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Barnabas in the Bible and 5 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Him

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Do you want to gain insight into the inspiring life of Barnabas in the Bible? Few figures in the Bible have been as influential as Barnabas, an early Christian leader who was a major contributor to the spread of the Christian faith. 

In this article, we’ll explore Barnabas’s impact on Christianity and the lessons we can learn from his remarkable life. You’ll learn about how Barnabas transformed the early Church, his major contributions to the Christian faith, and his acts of generosity that still inspire us today. 

As C.T. Studd said, 

“Faith should be accompanied by action and that was the testimony of Barnabas. He was the model of what it means to be generous and to help those in need.” Through the life of Barnabas, we can gain insight into the power of faith, generosity, and selflessness.

C.T. Studd
ceiling painting of Barnabas in the Bible

Most Christians are familiar with the 12 apostles of Jesus and Saul, who later became Paul and wrote much of the New Testament. But other biblical figures, like Barnabas, are often overlooked – even though his influence and teachings can be just as powerful. So who was Barnabas in the Bible? And what can we learn from him? 

Barnabas’ name appears 23 times in Acts, and 5 times in the letters of Paul.

As mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, Barnabas was an early Christian leader who devoted his life to living, teaching, and spreading the Word of the Lord. He’s remembered as a generous and encouraging figure who supported aspiring evangelists like Saul and helped build the early church. 

Barnabas’ life teaches us that faith is an act of generosity – that we can experience more joy in serving others than we can gain from any earthly treasures. He also reminds us that God can use even the biggest skeptics, like Saul, to do his work if they are willing to accept it. 

No matter where we are on our spiritual journeys, we can find wisdom and guidance in the life and legacy of Barnabas. He is a biblical role model whose example we can still learn from today.

Who Is Barnabas in the Bible?

The book of Acts gives us a glimpse into the life of Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus who shared the Good News with unwavering passion and commitment.

 His ministry was marked by courage and selflessness, as he traveled throughout Judea and Asia Minor spreading the Good News to people of all backgrounds. 

According to the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters, Barnabas was successful in leading both Jews and Gentiles to the Christian faith. As Christians today, we are inspired by his example and appreciate the important role he played in the early church.

Acts 11:24 paints a vivid picture of Barnabas, a man “full of the Holy Spirit and faith” and a powerful, inspiring agent of God’s work. 

Described throughout Acts, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, and Colossians, Barnabas is first mentioned in Acts 4:36-37. 

He owned a field that he sold to give money to the apostles, symbolizing his generosity and commitment to the Lord’s work. 

His nickname, ‘son of encouragement,’ speaks volumes about his mission and legacy.

for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Acts 11:24 (ESV)

Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:36-37 (ESV)

Barnabas embodied the spirit of Christian generosity by taking in Saul, soon to be known as Paul. He identified his newfound faith, fostering an environment of acceptance and support. 

Not only did he provide Paul with guidance, but he introduced him to the Apostles in Jerusalem, giving him a platform to share his message of the Christian gospel.

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The other apostles were understandably skeptical about Saul/Paul, given his past. 

But Barnabas had faith in him and vouched for him, and as a result, the new convert was able to move freely in Jerusalem, proclaiming the word of the Lord with confidence.

So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.

Acts 9:28 (ESV)

Barnabas was called by God to serve in Antioch, spreading the gospel and working to advance the faith. But his calling wasn’t complete. 

Seeking to build the Kingdom, he set off to find the apostle Paul, so that together they could serve the Lord in unity and power.

The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,

Acts 11:22-25 (ESV)

The church flourished under the combined leadership of two Christian visionaries. Through their commitment to sharing the Gospel, their ministry saw remarkable growth in both numbers and finances. 

Though their paths eventually diverged over a disagreement about a colleague, their tenacity and dedication to Jesus bore tremendous fruit, helping to spread the faith far and wide.

Antique vintage biblical religious engraving or drawing of saint apostle Simon Peter is speaking to Paul and Barnabas about circumcision for the post Barnabas in the Bible

Who Was Barnabas in the Bible?

Barnabas, a wealthy Levite, was raised as a Jew and educated in Hebrew and foundational religious teachings. He was highly respected, as evidenced by the reference to him in Acts 14:12 as “Zeus” and Paul, who did most of the speaking, as “Hermes.” 

This reverence for Barnabas points to a deep understanding of ancient Testament faith among early Christians.

Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.

Acts 14:12 (ESV)

In Ancient Greek mythology, Zeus was regarded as the King of Gods, reigning over Mount Olympus with power and dominion over all other godly figures. 

Within this context, the reference to Barnabas as Zeus is an acknowledgement of his leadership and authority, as well as his age and stature. For Christians, this is a reminder to look to Barnabas as a leader and one who should be respected.

Barnabas, an influential Jewish leader of the tribe of Levi, was likely schooled in the teachings of Pharisee Gamaliel, according to Easton’s Bible dictionary. 

As followers of Jesus Christ, Christians can learn from the example set by Barnabas, who emphasized the importance of spreading the Gospel and embracing spiritual gifts.

Paul’s introduction into the Jewish Christian apostolic sphere in Jerusalem was made possible through the support of Barnabas upon Paul’s conversion. His acceptance enabled Paul to be welcomed into the faith.

Was Barnabas One of the Apostles?

The Bible’s book of Acts attests to the fact that Barnabas was truly recognized and ordained as an apostle by the early church. Although not one of the original apostles, alongside Paul, he was appointed by the Holy Spirit to carry the life-changing gospel around the world. 

This offers Christ-followers a tremendous example of obedience and consecration to the cause of sharing the Good News.

Barnabas and Paul were itinerant missionaries, sent out by Jesus to spread His message. Known as apostles, they are referred to as such in the Book of Acts, when the writer titles them as “the apostles Barnabas and Paul.” 

This serves as a powerful reminder that Christianity is a faith centered on evangelism and an unstoppable call to share the Gospel.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out,

Acts 14:14 (ESV)

The Bible does not offer insight into the death of Barnabas, however, tradition holds that he was martyred for his Christian faith, just like some of the other apostles. Reports indicate it was either stoning or burning to death in Salamis, Cyprus.

How Were Barnabas and Paul Connected?

Barnabas and Paul had a connection before the former introduced the latter to the Christian community. They likely knew each other due to their education under the renowned rabbi, Gamaliel. 

While Barnabas provided the initial introduction, it was Paul, with his passionate evangelism, who soon became the more recognizable and renowned figure in the Christian community.

Barnabas and Paul worked in tandem to form a strong foundation for the church in Antioch, a city that became the birthplace of Christianity. It was there that the Christ-followers first earned their title of ‘Christians.’

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Acts 11:25-26 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit chose Barnabas and Saul/Paul for a special mission in Acts 13:2, setting them apart for God’s work. Their roles expanded as they embarked on their calling and served the Lord.

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Acts:13:2 (ESV)

Prior to this, the Bible referred to Barnabas and Saul in that order, but something clearly shifted, making Paul’s name come before Barnabas’s. Christians would find this significant, as Paul is one of the most important figures in the Bible.

The word of God spread rapidly, and the disciples, Paul and Barnabas, took the good news to many places. Accompanied by John Mark, they journeyed from Seleucia to Cyprus, Salamis, and ultimately Paphos. Along the way, they shared the gospel and saw many people come to Christ.

After being expelled by the Jewish leaders for their mission to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, the apostles moved on to spread the message in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe before returning to Antioch. 

For devoted Christians, this was an inspirational example of the power of faith and sacrifice to bring God’s word to all people.

Amidst deep discord between apostles on whether Gentile believers should undergo circumcision, Paul and Barnabas ventured to Jerusalem to determine a resolution. As prominent figures of the early Christian church, their presence sparked debate and ultimately helped shape the Christian faith.

When the discussion was over and the Gentiles were saved, not by circumcision, but instead by the grace of Jesus, Paul, and Barnabas brought a hopeful and inspiring message to the people of Antioch. For Christians, the reminder that it is only through Jesus’ grace that we are saved is always a meaningful one. 

But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Acts 15:11 (ESV)

Paul and Barnabas experienced a heated conflict when deciding whether to take John Mark with them on their missionary journey; the Bible states they parted ways after John Mark had “deserted” them.

With a cousin in tow, Barnabas sailed for Cyprus, while Paul and Silas took to the road through Syria and Cilicia. 

This journey, steeped in spiritual significance, was part of God’s plan to bring the good news of Jesus to the ears of Christians worldwide.

And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,

Acts 15:39 (ESV)

In Galatians, Paul expressed his despair and disappointment in his close friend and fellow minister, Barnabas, saying, “And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” 

And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

Galatians 2:13 (ESV)

Upon reconciliation, the Apostle Paul offered these heartfelt, grace-filled words in his letter to the Colossians. As Christians, it is our duty to strive for peace and to show the same kind of forgiveness and grace that Paul showed.

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him),

Colossians 4:10 (ESV)

Though Paul and Barnabas had ceased to be ministry partners, their bond of faith in Christ remained strong. As brothers in the Lord, their relationship was sustained by their shared Christian beliefs.

5 Lessons Can We Learn from Barnabas in the Bible

Barnabas was an incredible example for today’s Christians, willingly giving up everything—wealth, respect, and worldly standing—for a life devoted to Jesus. What a powerful reminder of how we should be willing to put our faith in Him and trust that He will provide for our needs.

Less of Us for More of Him

As a Levite who owned possessions, he was faithful to the words of Christ, as stated in Matthew 19:21.  

“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Matthew 19:21 (ESV)

Share the Gospel

Barnabas, a devoted Christian, made a bold decision to sell his field and donate the funds to the apostles; however, his most significant contribution was his years of courageous missionary work. 

Traveling at great personal risk, he brought many to Jesus. His tremendous efforts were rewarded when he witnessed the success of his protégé, the infamous Paul, as he rose to renown in the ministry.

sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:37 (ESV)

Barnabas’ unwavering commitment to God’s work was remarkable, even when faced with adversity. After Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways amid a disagreement, Paul accused him of hypocrisy. Yet Barnabas persevered, shepherding others to faith and delivering extraordinary achievements for God’s Kingdom.

And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

Galatians 2:13 (ESV)

Barnabas: a true man of encouragement, generous with his life and resources for the sake of the church. He, alongside Paul and other Christian leaders, was instrumental in sharing the gospel, bringing many Jews and Gentiles to faith. His efforts are still celebrated today for being a powerful force for evangelism.

Through the courage of men like Barnabas, we have the incredible opportunity to know Jesus today. Let’s honor his legacy by sharing our faith with others, no matter how daunting the task may seem. 

By spreading God’s Good News near and far, we can continue what Barnabas started and ensure that Jesus’ message of love and grace will never be forgotten.

Love Through Disagreements

Paul and Barnabas’s relationship offers Christians an important lesson – that even godly, Spirit-filled believers, surrounded by the love of the Church and experiencing success in their ministry, can disagree and still remain devoted to each other. Through their story, we discover that unity is possible even in times of disagreement.

Though disagreements can be hard, even among God’s most faithful, they can be used to further His work. 

We see this in the story of two beloved brothers in Christ, who, after an argument, went their separate ways. Despite the disagreement, the missions of both men went on to double! 

This highlights how, despite our own brokenness, our imperfections and sins, God can use even our mistakes for His glory.

Strengthened by their common faith in God, Paul and Barnabas carried on with their mission, albeit no longer as a united pair. 

While they disagreed on personal matters and practical procedures, they stayed committed to their shared purpose of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. Their differences were set aside for the sake of what truly matters – the power of God’s word.

Barnabas stands as a exemplary mentor for Christians. His faith in Paul after his conversion was unmatched – when no one else trusted him, Barnabas was standing by his side. 

He gave Paul the opportunity to share the gospel in Antioch, and was also Paul’s travel companion on the very first missionary journey. Barnabas is a lasting figure of faith, support and guidance to believers.

Mentor Others

Barnabas was a model of Christ-like servanthood: willingly giving up his position to Paul in order to help support and nurture the next mentee, John Mark.

Barnabas effectively mentored both Paul and John Mark, prepping them for their ministries and guiding them toward fulfilling their destinies. 

Paul, in particular, ended up being more prominent than Barnabas and, by the close of their missionary journey, they were referred to as Paul and Barnabas – a testament to the impact of his mentoring.

And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Acts 15:2 (ESV)

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Be an Encourager

Life is filled with moments of struggle, difficulty, and discouragement; however, just like Barnabas, we can be an anchor of hope and encouragement to others. 

By the grace of God, we can be beacons pointing fellow Christians to Jesus and helping them grow in ministry, as others have supported our own spiritual journeys. Let’s join together to be a blessing in the lives of our brothers and sisters.

Barnabas was a man devoted to encouraging and exhorting others in faith. He was an encourager of the early church, a friend to Saul, and a promoter of peace and unity. 

Barnabas was an example of a disciple of faith living out the Great Commission and following the teachings of Jesus. His life was a testament to the power of faith and the strength of purpose. 

He taught us the importance of understanding, patience, and self-sacrifice. 

As we think on the legacy of Barnabas, may we strive to follow his example in our own lives and to be a blessing to all those around us. As it is written,

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” 

Hebrews 10:24

You may enjoy this video sermon by Grace Digital Network: Barnabas in the Bible – The Man Of God That People Called Zeus

Or one of these recommended resources on Barnabas in the Bible for further study:

Barnabas: A good man, full of faith by Robert Dale

Barnabas, Man for Others (Alive in the Word) by Jerome Kodell OSB

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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Nickson Berucan

Monday 15th of January 2024

may the Lord Lord continue to raise more Barnabas among us christians today for his ministry

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