Who was Barnabas?

In the New Testament, Barnabas was a disciple of Jesus Christ, who accompanied the Apostle Paul for some of his missions' work. The name "Barnabas" means "son of prophecy," but can also be translated as "son of exhortation." Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. He was the cousin of fellow disciple and Gospel writer, John Mark.

When Barnabas is introduced in the New Testament, he had moved to Jerusalem and acquired property there. He sold "a field," and contributed its price to the support of the poorer members of the church (Acts 4:36). In Acts 11:24 he is described as "a good man and full of the Holy Spirit" and "of faith," traits that gave him influence and leadership.

One of the most important things Barnabas did was he removed the distrust of the disciples at Jerusalem concerning the Apostle Paul.

When the preaching of some of the countrymen of Barnabas had begun a movement toward Christianity among the Greeks at Antioch, Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to give it encouragement and direction, and, after a personal visit, recognizing its importance and needs, sought out Paul , and brought him back as his associate.

His faith and ministry

Barnabas and Paul were eventually sent to Jerusalem with contributions from the infant church for the famine sufferers in the older congregation (Acts 11:30). Ordained as missionaries on their return (Acts 13:3), and accompanied by John Mark, they proceeded upon what is ordinarily known as the First Missionary Journey of Paul (Acts 13:4, Acts 13:5). Its history belongs to Paul's life.

Barnabas as well as Paul is designated "an apostle" (Acts 14:14). Up to Acts 13:43 , the precedency is constantly ascribed to Barnabas; from that point, except in Acts 14:14 and Acts 15:12, Acts 15:25, we read "Paul and Barnabas," instead of "Barnabas and Saul." The latter becomes the chief spokesman. The people at Lystra named Paul, because of his fervid oratory, Mercurius, while the quiet dignity and reserved strength of Barnabas gave him the title of Jupiter (Acts 14:12). Barnabas escaped the violence which Paul suffered at Iconium (Acts 14:19).

Upon their return from this first missionary tour, they were sent, with other representatives of the church at Antioch, to confer with the apostles and elders of the church at Jerusalem concerning the obligation of circumcision and the ceremonial law in general under the New Testament - the synod of Jerusalem.

A separation from Paul seems to begin with a temporary yielding of Barnabas in favor of the inconsistent course of Peter (Galatians 2:13 ). This was followed by a more serious rupture concerning Mark. On the second journey, Paul proceeded alone, while Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus.

Martin Luther and John Calvin regard 2 Corinthians 8:18 , 2 Corinthians 8:19 as meaning Barnabas by "the brother whose praise is spread through all the churches," and indicating, therefore, subsequent joint work. The incidental allusions in 1 Corinthians 9:6 and Galatians 2:13 ("even Barnabas") show at any rate Paul's continued appreciation of his former associate. Like Paul, he accepted no support from those to whom he ministered.

Tertullian, followed in recent years by Grau and Zahn, regard him as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The document published among patristic writings as the Epistle of Barnabas, and found in full in the Codex Sinaiticus, is universally assigned today to a later period. "The writer nowhere claims to be the apostle Barnabas; possibly its author was some unknown namesake of 'the son of consolation'" (Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers , 239 f).

  1. The following article is excerpted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.