The Power of Point of View

Badge of Reliability dynamics suggesting: “Side with Barnabas over Paul in Acts 15 Dispute”?

by GARY YAMASAKI   A previous post posited the notion that the attribution to Stephen of the fact he was “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) functions to bestow upon him the Badge of Reliability, thus rendering him a reliable reflector of the implied author’s ideological perspective. This post will examine a similar attribution occurring a few chapters later involving Barnabas.

Acts 11:19-24 sets out the circumstances surrounding the gospel message reaching Antioch of Syria, which includes mention that when the Jerusalem church hears of this, they send Barnabas there (v. 22). What is interesting for our purposes is the fact that in this context, Barnabas is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (v. 24). Therefore, it would appear Barnabas is here having the Badge of Reliability bestowed upon him.

This bestowal differs from that related to Stephen in that while the bestowal upon Stephen occurs immediately upon his being introduced into the story line, this bestowal upon Barnabas comes well after his introduction in 4:36-37, where he is reported giving the apostles the proceeds from the sale of a field in order to help the needy in the Jerusalem church. In fact, this bestowal of the Badge of Reliability upon Barnabas does not occur until his third appearance in the story line, the second being in 9:27 where he is depicted as vouching for Saul to the Jerusalem church which is wary of him in light of the persecution he had brought down upon the church.

The fact he is being given the Badge of Reliability here, during his third appearance in the story line, suggests he is not intended to be taken as a reliable reflector of the implied author’s ideological perspective for the whole of his presence in the story line, but rather, for only a particular event in the story line–something subsequent to 11:24 where the bestowal occurs. The material in 11:25-26 show him fetching Saul from Tarsus and bringing him back to Antioch to join him in his ministry there (11:25-26) and, a little later, he is shown being sent with Saul by the elders of the Antioch church to deliver relief to the church in Judea (11:30). However, none of this involves anything where Barnabas’ reliability is at issue.

Chapter 12 shifts the focus to Peter for his encounter with Herod, but Barnabas reappears at the end of the chapter, just in time for the launch of the first missionary journey at the beginning of chapter 13, and he figures as a character throughout that journey as well as in the following account of the Jerusalem Council and its aftermath. But, again, there is nothing in this material that brings Barnabas’ reliability into question.

However, 15:36-40 contains an incident where his reliability does indeed become an issue. These verses report Paul and Barnabas deciding to go on a second journey together. Barnabas wants to take John Mark along, but Paul insists that he not be brought, and the disagreement becomes so intense that they end up splitting as a team, with the text providing no explicit indication regarding which of the two is in the right in this confrontation. Could the chapter 11 bestowal of the Badge of Reliability upon Barnabas have been in anticipation of this event? An argument certainly can be made that this is indeed the case.

Consider first with whom the audience would be inclined to side in this confrontation, given the content of chapters 13-15. Early in the first missionary journey, Paul steps to the forefront and maintains that position through these chapters, leaving Barnabas as nothing much more than an “also-ran”. With this crafting of the text, the audience would be inclined to side with Paul in his dispute with Barnabas.

But, consider the nature of the dispute. Paul takes a hardline stand in insisting that John Mark not be brought along on the second journey because of a failure on his part during the first journey. Barnabas’ position, on the other hand, reflects grace. It reflects giving the young man a second chance despite the past failure. It is Barnabas’ position that is in accordance with the gospel message, and yet, it is Paul’s position the audience would be inclined to accept because of his prominence in chapters 13-15.

I would suggest that the bestowal of the Badge of Reliability upon Barnabas back in 11:24 was inserted to address this very dilemma. This bestowal marked Barnabas as a reliable reflector of the implied author’s ideological point of view, meaning that anything he says or does should be approved by the audience. Therefore, when the audience witnesses the confrontation between Barnabas and Saul at the end of chapter 15, the fact that Barnabas had received the Badge of Reliability would result in the audience favouring Barnabas‘ position over that of Paul, thus coming down on the side of grace and redemption.

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