Verse 39. "The contention was so sharp between them" - For all this sentence, there is only in the Greek text egeneto oun paroxusmov; there was therefore a paroxysm, an incitement, a stirring up, from paroxunw, compounded of para, intensive, and oxunw, to whet, or sharpen: there was a sharp contention. But does this imply anger or ill-will on either side? Certainly not. Here, these two apostles differed, and were strenuous, each in support of the part he had adopted. "Paul," as an ancient Greek commentator has it, "being influenced only with the love of righteousness; Barnabas being actuated by love to his relative." John Mark had been tried in trying circumstances, and he failed; Paul, therefore, would not trust him again. The affection of Barnabas led him to hope the best, and was therefore desirous to give him another trial. Barnabas would not give up: Paul would not agree. They therefore agreed to depart from each other, and take different parts of the work: each had an attendant and companion at hand; so Barnabas took John Mark, and sailed to Cyprus: Paul took Silas, and went into Syria. John Mark proved faithful to his uncle Barnabas; and Silas proved faithful to his master Paul. To all human appearance it was best that they separated; as the Churches were more speedily visited, and the work of God more widely and more rapidly spread. And why is it that most men attach blame to this difference between Paul and Barnabas? And why is it that this is brought in as a proof of the sinful imperfection of these holy apostles? Because those who thus treat the subject can never differ with another without feeling wrong tempers; and then, as destitute of good breeding as they are of humility, they attribute to others the angry, proud, and wrathful dispositions which they feel in themselves; and, because they cannot be angry and sin not, they suppose that even apostles themselves cannot. Thus, in fact, we are always bringing our own moral or immoral qualifications to be a standard, by which we are to judge of the characters and moral feelings of men who were actuated by zeal for God's glory, brotherly kindness, and charity. Should any man say there was sin in this contention between Paul and Barnabas, I answer, there is no evidence of this in the text. Should he say, the word paroxusmov, paroxysm, denotes this, I answer, it does not. And the verb paroxunomai is often used in a good sense. So Isocrates ad Demosth. cap. xx. malista dÆ an paroxunqeihv orecqhnai twn kalwn ergwn? "But thou wilt be the more stirred up to the love of good works." And such persons forget that this is the very form used by the apostle himself, Heb. x. 24: kai katanowmen allhlouv eiv paroxusmon agaphv kai kalwn ergwn? which, these objectors would be highly displeased with me, were I to translate, Let us consider one another to an angry contention of love and good works. From these examples, it appears that the word is used to signify incitement of any kind; and, if taken in a medical sense, to express the burning fit of an ague: it is also taken to express a strong excitement to the love of God and man, and to the fruits by which such love can be best proved; and, in the case before us, there was certainly nothing contrary to this pure principle in either of those heavenly men. See also Kypke on Heb. x. 24.
Verse 40. "Being recommended-unto the grace of God." - Much stress has been laid upon this, to show that Barnabas was in the wrong, and Paul in the right, because "the brethren recommended Paul and Silas to the grace of God; but they did not recommend Barnabas and John Mark: this proves that the Church condemned the conduct of Barnabas, but approved that of Paul." Now, there is no proof that the Church did not recommend Barnabas to the grace of God, as well as Paul; but, as St. Luke had for the present dropped the story of Barnabas, and was now going on with that of Paul and Silas, he begins it at this point, viz. his being recommended by the brethren to the grace of God; and then goes on to tell of his progress in Syria, Derbe, Lystra, &c., &c. See the next chapter. And with this verse should the following chapter begin; and this is the division followed by the most correct copies of the Greek text.
Verse 41. "Confirming the Churches." - This was the object of his journey: they were young converts, and had need of establishment; and there is no doubt that, by showing them the decision made at the late council of Jerusalem, their faith was greatly strengthened, their hope confirmed, and their love increased. It was this consideration, no doubt, that led some ancient MSS. and some versions to add here, They delivered them the decrees of the apostles and elders to keep; which clause certainly was not an original part of the text, but seems to have been borrowed from the fourth verse of the following chapter. Some have thought that the fourth and fifth verses of the next chapter really belong to this place; or that the first, second, and third verses of it should be read in a parenthesis; but of this there does not appear to be any particular necessity.