The Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Barnabas. A Jew from Cyprus who became a follower of Jesus Christ in the early church. He traveled with Paul and with Mark. Acts 4:36-37; 9:27; 11:22-30; chs. 14 and 15; 1Cor. 9:6; Gal., ch. 2.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Barnabas, according to Acts 4:36-37 a Levite from Cyprus whose cognomen was Joseph and who became a member of the early Christian community in Jerusalem and was surnamed ‘Barnabas’ (Heb., ‘Son of encouragement’) by the apostles. A Diaspora Jew (i.e., one born in a country outside Palestine) who may have come to Jerusalem because of his priestly connections, Barnabas was a cousin of John Mark (Col. 4:10) and soon became a leader in the church. According to Acts, he introduced Saul (Paul), a fellow Greek-speaking Jewish believer in Jesus, to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27); this suggests that Acts knew Barnabas to be well versed in the activities of the Christian movement in Syria, where Saul had become a Christian.

After the persecution of the Hellenists (Jewish Christians whose native language was Greek) in Jerusalem, Barnabas appeared in Antioch-on-the-Orontes as a representative of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:19-26). There, he affirmed the mission to the Gentiles and worked with Saul as senior partner or supervisor of a Christian mission in Syria-Cilicia. Acts reports that he and Saul took the famine offering from Antioch to Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30; 12:25). If the reports in Acts are accurate, Barnabas must have had a formative role in the development of Saul’s theological outlook (but see Gal. 1:13-17). Paul does imply that Barnabas was a fellow apostle (1 Cor. 9:3-6; cf. Acts 14:4, 14). Acts also records that both Paul and Barnabas chose to work with their hands as tradesmen, even though their families had financial means (cf. Acts 4:36; 23:16).

According to Acts, Paul and Barnabas worked together on a mission tour to Cyprus and the Iconium region of Asia Minor (Acts 13:1-14:28), appeared together at the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15:1-35), but then disagreed and separated over the question of allowing John Mark to accompany them on a second tour (Acts 15:36-41) after he had cut short his participation in an earlier tour (13:13). Barnabas’ role in the dispute in Antioch over whether circumcised and uncircumcised believers should eat together is obscure (Gal. 2:11-14). According to Acts 15:1-35, Barnabas was a strong defender of not binding circumcision on Gentile converts. Yet he apparently had great respect for Peter and sided with him (and Mark) in the dispute with Paul.

Acts speaks of Barnabas as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’ (11:24). Some traditions beyond the canonical writings regard him as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. Likewise, The Epistle of Barnabas is attributed to him, although it actually comes from the second century.

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