Tag Archives: Acts

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (part 1)

Encourager and Apostle of the Church

Joses is a unique individual. This Levite is the first Christian outside of the twelve apostles to be named in the book of Acts (4:36).[1] [2] He was so well-known and well-loved by the twelve that they gave him the nickname “Barnabas,” which means “son of exhortation.”[3] This nickname stuck, and it is the only name by which he is mentioned throughout the rest of the Bible.

Barnabas sold some land to make sure that the poor Christians in Jerusalem had enough to eat, and he placed it in the care of the apostles. Other people did similar things, but Barnabas is the one who is singled out in the history of the early church, because he plays a much bigger role later on. But from this, we can see that Barnabas truly cared for his brethren in Christ. He wasn’t concerned about building wealth for himself, nor was he worried about owning a lot of land. He was more interested in “how can I help others.” He was a helper and an encourager. This made him stand out in the eyes of the apostles.

Barnabas next appears some years later,[4] and still showing these same qualities. Saul of Tarsus, the former Christian-killer, had seen the light and obeyed Christ, but he had a very difficult time convincing the church of that. In fact, the Christians in Jerusalem wanted nothing to do with him—they thought he was lying, attempting to trick them so that he could drag them all into prison (Acts 9:26). But while the whole church at Jerusalem rejected Saul, Barnabas stood up for him. Barnabas met with Saul and heard his side of the story. Then he arranged a meeting with the apostles, where he—Barnabas—told them that Saul had seen Jesus in the road, and that the Lord had spoken to him, and that he had preached boldly in Damascus. Barnabas didn’t just arrange this meeting, he put his entire reputation on the line by standing up for Saul of Tarsus. And it was because of the support of Barnabas that Saul became a welcome member there (Acts 9:27-28).

Some time soon thereafter, Saul’s life was threatened, so the brethren sent him back to his home of Tarsus. But then came momentous news, that the Gentiles were now being accepted by God into His church! Cornelius and his family had been converted, and then several Christians in Antioch began converting large numbers of Gentiles. It is here that Barnabas again appears.

The church in Jerusalem heard this wonderful news and sent Barnabas to Antioch. The Greek word used in Acts 11:22 for “sent forth” is the verb form of “apostle.” Barnabas was, at this point, an apostle of the church in Jerusalem, sent to see what was happening in Antioch. When he arrived, he was overjoyed and served as an encourager to them, bringing many people to the Lord. But Barnabas had other plans as well. He remembered a young man named Saul who was a bold preacher, and who had to be sent back home to Tarsus to keep him safe. Barnabas went to Tarsus and found his friend. Saul had not lost his zeal for the Lord and they both returned to Antioch, where they worshiped with the church for a whole year (Acts 11:23-26).

Around that time, a prophet came to Antioch, telling them about a great famine that was going to come upon Judea. The Christians in Antioch all pitched in to aid their brethren, and when it came time to choose two men that they trusted enough to send to Jerusalem with all that money, it was Barnabas and Saul. The word “sent” in Acts 11:30 is the verb form of “apostle.” Barnabas went from being an apostle of the church in Jerusalem—sent to Antioch—to being an apostle of the church in Antioch—sent to Jerusalem. And when their mission was completed, they went back to Antioch (Acts 12:25-13:1). Barnabas was a man who made sure he saw his mission through to the end, and didn’t shirk in the face of difficulty.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] The church did not come into existence until the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. There were disciples of Jesus mentioned by name in Acts 1, but at that point, there was no church to be a part of.

[2] A very few ancient Greek manuscripts have “Joses Barnabas” instead of “Joseph Barsabas” in Acts 1:23, and from that, some have suggested that Barnabas was one of the two men considered to take Judas’ place as an apostle. The evidence is against this. First, the significant majority of manuscripts do not say “Joses Barnabas.” Second, the man in Acts 1:23 is called “Justus,” and that name is never used to describe the man we know as Barnabas. Third, when Barnabas appears on the scene in Acts 4:36, Luke introduces him as someone that has not yet appeared in the book (giving name, surname, birthplace, Jewish ancestry, etc…). These considerations eliminate the idea that Barnabas was the one who wasn’t chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.

[3] KJV says “son of consolation,” Acts 4:36.

[4] Estimates range from just a few months to nearly 10 years, depending on which commentary you read.

The Giving Attitude

Shortly after the church was established, needs arose among the Christians in Jerusalem. Many people came from far and near on the Day of Pentecost to worship God, and after being converted to Christ, they stayed in the city. This created what could have become a very large problem. These people had no homes or jobs, so they were dependent on the kindness of those Christians who were natives of Jerusalem. The attitude of many in the church at that time was amazing! They gave no thought to selling whatever extra things they had so that these foreigners could live there in Jerusalem and continue to be taught by the apostles (Acts 2:42; 4:32-35). This was not anything that was forced upon them. It was what they wanted to do from their heart!

Unfortunately, as many times the case is, egos begin to get involved. There were some that wanted the praise of men (like the Pharisees – Matthew 23:5). Ananias, a Christian man from Jerusalem, along with his wife Sapphira, got caught up in this desire. They saw many other Christians selling their lands and other possessions and giving the money to the apostles. They may have even seen praise given to these people (like Barnabas – Acts 4:36-37). In addition to the praise, they wanted to reap the financial benefits that came with selling their land (Acts 5:1).

When Ananias brought the money to Peter, he surely expected to be praised for his generosity. He received nothing of the sort. Peter chastised him because he attempted not only to lie, but to lie to the Holy Spirit and to God! Peter clearly points out that there was no reason to lie about how much money they received for the land. Ananias never had to sell the land in the first place, and when he did, he did not have to give the money to the apostles (Acts 5:4). For his wrong attitude in giving, he was struck dead, as was his wife later when she repeated the same lie. Their sin was not keeping back part of the money. Their sin was lying about it. This shows that they were not doing it to help others, but to help themselves. This is exactly what is condemned by Christ during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1).

The lesson for Christians today is that attitude matters in giving (2 Cor. 9:7). The Christians in Jerusalem who sold their land and brought the money to the apostles were doing it out of love and kindness towards their Christian family. They did not think twice about giving to help these fellow-Christians, and in fact they shared everything (Acts 4:32). Ananias and Sapphira, had they given the money with the right motives, would not have been killed. Instead, they tried to lie and deceive in order to receive praise. What was the difference between the two? The attitude.

Christians should always look for ways to help people, not because they “have to” but because they “want to.” Paul explains that unless helping is done out of love, it profits one nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). This does not mean that Christians should not give if they do not “feel like it.” It means that the Christian who is not doing such out of love needs an attitude adjustment. The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, exhorted, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all, especially those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). May all follow the example of Barnabas and other Christians in Jerusalem by doing all they can to help out their Christian brethren from a spirit of love and not one that seeks for praise of men.

-Bradley Cobb

Bible Q&A – Did Paul Receive the Holy Spirit by the Laying on of Hands?

Question: Ananias was sent to Damascus in Acts 9 to lay hands on Saul of Tarsus (later the Apostle Paul).  One of the reasons he came was so that Saul could “receive the Holy Spirit.”  So, did Saul receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands?–L.F.

There are several opinions from scholars as to what this means. Some insist that it is the literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit being given to Saul of Tarsus—prior to baptism—by Ananias laying hands on him. Others say basically the same thing, except they say it was the gift of miracles being given to Saul prior to his baptism by Ananias laying hands on him.

When Luke uses the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” or “full of the Holy Spirit,” miracles (usually inspiration) are always under consideration. Examine them for yourself: John the Immerser (Luke 1:15), John’s mother, Elisabeth (Luke 1:41-45), John’s father, Zacharias (Luke 1:67-79), the apostles (Acts 2:4), the apostles again (Acts 4:31), Stephen (Acts 6:5, 7:55-56), Barnabas (Acts 11:22-24), Paul (Acts 13:9-11), and the Iconium disciples (Acts 13:52-14:1).

Understanding this, let’s now look at the evidence to come to a rational, biblical conclusion to this potential conundrum.

First, Jesus said that the purpose of Ananias’ laying hands on Saul was so he would receive his sight. That was seen in verse 12 of this same chapter (Acts 9). There was no indication in Jesus’ words that Ananias was going to give Saul the Holy Spirit.

Second, the only result of this event shown in the Bible is that Saul received his sight. After he put his hands on Saul, the Bible only records that Saul received his sight. It says nothing about him receiving the Holy Spirit. If we look at Acts 22, where Saul (who is also called Paul) is telling about this very event, we see that he doesn’t even mention the Holy Spirit at all—but he does mention receiving his sight again (Acts 22:12-13).

Third, the ability to pass on the Holy Spirit was only available to the apostles. This is shown in chapter 8, verses 14-18. Ananias was not an apostle, and so—unless he is classed as an apostle—the evidence is against his being able to pass on this gift.

Fourth, Saul was lost in his sins when Ananias laid his hands on him, and was not a candidate to receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not been baptized. This principle is seen in Acts 8:15-16. Acts 22:12-16 shows that he was still lost in sins after Ananias laid his hands on him. The Holy Spirit was promised only to those who were the obedient servants of God (Acts 2:17-18, 5:32).[1]

Fifth, Paul makes it very clear throughout his life that he did not receive his apostleship from any man. Miracles (the gift of the Holy Spirit) and the ability to pass them on were “the signs of an apostle” (II Corinthians 12:12). Paul states that he was “an apostle—not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1). All of the apostles received their miraculous ability direct from heaven (Acts 2:1-4, 4:29-31). Paul would be no different.

Sixth, we see no record of Saul performing miracles until years later. The first time we read of Saul (now called Paul) doing any miracle is in Acts 13:9-11. This is the first time where Paul is said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Now, this does not mean that Paul was unable to perform miracles prior to Acts 13, but it is supportive evidence that he did not receive the Holy Spirit when Ananias laid hands on him. There is no evidence that Saul was able to work miracles before that event.

Seventh, it took the testimony of Barnabas to convince the apostles that Saul was really a disciple of Jesus Christ. You might ask What does that have to do with anything? If Saul of Tarsus had the miraculous abilities given by the Holy Spirit at this point, it would have been very simple for him to prove to the apostles and other disciples that he was a Christian. But instead, it took Barnabas speaking on his behalf. Though not conclusive, this evidence seems to indicate that at this point Saul did not have the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit.

Since the evidence implies that Saul did not receive the Holy Spirit when Ananias laid hands on him, what exactly did he mean when he told Saul “Jesus…has sent me so that you might…be filled with the Holy Spirit”?

Ananias’ mission was to heal and baptize Saul—to bring him into the family of God and Christ. As we’ve seen from other passages in Acts (2:17-18, 5:32), the Holy Spirit was only given to those who were servants of God, and who obey Him. Ananias came to help Saul become spiritually acceptable before God, and thus also help him become a candidate for the reception of the Holy Spirit. It was preparatory work.

[1] The example of Cornelius, who was a faithful servant of God under the Patriarchal Law, will be dealt with in the notes on chapters ten and eleven.

[NOTE: the answer given above is taken from our upcoming book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts]

-Bradley S. Cobb

Christians, Be More Dedicated!

Many today seem to want to “get by” with doing as little as possible. It is this way in every facet of life. It can be seen at jobs, in families, and unfortunately in the church as well. Many¾perhaps most¾today do not have the dedication that is needed to make the church grow. There are numerous examples of dedication in the New Testament. The wise men traveled a significant distance to come and worship Jesus (Matthew 2:1-2, 7, 16). The Bereans were so dedicated to knowing the truth, they would not even take the apostle Paul’s word without checking in the Scriptures first (Acts 17:10-12). These were not even Christians!   Should not Christians, who know the truth, be even more dedicated than those in Berea?

The eunuch of Ethiopia was a man of true dedication (Acts 8:26-39). First, he traveled a significant distance (close to 900 miles round-trip) for the express purpose of worshipping God. Yet, there are those in the church who find it difficult to drive a short distance to gather with the saints to worship. For the eunuch, this journey would have taken weeks. This was a man who would not let an inconvenience stop him from worshipping God. Do Christians today look for excuses not to “go to church” (Hebrews 11:25)? This man did not see it as an obligation to worship God. This was his life. Can Christians say the same thing about their lives, or has their worship become a nothing more than a weekly obligation?

The eunuch was not only dedicated in traveling to worship, but he was also dedicated to studying the Word of God. On his way back home, he was still studying the scriptures (Acts 8:27-28). Can most Christians say after worshipping God on a Sunday morning that they are concentrating on God’s Word? This man of Ethiopia realized the importance of studying God’s Word. He could have been doing anything on the trip back to Ethiopia, but he showed by his example that his time was best used in studying God’s Word. Should not everyone follow that example?

The eunuch was also a man of great responsibility. He was in charge of all the treasure of an entire nation. This responsibility was secondary compared to his responsibility to God. Many today put their jobs ahead of God. Some will take a job, knowing that it will keep them from assembling with the church. Even in Jesus’ time, people rejected Him in favor of other “responsibilities” (Matthew 8:20-21). How many Christians have more “responsibilities” than the Eunuch? Yet he knew what was more important.

The eunuch was also dedicated to the truth. He pondered the scriptures that he did not understand, and he was ready to learn the truth about them (Acts 8:30-34). He was willing to admit that there were parts of the scripture that he did not understand. However, he did not say that it could not be understood. Some today throw up their hands at certain sections of Scripture, assuming that it there is no way of comprehending it. The eunuch was willing to ask someone who was more knowledgeable what the Scripture meant. He was so dedicated to the truth that he was not content until he understood it.

Finally, the eunuch was dedicated to obeying God. As evidenced by his traveling a long distance to worship and his studying on the way, the eunuch knew the importance of obeying God. He was dedicated to serving the Lord. The eunuch did not know about Jesus until Philip taught him. It is evident, however, that the eunuch believed. Because of his dedication to obeying God, he was baptized in order to become a Christian and be right with God. One might notice that the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. The reason for his overwhelming happiness was because he knew he was obeying God.

The eunuch never tried to just “get by” in his service to God. May every Christian take a long, hard look at themselves, comparing themselves to this example of dedication preserved for us by the Holy Spirit.

-Bradley Cobb