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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a disciple of Jesus Christ, and companion of St. Paul in his labours. He was a Levite, born in the isle of Cyprus. His proper name was Joses, to which the Apostles added Barnabas, signifying the son of consolation. He is generally considered one of the seventy disciples, chosen by our Saviour. He was brought up with Paul at the feet of Gamaliel. When that Apostle came to Jerusalem, three years after his conversion, Barnabas introduced him to the other Apostles, Acts 9:26-27 , about A.D. 37. Five years afterward, the church at Jerusalem, being informed of the progress of the Gospel at Antioch, sent Barnabas thither, who beheld with great joy the wonders of the grace of God, Acts 11:22; Acts 11:24 . He exhorted the faithful to perseverance. Some time afterward, he went to Tarsus, to seek Paul, and bring him to Antioch, where they jointly laboured two years, and converted great numbers; and here the disciples were first called Christians. They left Antioch A.D. 44, to convey alms from this church to that at Jerusalem. At their return they brought John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. While they were at Antioch, the Holy Ghost directed that they should be separated for those labours among the Gentiles to which he had appointed them. They departed into Cyprus, where they converted Sergius Paulus, the pro-consul. They preached at Perga in Pamphylia without much success, by reason of the obstinacy and malice of the Jews; but being come to Iconium, they made many converts.

Here the Jews stirred up a sedition, and obliged them to retire to Derbe and Lystra, in Lycaonia, where St. Paul curing one AEneas, who had been lame from his birth, the people of Lystra regarded them as gods; calling Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercury; and would have sacrificed to them, which the two Apostles with great difficulty hindered: nevertheless, soon afterward, they were persecuted in this very city. Having revisited the cities through which they had passed, and where they had preached the Gospel, they returned to Antioch in Syria.

In A.D. 51, Barnabas was sent with Paul from Antioch to Jerusalem, on occasion of disputes concerning the observance of legal rites, to which the Jews wished to subject the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas were present in the council at Jerusalem, and returned immediately to Antioch. Peter, arriving there soon afterward, was led to countenance, in some degree, by his conduct, the observance of the Mosaic distinctions. Barnabas, too, (who, being by descent a Levite, might retain some former notions,) used the like dissimulation: but Paul reproved Peter and Barnabas with great freedom: Paul afterward determining to visit the churches in the isle of Cyprus, and in Asia Minor, Barnabas desired that John Mark might accompany them: but Paul objected, because Mark had left them on the first journey. Hereupon the two Apostles separated: Paul went toward Asia; and Barnabas, with Mark, to Cyprus. This is all we know certainly concerning Barnabas.

There is extant among the writings of the fathers an epistle which is attributed to Barnabas; though, being without an inscription, it is not known to whom it professes to have been addressed. It was first published by Archbishop Usher in Greek and Latin, and translated by Archbishop Wake, in his "Genuine Epistles of the Apostolical Fathers," and has often been reprinted. That it is not the production of Barnabas, the companion of Paul, may be safely concluded from internal evidence; though it may have been written by some other person of the same name. There is also a tract which goes by the name of, "The Gospel of Barnabas," still extant; from which Dr. White, at the end of his Bampton Lectures, has given extracts sufficiently copious to satisfy any impartial mind that it is spurious.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Barnabas'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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