(bahr' nuh buhs) GREEK: BARNABAS
"son of encouragement"

A native of Cyprus and member of the tribe of Levi, who perhaps served in the temple, Barnabas was a crucial early link between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Luke introduces him in the book of Acts as a generous man who sold land to support the growing church.

Barnabas soon vouched for a new convert named Saul of Tarsus (Paul), who was viewed with suspicion by those who only recently had been targets of Saul's persecution. Shortly thereafter, Jerusalem church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch where the congregation contained both Jews and Gentiles. Under Barnabas, the church grew so quickly that Barnabas went to Tarsus and asked Saul to join him. Together Barnabas and Saul worked successfully for a year; in Antioch at this time "the disciples were for the first time called Christians" (Acts 11:26).

In another effort to build harmony, Barnabas helped organize a relief drive during a widespread famine. Gifts were taken to Jerusalem by Barnabas and Saul - the order in which the names appear in Acts 11:30 is intentional and reflects the order of leadership at this point. The Antioch church subsequently sent Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark, Barnabas's cousin from Jerusalem, on a tour to preach to Gentiles. Their first stop was Cyprus, where Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus was converted. Here Luke stops calling Saul by his Jewish name and begins referring to him by his Roman name, Paul. After this, the order of names in Acts is generally reversed to read Paul and Barnabas (the first time in Acts 13:43), suggesting a change in leadership.

In further travels Paul and Barnabas preached in synagogues, where they drew receptive listeners as well as opponents. In the city of Lystra, their preaching and healing caused some to hail them as Greek deities. Soon adulation turned to attack, however, and Paul was nearly killed.

Barnabas's last major role in Acts was at a conference in Jerusalem called to decide whether Gentile converts have to become full proselytes to Judaism (including being circumcised) before they could be Christians. Peter spoke first, then Barnabas and Paul. Finally, James the brother of Jesus urged that all follow only certain requirements that were held to be older than Abraham and thus binding on both Jews and Gentiles. Neither circumcision nor the dietary laws need be observed. Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch with a letter explaining the decision, which restored peace.

Paul, Barnabas and Mark planned one more trip together, to revisit the sites of their first successes. However, Paul did not want to take Mark, saying he had abandoned the first mission after they left Cyprus. Unable to agree, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

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