Tag Archives: Barnabas

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (Part 5)

The biblical record about Barnabas has been covered in the previous four posts.  In today’s post, we present to you what tradition says happened to Barnabas after he and Paul separated.


Tertullian, who lived from AD 155 to 240, stated that Barnabas was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.[1] Hippolytus of Rome (AD 170-235), as well as Clement of Alexandria, states that Barnabas was one of the seventy disciples[2] sent out by Jesus Christ in Luke 10:1-24.[3] The Clementine Recognitions (written approximately AD 200-400) identify Barnabas as Matthias, and even has him preaching about Jesus in Rome before the crucifixion.[4]

There is also a writing called “The Epistle of Barnabas,” which Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) believed was written by Barnabas. This writing was held in such high regard in some circles that it was regarded as part of the inspired word of God by Clement of Alexandria and Origen, both of whom quoted it as authoritative. It was also included in Codex Sinaiticus (a 4th-Century New Testament collection) and the “Jerusalem Codex” (11th-century), but the early church historian Eusebius objected to its inspiration. The Epistle refers to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem as a past event, meaning it cannot be dated any earlier than AD 70.[5] Miracles in the church—including inspiration—ended by the time Jerusalem was destroyed.[6] Therefore, the “Epistle of Barnabas” cannot be inspired by God and deserves no place in the Bible. It is also doubtful that it was written by Barnabas at all.[7]

According to early church tradition, Barnabas was in Cyprus, teaching boldly in a synagogue when Jews from Syria and Salamis fell on him, dragged him out of the synagogue, tortured him, and then stoned him to death. After this, John Mark buried him and went to tell Paul and Peter.[8] This was said to take place in AD 61. Another writing, called the “Acts of Barnabas,” claims that his death came when a noose was placed around his neck and he was dragged by it until his tormentors set fire to him.[9]

The History of the Cyprus Church states that Barnabas was buried with a copy of Matthew’s gospel.[10]

About 400 years after the death of Barnabas, there was a writing circulating with the name “The Gospel of Barnabas,” which is only known only because it was condemned as heresy[11] (no copies of it are known to exist today). Barnabas’ name was later blasphemed by Muslims who produced a writing called “The Gospel of Barnabas” which said Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, but just a prophet who wasn’t really crucified, and mentioned Mohammad by name.[12]

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] Conybeare and Howson argue for this interpretation as well.

[2] Hippolytus lists seventy men by name, claiming they are the seventy disciples sent by the Lord. However, his list includes at least one Gentile (Luke), as well as another man who was not converted to Christ until after Paul’s conversion (Philemon). As such, while the list proves to be interesting, it simply is not accurate.

[3] The seventy were “sent forth,” which is the verb form of “apostle.” If Barnabas were truly among that number, then that would add yet another way in which he was an apostle.

[4] The Clementine Recognitions is a writing which claims to be from Clement of Rome (died approximately AD 101), describing how Clement (who is also identified in the story as the cousin of Caesar) saved Barnabas from an angry mob, and how Barnabas later introduced him to Peter in Caesarea. It is an interesting story, but it contains several statements that contradict the biblical record, such as Zacchaeus being a disciple of Peter and Peter being required by James (brother of the Lord) to send transcripts of all of his sermons and teachings back to Jerusalem for James to review. Most scholars date it no earlier than AD 240, over a hundred years after Clement of Rome died.

[5] Ed Stevens, in his unpublished thesis, “Redating the Epistle of Barnabas,” argues that the destruction referenced in this epistle is the one accomplished by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and thus gives a pre-AD 70 date to this uninspired letter.

[6] For a more detailed explanation, along with the biblical proofs for this statement, see the appendix in this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.

[7] The general consensus of modern scholars and historians is that the “Epistle of Barnabas” was written—at the very earliest—near the end of the first century, at least 20 years after the New Testament was completed.

[8] Paul mentions Mark being with him in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24; Peter mentions Mark’s presence in 1 Peter 5:13.

[9] As one can see by these two contradictory reports of the death of Barnabas, just because something is “traditionally believed,” does not mean it is necessarily true. Another example is the death of Peter. Tradition holds that he was crucified upside-down, but the writing that records that tradition also says that a talking cross that was as tall as the clouds came out of Jesus’ tomb. It makes for a nice story, and there may be truth to the manner of Peter’s death, but it is impossible to state it with any certainty.

[10] Some modern guidebooks say that this copy of Matthew’s gospel was written in Barnabas’ own handwriting. They do not say, however, how that conclusion was reached. See “The Search for the Twelve Apostles” by William Steuart McBirnie, Ph.D., page 261.

[11] The Decretum Gelasianum lists this “Gospel of Barnabas” as apocryphal and condemns it.

[12] This work is often referenced by Muslims as evidence of their beliefs and teachings about Jesus. The only manuscripts known to exist are in Spanish and Italian, and neither one is older than the 1500s. In it, Barnabas is one of the twelve apostles, clearly contradicting the Scripture.

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (Part 4)

Stumbling and Separating

While they were in Antioch, Peter came up to visit, and was in full fellowship with the Christians there—both Jew and Gentile. Barnabas and Paul were spending time with them as well, but then trouble arose. Some Jews from Jerusalem came up, and Peter was afraid of what they would think and say if they saw him eating with Gentiles—regardless of the fact that they were Christians—so he got up and ignored them. The other Jews that were there saw Peter leave the company of the Gentiles, and so they followed suit.[1] This mass exodus from showing fellowship with the Gentiles was so pervasive and persuasive that even Barnabas fell prey to it. He joined Peter—a man who had been his friend for years—and avoided eating with the Gentiles. Paul was shocked and appalled at the hypocrisy of these Jewish Christians—but then he adds the words “even Barnabas.”[2] The hypocrisy was so overwhelming that it even got Barnabas—the last person Paul ever expected to turn away from the Gentiles.

How horrible must Barnabas have felt when he listened to his protégé put Peter in his place, realizing that those words also condemned him. Barnabas humbly repented of his hypocrisy, and no doubt apologized to the Gentile Christians for getting caught up in peer pressure. Barnabas even apologized to Paul, and all was forgiven.

Some time after that event, Barnabas was approached by Paul with an idea: “Let’s go visit our brethren in every city where we’ve preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.”[3] Barnabas was open to the idea, but wanted to bring John Mark with them. Paul was very insistent that John Mark had abandoned them before, and that he didn’t want such a person accompanying them.

Luke says “the contention was so sharp between them that they departed asunder from one another.”[4] Barnabas tried to reason with Paul, but Paul was hard-headed in this matter. You can imagine the argument.

Paul: Barnabas, no! John Mark cannot be trusted. I will have nothing to do with him.

Barnabas: Paul, that’s exactly what the Christians in Jerusalem said about you. I stood up for you then, and I’m standing up for John Mark now. Give him another chance.

Paul: No, I’m not going to risk being abandoned by him again.

Barnabas was willing to give John Mark another chance, but Paul wasn’t. As a result, the two men who had been so closely linked for years divided. Barnabas was disappointed in Paul’s decision, but that didn’t mean he didn’t still love him. Barnabas and Paul were still in full fellowship with each other, even though they were no longer working together. Barnabas takes John Mark with him, and they sail off to his home country of Cyprus,[5] where they work with the churches that Barnabas had helped plant years earlier.[6] But because Barnabas insisted on giving John Mark another opportunity to prove himself, he basically disappears from the rest of the biblical record.

Paul does bring his name up one last time in his letter to the Corinthians, years later, showing that (1) Barnabas was still very well-known and well-respected throughout the churches, (2) that he and Paul were still friends and fellow-workers in the kingdom, and (3) that Barnabas was seen as a person in the church whose actions and teachings could be trusted. Paul appeals to the example of the apostles, of the brothers of the Lord (James and Jude among them), and then of Barnabas. This tells us that Paul still thought highly of the man who defended him, who sought him out, and who worked side-by-side with him for years.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] For at least some of them—perhaps even most of them—this was done because they were following the example of an apostle of Jesus Christ, and not out of an animosity towards the Gentiles.

[2] Galatians 2:13, ASV.

[3] Acts 15:36.

[4] Acts 15:39.

[5] See Acts 4:36, 15:39.

[6] See Acts 13:4-13, 15:39.

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (Part 3)

Apostle of the Church—in front of the Apostles

Barnabas did not shy away from debate. There were men who came from Judea to Antioch claiming that unless these Gentile converts were circumcised and kept the Law of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.[1] It was Barnabas, as well as Paul, who stood up to them: Luke doesn’t mention anyone else. This was something that shook the church at Antioch greatly, something which Barnabas and Paul could not sit idly by and allow to happen. Barnabas stood up, as did Paul, and there was a very heated argument and debate over the matter. It is most likely that this debate took place in the assembly of the saints on the Lord’s Day, since “the brethren” were present when it happened.

These troubling teachers from Judea suggested that the matter could be solved by going to Jerusalem and letting the apostles and elders make the determination.[2] To this, Barnabas and Paul agreed, and the church at Antioch sent them to Jerusalem.[3] Barnabas was again an apostle of the church at Antioch, as was Paul. On their way to Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul took their time and stopped at several cities, proclaiming the salvation of the Gentiles—the same thing they were going to Jerusalem to prove—and caused happiness to flow throughout the church in those places.[4]

Arriving in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed back with open arms. Barnabas was well-known and well-loved by the apostles, and was remembered fondly by the members in that city for his good deeds and work for the Lord. It was here in Jerusalem that Barnabas brought money from the sale of his land to aid hungry Christians. It was here in Jerusalem that Barnabas proclaimed their biggest persecutor had been converted. It was here in Jerusalem that Barnabas brought a sizable gift from the church in Antioch to aid with the famine relief. When Barnabas came, it always seemed to be an uplifting event—and this time was no different.

Speaking before the whole church in Jerusalem, along with the apostles and elders, Barnabas and Paul both rehearsed all the things that God had done with them, sending them on a missionary journey, blessing their efforts to bring the Gentiles to Christ, and confirming their message with miracles. Some of the Pharisees among the church opposed them, and there was much debate again. At that point, Peter stood up and reminded them of his experience with Cornelius, how that Gentile man received the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit. The not-so-subtle message was, “If you condemn Barnabas and Paul for not circumcising Gentiles who become Christians, then you’re also condemning me, and condemning God for accepting the Gentiles.”

This statement of Peter silenced the crowd, and they all began to listen to Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas is listed first in Acts 15:12 because he had a much greater reputation and influence with the Christians in Jerusalem; he probably did most of the talking as well. He commanded the attention of the multitude, and told them how God Himself verified that He accepted their ministry to the Gentiles—without circumcision—permitting them to perform miracles and wonders.[5]

After hearing their testimony, James (the brother of the Lord) stated they were going to write a letter expressing the Holy Spirit’s decision (Acts 15:28), and send it with Barnabas and Paul. But they also were going to send two of their own with them, Judas Barsabas, and Silas[6] as representatives of their congregation. The letter, given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, places Barnabas’s name first. Even at this point in time, after their first missionary journey, Barnabas was still more influential and well-known throughout the churches than Paul was. It was at this time that James, Peter, and John publicly gave Barnabas and Paul the “right hands of fellowship,”[7] ending the debate on whether Gentiles could be accepted into the church as Gentiles.

Barnabas and Paul, along with Silas and Judas, went to Antioch, called the whole church together and presented the letter to them. Everyone was very pleased and comforted by it. So for a long time, Barnabas and Paul worked with the church in Antioch.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] Acts 15:1

[2] One has to wonder if Paul considered himself one of the official “apostles” at this point, because if he did, he could easily have stated, “I am an apostle,” and settled the matter right then and there. It is possible that Paul recognized his reputation as a turncoat from Judaism, and decided it would be more judicious to allow the other apostles to speak on the matter—even though they would say the same thing that he did.

[3] Acts 15:3. The KJV says “brought on their way by the church,” which seems to indicate that the church in Antioch took care of their travel expenses to Jerusalem.

[4] Acts 15:3.

[5] When God permitted someone to perform miracles, it was a confirmation of the message that was being preached. Since Barnabas and Paul were able to perform miracles, it showed that God approved of their message. See Mark 16:20. For more information on this subject, see this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.

[6] These two men will be discussed in more detail later in this book.

[7] Galatians 2:9. There is some debate among commentators about the timeline and where this passage fits in, but there shouldn’t be. This harmonizes perfectly with what was taking place in Acts 15.

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (Part 2)

Apostle of the Holy Spirit

In Antioch, a group of prophets (including Barnabas) were serving God and fasting, the Holy Spirit called Barnabas (and Saul) for a specific work, to act as a missionary throughout Asia Minor. Barnabas, along with Saul, brought his nephew John Mark along on the journey. Barnabas had gone from being an apostle of the church at Jerusalem and of the church at Antioch to being an apostle of the Holy Spirit.[1] Their first stop of note was when Barnabas (and Saul) were called by Sergius Paulus, desiring to hear the word of God. It is here that Barnabas shows another trait: humility. A sorcerer named Elymas tried to keep Sergius Paulus from obeying the gospel. Barnabas could have taken the lead and put him in his place, but he didn’t, because Saul (now going by the name of Paul) took care of it.[2] Barnabas had the background—loved and respected by the apostles. Barnabas had the prominence—an apostle of two different congregations, and listed first among the prophets in Antioch. But he knew that Paul was destined for great things in the work of the church. He had told this to the apostles in Jerusalem, and he didn’t stand in Paul’s way. Instead, Barnabas humbly let Paul take the spotlight. By the end of this event, it was no longer “Barnabas and Saul,” but “Paul and his company.”[3] John Mark, for some unknown reason, went home at this point.

Barnabas continued to be an encourager, certainly to Paul, but also to the people they met on their journey. Acts 13:43 shows Barnabas and Paul encouraging Jews and religious proselytes to follow the grace of God. But at the same time, Barnabas also stood up to those who would hinder others from obeying the gospel. When the Jews stirred up people and spoke against the message of Christ, Barnabas, along with Paul, expressed the rejection of the Jews and the acceptance of the Gentiles. The persecution continued, however, and Barnabas and Paul were thrown out of the city.

In Iconium, Barnabas preached the gospel, and the Jews were divided. Some of them tried to stone Barnabas, but he was able to escape the city with Paul.[4] The pair went to Lystra, where Barnabas and Paul both preached. After Paul healed a man, the people all began to cry out that Barnabas and Paul were gods coming to earth in the form of men.[5] It’s interesting that they called Barnabas “Zeus,”[6] since Zeus is the most powerful Greek god. In carvings and reliefs, Zeus is always pictured as being very muscular and tall. It is possible that Barnabas was an imposing figure,[7] while Paul wasn’t as much. Paul was the main speaker, and so they called him “Hermes.”[8]

The priest of Zeus tried to offer a sacrifice to them, and the people were joining in, but Barnabas (along with Paul) ran back and forth telling them to stop. He tore his clothes, pleading with the people, “Why are you doing these things? We are men, just like you!” And he pleaded with them to turn away from the worship of false gods and to turn to the one true God of heaven. It took all that Barnabas and Paul had to keep them from offering that sacrifice. And once that catastrophe was averted, other Jews came in and stoned Paul, dragging him outside of the city, and leaving him for dead. But the next day, Barnabas and his beaten and bloodied friend went to Derbe and preached.[9]

From that point, Barnabas and Paul made their way back to Antioch, stopping at the churches they planted and encouraging the members. When they made it to Antioch, their mission was “fulfilled” (Acts 14:26) and they reported to the whole church all the things that had happened.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] The message given directly by the Holy Spirit originated with Jesus Christ (John 16:12-15), and thus it is also accurate to say that during this missionary journey, Barnabas was an apostle of Jesus Christ. That does not mean that he was one of the twelve apostles, or that he was able to pass on miraculous gifts; it simply means that he was one sent on a mission by Jesus Christ Himself.

[2] Acts 13:6-13

[3] Acts 13:13

[4] Acts 14:1-6

[5] “The Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C. AD 17) (Metamorphoses VIII, 626ff) records the ancient myth concerning a visit of Zeus and Hermes to the neighboring region of Phrygia, disguised as mortals. All turned them away except one old couple, Philemon and Baucis, on the Lycanonian border. Later a flood came in judgment and drowned all except this couple” (Kent, pp. 116-117, cited by Mark Dunagan in his notes on Acts 14:12).

[6] KJV renders it “Jupiter,” but the Greek word is Zeus.

[7] If this is the case, it could show why the church in Antioch was confident that Barnabas could get the money they collected safely to Jerusalem—no one would mess with Barnabas.

[8] Hermes, or “Mercury” (KJV) was the messenger of the gods.

[9] These events are recorded in Acts 14:11-20

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.