What does the Bible tell us about Barnabas?

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By BibleAsk Team


Barnabas is a significant figure in the New Testament, known for his role as a companion and encourager of early Christian leaders, as well as for his missionary endeavors. His name, meaning “son of encouragement” or “son of consolation,” aptly reflects his character and contributions to the early Christian community. Through various passages in the Bible, we gain insights into Barnabas’s life, ministry, and legacy.

Generosity and Altruism

Barnabas is a nickname for an apostle by the name Joseph. He was a Levite from the island of Cyprus. His nickname, translated “Son of Encouragement” was given to him because of his willingness to help others with his resources. He had land and sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37). He was very active in preaching and was highly trusted to handle support and finances (Acts 11:25-31). He was also the first of the Jewish brethren at Jerusalem to listen to Paul and confirm his conversion (Acts 9:27).

  • NKJV Reference: Acts 4:36-37 provides an introduction to Barnabas, stating, “And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” This passage highlights Barnabas’s generosity and willingness to support the needs of the Christian community.

Role in the Early Church

Barnabas played a pivotal role in the expansion and consolidation of the early Christian community, particularly in Jerusalem and Antioch. He served as a bridge-builder, mediator, and encourager among believers, fostering unity and mutual support.

  • NKJV Reference: Acts 9:27 recounts Barnabas’s significant role in welcoming Saul (later known as the apostle Paul) into the Christian community after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Despite initial skepticism from the other believers, Barnabas vouched for Saul’s sincerity and helped him gain acceptance among the disciples.

Ministry in Antioch

Barnabas played a key role in the establishment and growth of the church in Antioch, a multicultural city where Gentile believers were first incorporated into the Christian community. He recognized the potential of this diverse congregation and actively nurtured its development.

  • NKJV Reference: Acts 11:22-24 describes Barnabas’s mission to Antioch and his instrumental role in the spiritual growth of the believers there. It states, “Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”

Collaboration with Paul

Barnabas is best known for his partnership with the apostle Paul in various missionary endeavors. Together, they undertook several missionary journeys, preaching the gospel and establishing churches in different regions.

  • NKJV Reference: Acts 13:1-3 narrates the sending forth of Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on their first missionary journey from Antioch. It states, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
  • NKJV Reference: Acts 13:50-52 recounts the opposition faced by Barnabas and Paul during their missionary journey in Pisidian Antioch, where they were persecuted and expelled from the region. Despite this adversity, they continued to preach the gospel and were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

Dispute with Paul

Despite their close partnership, Barnabas and Paul experienced a disagreement regarding John Mark’s participation in their second missionary journey. This disagreement led to their separation but did not diminish their mutual respect and dedication to the gospel.

  • NKJV Reference: Acts 15:36-41 details the dispute between Barnabas and Paul over whether to take John Mark with them on their second missionary journey. It states, “Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.’ Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.”

Later Ministry

Following his separation from Paul, Barnabas continued his ministry, although fewer details are provided about his subsequent activities in the New Testament. Tradition holds that he continued to preach the gospel and establish churches, particularly in Cyprus, his homeland.

  • NKJV Reference: Colossians 4:10 mentions Barnabas in passing, indicating that he was still active in ministry and was highly regarded among the early Christians. The verse states, “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him).”

Legacy of Encouragement

Barnabas’s legacy as the “son of encouragement” endures as a model of selfless service, generosity, and support for fellow believers. His example inspires Christians to embody the spirit of encouragement and unity within the body of Christ.

  • NKJV Reference: Hebrews 10:24-25 exhorts believers to emulate Barnabas’s example of encouragement and mutual edification within the Christian community. It states, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

In conclusion, the New Testament provides valuable insights into the life, ministry, and character of Barnabas, the “son of encouragement.” Through his generosity, support, and missionary endeavors, he played a significant role in the expansion and consolidation of the early Christian community. His partnership with Paul and his contributions to the establishment of churches in diverse regions exemplify his dedication to the spread of the gospel.

Despite his disagreement with Paul and their subsequent separation, his outstanding ministry among the Greeks and the Jews of Antioch, had a great influence on the early church. His legacy of encouragement and service continues to inspire believers to this day, reminding them of the importance of unity, mutual support, and steadfast faith in Christ.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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