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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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Barnabas, Epistle of
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(otherwise Joses [Authorized Version ] or Joseph [Revised Version ])

A member of the primitive Church of Jerusalem and a close associate of Paul in the early years of his Christian career. He is not to be identified with Joseph called Barsabbas (Acts 1:23), though he is sometimes substituted for him by ecclesiastical writers (see Joseph [Barsabbas]). Information regarding him is mostly derived from Acts. According to Acts 4:36, the surname Barnabas was given him by the apostles, presumably as an honourable distinction, and signifies ‘son of consolation or exhortation’ (υἱὸς παρακλήσεως = Aram. bar, ‘son,’ and Heb. root which appears in nâbhî’, ‘prophet’). This etymology draws upon two different languages, and leaves the terminal form unexplained. Besides, the name may have been self-assumed, in accordance with a common practice of the Jews in their intercourse with the Gentile world. Other derivations therefore have been proposed, which give ‘the son of Nebo,’ ‘the son of peace’ (= Aram. bar nevâḥâh), etc., as the meaning. In any case, the statement of Acts implies that Barnabas was noted for his prophetic or preaching gifts; and comparison with Acts 14:12 probably warrants the further inference that he was more fluent in Aramaic than in Greek.

In Acts 4:36 f. Barnabas is introduced as a Levite of Cyprus, who sold land that he possessed, and devoted the proceeds to the use of the Church. No other Levite is mentioned by name in the NT. His ownership of land, in contravention of the law (Deuteronomy 10:9) which excluded Levi from part or inheritance with his brethren, is not surprising, as in later times this Deuteronomic prohibition cannot have been enforced (Jeremiah 32:7-12; Jos. Vita, 76). From Cyprus the youthful Barnabas may have passed over to the neighbouring Tarsus, famous in his time for its culture as well as its commerce, and there made the acquaintance of Paul. At any rate, he appeared as his friend, and stood sponsor for him on his first visit to Jerusalem, when other members of the Church regarded him with distrust (Acts 9:26 f.). Thereafter Paul retired to Tarsus, but Barnabas remained in Jerusalem till tidings reached the mother Church of the success of the gospel in Antioch, when he was commissioned to visit that city and confirm the disciples. Having sought out Paul at Tarsus, he induced him to join him in his work in Antioch. After a year of service there, the two fellow-labourers were dispatched to Jerusalem with alms for the needy Christians of Judaea (Acts 11:22-30). Soon after their return to Antioch they were solemnly set apart by the Church for special evangelization work, and started on what is usually called the first missionary journey, in the course of which they visited Cyprus and the southern parts of Asia Minor, accompanied as far as Perga in Pamphylia by John Mark (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] )-a relative of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10)-whom they had brought with them from Jerusalem. In the account of the journey, the independent character of Paul appears in the precedence gradually accorded him over Barnabas, whose name has previously had first place in the narrative, probably because he had been better known in Antioch and Cyprus. Following upon this mission came a prolonged stay at Antioch, broken at length by another visit to Jerusalem, in consequence of dissensions that had arisen over the necessity of circumcision. A judgment on this question having been obtained from the leaders of the mother Church met in Council, Paul and Barnabas repaired again to Antioch, and began to consult about another missionary journey. As Barnabas, however, insisted on taking Mark with them, in spite of his defection on the previous journey, a sharp contention took place between them, with the result that Paul chose Silas as his companion, and proceeded to Syria and Cilicia, while Barnabas set sail with Mark for Cyprus (Acts 12:25 to Acts 15:41). There is no further notice of Barnabas in Acts.

Galatians (chs. 1-2) partly covers the same ground as Acts, but between the two narratives a discrepancy appears which has provoked much discussion. Reviewing his association with the Church of Jerusalem, Paul asserts that it did not extend beyond two visits. One of these (Galatians 1:18) seems to have been the occasion of his introduction by Barnabas, and the other (Galatians 2:1) has usually been identified with the visit to the Council; but, in that case, what becomes of the intervening visit in Acts-that on which Paul and Barnabas conveyed the offerings of the Antiochene Christians? Its comparative recentness and the asseveration of Galatians 1:20 preclude the supposition that it could have been forgotten or passed over by the Apostle. One solution of the difficulty is obtained by rejecting entirely the story of this visit in Acts, and taking the rendering of the facts only from Gal. (Encyclopaedia Biblica i. 486). Others endeavour to harmonize the two accounts with a smaller sacrifice of the credibility of Acts. Such is the suggestion of Neander, Lightfoot, and others that, while Paul and Barnabas were both commissioned to carry the contributions from Antioch to Jerusalem, only the latter actually accomplished the journey; and that the author of Acts, finding the record of the appointment in his sources, naturally assumed that Paul had fulfilled his part of the mission. Such also is the view very generally held that the second and third visits of Acts were really one and the same-the visit to the Council recorded in Galatians; but that, as it was undertaken with the twofold object of bearing alms to the poor and discussing circumcision with the leaders of the Church, two accounts of it came into existence which the author of Acts erroneously supposed to refer to separate events. A third form of solution has been advanced by Ramsay and others, which would identify the second visit of Gal. with the second visit of Acts. Recently this view has been ably maintained by C. W. Emmet (The Eschatological Question in the Gospels, Edinburgh, 1911, p. 191ff.), who also contends that Gal. was written before the third visit of Acts had taken place, that is, before the Council of Jerusalem. On this theory, the accuracy of Acts is fully vindicated, but an early date is required for Galatians, which may not be generally conceded. Cf., further, Galatians, Epistle to.

On one point-the parting of Paul and Barnabas-Gal. has been regarded as supplementing Acts. In Paul’s account of the trouble with Peter at Antioch over the eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14), his co-worker is represented as taking part with his opponents. Probably, for the moment, the mediating character of Barnabas betrayed him into a policy of vacillation which was the real origin of his disagreement with the Apostle. Their quarrel may have culminated in a separation over John Mark, but its actual cause was a matter of principle. From a subsequent reference of Paul to Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:6) it may be inferred that they were reconciled in later years, though not necessarily that they were again associated in their work.

Tradition has been busy with the name of Barnabas, but has preserved little that is deserving of trust. According to one legend, he was a personal disciple of Christ, even one of the Seventy mentioned in Luke 10:1, and preached the gospel in Rome during the lifetime of our Lord. Another asserts that he was the founder and first bishop of the Church of Milan, though Ambrose makes no mention of him as one of his predecessors in that see. A third makes him the missionary or apostle to Cyprus, and states that he died by martyrdom at Salami a in a.d. 61. From an early date also the writing of an Epistle has been ascribed to him: (1) the Epistle to the Hebrews, the authorship of which was claimed for him by Tertullian; and (2) the Epistle to which his name has been attached since the time of Clement of Alexandria (see following article). In both cases the internal evidence is strongly against the authorship of Barnabas, such references, for instance, being made to the Jewish Law as wore not likely to come from a member of the Jerusalem Church and a sympathizer with Peter at Antioch. McGiffert (Apostol. Age, Edinburgh, 1897, p. 598f.) argues very ingeniously in favour of Barnabas as the author of 1 Peter; but the reasons adduced by him, though plausible, are scarcely sufficient to establish his theory. There is nothing in the Epistle to necessitate a Levite authorship, and Barnabas need not have remained anonymous (Moffat, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., 343 n. [Note: . note.] , 437).

Literature.-In addition to references already given, see works generally on Paul, Acts, Galatians, and the Apostolic Age.

D. Frew.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Barnabas'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​b/barnabas.html. 1906-1918.
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