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It is not known when Barnabas became a Christian, but he appears very early in the story of the Jerusalem church. He was a Jew from Cyprus (Acts 4:36) and was related to John Mark, whose family home was in Jerusalem (Colossians 4:10; Acts 12:12).

One who encourages others

In the early days of the Jerusalem church, Barnabas demonstrated his sacrificial spirit when he sold a field that he owned and gave the money to the apostles to help the poor Christians (Acts 4:36-37). Being a good man and full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24), he was well known for the encouragement he gave people. For this reason he was given the name Barnabas (meaning ‘son of encouragement’). His original name was Joseph (Acts 4:36).

Barnabas’ gift of encouragement showed itself on a number of memorable occasions. When many of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were doubtful about Paul and his reported conversion, Barnabas gained acceptance for Paul with the leaders of the church (Acts 9:26-29). Being more open-minded than most of the Jewish Christians, he was later sent by the Jerusalem leaders to help at Antioch in Syria, where many non-Jewish people had become Christians. He, in turn, invited Paul to Antioch, and through the help they gave over the next year the church grew rapidly (Acts 11:19-26).

Missionary travels

A fruitful partnership developed between Paul and Barnabas. Their first trip together was to Jerusalem, where they helped the church by taking an offering of goods and money from the Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:27-30; Galatians 2:1). They then returned to Antioch, from where they set out on a missionary tour of Cyprus and parts of Asia Minor (Acts 12:25; Acts 13:1-4; Acts 13:14; Acts 14:12).

After returning to Antioch, the two missionaries met trouble when Jews from the Jerusalem church taught that Gentile Christians had to keep the Jewish law (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5). The Jewish teachers argued so cleverly that they persuaded Barnabas to believe them (Galatians 2:11-13). After Paul rebuked him, Barnabas saw his error. He then opposed the Jewish teachers and even went with Paul to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the church leaders (Acts 15:2; Acts 15:12).

When Paul suggested that he and Barnabas revisit the churches of Asia Minor, a disagreement arose between them concerning whether to take Mark with them. As a result they parted. Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas to Asia Minor (Acts 15:36-41; see MARK). Although this concludes the biblical record of Barnabas’ travels, Paul continued to speak well of him. It is possible that Barnabas later became associated with Paul in Corinth (1 Corinthians 9:6).

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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Barnabas'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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