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

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