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Nine Things You Probably Didn't Know About Barnabas

In the rich and varied tapestry of the New Testament, numerous characters played pivotal roles in spreading the message of Jesus.

One such figure is Barnabas—often and wrongly overshadowed by the apostle Paul—but with a rich and inspiring story of his own. Today, let’s dig deeper into the book of Acts as we uncover NINE fascinating facts about Barnabas that will deepen your appreciation for this remarkable and underrated New Testament saint.

1. His name wasn’t actually Barnabas

You might be surprised to learn that Barnabas wasn't the name he was born with. His given name was Joseph when he was born on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus—but the apostles bestowed upon him the nickname "Barnabas,"

Barnabas means "son of encouragement." Bar is the prefix for “Son”, and the Hebrew word “Navas” means “one who encourages.”

This name perfectly encapsulates his character, for Barnabas became renowned for his ability to uplift and inspire others through his words and actions.

2. He was known for his generosity

Barnabas's heart overflowed with generosity. In Acts 4:36-37, we discover that he sold a field he owned and selflessly brought the proceeds to the apostles, ensuring that those in need were supported.

His selfless act of giving reminds us of the importance of stewardship and using our resources to bless others.

3. He was a bridge builder

In a time when tensions and divisions ran high between Jewish and Gentile believers, Barnabas played a crucial role as a bridge builder.

He was the first to embrace Saul (later known as Paul), a former persecutor of Christians, and vouched for his transformation and calling as an apostle.

Barnabas saw the potential in Paul when others doubted and were—we learn from the New Testament—scared of his reputation. This reminds us of the power of reconciliation and explains why Barnabas is sometimes known as the Patron Saint of Second Chances.

4. He was a pivotal figure in the Church in Antioch

Antioch, a diverse and cosmopolitan city, became a significant centre for early Christianity. Barnabas played a pivotal role in the growth of the church in Antioch. He recognised the work of God among the Gentiles there and encouraged them to remain faithful to the Lord (Acts 11:22-26).

Fun Fact: It was in Antioch that followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Barnabas played a part in nurturing and shaping this new identity. It’s a challenge to the church today that one of the first people EVER to be called “Christian” was most well known for a ministry of encouragement.

5. He went on a missionary Journey with Paul

Barnabas embarked on a missionary journey with Paul, travelling to various regions to proclaim the gospel. Their partnership led to the conversion of many believers, and they faced both triumphs and challenges along the way.

However, it is interesting that Barnabas's cousin, John Mark, initially accompanied them but departed mid-journey, causing a disagreement between Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:36-41).

6. He was a man of principle as well as a mentor

Beyond his partnership with Paul, Barnabas displayed a heart for mentoring and discipling others. He recognised the potential in young believers and invested in their growth. One notable example is his mentorship of John Mark.

After Paul wanted to jettison Mark, Barnabas stood up for his young protégée against the more senior and vocal Apostle. This resulted in a parting of ways—Paul continued onwards with Silas whilst Barnabas sailed off to Cyprus with Mark.

There is no definitive record of what happened to Barnabas after this, and his only fleetingly mentioned in several later letters by Paul. There is some tradition that he was martyred, but it's equally possible he died in old age on his native island.

7. He was an advocate for the Gentiles

Barnabas played a crucial role in advocating for the inclusion of Gentile believers in the early Christian community. He boldly proclaimed the message that salvation was not limited to the Jews alone but extended to the Gentiles as well.

Barnabas's conviction and his ability to communicate this message effectively paved the way for the spread of Christianity beyond traditional boundaries.

8. He was happy to play a supporting role

While Barnabas may not be as prominent as Paul in historical accounts, he possessed the qualities of a humble and unassuming leader. He recognised the gifts and potential in others, deferring to them when necessary.

Barnabas didn't seek the spotlight but played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in supporting and empowering those around him. In this, he stands as a powerful role model for Christian leaders today.

9. He left a legacy of encouragement

Barnabas left a lasting legacy of encouragement, both in his time and for generations to come. His example challenges us to examine our own lives and consider how we can be agents of encouragement in our spheres of influence.

Whether through our words, deeds, or generous acts, we have the power to inspire and uplift others, just as Barnabas did.

As we conclude this brief exploration of Barnabas's life, we encounter a remarkable figure whose influence and impact continue to resonate today. Barnabas, the son of encouragement, embodies qualities we can all strive to emulate.

Through his generosity, bridge-building spirit, mentorship, and unwavering belief in the potential of others, Barnabas left an indelible mark on the early Christian community.

May we be inspired by Barnabas's example to become encouragers in our own communities, spreading hope, love, and unity. Let us remember that in our small acts of kindness and uplifting words, we have the power to make a significant difference in the lives of those around us.

Just as Barnabas's life continues to inspire, may our lives also leave a lasting legacy of encouragement for generations to come.

Anglican Collect for St Barnabas

Bountiful God, giver of all gifts,

who poured your Spirit upon your servant Barnabas

and gave him the grace to encourage others:

help us, by his example,

to be generous in our judgements

and unselfish in our service;

through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, Amen


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