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What the Bible says about Barnabas
(From Forerunner Commentary)

We find details about Barnabas' background spread throughout the book of Acts and Paul's epistles. Luke tells us that Barnabas was a Levite whose family came from the island of Cyprus where some of the Jews of the Diaspora had settled. He was a cousin of Mark, the writer of the gospel by that name (Colossians 4:10). His Hebrew name was Joseph (or Joses), but he was better known as Barnabas. Joseph means "may God increase"; Joses, "He that pardons"; and Barnabas, "son of encouragement." All three names contain wonderful attributes of God. Since the apostles called him "son of encouragement," this may have been Barnabas' most important characteristic.

Barnabas is first mentioned as a landowner who sold some land and generously donated all the proceeds to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36-37). A few years later, God appointed him as an apostle with Paul to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2-3; 14:14). He spent many years preaching the gospel in lands far distant from both Jerusalem and Cyprus.

Tradition says that Barnabas was one of the seventy whom Jesus Christ sent out in pairs "as lambs among wolves" into every city (Luke 10:1-12). They were to carry no money, baggage, or sandals, nor were they to greet anyone along the road. Jesus told them that they were on a special mission of peace only to those God was calling. He sent them to preach the gospel to those whom He defined specifically as "son[s] of peace"—the called of God.

Barnabas was not afraid to stand by God's messengers in a time of tumult. He was the first person of influence and responsibility to extend his personal warmth and home to Saul of Tarsus, when all Jerusalem was still casting stones at him (Acts 9:26-31). The disciples in Jerusalem, who knew Saul only as a fierce persecutor and murderer of the saints, were afraid of him. They could hardly believe that the feared inquisitor had been converted. Although the rest shrank from Saul in fear and suspicion, Barnabas came forward and showed great kindness toward him.

He introduced Saul to the apostles (verse 27), so that he could tell them the story of his miraculous conversion and how he had preached with power at Damascus. In subsequent times, as Paul came into greater prominence, Barnabas quietly fell back into a supporting role.

Barnabas and Paul had their moments of disagreement, however. A serious conflict arose between them over John Mark, Barnabas' cousin. In Acts 15:36-41, Paul was still upset over Mark's decision in Pamphylia to leave them and their work, and this led to a definite breach between them. Sharp contention caused Barnabas and Paul to head their separate ways—Barnabas with Mark to Cyprus and Paul with Silas to Syria and Cilicia. This breach between them apparently lasted for quite some time.

In Antioch, Paul considered certain converted Jews, including the apostle Peter, to be hypocrites regarding eating with the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-13). In verse 13, Paul writes, "Even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy." The wording indicates that Barnabas' actions surprised Paul. Obviously, this was uncharacteristic of Barnabas, and it miffed Paul. It does seem odd that Barnabas would not fear harboring Saul of Tarsus in his home, protecting him from vigilantes, but was afraid to stand up to Jewish Christians regarding eating with Gentile Christians. This just shows that all Christians occasionally give in to the prejudices of our backgrounds, and we spend much of our lives trying to overcome them.

Although Barnabas and Paul had their differences, they were not irreconcilable. Paul last refers to Barnabas a few years later regarding the church's support of them (I Corinthians 9:6). By this time, it seems Paul and Barnabas had reconciled and were working together again. We would expect nothing less from two converted individuals.

Scripture paints a picture of Barnabas as a kind, forgiving, encouraging, and compassionate man. Luke sums up his character in Acts 11:24, "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." Luke then follows this ringing endorsement with a meaningful postscript: Wherever he went, "a great many people were added to the Lord." Despite Barnabas' faults, no more or less than any of ours, he received a wonderful, God-inspired commendation as a permanent example of a true witness for God. How encouraging for us!

Barnabas sacrificed himself to be instrumental in God's cultivation of His church. Paul makes specific mention of the fact that Barnabas, who willingly impoverished himself in the interests of the church, labored with his own hands to support himself on his missionary journeys.

Martin G. Collins
Barnabas: Son of Encouragement and Consolation

Related Topics: Barnabas


Matthew 24:12

Even though we might fancy ourselves as expert judges, at times it can be tricky to determine by observation whether the agape love is truly cooling. This is because the word "love" can be a subjective term, and even the phrase "sacrificial love" is wide open to interpretation.

To illustrate this, suppose I asked you to turn in your Bible to page 949. In my Bible, on page 949, in the left-hand column, about half way down, are Jesus Christ's words, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

Are we on the same page? Technically, we are, but at the same time, we may not be looking at the same passage. My page 949 is probably at least a little bit different from yours—maybe even very different—though, strictly speaking, we are on the same page. My page 949 contains parts of John 13 and 14; the quotation above is John 13:35. Chances are good that your page 949 is not only different from mine, but that it also differs from page 949 in other Bibles you may have.

This exercise demonstrates that, while we are on the same page with regard to sacrificial love and the need for it, the exact application of that love may be different for each of us, even though it is still exercised within the bounds of God's law. How we show love to others and what we look for in terms of love from others will not always be the same.

This is because we each have facets of God's love, but we do not have the totality, the whole, of it. Each child of God resembles Him to a degree, but each of us resembles Him more strongly in some areas than in others. Each of us learns or is directed to sacrifice in slightly different ways. This does not mean that agape love is absent. It simply means that agape love is not complete in us in the way that God's love is complete.

For example, some people are quite outgoing and excel at making people feel welcome and cherished. They know how to build up, affirm, and encourage people verbally. These are modern types of the apostle Barnabas, whose name means "son of encouragement" or "son of consolation." However, not everybody has that facet of God's love to a significant degree. There was, after all, only one Barnabas among the apostles. Though the other apostles were probably encouraging and affirming in their own ways, only one was named for that aspect of God's love.

Others may not have as much to say, but they will give the shirt off their backs to the needy. They will even have it dry-cleaned first. If it needs to be a different size, they will make sure of that, too.

Some serve behind the scenes, and we may not even be aware of all their sacrifices. They resemble the tireless service of an ox, just as Christ did. Nevertheless, not everyone is able to sacrifice in this way.

Still others have the means to give materially. That may mean giving financial assistance or slipping someone a small token of appreciation or admiration that, even though it does not have much intrinsic worth, stands for a more meaningful sentiment.

As another example, a man I know has a plaque in his office with four short words that explain another facet of God's love. The plaque reads simply, "I teach. I care." But not everyone has that kind of sacrificial love. Other people may instead reflect God's love differently.

On the flipside, because of the way we are as individuals—because our page 949 is not universal—we may not easily recognize the sacrificial love of another if we are looking only for one application of it. Because of the way some people are wired, they may not feel like they are loved unless they receive a hug every time they see you. That is not a shortcoming but simply the way they are. Yet, for others, hugs may make them uncomfortable. We may have to give them more personal space.

Some feel as if they are out in the cold unless they receive an occasional handwritten note. Others may get such a note, but it is not as valuable to them as the sender spending meaningful time with them. Both the card and the time can be examples of sacrificial love, but each means more to one than another.

Some may feel unloved unless the love is verbally expressed to them; for them, "silence is deafening." For others, though, "talk is cheap," and the real evidence of love on their page 949 is some form of physical service or gift.

Thus, although we are all on the same page in one sense, we are not all seeing the same thing. If God is our spiritual Father, then we know that His love is poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:5), and it will be evident in some way. However, that evidence will not be identical in every case. If we are only looking for one facet of God's love, we may miss a great deal of His workmanship, His outworking, and His image in His other children.

David C. Grabbe
Is the Love of Many Growing Cold?

Acts 4:36

In Acts 4:36 Luke translates Barnabas to mean "son of encouragement" or "son of consolation." The original Greek word rendered "encouragement," paraklesis, means encouragement, consolation, comfort, exhortation, and entreaty. It may be that the apostles who gave Joseph the name Barnabas, saw all of these qualities in his character.

What was it that Barnabas did so well? Paul writes that it is a minister's responsibility to be encouraging to God's church. Ministers are sent "to establish and encourage [us] concerning our faith" (I Thessalonians 3:2-3). Barnabas wisely encouraged people by pointing them in the right direction—toward the coming Kingdom of God. All the members in Antioch he "encouraged . . . that with a purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord" (Acts 11:23).

Martin G. Collins
Barnabas: Son of Encouragement and Consolation

Galatians 2:13

The wording indicates that Barnabas' actions surprised Paul. Obviously, this was uncharacteristic of Barnabas, and it miffed Paul. It does seem odd that Barnabas would not fear harboring Saul of Tarsus in his home, protecting him from vigilantes, but was afraid to stand up to Jewish Christians regarding eating with Gentile Christians. This just shows that all Christians occasionally give in to the prejudices of our backgrounds, and we spend much of our lives trying to overcome them.

Martin G. Collins
Barnabas: Son of Encouragement and Consolation

Find more Bible verses about Barnabas:
Barnabas {Nave's}

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