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Christianity Betrayed / An Atheist for Jesus

In the preceding section, we found that one of Paul’s followers (Demetrius) appears to have left Paul and to have sided with the Original Apostles and their followers. As pointed out earlier, Paul admits that Demetrius was one of his followers and that he deserted Paul (2Tim 4:9-16). Paul’s friend Luke tries to put a favorable spin to the story (Acts 19:23-29), but John defends Demetrius against Luke’s attack (3 John 9-12).

Adding weight to this argument, is the story of Barnabas. Barnabas was the one who first introduced Paul to the Original Apostles, and he accompanied Paul on Paul’s first missionary journey. Barnabas was also one of the many of Paul’s followers who (according to Paul’s own words) eventually had a parting of the ways with their former leader:

"No one stood by me when I defended myself; all deserted me."
(2 Tim 4:16)

The situation with Barnabas is very similar to that of Demetrius, and is even more convincing. Once again we have Paul admit that one of his followers has left him. Once again we find Luke attempting a feat of “damage control” and attempting to reframe the story in a more positive light for his friend Paul. In this case, however, we do not have to use a third party to infer that the follower who is deserting Paul is going over to the side of the Original Apostles and their followers (the Ebionites). Here, this fact is attested to by none other than Paul himself!

First, let us look at the highly imaginative presentation of the split between Paul and Barnabas as brought to us by Paul’s constant defender, Luke:

"Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit our brothers in every town where we preached the word of the Lord, and let us find out how they are getting along.’ Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, but Paul did not think it was right to take him, because he had not stayed with them to the end of their mission, but had turned back and left them at Pamphylia. There was a sharp argument, and they separated:"
(Acts 15:36-39)

A sharp argument and separation over whether or not to take Barnabas’ nephew with them on a journey? This would seem to indicate a rather weak bond between Paul and Barnabas. Their history together, however, seems to argue against this assumption:

The friendship of Paul and Barnabas was formed right from the start, with Barnabas being the first (and perhaps the only) person to support Paul when Paul initially met with the Original Apostles.

"Saul went to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples. But they would not believe that he was a disciple, and they were all afraid of him. Then Barnabas came to his help and took him to the apostles. He explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that the Lord had spoken to him. He also told them how boldly Saul had preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. And so Saul stayed in Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord."
(Acts 9:26-28)

Even before their first journey, Paul and Barnabas worked together "for a whole year."

"Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul. When he found him, he took him to Antioch, and for a whole year the two met with the people of the church and taught a large group."
(Acts 11:25-26)

According to Luke, Paul and Barnabas were placed together not only by their own choice, but by the decree of the Holy Spirit.

"In the church at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon (called the Black), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (who had been brought up with Governor Herod), and Saul. While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul, to do the work to which I have called them.’"
(Acts 13:1-2)

Paul and Barnabas travelled extensively and underwent many hardships together.

"Having been sent by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Saul went to Seleucia and sailed from there to the island of Cyprus.....they arrived at Salamis.....went all the way across the island of Paphos.....came to Perga, a city in Pamphylia.....arrived in Antioch in Pisidia.....went on to Iconium.....fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia and to the surrounding territory.....then they went back to Lystra, to Iconium, and on to Antioch in Pisidia.....They came to Pamphylia. There they preached the message in Perga and then went back to Attalia, and from there they sailed back to Antioch, the place where they had been commanded to the care of God’s grace for the work they had now completed."
(Acts 13 & 14)

After all of the time and travails that are shared by Paul and Barnabas, they have a violent argument and part company forever—if we believe the presentation in Acts—over an event that is given the following coverage by Luke in Acts:

"Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos and came to Perga, a city in Pamphylia, where John Mark left them and went back to Jerusalem."
(Acts 13:13)

According to the account found in Acts, we are to believe that two men who shared a common bond of faith and friendship; shared travels and travails; and who were placed together for a shared role by the Holy Spirit, argued and separated forever over the fact that Barnabas’ nephew “went back to Jerusalem.” Here we are to believe that Paul is of such a mind as to throw away a friendship such as the one between Barnabas and himself rather than to allow Barnabas the privilege of having his nephew accompany them on a second journey. Not exactly a sterling view of Paul as presented by his friend Luke, but Luke evidently felt that it was better than the alternative of letting Paul’s own version of the split stand as it was presented in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

"But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was clearly wrong. Before some men who had been sent by James arrived there, Peter had been eating with the Gentile brothers. But after these men arrived, he drew back and would not eat with the Gentiles, because he was afraid of those who were in favor of circumcising them. The other Jewish brothers also started acting like cowards along with Peter: AND EVEN BARNABAS WAS SWEPT ALONG BY THEIR COWARDLY ACTION."
(Gal 2:11-13)

Here we see what was actually the reason for the split between Paul and Barnabas. We may not ever know the true story of the confrontation between Paul and the Original Apostles (Peter and James and their followers [the Ebionites]). We hear Paul’s side here in Galatians, and, as stated earlier in Christianity Betrayed (pp. 94-96), we hear Peter condemning Paul’s version. Regardless of the actual details of the confrontation, we find Barnabas siding with Peter and the Original Apostles against Paul. A much more likely cause for the split between the two former friends than the unconvincing excuse utilized by Luke in Acts.

So, once again, we find evidence that when confronted by the reasoning of those who had actually travelled with and learned from Jesus during his ministry, many of Paul’s followers recognized the truth of the teaching of these eye-witnesses and turned away from Paul and his mistaken version of the religion of Jesus. Had Jerusalem not fallen in 70 AD, and had the Ebionites not been scattered and deprived of a home base from which to battle the apostate views of Paul, we might well have seen the religion of Jesus passed on by those to whom he had delivered his teaching. Alas, Jerusalem did fall, and Paul’s distorted view was allowed to go on unchallenged by those who best knew Jesus and his wishes. What a different world it might have been without this cruel twist of fate.


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