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.

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