The Word for the World

Confidence in the Word

Bible Focus


'The Apostle Barnabas' - icon from the collection of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, Mass (USA) For our fourth Bible Focus we consider the life and work of one of the early Christians, the apostle Barnabas. The name 'Barnabas' means son of encouragement or son of comfort), and was given by the apostles to a certain Joseph, a Cypriot levite and prominent member of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36). Luke tells us that Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith (Acts 11:24). Apart from the reference in Acts 4, the principal references to Barnabas are to be found in Acts 11-15. In addition, the apostle Paul makes mention of him in 1 Corinthians 9:6 and Galatians 2:11-13.

Although Barnabas is not perhaps to be reckoned among the greatest heroes of the Bible, he nevertheless played an important part in the development of the early Church, by ensuring Saul's acceptance by the Jerusalem church (Acts 9:26-28) and subsequently rescuing him from obscurity in Tarsus to minister in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26).

Barnabas is chiefly remembered as Saul's (later Paul) principal companion on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-28) and for the part he played, together with Paul, both during the Council of the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12), and afterwards (Acts 15:22-31). His importance in the eyes of the early Church is confirmed by the fact that both he and Paul are referred to as apostles in Acts 14:4 and 14:14 (NIV). Barnabas is also remembered for his unfortunate dispute with Paul (Acts 15:36-39), and his willingness to submit to peer pressure over the question of table-fellowship with Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11-13). However, 1 Corinthians 9:6 offers a hint of a possible reconciliation with Paul and the restoration of the former partnership.

Questions to Help You Focus on Barnabas

We invite you to answer the following questions. Although this Focus is rather more ambitious than the previous three, your answers will provide you with a helpful survey of the main episodes in Barnabas' life and work. All the answers can be found in the passages from of Scripture to which we refer. Where we have referred to other scriptures, this is either to confirm or to amplify what is said in a certain verse, or verses.

  1. Acts 4:32-37. What prompted the apostles to give Joseph the "nickname" Barnabas? Could this name have been applied equally well to the other believers? What was the reason for their unusual acts of generosity?

  2. Acts 9:26-30. Why was it necessary for Barnabas to act as Saul's advocate when he tried to join the Jerusalem church? How did Barnabas convince the apostles of Saul's sincerity and what was the outcome?

  3. Acts 11:19-26. How did Barnabas respond to the unprecedented situation he encountered at Antioch of Syria? Consider the importance for the subsequent history of the Christian Church of his decision to involve Saul in the developing Gentile mission.

  4. Acts 13:1-2. What was the special work for which Barnabas and Saul were dedicated by the church at Antioch in response to the Holy Spirit? What does this say to you about the way in which appointments should be made in the Church today?

  5. Acts 13:4-14:28. Trace the progress of Barnabas and Saul's missionary journey.

    (As indicated on the map below, this journey is often referred to as 'Paul's First Missionary Journey'. For a reason you will discover in question 7, it was the only one undertaken jointly by Barnabas and Paul.)

    Barnabas and Paul's Missionary Journey

    (The above map is reproduced by kind permission of Wayne Blank, author of the Daily Bible Study website, which may be accessed via our Links to Other Websites.)

    Some particular things we would encourage you to focus upon in the account of the journey are:

    1. To whom was Barnabas and Saul's preaching at first directed (13:16)?
    2. What was the essence of their message (13:38-41)?
    3. What did the apostles encourage their followers to do (13:43)? Are you doing the same?
    4. What prompted the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia to reject the gospel, but the Gentiles to receive it gladly (13:45-48)?
    5. How did the Jew's rejection of the gospel pave the way for the expansion of the apostles' ministry (13:49-52, 14:1-7, and 14:19-20)?
    6. How did Barnabas and Paul respond to the adulation of the people of Lystra, and how did they turn it into an opportunity for preaching (14:8-18)?
    7. How did Paul and Barnabas strengthen the believers during their return journey from Derbe to Antioch of Pisidia (14:22-23)? Consider both the practical as well as the spiritual aspects. What do their activities say to you about the role of itinerant ministers in our own day?

    (For further reflection we would suggest that you read Romans 10 and 11. In these two chapters Paul explains how God includes both Jews and Gentiles alike in his great scheme of redemption.)

  6. Acts 15:36-41. What gave rise to the dispute between Paul and Barnabas, and what was its outcome? What evidence does Scripture offer of a subsequent reconciliation between the two apostles (1 Corinthians 9:6) and of John Mark's later reinstatement to service with Paul (Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24)?

  7. Galatians 2:11-21. A gentle character may easily do the wrong thing for the sake of apparent peace (J Stafford Wright). Do you consider this assessment of Barnabas to be justified in the light of his conduct over the matter of meals with Gentile converts at Antioch, considering the vital principle that was at stake?

  8. Personal Applications
    1. It is said of Barnabas that he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith (Acts 11:24). Can this also be said of you?

    2. Having focussed on Barnabas' career as an encourager, consider ways in which you could become a son of encouragement (or daughter of encouragement) in your various spheres of influence (e.g. church, home, place of work or study, leisure pursuits.)

(Visitors from Help with Daily Bible Reading return to Main Text)

If you have found this Bible Focus profitable, you may wish to probe more deeply into the situation which Barnabas, Paul, and the other apostles were faced with, by reviewing the account of the Council of the Church in Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-35. Particular points worth reflecting upon are:
  • The dispute which gave rise to the need for the meeting (verses 2 and 4-5).
  • The arguments advanced by the apostle Peter for accepting the Gentiles into the Church solely on the basis of their faith in Christ (verses 7-11).

    (Peter's argument was based on his earlier experience at the house of Cornelius and the remarkable events which led up to it, as recorded in Acts 10. He had already related these events in order to silence his critics in Jerusalem some time earlier (Acts 11:1-18).)

  • The part played by Barnabas and Paul in the debate (verse 12).
  • The apostle James' sagacious adjudication, based on the application of two ancient prophecies to the situation that had arisen, and the mediate solution proposed, which acknowledged both the gospel of grace and the force of tradition (verses 13-21).

    (James' use of Scripture at this point offers a very good reason for knowing the Scriptures thoroughly. For, unless we do so we shall be unable to recognise God's hand in contemporary events, as James was able to.)

  • The letter to the church at Antioch (verses 23-29) in which Barnabas and Paul are commended for their bravery in the work of the gospel (verse 26); the careful provision for its safe delivery (verse 22); its joyful reception (verses 30-34).

A General Application
Consider the implications of the Jerusalem Council's decision for the evangelisation of ethnic minorities in your own town or region.

We hope this Bible Focus has helped you to appreciate Barnabas' strength of character and the way in which God used him to build-up the Church. Yet, at the same time, the Bible does not hesitate to expose his weaknesses. Indeed, it is characteristic of the Scriptures to present its heroes - even the greatest, such as Elijah - 'warts and all', as a salutary reminder to us that they were as human as we are (James 5:17). Even so, God graciously used them in his service, as he has countless millions of his servants down the years.

The Bible's absolute honesty in portraying its characters as real people offers yet another reason for placing our every Confidence in the Word.

In question 5 (ii) of this Focus we touched on the key element of the apostles' preaching - the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus (Acts 13:38-39). In our fifth Focus we build on this by examining the critical events which lie at The Heart of the Gospel.

Proceed to:
The Heart of the Gospel
Return to:
Site Map
Top of Page