Acts 15:36-16:10

A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

August 27, 2009


Paul’s Second Missionary Journey – Part 1:  From Antioch of Syria to Troas

(Acts 15:36-16:10)


It is often true that when that just when things seem to be going well and headed in the right direction, trouble rears its ugly head.  That is especially true in the spiritual realm.  Because we are engaged in a great spiritual battle and because we have a wicked, vicious enemy, it is not unusual for some unforeseen problem to crop up at the most unexpected and inopportune time.  That is what happens in Acts 15:36-41.  The church had just taken a significant step to resolve a sticky theological and sociological issue.  The subject of whether non-Jewish people could become Christians without first becoming Jewish proselytes was thoroughly addressed.  The stage was set for a major expansion of the gospel.  The Apostle Paul was keenly aware of this new opportunity and was ready to take advantage of it.  But even before the new effort  began, an ugly incident occurred in the fellowship of the church.


The Contention Between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41)

Verse 36“…Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord…” – Notice the high motive of Paul in making this suggestion.  It was a good thing he wanted to do and at this point he had no idea of the contention that was about to take place.

Verse 37 -  “…Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also.”   Barnabas, ever the encourager, wanted to give John Mark a second chance.  Even though he had turned back on the first journey, Barnabas saw something in Mark that was worth redeeming.  Of course, Barnabas turned out to be right in his assessment of Mark.  After a few more years of being encouraged and discipled by Barnabas, Mark became a key player in the early church.  He wrote the first Gospel to be written, the Gospel of Mark as told by Simon Peter.  And, according to 2 Timothy 4:11, even Paul later changed his mind about Mark.

Verse 38 -  “…but Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them…”  The implication of the verb “kept insisting” is that Paul and Barnabas had many heated discussions about this matter.  Neither would defer to the other when in came to John Mark.  Who was right and who was wrong?  As in most disputes, the answer to that is not clear.

·        Barnabas was right in desiring to give Mark a second chance, but perhaps he was wrong to not hold him accountable for his past failure.

·        Paul was right in desiring to hold Mark accountable, but perhaps he was wrong in not giving him a second chance.

Both Barnabas and Paul probably had a positive impact on the life of young John Mark – Barnabas by loving him in his failure and Paul by stirring him to great diligence.

Verses 39 & 40 -  “And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.  But Paul chose Silas and departed being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.”  


“sharp  disagreement” carries the idea of angry contention or nasty fight.  This was not a friendly parting of the ways.  These two longtime friends experienced something of a divorce from each other.  The rift did not last forever.  I Corinthians 9:6 indicates that at some point the two were reconciled and worked together again.

“Barnabas … Mark … sailed away to Cyprus” – Nothing else is said in Acts about the work Barnabas.  However, should not read into that anything negative about what Barnabas may have done after this incident.  It was not Luke’s purpose in writing this book to detail the work of Barnabas.  If he was writing a defense for Paul to use in his case before Caesar, as some believe, it makes sense the  focus would be on the travels of Paul.  Also, Luke was a traveling companion of Paul and he knew firsthand about the work Paul did.

“...Paul chose Silas…” – We were first introduced to Silas in Acts 15:22 when he was one of the leading men of the church Jerusalem selected to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch after the Jerusalem Council.  He is mentioned frequently in Acts 15-18.  His name appears in the salutations of 1 & 2 Thessalonians and 2 Corinthians.  1 Peter 5:12 indicates he was the bearer of that letter to its recipients.

The account of Paul’s second missionary journey begins in Acts 15:41. 

  • The original purpose of the second missionary journey was to visit the churches established on the first journey to see how they were doing and to strengthen them (see Acts 15:36 and 41).  However, the Lord had much larger plans for this missionary effort.
  • The second journey was much more extensive than the first.  It covered a much larger geographical area, reaching into Europe for the first time, and it lasted between three and four years.  Most New Testament scholars date the journey between A.D. 49-52.
  • Paul’s traveling companions included Silas (who was with him from the beginning), Timothy (who joined him at Lystra), and Luke (who joined him at Troas).  Silas took the place of Barnabas.  Timothy took the place of Mark.  Luke was Paul’s personal physician.


The Work in Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:41)

Acts 15:41“And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”  When Paul left Antioch on the first missionary journey, he chose to travel southwest of Antioch to the port of Seleucia and travel by sea (Acts 13:4).  On the second journey, he decided to begin by traveling by land.  Maybe he made that decision because the time of the year this journey began was not conducive to sea travel from east to west.  For whatever reason, he traveled north from Antioch and into Cilicia.  It is not known when the churches in this area were established.  Since Cilicia was the home province of Paul, some have speculated that Paul ministered in this area between the time he was forced to leave Jerusalem (see Acts 9:28-30) and his being recruited by Barnabas to help with the work in Antioch (see Acts 11:25-26).


The Work in Derbe and Lystra (Acts 16:1-5)

Paul had established the churches in Derbe and Lystra on the first missionary journey.  It was in this area that Paul was stoned and left for dead.  While several years had passed since that event, it still was a tremendous act of courage for Paul to return to this area.  In this passage, three important things are mentioned:

  • The enlistment of Timothy for missionary service (Acts 16:1-3) – In 1 Corinthians 4:17 Paul refers to Timothy as “…my beloved and faithful child in the Lord.”  This indicates that Timothy came to faith in Christ under the ministry of Paul, perhaps on the first missionary journey  Since that time Timothy had made much progress in his Christian life.
    • The name Timothy means “God-fearing”  or “God-honoring.”  His mother, Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5), was Jewish woman who had come to faith in Christ.  His grandmother, Lois (2 Timothy 1:5), was also a believer.  His father was a Gentile.  While he was not raised as strict Jew, he was a life-long student of the Scriptures (see 2 Timothy 3:14-15).
    • Some speculate that Timothy was only about 18 years old at the time Paul enlisted him to travel with him.  However, the Christians in his area recognized his giftedness for ministry.  Acts 16:2 says “…he  was well spoken of by the brethren…”
    • Two letters in the New Testament are addressed to him, one of which is probably the last letter that Paul wrote before his execution.  Timothy’s name appears 17 times in the writings of Paul.
    • Notice that verse 3 says that Paul had Timothy circumcised.  Since in Acts 15 Paul had strongly argued that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to become followers of Jesus, some have argued that this was an act of hypocrisy on Paul’s part.  But that is not at all the case.  While Paul understood that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, he also understood that in the culture in which he and Timothy would be ministering, it would open doors for the gospel.  Timothy would not have been allowed to speak in the synagogues had he not been circumcised.  While not essential to salvation, Timothy’s circumcision aided him in more effective ministry.
  • The delivery of the instructions from the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 16:4).  This verse refers to the letter that is recorded in Acts 15:23-29.
  • The continued growth of the churches in that area (Acts 16:5) – We have seen that throughout the book of Acts, Luke pauses to provide us a summary account of the state of the church at various points in time.  This verse is the seventh of nine summary accounts of the state of the church in Acts.  Most are very brief consisting of just a sentence or two.  These summaries are located in Acts 1:14; 2:43-47; 4:32-35; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; and 28:30-31. 


The Work in Troas (Acts 16:6-10)

Acts 16:6-7 indicates that after ministering in the areas of Derbe and Lystra, Paul and his companions did not have a clear idea of where the Lord wanted them to go next.  This must have been a perplexing time for them, knowing that God was leading but not sure where!  They passed through the areas of Galatia and Phyrgia, but were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit from speaking the word in Asia.”  Asia, or more specifically Asia Minor, included the cities of Ephesus, Laodicea, and Heirapolis.  How were they forbidden?  Two ideas have been suggested:

  • Some say it was an inner prompting from the Holy Spirit letting them know that at that time the conditions were not right for sharing the gospel in those areas.
  • Others suggest it may have been some outward circumstance, specifically an illness on the part of the Apostle Paul.  That Paul’s personal physician, Luke, had sailed to Troas and was waiting for them there, gives credence to this idea.

After being stopped from turning north into Bithynia, the small group ended up in Troas.  Troas was a relatively new town built by Alexander the Great near the site of ancient Troy.  Two things of significance happened at Troas:

·        Luke, Paul’s physician joined the group.  We know this by the change in personal  pronouns Luke used to tell the story.  Notice the use of “they” in verse 8 but “we” in verse 10.  This is the first of four “we” sections in Acts where it is clear Luke is traveling with  Paul.  The other sections are Acts 20:5-15; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16.

·        Paul had his famous “Macedonian Vision” which gave them direction for the next phase of their ministry.  Once Paul had that vision, they immediately made arrangements to sail across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia.  Thus began the journey which led to Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth.


Practical Application from Acts 16:1-10:

1.    Committed Christians can have honest differences of opinion.  Both Paul and Barnabas were deeply committed followers of Jesus.


2.    Never underestimate the value of a Christian heritage.  Timothy was being prepared for ministry from the earliest days of his life.


3.    When possible we should accommodate our culture but without compromising our message.  Paul’s having Timothy circumcised was an accommodation to the culture in which they would be ministering.


4.    Sometimes God uses closed doors and difficult circumstances to move us to where He wants us to go.