bar'-na-bas (Barnabas, "son of exhortation," or possibly "son of Nebo"): This name was applied to the associate of Paul, who was originally called Joses or Joseph (Ac 4:36), as a testimony to his eloquence. Its literal meaning is "son of prophecy" (bar, "son"; nebhu'ah, "prophecy"). Compare word for prophet in Ge 20:7; De 18:15,18, etc. This is interpreted in Ac 4:36 as "son of exhortation" the Revised Version (British and American), or "son of consolation" the King James Version, expressing two sides of the Greek paraklesis, that are not exclusive. The office of a prophet being more than to foretell, all these interpretations are admissible in estimating Barnabas as a preacher. "Deismann (Bibelstudien, 175-78) considers Barnabas the Jewish Grecized form of Barnebous, a personal Semitic name recently discovered in Asia Minor inscriptions, and meaning "son of Nebo" (Standard Bible Dictionary in the place cited.).
He was a Levite from the island of Cyprus, and cousin, not "nephew" (the King James Version), of the evangelist Mark, the word anepsios (Col 4:10), being used in Nu 36:11, for "father's brothers' sons." When we first learn of him, he had removed to Jerusalem, and acquired property there. He sold "a field," and contributed its price to the support of the poorer members of the church (Ac 4:36 ff). In Ac 11:24 he is described as "a good man and full of the Holy Spirit" (compare Isa 11:2; 1Co 12:8,11) "and of faith," traits that gave him influence and leadership. Possibly on the ground of former acquaintanceship, interceding as Paul's sponsor and surety, he removed the distrust of the disciples at Jerusalem and secured the admission of the former persecutor into their fellowship. When the preaching of some of the countrymen of Barnabas had begun a movement toward Christianity among the Greeks at Antioch, Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to give it encouragement and direction, and, after a personal visit, recognizing its importance and needs, sought out Paul at Tarsus, and brought him back as his associate. At the close of a year's successful work, Barnabas and Paul were sent to Jerusalem with contributions from the infant church for the famine sufferers in the older congregation (Ac 11:30). Ordained as missionaries on their return (Ac 13:3), and accompanied by John Mark, they proceeded upon what is ordinarily known as the "First Missionary Journey" of Paul (Ac 13:4-5). Its history belongs to Paul's life. Barnabas as well as Paul is designated "an apostle" (Ac 14:14). Up to Ac 13:43, the precedency is constantly ascribed to Barnabas; from that point, except in Ac 14:14 and Ac 15:12,25, we read "Paul and Barnabas," instead of "Barnabas and Saul." The latter becomes the chief spokesman. The people at Lystra named Paul, because of his fervid oratory, Mercurius, while the quiet dignity and reserved strength of Barnabas gave him the title of Jupiter (Ac 14:12). Barnabas escaped the violence which Paul suffered at Iconium (Ac 14:19).
Upon their return from this first missionary tour, they were sent, with other representatives of the church at Antioch, to confer with the apostles and elders of the church at Jerusalem concerning the obligation of circumcision and the ceremonial law in general under the New Testament--the synod of Jerusalem. A separation from Paul seems to begin with a temporary yielding of Barnabas in favor of the inconsistent course of Peter (Ga 2:13). This was followed by a more serious rupture concerning Mark. On the second journey, Paul proceeded alone, while Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus. Luther and Calvin regard 2Co 8:18-19 as meaning Barnabas by "the brother whose praise is spread through all the churches," and indicating, therefore, subsequent joint work. The incidental allusions in 1Co 9:6 and Ga 2:13 ("even Barnabas") show at any rate Paul's continued appreciation of his former associate. Like Paul, he accepted no support from those to whom he ministered.
Tertullian, followed in recent years by Grau and Zahn, regard him as the author of the Epistle to the He. The document published among patristic writings as the Epistle of Barnabas, and found in full in the Codex Sinaiticus, is universally assigned today to a later period. "The writer nowhere claims to be the apostle Barnabas; possibly its author was some unknown namesake of 'the son of consolation' " (Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, 239 f).
H. E. Jacobs