March 7, 2011

Paul's First Shipwreck

may have caused John Mark some Deuteronomical angst - as in, sensing God's judgment for Paul & Barnabas' failure to circumcise Sergius Paulus.

That is, the voyage from Paphos to Perga was already one of the top candidates for Paul's first shipwreck (2.Cor.11:25 almost surely refers to three of the seven sea voyages between Acts 13 and 18 - and John Mark's departure at Acts 13:13 has always suggested resistance to hardship). But on top of that, Moises Silva has teased out some reasons why John Mark's desertion may have been bigoted. (H/T Matthew Crowe)

That Sergius Paulus was converted but not circumcised, that John-Mark went back to Jerusalem (not to Antioch), and that Luke pointedly takes this moment to mention Saul taking the name Paul - these points may underscore Mark's opposition (at this point) to a non-Judaizing mission. Again, so says Silva. Personally, I'm buying it. Except for one little thing.

If Silva is right, then why didn't John Mark just take a separate ship from Paphos? If the reasons for leaving were all found on Cyprus, then why sail over to Pamphylia at all? Ah, but add in this shipwreck, and it looks as if John-Mark was still conflicted about things until the moment he received sudden clarity on the issues, right after their whole mission team was apparently punished by God with a nearly fatal disaster!

Quick aside: Long ago, I used to read Acts as if Peter and John Mark had been enlightened much earlier than others, and that Acts 15 was all about getting James and his hard-line constituency to come over to that way of thinking. However, for a while now, I've been convinced that Peter barely changed his beliefs at all, after visiting Cornelius. Pre-Cornelius, Gentiles had to be circumcised before receiving the Holy Spirit. Post-Cornelius, the Holy Spirit could come when he willed, but the knife and Moses' Law were still expected to follow.

Bottom line: teasing out John-Mark's bigotry in Acts 13 fits perfectly into the context of Palestinian Christendom, before AD 50. But that brief delay between Paphos and Perga means that Paul's first shipwreck is very likely what scared John-Mark into sticking with the old ways, and fleeing from God's wrath. This immature judgment Paul may have forgiven, but understandably remained wary of working alongside in his mission to Gentiles... at least, in the years soon thereafter.


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