bar-ba’-ri-an, bar’-ba-rus (barbaros): A word probably formed by imitation of the unintelligible sounds of foreign speech, and hence, in the mouth of a Greek it meant anything that was not Greek, language, people or customs. With the spread of Greek language and culture, it came to be used generally for all that was non-Greek. Philo and Josephus sometimes called their own nation "barbarians," and so did Roman writers up to the Augustan age, when they adopted Greek culture, and reckoned themselves with the Greeks as the only cultured people in the world. Therefore Greek and barbarian meant the whole human race (Ro 1:14).
In Col 3:11, "barbarian, Scythian" is not a classification or antithesis but a "climax" (Abbott) = "barbarians, even Scythians, the lowest type of barbarians." In Christ, all racial distinctions, even the most pronounced, disappear.
In 1Co 14:11 Paul uses the term in its more primitive sense of one speaking a foreign, and therefore, an unintelligible language: "If then I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh will be a barbarian unto me." The speaking with tongues would not be a means of communication. The excited inarticulate ejaculations of the Corinthian revivalists were worse than useless unless someone had the gift of articulating in intelligible language the force of feeling that produced them (dunamis tes phones, literally, "the power of the sound").
In Ac 28:2,4 (in the King James Version of Ac 28:2 "barbarous people" = barbarians) the writer, perhaps from the Greek-Roman standpoint, calls the inhabitants of Melita barbarians, as being descendants of the old Phoenician settlers, or possibly in the more general sense of "strangers." For the later sense of "brutal," "cruel," "savage," see 2 Macc 2:21; 4:25; 15:2.