("son of prophecy, or exhortation and consolation.") The surname given by the apostles to Joses or Joseph (as the Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus manuscripts read), a Levite, settled in Cyprus (Acts 4:36). As a Christian, he brought the price of his field and laid it as a contribution at the apostles' feet. It was he who took Saul after his conversion, when the other disciples were afraid of him, and "brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way," etc., and had "preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus" (Acts 9:27). The book of Acts does not tell us why Barnabas knew Saul better than the rest. But the pagan writer Cicero (Epist. Familiar., 1:7) informs us that Cyprus (Barnabas' country) was generally annexed so as to form one province with Cilicia (Paul's country, of which Tarsus, his native city, was capital).
Possibly they were educated together in Tarsus, famed for its learning, and but 70 miles distant from Cyprus; still more probably at Jerusalem, where Paul was brought up at Gamaliel's feet. As fellow countrymen, they would have mutual friends. Moreover, when Paul had withdrawn from Grecian assailants at Jerusalem to Tarsus, and when subsequently it was thought safe for him to return in the direction of Syria, Barnabas was the one who sought him and brought him from Tarsus to Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). All this bears that impress of unstudied coincidence which marks the truth of the Scripture record. When men of Cyprus preached at Antioch to Greeks (according to the Alexandrinus manuscript and the Sinaiticus manuscript corrected manuscript; but "Grecians," i.e. Greek speaking Jews according to the Vaticanus manuscript. (See ANTIOCH.)
The latter must be wrong; for there could be no difficulty about preaching to Greek speaking Jews), and the news reached Jerusalem, the church there sent Barnabas to Antioch; "who when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad and exhorted (in consonance with his surname, "son of exhortation") them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord" (Acts 11:22-24). The Book of Acts here assigns no reason for the choice of Barnabas; but incidentally it comes out elsewhere that Barnabas was of Cyprus, and so was the fit person to deal with men of Cyprus; besides, his spiritual gift of exhortation and consolation qualified him for the office (compare Acts 15:31). His being "a good man," i.e. beneficent and kind (compare Romans 5:7), would make him gentle and sympathetic in dealing with the new class of converts, namely, those gathered not from proselytes, as the eunuch and Cornelius, but from idolaters (an additional argument for reading "Greeks.".)
Instead of narrow Jewish jealousy at "God s grace" being extended to non-Judaized Gentiles, being "full of the Holy Spirit," be was "glad," and sought Saul as one specially commissioned to evangelize the Gentiles (Acts 26:17; Acts 22:17-21). The two together, on Agabus' prophetic announcement of a coming famine, showed the Jewish brethren that they and the Gentile disciples were not forgetful of the love they owed the church in Jerusalem and Judea, by being bearers of contributions for the relief of the brethren in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). On their return to Antioch, they were marked by the Holy Spirit for missionary work, and were ordained by the church (Acts 13:2), A.D. 45.
With the title of Apostles, i.e. delegates of the church (Acts 14:14), (Paul was also counted with the Lord's apostles by a special call: Galatians 1:1-17) they made their first missionary journey to Cyprus and Pamphylia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, and back to Antioch, A.D. 47 (Acts 13; 14). Next (A.D. 50), as apostles of the uncircumcision they were sent to Jerusalem, to the council concerning the question raised by Judaizing Christians whether Gentile converts must be circumcised (Acts 15). frontAPOSTLES.) Judas and Silas were sent "with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," to bear back the epistle to Antioch, settling the question in the negative.
After some stay in Antioch Paul proposed to revisit the brethren in the various cities where they had preached. But in consequence of Barnabas desiring to take with them John Mark, his sister's son, and Paul opposing it because of Mark's desertion at Pamphylia in the previous journey, so sharp a contention arose that they separated; and while Paul, with Silas, "being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God" (which marks their approval of Paul's course) "went through Syria and Cilicia confirming the churches," Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus, his native island. His prominent usefulness ceases at this point; Scripture is henceforth silent about him. In Galatians 2:1; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:13, Barnabas suffers himself to be carried away by Peter's and the Jews' dissimulation, in declining to eat with Gentile Christians, contrary to his previous course.
Softness of character, and undue regard for relations, were his weak points, as compared with Paul. He was evidently a man of strong attachments to kindred and country; so that in both his missionary tours his native island and the Jewish synagogue took the first place. The so-called "Epistle of Barnabas" was probably written early in the 2nd century. Its superficial views of the truth and blunders as to Jewish history and worship could never have emanated from the Levite Barnabas. The Clementine Homilies make him a disciple of our Lord, and to have preached in Rome and Alexandria, and converted Clement of Rome. Loving sympathy with others, freedom from narrowness and suspicion, and largeness of heart characterized him in his frank trustfulness toward the late persecutor but now converted Saul, and toward those converted from pagandom without any transitional stage of Judaism.
His not claiming maintenance as a minister (1 Corinthians 9:6), but preferring to work for his livelihood, flowed from the same sincere disinterestedness as led him at the first to sell his land and give the price to the church. He was probably soon removed by death after parting with Paul; for Mark is mentioned subsequently as in Paul's favor and ministering to Paul (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11), which he would not be likely to be, but rather with Barnabas his uncle, if Barnabas were alive. Chrysostom justly infers that Barnabas was of a commanding and dignified appearance, as the people of Lystra, on the cure of the impotent man, supposed that he was their national god, Jupiter, king of the gods, come down from heaven (Acts 14:8-12).