Though not one of the twelve Apostles, St. Barnabas, along with St. Paul, was considered an Apostle and an important leader in the early Church. The Acts of the Apostles introduces him by saying, “There was a certain Levite from Cyprus named Joseph, to whom the Apostles gave the name ‘Barnabas’ (meaning ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a farm that he owned and made a donation of the money, laying it at the Apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37).
It was Barnabas who introduced Paul to Peter and the other Apostles; his acceptance of this former persecutor of Christianity helped the other Christians overcome their distrust of Paul. When the Church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas as an official representative to the newly-formed Christian community in Antioch, he had Paul accompany him. The two men instructed the Christians there for a year. Recognizing Paul and Barnabas as inspired leaders, the church in Antioch sent the two to preach to the Gentiles (non-Jews). At Barnabas’ insistence, they were accompanied by his cousin Mark (the eventual author of the gospel) — but the young man deserted them when the journey proved to be hazardous.
Paul and Barnabas traveled to Cyprus (Barnabas is regarded as the founder of the Church there) and throughout Greece. They had much success, though they also encountered opposition and persecution. When Paul refused to allow Mark to accompany them on a later missionary journey, Barnabas separated from Paul and took Mark with him to Cyprus; eventually all of them were reconciled. Little else is known about St. Barnabas, though one account states that he was martyred at the Cypriot port of Salamis.
- 1. Encouraging other Christians in their faith is an important ministry; St. Barnabas — a true “son of encouragement” — provides a noble example of this truth.
- 2. Even Christians constantly need to be reconciled to one another. Barnabas and Paul split up over Mark’s earlier desertion, but all were eventually reunited in peace.