By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Early Church Workers

  • Barnabas’ original name was Joseph. The apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, meaning “son of consolation,” or “son of exhortation/encouragement.” (Generally when someone bestows a new name upon an individual, it indicates his or her authority over that person.)
  • Barnabas was a Levite and a Cypriot, meaning his family was from Cyprus. He might have been connected to the missionaries there.
  • Barnabas sold whatever land he had, took all the proceeds, and laid them at the “feet of the apostles” (another idiom for submission). In so doing, he relinquished any claim to those funds and accepted the power and authority of the apostles.
  • Barnabas stands as a righteous example of what it meant to share all things in common, over against Ananias and Sapphira who held back part of their proceeds (and paid for it with their lives).
  • After this event, Barnabas fades from the story until after Saul’s conversion. When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, no one wanted to have anything to do with him until Barnabas took him to the apostles and vouched for him. Barnabas might have been acting as Saul’s patron.
  • In a sense, Barnabas gave validation to Saul’s experiences.
  • Later, Barnabas was sent to Antioch by the apostles after they had heard how that church was growing in numbers and that many were turning to the Lord.
  • Since there were missionaries from Cyprus working there, Barnabas was the perfect man for the job – mediating between the young church in Antioch and the established church in Jerusalem.
  • Barnabas is identified as being “good, full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith.” He is the only one in Acts who is called “good.”
  • Upon arriving in Antioch, Barnabas went to Tarsus to seek out Saul and exhorted him to come help. They worked together in Antioch and for a whole year a crowd was “stirred up.” Some scholars see this as evidence that Saul was still controversial and/or that the forming churches were anything but complacent.
  • This is when believers are called Christians for the first time.
  • At the end of that year, some believers came down from Jerusalem, acting in the capacity of prophets. One predicted a famine. Saul and Barnabas were authorized to take a collection to the poor in Jerusalem. (According to Acts, they delivered this collection before heading out on their first missionary journey. Paul, in contrast, claims this collection came at the end of his ministry. Most scholars give greater weight to Paul’s version.) ·
  • After they delivered those funds, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, bringing with them Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark.
  • Among the believers in the Antioch church were prophets and teachers who prayed and fasted.
  • One day the Holy Spirit directly intervened in their worship and instructed them to commission Barnabas and Saul to go forth to “do the work the Holy Spirit has summoned them to do.” This is the only time in Acts that the Holy Spirit gives a direct command to one of the churches.
  • Before they left, the church members placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul – a sign of transmitting power or authority.
  • With that, Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. The church just agreed to it.
  • Even though it seems as though Paul becomes the focus of the story, Barnabas’ name is oftentimes stated first, indicating his high standing in the community of believers.
  • One of their first stops was Cyprus where Paul started by preaching in the synagogues. John was their assistant, though it is not known how he was “assisting.”
  • Eventually Paul and Barnabas were expelled from Cyprus. Yet, they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
  • When Paul healed a man who had been “lame in his feet” in Lystra, the townspeople thought they were gods. They thought Barnabas was Jupiter (Zeus); they called Paul Mercurius (Hermes). Because Zeus is the high god of the Greek pantheon, scholars see this as another indication of Barnabas’ stature. Hermes was either the grandson or assistant to Zeus. (The townspeople believed that the gods had come to earth as humans in search of hospitality. Out of gratitude for their generosity, the people tried to make them priests in the temple.)
  • Because Paul and Barnabas did not speak the language, it took them a while to figure out what was going on. As soon as they understood, they rent (tore) their clothes – a traditional sign of mourning (or a sign of blasphemy) – and ran into the crowd to prevent them from offering sacrifices to them.
  • After returning to Antioch, the leaders of the church sent them to Jerusalem to resolve the dispute over circumcision.
  • Barnabas and Paul spoke before the Council, but none of Barnabas’ words are recorded.
  • When the decision was reached, Barnabas and Paul were sent back with letters from James explaining the decision.
  • Together Barnabas and Paul continued their work in Antioch. Then one day, Paul suggested they go back to the churches they had founded to see how they were doing.
  • Barnabas was all for it, but he wanted John Mark to accompany them again.
  • Paul refused to take him along because John had “separated himself” from them when they left Cyprus. (The words indicate it was more than a simple parting, but no reasons are given.)
  • The contention was so sharp that Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Paul took Silas and continued on his journey. Barnabas took John Mark and went back to Cyprus, never to be heard from again.
  • Perhaps Barnabas was faced with a choice between his apostolic commission and family loyalties. If so, then he chose to go with his nephew.
  • Though Barnabas and Paul never travel together again in Acts, Paul does mention him in I Corinthians 9:6, which suggests they might have continued to work together in some capacity.
  • Nothing is known about how or when Barnabas passed away.


Barclay, William. "Acts." Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975.

Gaebelein, Frank. "Acts." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1981.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. "Acts." Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press, 2003.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. "The Acts of the Apostles." Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992.

Witherington, Ben, III. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1998.

Bible Characters