(Barʹna·bas) [son of comfort].
This prominent figure of first-century Christianity is first introduced to us in the Scriptures by the historian Luke in Acts 4:34-36. There we learn that this devout man was a Levite and a native of the island of Cyprus, but who, at the time of his being introduced, is in Jerusalem. Of the many believers who shortly after Pentecost sold their fields and houses and gave the price to the apostles for the advancement of the Christian work, this man was one mentioned by name. His given name was Joseph, but the apostles surnamed him Barnabas, meaning “Son of Comfort.” This practice of giving surnames in keeping with one’s characteristics was not uncommon.
The portrait of Joseph Barnabas, as painted for us in the book of Acts, is one of a very warmhearted and generous person, one who did not hesitate to offer both himself and his material possessions willingly for the advancement of the Kingdom interests. He gladly ‘came to the aid’ of his brothers (9:27), and in the presence of newly interested persons “he rejoiced and began to encourage them all to continue in the Lord with hearty purpose.” Barnabas “was a good man and full of holy spirit and of faith” (11:23, 24), a prophet and teacher in Antioch. (13:1) The apostles spoke of Barnabas as among those “that have delivered up their souls for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Little wonder the apostles themselves spoke of him as “our beloved Barnabas.” (15:25, 26) Although he was not one of the twelve apostles, he was properly called an apostle (14:14), for, indeed, he was one “sent out by the holy spirit.”—13:4, 43.
The close association that Barnabas had with Paul, and that extended over the years, had its beginning about three years after Paul’s conversion when he wanted to get in touch with the Jerusalem congregation. How Barnabas knew Paul, whether being an old acquaintance or as a fellow student at the feet of Gamaliel, as certain traditions say, or whether quite by chance in the marketplace, is not revealed, but it was Barnabas who had the privilege of first introducing Paul to Peter and the disciple James.—Acts 9:26, 27; Gal. 1:18, 19.
In the meantime a great deal of interest in Christianity had been aroused in Antioch of Syria by certain Greek-speaking Jews from Cyprus and Cyrene. As a result, the governing body at Jerusalem sent Barnabas down to Antioch to encourage and build up these new believers further. The choice of Barnabas for this work was a good one, since he was a Greek-speaking Cypriot. Well, when “a considerable crowd was added to the Lord” in Antioch, Barnabas hastened over to Tarsus and persuaded Paul to come and help out in the ministry. About that time divine warning of a coming famine caused the brothers in Antioch to gather many provisions that, in due time, were sent to the Jerusalem congregation in the hands of Barnabas and Paul.—Acts 11:22-24, 27-30; 12:25.
This relief work accomplished, the two were back in Antioch by 47 C.E., and from there left on a missionary assignment under the direction of the holy spirit. This took Barnabas and Paul first to Cyprus, where they were instrumental in bringing God’s truth to the proconsul Sergius Paulus. From there they traveled through the interior of Asia Minor. At times they were severely persecuted by the mobs. Once, when they cured a lame man in Lystra, they had no sooner succeeded in restraining “the crowds from sacrificing to them,” (thinking that Barnabas was the god Zeus and Paul, “the one taking the lead in speaking,” was Hermes or Mercury) than the Jews “persuaded the crowds, and they stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city.”—Acts 13:1-12; 14:1-20.
In 49 C.E. Barnabas and Paul took the burning question of circumcision of non-Jews up to the governing body in Jerusalem, and, with that settled, they were soon back in Antioch preparing for their next missionary tour. (Acts 15:2-36) However, because they could come to no agreement over taking John Mark along, they each departed for separate territories. Barnabas took his cousin Mark to Cyprus and Paul took Silas through the districts of Syria and Cilicia. (Acts 15:37-41) Thus ends the record made of Barnabas in the Scriptures, except for brief mention of him in some of Paul’s letters.—1 Cor. 9:6; Gal. 2:1, 9, 13; Col. 4:10.