on Acts 15 :39
The contention was so sharp between them - For all this sentence, there is only in the Greek text εγενετο ουν παροξυσμος; there was therefore a paroxysm, an incitement, a stirring up, from παροξυνω, compounded of παρα, intensive, and οξυνω, 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 παροξυσμος, paroxysm, denotes this, I answer, it does not. And the verb παροξυνομαι is often used in a good sense. So Isocrates ad Demosth. cap. xx. μαλιϚα δ' αν παροξυνθειης ορεχθηναι των καλων εργων· "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, Hebrews 10:24 : και κατανοωμεν αλληλους εις παροξυσμον αγαπης και καλων εργων· 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 Hebrews 10:24.
on Acts 15 :39
And the contention was so sharp - The word used here παροξυσμός paroxusmos is that from which our word "paroxysm" is derived. It may denote "any excitement of mind," and is used in a good sense in Hebrews 10:24. It here means, however, "a violent altercation" that resulted in their separation for a time, and in their engaging in different spheres of labor.
And sailed into Cyprus - This was the native place of Barnabas. See the notes on Acts 4:36.
on Acts 15 :39
15:39 And there was a sharp contention - Literally, a paroxysm, or fit of a fever. But nothing in the text implies that the sharpness was on both sides. It is far more probable that it was not; that St. Paul, who had the right on his side, as he undoubtedly had,) maintained it with love. And Barnabas taking Mark with him, sailed away to Cyprus - Forsaking the work in which he was engaged, he went away to his own country.