, as was Marcus. Barnabas had a cousin named Mark, and, like I just said, twice here in Acts John, also called Mark, is traveling with Barnabas. This could have all been the same guy.
So, in this spat with Paul: was Barnabas giving his cousin a second chance? Was it Peter’s son? Or when Peter said ‘son’ did he mean that like ‘son in the faith’…? When Paul said to Timothy for him to bring Mark to him, the “useful to my ministry” Mark; was he reconciling with the young man who’d abandoned him and split the dynamic duo of Paul and Barnabas? It’s all a great story, and I’d never let the truth interfere with a great tale, as long as I know… and think my audience surely knows…. that I might be making up the details to paint an accurate and beautiful picture of the truth.
But that’s nothing. Here’s the bomb: I don’t know what Peter’s wife’s name really was.
You say, why, Steve, don’t you know? It’s Abbie.
I don’t remember why I picked Abigail as a name for this character. It may have been simply because Abbie rhymed with crabby. But I did make it up. It’s not found in some obscure place in the bible, “in the Greek”.
So, of course, I made up Hannah, their daughter. I didn’t do that until the ’94 version.
In ’87 I had a wife, so Peter had a wife.
In ’94 I had daughters… so, you see?
And to be fair, the bible says Peter had a wife (guess Popes could have wives back then, huh?)
And Peter was also an elder, which means he had children, so… there. If not Abbie and Hannah, there were somebodies named somethings, making a household with Peter and according to Paul, traveling around with Peter when he went to places, like Joppa and Caesarea and eventually Rome.
We do get a widely told story of Peter and his wife’s death, from the early church, repeated in Fox’s Book of Martyrs. But in that story, which is the source for knowing that Peter requested to be crucified upside down, it’s different from how I wrote it in our show. In the ‘true’ version, it was Peter who tells his wife to “remember the Lord”.
Because it’s an extra biblical tale I felt no remorse setting up the drama in reverse, with Abbie singing “Remember the Lord” to inspire Peter to not let her stand in the way of him doing what he should do. That’s how I created the necessary dilemma that should come in the climax of musical drama: a man torn at the last moment, ready to die for Jesus but not wanting to see his wife die. It might be western romantic sensationalism, but it makes me cry. I’m sure the real truth, if we could go back in time and watch the real event, would be so traumatizing and horrific that we might forget for a moment that over the years it could be convicting and inspiring.
So as we end Acts 15 we’ve come to the historical place that corresponds to a time in the show when I have Hannah come to Peter distressed because John Mark is going away. I don’t have time in this show to stage everything I wish we could. I wrote Barnabas out of the story just because I can’t afford to feed that many actors. No, well, yeah, but it also ties into trying to not introduce more people than someone new to the bible can follow. So, it’s at this point in the story that we have John Mark leaving, but we don’t delve into the split between Paul and Barnabas.
For one thing, in our play this scene is in Antioch. I’ve jumped to the story Paul is going to allude to in Galatians; and that’s something that happened presumably after Acts 15 and the council in Jerusalem. I’ve had to skip the council of Jerusalem all together and bring the gentile issue to a close with this Antioch scene. I wish we had time for the Jerusalem meeting.
It was one of my favorite moments in the ’87 version of the show. After the meeting and Paul and Barnabas argue, Barnabas exits, sadly, and Silas, played by Larry Salberg, comes up to Paul, played by Sherwin and says, “I’ll go with you.” It was such a great moment. Earlier we had embodied all the fear and loathing of Saul in the character of Silas; he’d been suspicious and doubtful that this man who’d persecuted the church had really changed. But as he listened to Barnabas and watched Paul, Silas melted; and when he tells Paul that he’ll be his partner … it’s one of those moments that made me love seeing Sherwin on stage; and Larry gave me goosebumps as Silas in this scene every time.
But back to the end of chapter 15. Paul and Barnabas are split. They leave Antioch; one mission team over land, the other by vessel towards Cyprus; Barnabas is taking the exact same route they took before; this is an exact do over for John Mark. In the movie I’d have them on the same boat, same captain, same men; they’d just be older with more eyepatches and fewer limbs.
Morgan Minsk will lead us in prayer today:
Father God, thank you for the undeserved opportunity to glorify You using these gifts you’ve given me. Thank you for using these past few months to humble me in the presence of so many others whom You have blessed just as much musically, and even more. I am constantly put in my place and just so completely humbled every time I hear about the ways You have used my brothers and sisters to prove to the world that yes, You do exist. I just want to be used in whatever way I can to change the heart or mind of one person, two people, a hundred, or a million as they seek You and count the costs of following You. Please use the hurts of Hannah to help them see that You ARE faithful in every situation. I believe that You created me for this role, and have shown me how relatable she is to the world. I don’t think she expected to lose so much when she decided to make You Lord, and struggled with self-pity and entitlement when it came time to give up worldly relationships for You. Please help us all to learn from her trials and empathize with them. Please also use her to encourage those who are giving up things for You, when they see how You faithfully blessed her with what she wanted most in the end. Aaaand PLEASE help us all to stay healthy so we can even use our gifts the week of the show! I love You and pray all these things in Jesus’s name, which justifies me to You. I love you. Amen.