Damien F. Mackey
“[Barnabas] was a good man – that is: he was upright, honest, honourable, without unjudged sin in his life. God Himself is described by the Lord Jesus as good (using exactly the same Greek word), and for a man to be described in the Scriptures as good is a very great honour- the only other person in the New Testament given this designation, I believe, besides Barnabas, is Joseph of Arimathea”.
Leading up to the feast-day, yesterday (11 June, 2018), of the missionary Apostle Barnabas of the Book of Acts, I was musing to myself who otherwise, in the various Gospels, might Barnabas have been.
With the buzz-words/phrases good (Acts 11:24: “For he was a good man”) and selling one’s property (he “sold a field he owned, brought the money, and turned it over to the apostles” (4:36-37) in mind, I thought of “the rich young man [or ruler]” of the Synoptic Gospels.
Good: ‘Why do you call me good?’ (Mark 10:18) and
selling one’s property: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’.” (v. 21).
Soon I found this brilliant article on the Internet written by Harry Whittaker:
in which the author asks (and answers) the question of vital interest to me:
- Was the Rich Young Ruler Barnabas?
When Jesus spoke of the difficulty for the rich to find a place in the kingdom of God, his disciples, utterly astonished, asked: “Who then can be saved?” As they saw it, if a man with all the advantages of ease and comfort could not prove himself worthy of everlasting life, what dope was there for those beset with all the cares of a life of toil and anxiety? And was not material prosperity the outward sign of God’s blessing? So surely the scales were loaded in favour of the rich.
Jesus answered: “With men it is impossible (that the rich should be saved), but not with God: for with God all things are possible”-which surely means that God has the power to save even the rich whose wealth is actually such a big spiritual handicap.
But this rich man had chosen to go away from Jesus, and so this saying that God has the power to save even the rich was left hanging in mid-air, so to speak-unless He proceeded to do just that with this earnest young man who said: ‘No, you are asking too much, Jesus. I cannot do what you require of me.’ In this fact, then, there is surely good presumptive evidence that ultimately God did save this rich man, in vindication of Christ’s assertion that God can save even a rich man in love with his riches.
The ominous saying with which this incident concluded is also worth pondering here: “many that are first shall be last; and the last first.” The first phrase was a palpable warning to the privileged twelve, the one of whom (Mk.14 :10 RVm.) was to become last of all. But who was the last one who was to be given a place among the first?
It is to be noted that, whatever else, this would-be disciple did not lack honesty. Unlike so many of Christ’s more recent disciples, he did not somehow manage to persuade himself that “Sell all that thou hast and distribute to the poor” really meant something else less exacting and a great deal easier of achievement. When a man is frank and honest regarding the demands of Christ there is hope for him, even though his response be inadequate. But when he succeeds in throwing dust in his own eyes so as to persuade himself that he is fulfilling the Lord’s commands, when really he is doing nothing of the sort, he is in dire spiritual danger.
It makes an intriguing study in circumstantial evidence to bring together the various lines of argument which support, without completely proving the conclusion that this young man was Barnabas, who later became Paul’s companion in travel.
First, it is possible to go a long way towards establishing that this rich ruler was a Levite (as, of course, Barnabas was; Acts 4:36).
Many readers of the gospels have mused over the fact that Jesus quoted to his enquirer the second half of the Decalogue-those commandments which have to do with duty to one’s neighbour. Why did he not quote the others (more important, surely) which concern a man’s duty to God? But if indeed this enquirer were a Levite, then by virtue of his calling, the first half of the Decalogue would find fulfilment almost as a matter of course.
It is also worth noting perhaps —though not too much stress should be put on this-that apparently it was when Jesus was near to Jericho that the rich young ruler came to him; and at that time, as the parable of the Good Samaritan shows, Jericho was a Levitical city.
Much more emphatic is the fact that apparently Jesus did not require of other disciples that they “sell all, and give to the poor, and come and follow him.” Once again, if the man were a Levite, all is clear, for “Lev! hath no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the Lord is his inheritance ” (Dt.10 :9). Thus a Levite with a large estate was a contradiction in terms, and when Jesus bade him be rid of this wealth, he was merely calling him back to loyalty to other precepts in the Law of Moses.
Barnabas, it is interesting to observe, was a Levite of Cyprus. So apparently the letter of the Law was observed by his owning no property in Israel. The “inheritance” Moses wrote about was, of course, in the land of Promise. So that estate in Cyprus was a neat circumvention of the spirit of the Mosaic covenant, and now Jesus bade him recognize it as such.
Jesus went on to quote also from Moses’ great prophecy concerning the tribe of Levi: “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time …” In spirit, and also in detail, this is very much like Deuteronomy 33 :8,9: “And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim (‘ If thou wouldst be perfect. . .’) and thy Urim be with thy holy one . . . who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children .. .”
Even more impressive is the Lord’s demand that this earnest seeker sell all and come and follow him, for this is exactly what the Law prescribed when a Levite wished to give himself to full-time service of the sanctuary (Dt. 18 :6-8). There must be first “the sale of his patrimony,” and the devotion of the proceeds to the sanctuary. Instead of the temple Jesus substituted his own poor disciples, the new temple of God. But this was to be done only if the Levite came “with all the desire of his mind.”
Perhaps also there is special significance in the fact that when Jesus quoted the Commandments he put one of them in the form: “Defraud not” (Mk.10 :19), as though with reference to the commandment forbidding the withholding of the wages due to a poor employee (Dt.24 :14,15). But it could refer to the dutiful devotion of one’s resources to the honour of God, a responsibility specially incumbent on a Levite who rejoiced in excessive wealth.
More specific identification?
It is now possible to explore further and find clues suggesting identification of this rich Levite with Barnabas, who when he came to prominence in the early church is mentioned as selling an estate and putting the proceeds into the common fund for the benefit of the poor brethren – which is precisely what Jesus had told the rich young man to do (Acts.4 :36). The Greek word used to describe the estate Barnabas disposed of is the same as was used by Jesus (Mk. 10:29).
And apparently it was then that Joseph was given his new name Barnabas, “the son of exhortation,” that is, the man who did what he was exhorted to do. The rich young man was also a “ruler,” that is, a member of the Sanhedrin. There is fair evidence that Saul of Tarsus also was a member of the Jewish Council Here, then, is a likely explanation of the singular fact in Acts 11:25 that it was Barnabas who went off to Tarsus specially to find Saul at a time when Gentiles were being added to the church at Antioch. These two remarkable men had apparently been colleagues in the Sanhedrin (see “Acts”, by H.A.W., ch. 34).
The same passage describes Barnabas as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (11:24). The linking of the last two phrases suggests a special gift of faith through the leading of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor.12:9). Then was it through God’s power and guidance that Barnabas was brought to his great act of renunciation of considerable wealth? This link[s] excellently with Christ’s comment on the rich young ruler: “With men this impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” The extreme rarity of the same kind of decision in these days makes it more evident than ever that Barnabas’ act of faith was a gift from God.
A further detail about Barnabas now takes on clearer meaning. The first missionary journey began from the instruction: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). That perfect tense prompts the enquiry: At what earlier time had these two been called by Christ? The call of Saul was, of course, on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:15). But when had Barnabas been called? The answer to this enquiry is either that the call of the rich young ruler is what is referred to, or else there has to be an assumption that there was some other direct call of Christ which neither Gospels nor Acts mention at all.
Is there also some special significance in the fact that it is only Mark’s record about the rich young ruler which tells that “Jesus, looking on him, loved him”? John Mark was “sister’s son to Barnabas” (Col.4:10).
Two unexpected hints from the Old Testament remain to be added to this accumulation of circumstantial evidence. Mark 10:22 has this: “And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved.” The Septuagint Version of Isaiah 57:17,18 is most remarkable: “On account of sin for a little while I grieved him, and smote him (with a hard demand); and he was grieved, and went on sorrowful in his ways. I have seen his ways, and healed him, and comforted him, and gave him true comfort (paraklesis: son of exhortation): peace upon peace to them that are far off and to them that are nigh (Barnabas’ preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles as well as to Jews).”
Again, the words: “With God all things are possible” (Mk.10 :27), are usually assumed to be an allusion to Genesis 18 :14; but more likely the reference seems to be to Psalm 62:11: “Power belongeth unto God.” The context here is rather impressive: “Surely men of low degree (the apostles) are vanity, and men of high degree (this wealthy ruler) are a lie … if riches increase set not your heart upon them. God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this (the first and the second call of Barnabas).”
These Old Testament resemblances are certainly very remarkable. Are they to be written off as coincidences or interpreted as the fruits of inspiration? If the latter, they add evidence of an exceptional kind to the identification proposed here.
The conclusion drawn from a study of this kind varies with the individual. Points of evidence which are nearly decisive for one are of negligible value to another. But it is surely remarkable that in such very brief records concerning two men so many points of resemblance or connection can be traced.
Epistle of Barnabas and Gospel of Matthew
“The connection between Barnabas 4:14 and Matthew is, indeed, striking”.
The Epistle of Barnabas was not included in the list of the canonical books of Scripture. Despite that, it was well regarded by some Church Fathers as we read in New World Encylopedia’s “Epistle of Barnabas”: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Epistle_of_Barnabas
The Epistle of Barnabas, also known as Pseudo-Barnabas, is a Christian work of the late first or early second century, written to dissuade its readers from being influenced by Christian Judaism or even to consider the Jews as sharing in God’s covenant. It was written in Greek and currently contains 21 brief chapters, preserved complete in the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus where it appears at the end of the New Testament.
The epistle goes farther in its anti-Jewish stance than earlier Christian works, by arguing that God’s covenant with Abraham and Moses was never established with the Jewish people as a whole, due to their sins. It was ultimately omitted from the New Testament canon, although and it was cited by several early Church Fathers as having scriptural authority. Today, it is included in most collections of the Apostolic Fathers.
In the early church, the Epistle of Barnabas was read in some churches and several of the Church Fathers accepted it as scripture. Toward the end of the second century Clement of Alexandria cited the Epistle as authoritative, as did Origen. By the beginning of the fourth century, however, the “Letter of Barnabas” was in the process of being rejected from the books of the emerging Christian canon. By the time of Eusebius (c. 325), the canon was fairly well established, though not yet formalized, and Barnabas was not included in the lists of canonical books. Eusebius considered it as “spurious” (H.E. iii.25.4) and rejected it. The first complete list of New Testament scriptures, by Athanasius of Alexandria (367 C.E.), also omitted Barnabas. It also failed to make the authorized list of the Third Synod of Carthage in 397. Thus, the epistle ultimately disappeared from the scriptural canon.
However, its place, along with the Shepherd of Hermas, at the end of the Codex Sinaiticus (330-350 C.E.) shows that the Epistle of Barnabas was highly regarded in some Christian communities. Saint Jerome considered the letter “valuable for the edification of the church,” but stipulated that it was “reckoned among the apocryphal writings.” In the West the letter stands beside the Epistle of James in several Latin manuscripts of the New Testament. In the East, a list maintained by the ninth-century patriarch of Jerusalem mentions the epistle in a list of books that are antilegomena—”disputed”—along with the Revelation of John, the Revelation of Peter and the Gospel of the Hebrews. In this way, the letter found its way into the category in which it now stands, useful for study by Christians, but not scripture. The epistle was lost until the early nineteenth century. It has since come to be included in the modern collections of the Apostolic Fathers. ….
From the dogmatic point of view the chief importance of the epistle is in its relation to the history of the Canon of the Scriptures. It cites, in fact, the Gospel of St. Matthew as Scripture (ch. 4:14), and even recognizes as in the Canon of the Sacred Books (gegraptai), along with the collection of Jewish writings, a collection of Christian ones (ch. v, 2), the contents of which, however, cannot be determined. The author regards several apocryphal books as belonging to the Old Testament–probably IV Esdras (ch. xii, l) and without doubt Henoch (ch. iv, 3; xvi, 5). In his Christology, his soteriology and his doctrine concerning justification the author develops the ideas of Paul with originality. It has been wrongly said that he regards the pre-existent Christ as only a spirit in the image of God. Without explicitly asserting the consubstantiality and the true sonship, he evidently acknowledges the Divine nature of Christ from before the Creation. The eschatological descriptions are decidedly moderate. He is a millenarian, but in speaking of the Judgment to come he simply expresses a vague belief that the end is approaching.
Jimmy Akin (http://jimmyakin.com/2017/02/the-epistle-of-barnabas-and-the-gospel-of-matthew.html) has more to say about the interconnection between:
The Epistle of Barnabas and the Gospel of Matthew
In its entry on the (apocryphal) Epistle of Barnabas, the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary states:
Although Barnabas 4:14 appears to quote Matt 22:14, it must remain an open question whether the Barnabas circle knew written gospels. Based on Koester’s analysis (1957:125–27, 157), it appears more likely that Barnabas stood in the living oral tradition used by the written gospels (Treat, J. C. (1992). Barnabas, Epistle of. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 1, p. 614). New York: Doubleday).
The connection between Barnabas 4:14 and Matthew is, indeed, striking. Barnabas 4:14 states:
Moreover, consider this as well, my brothers: when you see that after such extraordinary signs and wonders were done in Israel, even then they were abandoned, let us be on guard lest we should be found to be, as it is written, “many called, but few chosen.” (Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., p. 283). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)
If the last bit of this is a quotation from one of the Gospels, it can only be from Matthew 22:14, for this verse has no parallels in the other Gospels.
However, the idea that Barnabas is borrowing this from oral tradition is extremely implausible. The author introduces the quotation with the formula “as it is written”–not “as it is said.” This not only implies he is using a written source but also that he regarded it as scripture, for “it is written” is a standard formula for introducing scripture quotations.
The probability is thus that Barnabas was quoting Matthew’s Gospel, and that would let us establish a terminus ad quem (roughly, a latest possible date) for Matthew if we could establish when Barnabas was written.
It was clearly written after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, for Barnabas 16:3-5 refers to that event:
(3) Furthermore, again he says: “Behold, those who tore down this temple will build it themselves.” (4) This is happening now. For because they went to war, it was torn down by their enemies, and now the very servants of their enemies will re-build it. (5) Again, it was revealed that the city and the temple and the people of Israel were destined to be handed over. For the Scripture says: “And it will happen in the last days that the Lord will hand over the sheep of the pasture and the sheepfold and their watchtower to destruction.” And it happened just as the Lord said.
Precisely how long afterwards Barnabas was written is not clear, but it is certainly early. In fact, it is likely the first surviving piece of Christian literature written after the destruction of the temple. In The Fathers Know Best, I date it to around A.D. 75.
The fact that Barnabas records the destruction of the temple as a past fact (“And it happened just as the Lord said”) but Matthew presents it only as a future fact, with no notice of the prophecy’s fulfillment, suggests Matthew was written before 70.
[End of quotes]
Akin’s “Matthew was written before 70” accords very well with Fr. Jean Carmignac’s estimation of “… Matthew around 50 …”. See e.g. my:
Fr Jean Carmignac dates Gospels early
and it also accords with John A. T. Robinson’s view that the entire New Testament was written before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Redating the New Testament).
I fully accept the Rev. Robinson’s reasoning that: “If the new testament books were written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, why is such a significant event not mentioned?”
Barnabas (rich young man) also Matthew?
This, I suggest, was the happy outcome of the “rich young man” – fully committed discipleship.
Serving as an aid to connecting the “rich young man” of the Synoptic Gospels with the apostle Barnabas in Part One of this series were what I called certain “buzz-words/phrases”, such as good and selling of one’s property.
For Barnabas is called a good man, and he sells his property to assist the apostles.
Joseph, the original name of Barnabas, will become another buzz-word in Part Three, in which Barnabas will be (albeit tentatively) connected with Joseph of Arimathea, also called good.
One could add the further buzz-word of rich, relevant to the young man, the apostle Barnabas, and Joseph of Arimathea.
Other buzz-words/phrases can now be included, as we ponder whether or not our composite rich young man-Barnabas-Joseph of Arimathea might also be Matthew. In Part Two (a) I had, with this possibility in mind, noted that the non-canonical Epistle of Barnabas had certain likenesses to the Gospel of Matthew, that, for instance: “The connection between Barnabas 4:14 and Matthew is, indeed, striking” (Jimmy Akin).
Now, a most significant buzz-word which may well link the rich young man to the apostle Matthew is to be found in Jesus’s looking intently with love in each case.
Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller (CP), writing for The Jerome Biblical Commentary, explains the Greek word used in the case of Levi, or Matthew (article, “The Gospel According to Luke”, 44:61): “At once Jesus turns away from everything else and peers intently (theaomai) at Levi, detecting his noble and genuine compunction”.
Presumably, somewhat earlier, Jesus had gazed lovingly on the rich young man, who, at that stage, was not yet prepared for wholehearted discipleship (Mark 10:21-22): “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’. Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions”.
There is also, in the case of Levi, a return to the buzz-phrase, selling of one’s property – for Levi, as we are told, “left everything”.
Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller again (loc. cit.):
…. Levi. Usually considered to be the same as the apostle Matthew …. Lk alone states that Levi “left everything” behind to follow Jesus. This addition, along with the word “rising”, is expressed by an aor. participle, indicating the continual and ready disposition of discipleship …. The income Levi renounced must have been large, if he was able to spread a banquet for the many invited guests.
This, I suggest, was the happy outcome of the “rich young man” – fully committed discipleship.
A connection now between Barnabas and the apostle Matthew would account for why Barnabas is called an “apostle”, despite arguments such as the following by David Huffstutler:
Was Barnabas an apostle? This question is important because it is related to the larger question of whether or not apostles exist today. If the NT gave a pattern of apostles being added to the original Twelve (and Paul), could there be apostles today?
I explained in previous posts that the Twelve and Paul had a unique apostleship that singled them out from others that were called apostles in Scripture. In this post (and more to come), I will examine who else was called an apostle in the NT and the meaning of the term apostle as it applied to these individuals.
In Acts 14:4, Luke refers to “the apostles” who, in context, are Paul and Barnabas (cf. Acts 13:50). Ten verses later, Luke is more explicit and refers to “the apostles Barnabas and Paul” (Acts 14:14). Barnabas was clearly an apostle. But in what sense? Was he an apostle like the Twelve? Was he an apostle to the Gentiles in the same sense as Paul? Could the term apostle mean something else in this context?
Part of the difficulty in explaining Barnabas as an apostle lies in the fact that Paul, too, is called an apostle in Acts 14:4, 14. If Paul was an apostle in much the same way as the original Twelve, to call Barnabas an apostle alongside Paul seems to color Barnabas with the same apostolic hue as Paul. But this reasoning does not necessarily follow.
Luke typically describes Barnabas as an individual who was distinct from the twelve apostles (Acts 4:36; 9:27; 15:2, 22). These verses and others demonstrate that Luke consistently used the term apostle to refer to the Twelve.1 Luke’s use of the term apostle with reference to others such as Barnabas and Paul is exceptional.2 This is not to say that Paul was not an apostle, but it is to say that whether Paul, Barnabas, or anyone else, Luke did not typically call these men apostles. More likely, Luke used a more generic use of the term apostle, albeit with reference to two notable individuals. One scholar refers to Acts 14:4, 14 and explains this use of apostle as follows: “In this broad usage, then, an apostle was a first-century evangelist who bore witness to the resurrection of Christ, an itinerant missionary sent by Him to make disciples of all nations.”3 Barnabas was an apostle in the sense that he was sent to proclaim the gospel with Paul (cf. Acts 13:1–3).4
In short, Luke described Barnabas as someone distinct from the Twelve. He was sent with Paul to proclaim the gospel, and in this sense, he was an apostle. He cannot be used an example of someone who received an apostleship that was the same as the Twelve or Paul and thus be used as precedent for anyone to claim a similar apostleship today.
[End of quote]
It is tentatively suggested here, however, that Barnabas may have been a fully-fledged apostle, one of the actual Twelve, namely, Levi-Matthew.
But I now need to account for the multiplicity of names for my much filled-out, and un-named, “rich young man”.
Initially I would like to recall that biblical characters at this time may have had more than one name, for example a Hebrew and a pagan name.
I had suggested that, in the case of John the Baptist, he may also have been known as Theudas:
Gamaliel’s ‘Theudas’ as John the Baptist
In this series, the rich young man will have accumulated, by Part Three, the following names:
Whilst, obviously, it is not ideal having so many names with which to cope, Barnabas and Levi can be considered as kind of nick-names, because we know that that was so of Barnabas, and our composite character, being a Levite, might have, for that reason, been called “Levi” – who, as we read from Fr. Stuhlmueller, is considered to have been Matthew anyway.
If Peter could likewise have been named Simon and Cephas, three names, then it is not unreasonable that Matthew had also carried the name Joseph (plus nick-names).
Barnabas also as Joseph of Arimathea
“God Himself is described by the Lord Jesus as good (using exactly the same Greek word), and for a man to be described in the Scriptures as good is a very great honour- the only other person in the New Testament given this designation, I believe, besides Barnabas, is Joseph of Arimathea”.
Whilst Derek Cooper does not specifically conclude here that Barnabas, originally named Joseph (Acts 4:36): “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas …”, was Joseph of Arimathea, the thought has crossed my mind.
Here is Cooper’s useful account of “Barnabas” and his character:
I want us to consider Barnabas this afternoon. There is, of course, a lot that could be said about Barnabas and what we talk about this afternoon has to be selective. I have chosen 6 aspects of Barnabas and his character, so I will split this talk into 6 main sections.
But first of all, we’ll just start with brief basic introductory details. Barnabas’s real name was Joseph; Barnabas was a nickname- we will talk about that in a minute. Barnabas was Jewish by race, in fact he was a Levite, he came from the island of Cyprus, though he seems to be living in Jerusalem at the time when we first read of him. We know nothing of his family except that he had a sister, she had a son- who was therefore Barnabas’s nephew- and he was called John Mark [Col 4:10].
“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. 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, having land, sold it , and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
We first come across Barnabas during those exciting early days of the church. Not long after the Lord Jesus died and rose again from the dead, and the disciples were empowered on the Day of Pentecost- perhaps Barnabas was there on that day- for a time after that there was this period of sharing. The rich sold possessions to support the poor, and here we find Barnabas mentioned as selling a field, and giving the money to the apostles for the distribution. He wasn’t alone in this generosity; he was one of many that did this. Now, this is not a point I want to major on this afternoon, but we SHOULD note his example of generosity to the Lord and his people.
Barnabas- the Son of Encouragement
As we said, his real name was Joseph. Barnabas was his nickname. The apostles noted him, and he had so impressed them that they gave him the nickname of Barnabas. Barnabas is, I suppose, a Hebrew word, but because the reason for the apostles giving him this name was important, the Holy Spirit saw fit to translate it- the meaning of the name Barnabas is added in Scripture. Different English translations give a different emphasis- I have seen “Son of Consolation”, “Son of Encouragement”, “Son of Exhortation”, “Son of Comfort”. The Greek word translated “consolation”, “encouragement”, “exhortation”, “comfort” means literally “a calling alongside to help”, and these different emphases are all contained within the word.
The Word used for the Holy Spirit as a Comforter [parakletos] comes from the same stem- in fact, it is virtually the same word.
1. Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement
We will take Barnabas as the Son of Encouragement [and this is my 1st section: Barnabas- the son of encouragement]. In order for him to be given a name like this by the apostles and a name that stuck, he really must have impressed them by the encouragement and help that he gave, and he must have impressed them over a period of time. He must have spent some time with the apostles, actively encouraging the believers.
It is perhaps easy to forget that the events recorded in the first few chapters of the Acts are events that happened within a very short time of the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus.
The believers in Jerusalem had had traumatic times, to say that they had had their discouragements is to put it mildly. Their world was turned upside-down – in fact, a disaster (it seemed) at that Passover time when their Lord and Master, the one they were expecting to be their king, and presumably therefore that they were trusting to lead them to the defeat of the Romans and recovery of the kingdom- HE had been taken and executed by the joining together of the religious and political rulers, normally enemies, but joining together in opposition to God. Then, even after they realized the wonderful truth that the Lord Jesus had risen from the dead, they still lived in fear of the hostile authorities. But they had a man of encouragement among them.
How valuable that is. Someone to turn their thoughts away from the difficulties and problems of the way, and point them to the Lord himself- to remind them of who He is, the greatness of His person, and what He has done, and to point them also to the blessing of their relationship with Him. Barnabas was such a man. And he had clearly been encouraging them for sufficient time and with sufficient power that the apostles themselves could call him “son of encouragement”.
As we look at Barnabas further we will see examples of his providing encouragement to others.
Let’s think about today for a moment. In many ways, THESE are discouraging times for believers. The church is fragmented, and seems to be fragmenting further, the attention of unbelievers is towards things of this life, their work perhaps, or more often towards being entertained, interest in Christianity in this country seems to be at an all time low, gospel work (including with children) seems to be getting harder. There is much to discourage. In days of discouragement, we need follow the example of Barnabas, we need to encourage one another with an encouragement that is centred on the Lord- the one who is coming soon to take us to be with Him.
2. Barnabas- the risk taker
We read of him next in Acts 9 in connection with Saul. Saul was a highly educated, strict and very zealous Pharisee with a certainty of the rightness of his beliefs. He was absolutely sure that the new Christian religion was completely wrong, those who followed this teacher called Jesus were following a false Messiah. They were abandoning the faith of their fathers, were heretics and should be eliminated. And being a man of action, Saul decided to deal with the problem himself. He participated in the murder of Stephen in Acts chapter 7, then got together a band of like-minded thugs and attacked the Christians with the full force of his misplaced zeal. He “made havoc of the church” (Acts 8:3). Saul seems to have been based at Jerusalem and many of the Jerusalem Christians fled, taking the word of God with them- so helping the spread of the truth, of course.
I can only conclude that Saul considered that he had made such a good job of dealing with Jerusalem Christians that he would spread his net wider … Damascus, it was quite a long way and it was outside of Israel. …. Anyway, Damascus it was, and so he obtained letters from the chief priests to the synagogues in Damascus so that they might know that he had official backing in dealing with this error in the harshest possible way.
We all know, of course, the way that the Lord Jesus spoke to him on the Damascus road and temporarily blinded him. We know of Ananias’s reluctance to go and see Saul when God told him to- because Saul’s reputation had preceded him. We know also that Saul was truly saved and, it would seem, after witnessing in Damascus, spending time in Arabia, returning to Damascus, Saul then went to Jerusalem . Of course, his one wish was to find the believers. The trouble was that is exactly what they thought he would try to do.
“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. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto 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. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.”
It is easy to imagine. The Jerusalem believers hear that Saul, the one who had caused such havoc among them, who had caused them so much suffering, they hear that he is back in town, and is claiming now to be one of THEM. They just did not believe him.
No, there is no way that any of us want to meet him. There is no way we are going to let him discover who we all are, and where we meet together. He may SAY that he is a believer, but how do we know that it is not a trick.
The scriptures say that they did not believe that he was converted; they did not believe that he was saved. The assembly leaders, the apostles and James the Lord’s brother- they all, it would seem, reacted in the same way- they did not believe that Saul was saved, and they were not prepared to risk their lives in checking it out. It was much safer to keep him at arm’s length.
It is to Barnabas’s enormous credit that he wasn’t willing to let this situation go on. He was willing to go and meet a man who had been an enemy of Christ, a hater of believers, who had probably killed or imprisoned many of his, Barnabas’s, family and friends, who had disturbed the whole lifestyle of the assembly. How did he know that Saul’s claim wasn’t just part of a trap? How did he know that Saul and his mob wouldn’t take him and kill him? I think it unlikely that he had different information about Saul than Peter and the rest had, but HE would take the risk. He was willing to go to Saul, put aside his prejudices and find out where he really stood at that time. And he was willing to be convinced. His mind wasn’t closed.
He had so much of a heart for other believers that he wanted them all to be one, to be united, to be together. He may have perceived that if Saul were truly converted then with all the energy and zeal that he showed, there was a real danger (if he were not accepted) of there becoming, in practice, 2 separate fellowships. We know, of course, that the church has since then fragmented, but we see Barnabas here right near the beginning taking very real risks, he is prepared to face real personal danger, danger that others with greater status and authority than he had weren’t willing to face, he would do this in order to bring Saul in and so maintain the unity of God’s people.
I would like to make an application from this. We know that sometimes, sadly, it is necessary for there to be separation from other believers. God’s word is very clear about that. But let’s make sure that we separate from others only when it is scripturally essential, and that we have an ATTITUDE that is similar to Barnabas’s here, an attitude that does all it possibly can (scripturally) to maintain the unity of God’s people. Although in Barnabas and Saul’s case it was an issue of drawing another believer in (rather than of separation) the general principle is the same.
3. Barnabas – the one to be trusted
Let’s move on a little while. Saul has gone from Jerusalem , and as Christian believers moved around and witnessed for the Lord, so the church grew – the scriptures mention that to begin with they were witnessing to their fellow Jews only. But at Antioch, a place now in southern Turkey – a big city near to the Syrian border – the believers began witnessing to Greeks.
“Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.”
Many of the Greeks were turning to the Lord. The assembly at Jerusalem heard about it. Now, what were they to make of it? The Jews knew that they were a special people. They knew that God has specially chosen them, and they had become proud of their status- they had some difficulty in realizing that God could accept people from other nations too – on the simple basis of faith.
Peter himself clearly HAD had problems with this. But he had learnt from the incident with Cornelius in chapter 10 and the vision that God had given him just before the visitors sent by Cornelius came to the door- he had learnt that God was no respecter of persons, and that people from any nation were acceptable to Him. But there were many at Jerusalem who had real difficulty with this. I can imagine that the Jerusalem Christians felt that the news from Antioch was exciting, but it was also somewhat alarming. How should they react – was the Lord really saving Gentiles in great numbers? If so, what sort of guidance should they give them?
The issue was crucially important, so the leaders of the assembly at Jerusalem chose someone to investigate, someone they could as a group trust. Of all those believers in Jerusalem … they chose Barnabas.
This speaks volumes for Barnabas, doesn’t it?
Clearly his beliefs were in accord with theirs – he believed what they believed, or they wouldn’t have chosen him. Later incidents show the real concerns that were felt by the Jerusalem believers about Gentiles being added to the assembly and I am sure that Barnabas would have shared these concerns, or they wouldn’t have chosen him for this sensitive role. Clearly he was a man that they as a group could trust. They knew that he would make a thorough and objective assessment of the situation, that he would not distort the facts to suit his preconceived notions, they knew he would not tell only half the story.
Barnabas went to Antioch and Barnabas listened, and Barnabas was willing to be persuaded. The natural tendency of the Jews was to be opposed to contact with Gentile dogs, but Barnabas listened, weighed up the evidence before the Lord (no doubt) and was persuaded. And I want us to think about this. Sadly, as we all know, difficulties arise among believers today, and sometimes there are matters that need to be looked into. Are the rumours about a particular situation true? Are the stories about a particular person correct? We should be ready to approach such situations willing to observe, willing to listen to all sides, willing to put aside OUR prejudices and to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
Of course generally speaking, being consistent is a very good thing, but it is not a very good thing if it makes me stubborn and unwilling to really listen to another’s understanding and to consider issues openly before the Lord – being ready to have a change of mind if necessary. I am sure that none of us likes to be wrong, none of us likes to be seen to be wrong, and it is easy to get entrenched in a position. Is it possible that sometimes we don’t want to admit that maybe we got it wrong, just maybe we aren’t actually as right as we would like to appear.
If it is necessary to look at a difficult situation let’s make sure that we base our opinion on the situation, not on our preconceived notions or what we hear from others. Sometimes what we are told can be simply wrong, sometimes it is distorted because it is based on selected facts. Let’s be honest about difficult situations, let’s look for and give as COMPLETE a picture as we can, not a distorted view.
Barnabas stayed at Antioch for some time, saw what was happening, investigated thoroughly, was delighted to see what the Lord was doing, and he encouraged these new believers to cling to the Lord.
He was able and willing to put aside his prejudices- which other Jewish Christians found so difficult (as we see later on- in Acts 15, for example).
4. Barnabas – recognising and encouraging potential in others
“Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
We’ve thought of
- Barnabas- the Son of Encouragement
- Barnabas- the risk taker
- Barnabas- the one to be trusted
In verse 25 we see another quality in him. He recognized and encouraged the potential of others. He had introduced Saul to the suspicious believers at Jerusalem, he had watched him and he assessed him, and he realized that here was a man with enormous potential in service for the Lord. And it was Barnabas who takes the trouble to go and search for him, so that he could be used to the full.
It is important, isn’t it, that we have a recognition of our gifts and make sure that we use them. Surely, it is not honouring to Christ for any of us to be so humble that we are unwilling to recognize gift in ourselves – that is a false humility – the Lord has given to all as he wishes, though sometimes we may need a Barnabas to encourage us and to point the way forward, and so help the use of our gifts.
Barnabas did this for Saul. Saul had gone back to Tarsus, he had returned to his home town. Perhaps he had gone home specifically to witness to his own family and old friends, but now Barnabas could see a need and he recognized the man who could fill it. He personally went to find him and brought him back to Antioch. Back at Antioch they met for a year with the assembly and used their teaching gifts for the benefit of those who met there.
We see once again, in verse 30, that Barnabas becomes a trusted representative of the assembly – this goes back to our last point. Although not FROM Antioch – really only visitors to the city, he and Saul are so trusted that they are chosen by the saints at Antioch to send economic relief to the assemblies in Judea.
Let’s move on to chapter 13.
“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”
As these brothers served the Lord and fasted the Holy Spirit spoke to them. Here I just want to briefly note 2 things in passing. Firstly, that they were getting on with their business for the Lord when he speaks to them. And secondly, that they were so in touch with the Lord that he COULD speak to them. If we feel that the Lord doesn’t speak to us as much as we would like, perhaps we should consider the example of these men here at Antioch.
Barnabas- handing over responsibility
Here in chapter 13 the Holy Spirit sets aside Barnabas and Saul for his work, and they begin their missionary journey. I don’t intend talking much about their journey together, but I want us to notice this:
Acts 13: 2, 7, 13, 43
“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”
“Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.”
“Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.”
“Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”
It is “Barnabas and Saul” who are set aside for this work. It is “Barnabas and Saul” who visit Sergius Paulus the ruler at Paphos on Cyprus , but after that the scriptural record changes- we no longer read of “Barnabas and Saul”, we read of “Paul and Barnabas”.
Saul becomes Paul, but not only does Saul have a name change, the missionaries have a change of leadership. Barnabas was no longer the main character, he handed over to Paul.
And so this is my 5th section:
5. Barnabas – handing over responsibility
We have already talked about the way he could see potential in young Saul, now he sees this potential come to fruition- he could see the way that the Lord was using Paul- and he, Barnabas, takes the back seat. I am sure that there was no resentment there at all. I am sure that he encouraged Paul to take the leadership. The Son of Encouragement was again practically encouraging the younger man to fulfill his potential for the Lord.
An obvious, but important, lesson for us to always bear in mind as we work for the Lord is this- that it IS work for the Lord. It should never be an ego trip for ourselves. We are not here to make a name for ourselves – even in the good things we do – it’s the Lord’s work, to be done for his glory.
We come on now to a couple of serious mistakes that he made, and this is my sixth section:
6. Barnabas – his mistakes
“And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.”
The first concerned his nephew, John Mark. Mark had accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey, but had left them early on and returned to Jerusalem. Some time after the journey was finished, and Paul and Barnabas had returned to Antioch, Paul suggested that they re-visit those places that they had been to on their journey. Barnabas was keen to take Mark along. In fact, the scriptures say that “he was determined to” do so. Paul thought it unwise because of his previous experiences with Mark. Neither was willing to give way, and Barnabas left the work in Antioch and went off with Mark to Cyprus. We read no more of him in the Acts or of his activities.
No doubt Barnabas thought that although Mark had made a serious mistake when he deserted them at Perga, he had matured and could be trusted this time. I’m sure that he believed that the proposed visits would be good for Mark and his spiritual development- I am sure that he wanted to encourage the lad.
One of the saddest things about this is that Barnabas was not willing to give way on this. It is difficult to see how they could have gone ahead through the difficult and dangerous situations that would face them, with someone that Paul was not comfortable working with. And there comes through here, even in someone like Barnabas who showed such discretion and wisdom at other times, there comes through a stubbornness which was damaging to his effectiveness in the Lord’s work. The Lord’s work continued, of course – Silas was chosen to accompany Paul, but Barnabas missed out. A stubbornness, an unwillingness to give way to others on non – fundamental matters is sadly a very common characteristic, not only in the world, but among believers too.
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
The second mistake of Barnabas that we read about has a sort of opposite character to the first. In this case he gave way on something that WAS fundamental.
Many Jewish believers had problems giving up their ingrained Jewish view of Gentiles, even Gentile believers. We mentioned before that the Lord had given Peter a lesson on this just before he visited Cornelius, and Peter had come to understand that Jews and Gentiles were one in Christ, that Gentiles were not unclean. So when Peter left Jerusalem and visited Gentile believers in Antioch he had no problem eating with them and treating them as equals.
But when some other Jews came from Jerusalem, Jews who didn’t have the same understanding that Peter had, when they came, rather than resisting their views and standing up to them, Peter stopped eating with the Gentile believers and withdrew from close contact with them. Paul writes to the Galatians that “even Barnabas” (as though he’s surprised by it), even Barnabas went along with Peter in this hypocrisy.
Here the issue WAS fundamental – and on this point Barnabas gave way. Paul when he realized what was happening publicly rebuked Peter. As we have just seen, when discussing taking John Mark with them Barnabas refused to give way on something non – fundamental, but here he does give way – but on something that was fundamental.
The issue of agreeing together with other believers is one of the most difficult we face. When should I insist on what I believe to be right, and when should I give way to others who believe something different to be right? Most of the disagreements and divisions among Christians have something of this in them.
The question of making a stand on some issues and giving way on others is a difficult one and requires much prayer. To a large extent it is a question of correctly judging what is fundamental and what isn’t, and that can only be done quietly before the Lord with His word.
I’ve got another scripture to mention.
1 Cor 9:5-6
“Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?”
I find it interesting that Paul should mention Barnabas here. There is no evidence from scripture that Barnabas had been anywhere near Corinth. Paul and Barnabas’s missionary journey that they made together was to areas of what is now Turkey. Corinth was in Greece. Paul’s first visit to Corinth was during his second journey, made with Silas. Paul’s Corinthian letter was written some time after that. Why does he mention Barnabas? Presumably the Corinthians believers had heard of Barnabas, they knew about him, or the passing reference to Barnabas wouldn’t have made much sense to them. How did they know of Barnabas? In spite of their big “bustup”, at the very least I assume that Paul must have talked positively about Barnabas when he was at Corinth, and told the Corinthians of the work that they had done together.
Bit I’d like to take this a bit further. The mention is of him and Barnabas both being people who worked for their living while serving the Lord. It’s written as though this was the way that Barnabas CONTINUED to serve the Lord, even though no longer with Paul.
So, it seems likely to me that Barnabas and Paul were still in contact, with Barnabas continuing his service for the Lord – in Cyprus or elsewhere. I find it difficult to believe that they did not sort out their difficulties together – but apart from speculating from this scripture, there is no evidence that they did.
I would just like to take the opportunity to remind ourselves of the main points I have been making from the life of Barnabas.
- Firstly, Barnabas was the son of encouragement who encouraged the believers during very difficult times, a very valuable service.
- We then saw that he was willing to risk his life to bring Saul to the frightened assembly in Jerusalem- something no-one else was willing to do; he did it to bring believers together.
- Thirdly we noted Barnabas as one who could be trusted by the saints- particularly to investigate the difficult and sensitive issue of the bringing of Gentiles into the church.
- Then we noticed how Barnabas recognized and encouraged the potential in others- he saw a need in Antioch , he had seen Saul’s gifts and he went many miles to get Saul so that he could do a work in Antioch for the Lord for the benefit of the saints there.
- Fifthly, and following on from there, we see how on their missionary journey together Barnabas soon takes the back seat and allows (I’m sure encourages) Paul to take on the leadership.
- We then looked at a couple of mistakes that Barnabas made- firstly he tried to insist on his way when he shouldn’t have done, but gave way on a fundamental issue on another occasion.
In spite of these mistakes, there is so much that is positive in Barnabas that we would do well to think about and emulate.
Here’s a scripture that gives us a clue to his effectiveness for the Lord:
“For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith”
He was a good man- that is: he was upright, honest, honourable, without unjudged sin in his life. God Himself is described by the Lord Jesus as good (using exactly the same Greek word), and for a man to be described in the Scriptures as good is a very great honour- the only other person in the New Testament given this designation, I believe, besides Barnabas, is Joseph of Arimathea.
Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. He was full of faith. He had a real day to day practical dependence on the Lord whom he knew he could trust. He was full of faith – he could and did lean on the Lord.