Saturday, March 14, 2009

Paul Novel: Galatians 2

... So it wasn't long until Paul convinced Barnabas that they needed to leave Antioch to spread the good news to the Gentiles elsewhere. Since Barnabas was originally from the nearby island of Cyprus, he suggested there. In his mind, Paul had already exhausted his home region of Cilicia, just to the northeast.

To help them on their journey, Barnabas suggested his cousin, John Mark, whose family were some of the first believers in Jerusalem. Indeed, Mark's household had provided the room where Jesus had eaten his last meal with Peter and the other disciples. And it was where the leaders in Jerusalem still met together in assembly, among several other house fellowships in Jerusalem. When Paul and Barnabas had collected enough supplies and had secured a ship, they left for Cyprus.

They saw almost immediate success among the Jews of the island. It helped immensely that Barnabas was so well known and liked among the Jews there. Barnabas and Paul--or Saul, as he was known in those days--were quite different people in many respects. In some ways they were virtual opposites. Paul was outspoken and aggressive, at times almost offensive. Barnabas was quiet, reserved, and assuring. Paul would tell you what you needed to do and what needed to be done. Barnabas was a good listener and was conciliatory. Sometimes it was hard even to know what he thought on an issue.

The confidence of the Jews of Cyprus in Barnabas an his family was so great that virtually the whole island believed, from Salamis in the east to Paphos in the west...

The success of the gospel among Gentiles, indeed, among Roman officials, not only confirmed Paul's sense of calling to non-Jews. It increased his drive to spread the good news to the whole world. If Paul had been driven before, he was now an unstoppable force. Although they had initially planned to return straight to Antioch, Paul now insisted they sail north to Pamphylia in Asia Minor. Paul had not gone any further west than the Cilician gates when he had preached in the region before. He saw this moment as a God-given opportunity to expand the good news to Pamphylia and then to Pisidia in the north.

John Mark was not pleased at all. He had been more than happy to go to Cypress with Barnabas leading the mission. After all, his distant relatives lived there. And he was enthused about spreading the gospel. He had actually met Jesus that fateful week before his crucifixion and had been enamored with the possibility that this might be the Christ.

Jesus had left an indelible impression on him. Just after Jesus was taken from the Garden of Gethsemane, a couple of the disciples came frantically to Mark's house, which was not far from a small prison where the high priest kept those arrested. Mark had run out to see what was happening, wearing only a linen shirt on. Astounded that the messiah could be arrested, he met up with them, coming up the long stairs on the south side of the temple, in the old city of David. When the guards saw him acting suspiciously, they reached for his shirt, and he only escaped by fleeing naked into the darkness.

But Mark was still somewhat unsure about what Paul was doing with the Gentiles. He was okay with them converting to Judaism. He was okay with the God-fearers in the synagogue. But he had serious questions about how agressively Paul was pursuing the Gentiles and proclaiming that the faithful death of Jesus could apply to them with only a baptism in water to show for it.

And Barnabas seemed less and less in charge of the mission. Sometimes it irritated Mark that Barnabas let Paul do so much of the talking. And Barnabas tended to go along with whatever Paul suggested, usually without asking some of the questions Mark thought should be offered.

And Paul was a hard task master. Mark was responsible for the bulk of their stuff and was at Paul's beck and call. Paul could sense Mark's resentment for the work, which made him push even harder. The long and short of it is that when they arrived on the shores of Asia Minor at Attalia, Mark took one look at the immense mountains to the north and grabbed a ship headed back east toward Antioch...

1 comment:

Richard Fellows said...


I think you are right to speculate that south Galatia was not in the original plan. If it had been in the plan they would have gone overland through the Cilician Gates to south Galatia and then travelled south to Perga and then sailed east to Cyprus. This would have avoided the difficult sea voyages against the prevailing winds from Antioch to Salamis and from Paphos to Perga. Paul always sailed east and walked west.

I also agree that the change of plan can help explain why Mark turned back. But I suggest that the change of plan occurred at Perga. If the decision to go to Galatia was made at Paphos, Mark would not have embarked on the difficult and dangerous sea voyage against the prevailing winds to Perga, only to do a 180 degree turn almost immediately and return to Jerusalem. So it seems to me that Perga WAS in the original plan.

According to Stephen Mitchell's map there was a good road from Perga to Pisidian Antioch via Comama and Apollonia, and the highest elevation on this route was only about 1500m. I don't think the terrain was what made Mark turn back. I suggest that it was the certainty of persecution in south Galatia. The group suffered no real persecution until they reached Pisidian Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. Furthermore, it was the Jews of the region who required that Timothy be circumcised. They seem to have been very strict, and Mark would surely have known their reputation. Mark would surely have been more concerned about getting flogged or beaten up or stoned than about tired legs on the road.

This is confirmed by the fact that Paul and Barnabas had a bitter dispute about whether to take Mark with them on their later expedition. Paul had zero tolerance for those who compromised their convictions to avoid persecution from strict Jews, while Barnabas was more accommodating (see Gal 2:11-14). The sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas of Acts 15:36-40 is therefore explicable if Mark had turned back at the prospect of persecution from Jews in Galatia who were strict on circumcision.

What caused the change of plan that took them to south Galatia? In your novel the change of plan is prompted by Paul's missionary success in Cyrpus, but Sergius Paulus is the only conversion that Acts mentions. Also, Cyprus was already part of he Christian network (Acts 11:19), so Paul would surely have known what to expect there. It is therefore less likely that he had unexpected successes there.

It seems to me that Paul's physical infirmity of Gal 4:13 provides a better explanation for the change of plan. I suggest that the group had originally planned to head north-west through Asia to Macedonia, and that Paul developed his infirmity in Perga, and that this caused him to choose the physically less demanding option of visiting south Galatia instead.

My 'novel' would read: After Peter's escape from prison he found Mark in his family house and Mark helped him escape to Antioch. Paul, Barnabas and Mark planned to preach in Cyprus, Pamphylia, Asia and Macedonia, but Paul developed a health problem in Perga, so he decided to visit south Galatia instead of heading west into Asia. Mark knew that the Jews of south Galatia would object violently to the gospel, so he sailed back to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas continued to south Galatia and were predictably persecuted there. Barnabas refused to Judge Mark for his fear of Jews who were strict on circumcision, just as he refused to condemn Peter in Antioch later. Paul, however, had no tolerance towards the similar behaviors of Mark and Peter. Paul and Barnabas parted company over this issue.