Some scholars conclude that the Holy Spirit says through Luke that Paul became the leader of the evangelistic team at Acts 13:9-11. Is this so, and if it is true, why doesn’t Luke explicitly tell us what occurred that would warrant Barnabas taking second place to Paul? Some even believe that this is why Mark became upset and went back to Jerusalem, because it seems in Acts 13:9-11 that Paul became the leader of the group, usurping that authority away from his uncle, Barnabas. Does either argument hold water?
I don’t see the scripture implying anything like this. Certainly, the scriptures seem to imply that Paul spearheaded the team’s effort to evangelize Antioch in Pisidia, but this is probably due to Sergius Paulus asking the team, and Paul in particular, to preach the Gospel of Jesus to his family there. Presumably, this would mean that at least some of the governor’s family members were God-fearers. Luke places Paul’s name before that of Barnabas in this first evangelistic outreach from Antioch in Syria only in Acts 13, and this concerns the mission to Antioch-Pisidia—the chosen residence of Sergius Paulus and his family. Afterward, when the team evangelized Lystra, Luke goes back to ‘Barnabas and Paul’ (Acts 14:14), and, certainly, the locals there saw Barnabas as the leader, because they gave him the name of the chief god, Zeus, and thought Paul was Hermes, because he was the main speaker.
When observing the scriptures in this light, it doesn’t seem as though the “team” had a change of leadership at all. Barnabas seems to be the clear leader throughout, even though Paul spearheaded the team’s efforts in Antioch-Pisidia. One might bring up Acts 15:2 & 22 where Paul’s name is put before that of Barnabas, but this is only because Paul was the one who challenged the men from James (Galatians 2:12). Barnabas faltered and was at first drawn to their side (Galatians 2:13) with Peter and the other Jews in Antioch. Clearly, this was Paul’s argument, and when Barnabas realized his error, he sided with Paul (cp. Acts 15:2). Nevertheless, if one cannot accept this, why does Luke place Barnabas’ name before that of Paul in Acts 15:12 and again in 15:25? It’s Luke’s thesis; he could place the names in any order he pleases, if Paul, indeed, had taken over the leadership of the team. After Acts 15 the point becomes moot, since Barnabas and Paul parted company, because they could not agree over whether or not Mark should be permitted back onto the evangelistic team.
From my point of view the argument doesn’t make sense. Think about it. If Paul was really the leading apostle from Acts 13:9-11 and afterward, why doesn’t Barnabas realize this and agree with Paul over their controversy concerning Mark? On the other hand, if Paul and John Mark later reconciled as is implied in Colossians 4:10 and 2Timothy 4:11, Barnabas has taken the correct position in Acts 15:36-39, and Paul should have agreed from the beginning. What we have here is Luke recording some serious problems the Church had in the beginning. No one had 20/20 foresight. The problems were solved through the commitment of Jesus to his Church and his working in and through each of his disciples.
I also believe we need to consider that the gifts and calling of God is without repentance (Romans 11:29). If God separated ‘Barnabas and Saul”—in that order, according to Luke in Acts 13:2, he didn’t change his mind three or four weeks later in Paphos, when Saul changed his name to Paul. God knows what he is doing from the beginning and also has his eye on the end. He works all things together for good (Romans 8:28) for them that love him and are called according to his plan. Certainly, Barnabas, Saul/Paul and John Mark fit squarely into that plan in the first century CE. The Church had a problem, and it was solved by the Holy Spirit working in and through all concerned. This means that Mark didn’t run home when his uncle seemed to have lost his position, and it also means, if Luke’s intent in the placement of names in Acts 13, 14 and 15 is to show leadership, nothing had changed from what it had been in Acts 13:1. The Lord simply isn’t that petty. The ways of the world are petty. It is **we** who do not regard the service of men and women who have worked long and hard in full devotion to their duties to us or the work they supervise. It is **we** who replace them with perhaps a younger person who shows a bright future and able to carry on longer and perhaps better than our heretofore faithful, devoted man or woman we chose earlier. It is **our** way to change leadership in mid-stream, not the Lord’s. He brings us from the beginning to the end of our work for him (Philippians 1:6). He replaces people like King Saul who have shown their allegiance is to the flesh rather than God, but he never replaces a man like David, simply because he errs from time to time. David was a man after God’s own heart (1Samuel 13:14), and Barnabas is a man whom Jesus loved.