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BARNABAS (bar'na-băs, Gr. Barnabas, explained in Acts.4.36 to mean son of exhortation or consolation). The surname of Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, who was an early convert to Christianity. He sold a field and gave the proceeds to the support of the poorer members of the church in Jerusalem (Acts.4.36ff.). In Acts.11.24 he is described as “a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and faith,” traits that early brought him into leadership. When the church in Jerusalem hesitated to receive Paul into their fellowship, Barnabas removed their fears by speaking in the apostle’s behalf (Acts.9.27).

After the start of the work at Antioch, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas there to give the work direction; after laboring there for some time, he went to Tarsus and brought back Paul as his associate (Acts.11.22-Acts.11.26). At the end of a year the two men were sent to carry alms from the infant church to the believers at Jerusalem, who were suffering from famine (Acts.11.27-Acts.11.30). Returning with John Mark from Jerusalem, they were ordained as missionaries and proceeded on a mission to the Gentiles (Acts.13.2-Acts.13.3). Barnabas as well as Paul is called an “apostle” (Acts.14.14). Together the two men labored at Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Up to Acts.13.43 the leadership is ascribed to Barnabas; after that, Paul takes the lead. At Lystra, after a cripple was healed, the inhabitants worshiped Barnabas as Jupiter, and Paul, the chief speaker, as Mercury (Acts.13.3-Acts.14.28). After their return to Antioch, the church sent them to the council at Jerusalem (Acts.15.2). They were commissioned to carry the decrees of the council to the churches in Syria and Asia Minor (Acts.15.22-Acts.15.35).

The beginning of a difference between the two men is suggested by Paul in Gal.2.13, where he says that Barnabas went along with Peter in the latter’s inconsistent course. This was followed by a more serious break when, after Paul had suggested a second missionary journey, he refused to take along Barnabas’s cousin Mark on the ground that he had left them on their first journey. The two men separated, Barnabas going with Mark to Cyprus, and Paul to Asia Minor (Acts.15.36-Acts.15.41). The mutual affection of the two evangelists did not cease, however. Paul’s allusions to Barnabas in his letters shows that he continued to hold his former associate in high esteem (1Cor.9.6; Gal.2.1, Gal.2.9, Gal.2.13; Col.4.10). Some early church leaders attributed the authorship of the Letter to the Hebrews to Barnabas.

A man of Cyprus who became a Christian in the earliest period of the Christian Church, Barnabas first came to notice for his liberality in contributing the proceeds of the sale of his property for the common support of the Jerusalem Christians (Acts 4:36). He had relatives in Jerusalem, since the home of his cousin Mark was situated there. He was willing to befriend the recently converted Saul of Tarsus when the other Jerusalem Christians were afraid to do so, having recognized more readily than others the genuineness of Saul's conversion. He was sent by the Jerusalem church to investigate reports of the remarkable growth of the Antioch church. His reaction was encouraging (Acts 11:24ff.). On recognizing the need for a teaching ministry there, he called Saul from Tarsus to join him at Antioch. After a year's ministry, both were comissioned by that church to undertake a missionary journey. In the Acts narrative describing the course of this mission they are both described as apostles (Acts 14:14).

When the problem of Gentile circumcision arose, Barnabas with Paul opposed it and the Jerusalem church vindicated their policy. But when a second missionary journey was proposed, Barnabas clashed with Paul over the position of Mark (Acts 15:34ff.). On a later occasion Paul expressed his regret that even Barnabas was carried away by the hypocrisy of the Judaizers (Gal. 2:13). In his Corinthian correspondence Paul mentions that, like himself, Barnabas supported himself rather than depend on the churches (1 Cor. 9.6).

BARNABAS bär’ nə bəs (Βαρνάβας, Gr. from Aram. בַּר נְבוּאָה, son of prophecy, interpreted by Luke (Acts 4:36) as υἱὸς παρακλήσεως, “Son of encouragement” (RSV), “exhortation” (ASV), or “consolation” (KJV); intended by Luke not as a scientific etymology but as an indication of character). A noted member of the early Jerusalem church and an active missionary to the Gentiles.

Jewish background.

His original name was “Joseph” or “Joses” (KJV), but the apt name bestowed by the apostles (4:36) completely superseded the old. It apparently marked his ability to console and encourage rather than his eminence in exhortation or teaching. He was a Levite, born in Cyprus, but John Mark of Jerusalem was his cousin (Col 4:10). His conversion is unrecorded, but as an early member of the Jerusalem church he showed his generous nature by selling a field (on Cyprus?) for the benefit of the poor (Acts 4:37).

He proved himself “a son of encouragement” in courageously befriending the suspected Saul (Acts 9:26, 27). Convinced of the reality of Saul’s conversion, he sponsored him and secured his acceptance by the church in Jerusalem. That he had known Saul as a student at Tarsus is mere conjecture.

Co-worker with Paul.

When news of a predominantly Gentile church in Antioch reached Jerusalem, Barnabas was selected as the one best qualified to assist his Hel. brethren in the new undertaking (Acts 11:19-22). His hearty response to the new work evoked a rare scriptural eulogy (11:24). He saw there the fitting sphere of work for the forgotten Saul (11:23-25). Their united ministry resulted in great growth and the origination of the name “Christian” at Antioch (11:26).

The Antioch church sent “Barnabas and Saul” to Jerusalem with a relief offering (Acts 11:29, 30). Some scholars identify this “famine visit” with that mentioned in Galatians 2:1-10; more commonly it is placed during the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15).

The Antioch church recognized Paul’s leadership, according to Luke’s order (“Paul and Barnabas”) when Luke wrote of them (15:2, 35). But in Jerusalem Barnabas clearly was held in greater esteem than Paul. “Barnabas and Paul” (15:12) reported of their work among the Gentiles. The letter sent by the conference also reflected this position (15:25f.).

At Antioch Barnabas joined Paul in stoutly resisting the attempt of the Judaizers to impose circumcision on Gentile converts, and at the conference in Jerusalem he stood as the champion of Gentile liberty. The Jerusalem leaders sanctioned the position of Paul and Barnabas and agreed on a division in the field of labor (Gal 2:9).

Separation from Paul.

Following their public vindication at Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas continued their ministry at Antioch (Acts 15:35). It was apparently during this time that the incident of Galatians 2:11-14 occurred, although some scholars would correlate the time with Acts 15:1. That “even Barnabas” was carried away indicates the tremendous pressure created by Peter’s action. Paul’s wording of the momentary wavering of Barnabas implies his deep appreciation of his companion.

Barnabas readily accepted Paul’s proposal to go on another joint tour, but his insistence upon again taking Mark along resulted in “a sharp contention” in which neither man shines. True to his gracious and forgiving nature, Barnabas felt Mark should be given another chance, while Paul’s abhorrence of fickleness made him reject one who had proved unreliable. If Barnabas erred on the side of leniency, Paul erred on the side of sternness. With his departure to Cyprus with Mark, Barnabas passed from the story (15:36-41).

The rupture ended their joint ministry but not their friendship. Paul appreciated the subsequent labors of Barnabas, who continued to follow the same principle of self-support that Paul used (1 Cor 9:6).


Tradition has made Barnabas one of the “seventy” and says that he died as a martyr on Cyprus. Tertullian ascribed to him the authorship of Hebrews, while Clement of Alexandria made him the author of the socalled Epistle of Barnabas. These ascriptions of authorship indicate the high esteem in which the name of Barnabas continued to be held.


Barnabas must be ranked as one of the truly great men of the Early Church. He was a worthy peer of Paul, but has been overshadowed by his more gifted companion. He was a gracious personality, characterized by his generous disposition and keenness to discern the spiritual potentialities of others. He was free from petty narrowness and suspicion and had a largeness of heart that enabled him to act as the encourager of those who failed and the succorer of the friendless and needy. Such faults as he had arose out of his ready sympathy for those who failed and his eagerness to think the best of others.


H. S. Seekings, The Men of the Pauline Circle (1914), 33-39; J. Hastings, ed., The Greater Men and Women of the Bible, VI (1916), 184-209; H. C. Lees, St. Paul’s Friends (1917), 11-29; A. T. Robertson, Types of Preachers in the NT (1922), 30-51; W. L. Knox, St. Paul and the Church of Jerusalem (1925), 158-160, 163, 164; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (1934), passim; F. V. Filson, Pioneers of the Primitive Church (1940), 83-113; A. C. McGiffert, History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age (19515), 598-600 on Barnabas as author of I Peter; F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, NIC (1954), passim; H. F. Stevenson, “Barnabas: the ‘Son of Consolation,’” Eternity, IX, no. 1 (1958), 29, 30, 38, 39; W. S. LaSor, Great Personalities of the NT (1961), 118-127.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

This name was applied to the associate of Paul, who was originally called Joses or Joseph (Ac 4:36), as a testimony to his eloquence. Its literal meaning is "son of prophecy" (bar, "son"; nebhu’ah, "prophecy"). Compare word for prophet in Ge 20:7; De 18:15,18, etc. This is interpreted in Ac 4:36 as "son of exhortation" the Revised Version (British and American), or "son of consolation" the King James Version, expressing two sides of the Greek paraklesis, that are not exclusive. The office of a prophet being more than to foretell, all these interpretations are admissible in estimating Barnabas as a preacher. Deismann (Bibelstudien, 175-78) considers Barnabas the Jewish Grecized form of Barnebous, a personal Semitic name recently discovered in Asia Minor inscriptions, and meaning "son of Nebo" (Standard Bible Dictionary in the place cited.).

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 (Ga 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. Luther and Calvin regard 2Co 8:18,19 as meaning Barnabas by "the brother whose praise is spread through all the churches," and indicating, therefore, subsequent joint work. The incidental allusions in 1Co 9:6 and Ga 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 He. 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).

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