When Barnabas is introduced to us in the book of Acts, we see him selling some land to help provide for fellow Christian believers (Acts 4:36-37 Acts 4:36-37 36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,
37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
American King James Version×). The Church members in Jerusalem—some native to the city and some from other nations who had decided to remain there after the Church began on the Day of Pentecost in A.D. 31—were in severe economic need.
We are given scant information about Barnabas' background. We are told that he was a Levite from the island of Cyprus (verse 37). We are not told, however, whether the land he sold was in Judea or in Cyprus. He was either a cousin or an uncle to Mark the evangelist and Gospel writer (Colossians 4:10 Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner salutes you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom you received commandments: if he come to you, receive him;)
American King James Version×) and would later be a great mentor to him.
A nickname that stuck
Barnabas' given name was Joses, or Joseph, but the apostles gave him the name Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement” or “ Son of Exhortation” (Acts 4:36 Acts 4:36And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,
American King James Version×). Can you imagine being so encouraging to others that Christ's followers would choose a new name to call you to fit that? Being “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:24 Acts 11:24For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added to the Lord.
American King James Version×), Barnabas seemed to excel at encouragement and exhortation.
The early history of the first-century Church was one of momentous circumstances and powerful personal examples, bringing many to truly live God's way of life. But it was also a time of persecutions, struggles and difficulties. We read an interesting account in the later portion of Acts 9 that sheds more light on Barnabas' encouraging nature.
When Paul, formerly called Saul, tried to reconcile with the Jerusalem church after having persecuted many of its members before he became a Christian, Barnabas was at his side (Acts 9:26-30 Acts 9:26-30 26 And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
27 But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
28 And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.
30 Which when the brothers knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
American King James Version×). Many in Jerusalem were concerned to once again see Paul, remembering his former deeds. Many may have faced his wrath or had family and friends who had suffered from his prior actions, but Barnabas spoke to the apostles and verified Paul's story of his conversion.
Barnabas also supported Paul by explaining how strongly he had preached in Damascus. Eventually, Paul was accepted within the Church (albeit perhaps with some caution). But would he have been accepted in Antioch and Jerusalem had he not been “vouched for” by someone with such a solid reputation as Barnabas?
By the time of Acts 11:22-24 Acts 11:22-24 22 Then tidings of these things came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would hold to the Lord.
24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added to the Lord.
American King James Version×we find Barnabas still active in the Jerusalem congregation and trusted by the leadership to go to Antioch to begin working with (giving encouragement and direction to) people who were responding to God's Word.
Here again, we see Barnabas living up to his name of Encourager. He understood what God was doing in bringing gentiles (non-Israelites) into the Church and probably spent the rest of his life serving God to this end.
Many times in his preaching Barnabas faced hostile Jews or gentiles who were not happy with the message he proclaimed—as it flew in the face of the false concepts and practices they advocated and led increasing numbers away from them. How hard it must have been to remain encouraging in the midst of such intense opposition!
Barnabas mentored Paul as he began working alongside the other teachers in Antioch. Subsequently, Barnabas took Paul and a young disciple, John Mark (the aforementioned Mark who later became author of the Gospel bearing his name), on a trip through Asia Minor. By this time Barnabas and Paul are both referred to as apostles (Acts 14:14 Acts 14:14Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,
American King James Version×). Although we are not told of the particulars of Barnabas' ordination, he must have exhibited the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23 Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
American King James Version×) along with the humility needed to be ordained to such an office.
After some time had passed, Paul proposed that he and Barnabas retrace the steps of their original journey and strengthen the churches that had been established (Acts 15:36 Acts 15:36And some days after Paul said to Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brothers in every city where we have preached the word of the LORD, and see how they do.
American King James Version×).
Sadly, a serious disagreement came between Barnabas and Paul over whether young John Mark would accompany them on this trip. Paul was so upset with John Mark returning home in the middle of their first journey that he didn't want him to come on this trip. Barnabas insisted that they should take Mark. With this matter standing between them, they went separate ways (Acts 15:39-41 Acts 15:39-41 39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed to Cyprus;
40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brothers to the grace of God.
41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.
American King James Version×).
This disagreement was not permanent, however, as Paul and Barnabas later worked together in serving the church in Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 9:6 1 Corinthians 9:6Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
American King James Version×). We have no record of Barnabas being angry with Paul, and he continued to encourage (teach) young John Mark in his ministry. Later still, Paul implicitly acknowledged that Barnabas had been right not to give up on John Mark because he had become a good minister—he was “useful” to Paul for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11 2 Timothy 4:11Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with you: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.
American King James Version×).
God used Barnabas in a very influential way in the development of the early New Testament Church. His nickname of Encourager flowed from living God's way of life. How many people came to the knowledge of God's way of life, not only through Barnabas' preaching, but also (and maybe even more importantly) through his example and encouragement?
The lesson for us
Was Barnabas a perfect man? No, of course he wasn't. But God records the histories of men such as Barnabas to show us what great things He can do through men and women who strive to overcome their human nature and yield to Him. Although we are not told of what ultimately happened to Barnabas, I can't help but think that he continued to grow in God's way, encouraging others until the end of his life.
Barnabas lived up to the good name others gave him, and his example is one that all of us would do well to follow. VT