Relationships – Paul and Barnabas

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

  • Acts 4:36-37

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

  • Acts 7:57-60

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

  • Acts 9:26-30

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

  • Acts 11:22-26

When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. …
From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. …
The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

  • Acts 12:25-13:5, 13, 49-52

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

  • Acts 15:36-41

A Quote

[Acts 4:36-37]: ”Luke introduces Barnabas as a role model from among those who donated property proceeds. Barnabas was a member of the priestly tribe of the Levites and a native of the island of Cyprus. He became an associate of Paul and a prominent figure later in the book (cf. 9:26, 27; 11:22—24, 30; chs. 13-15).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary

What Do We Know about their Relationship?

Rev. MacArthur understates the influence of Barnabas to an extent.  The fact that the name Barnabas meant son of encouragement is not lost in that everyone was afraid of the recent convert, Saul, who had previously tortured, imprisoned and killed Christians.  Barnabas was either brave or he did not let his fear stop him in encouraging Saul, who became known as Paul.

Later, the church at Antioch (Syria) was growing and Barnabas was sent to help them.  It seems he immediately thinks of Saul.  After Barnabas and Saul spend a year teaching the Christians at Antioch, the two men are tasked with helping the church in Jerusalem.  They gathered provisions and went to Jerusalem, a mission of humanitarian aid.  Upon their return, people who had seen visions of spreading the gospel prayed to see who would go, and the Antioch church sent Saul and Barnabas, but Barnabas wanted his cousin John Mark to accompany them.  Some time as they were leaving Cyprus and reaching the southern coast of Asia Minor, John Mark returned to Jerusalem.  By this time being referred to as Paul, Paul and Barnabas completed their first missionary journey.  They reported back to Antioch and Jerusalem.  In Jerusalem, there was a great deal of discussion about the influx of Gentiles into the church of believers.  Rules had to be established, but those rules would either be ignored or modified over time.

When Paul decided to return to the churches they started, Barnabas insisted on taking John Mark.  Paul did not trust him due to deserting them on the first mission.  Barnabas then took John Mark with him to Cyprus and Paul left on his second missionary journey with Silas.  Since Luke wrote the book of Acts, we see nothing of Barnabas after that point.

What Can We Infer about their Relationship?

In Galatians 2:13, Paul speaks of Barnabas being led astray, but this is in regards to the controversy regarding circumcision.  Paul did not want the practice forced on the Gentiles, as it would imply “faith plus works.”  Barnabas must have disagreed at one point.  Since Paul wrote in Colossians 4:10 that Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, he must have still held Barnabas in high regard.  Indeed, without the encouragement of Barnabas, the mission work of Saul of Tarsus may have never been started.  God was involved in those two getting together.

We can also infer that Paul forgave John Mark eventually, even stating that he needed the services of John Mark.

And I suppose, we can place it under inference that all three of these men had two names: Saul Paul, Joseph Barnabas, and John Mark.  Each blended a Hebrew name with a Roman name, although both names for Barnabas might be Hebrew.  This was probably used for business reasons during their travels.  When I worked with a Chinese partner company, a Chinese engineer introduced me by his Chinese name and then said, “but you can call me Jason.”  Everyone in the office had chosen a western name for business purposes.

In What Ways Can We Fill in the Gaps about their Relationship?

We might infer that Barnabas kept going with missionary work, or we could suppose that Barnabas and John Mark stayed on the island of Cyprus, where Barnabas was from.  I had a “comment conversation” with someone from Cyprus and he was very proud of the rich tradition of Christianity on Cyprus, because they were the first of the missions of Paul and Barnabas.  With Barnabas and John Mark returning, the churches on the island would grow stronger.  At some point, John Mark would leave and record the book of Mark and also help Paul in his work, probably doing scribe type work or taking dictation as many think Mark did from Peter in writing the book of Mark.

We can only imagine if Barnabas left Cyprus and spread the Gospel in another direction.

What Can We Learn from this Relationship?

Some relationships can be strained due to personal conflict, personality clashes, or “just business.”  That does not mean that God does not work within both parties.  It is one important reason to love even your enemies in that the enemy may be your greatest friend in a slightly different set of circumstances.

Paul owed a great deal to Barnabas, just in getting the disciples to trust Paul.  Then Paul cannot forgive, at least on a temporary basis, the cousin of Barnabas, after it was Barnabas that showed forgiveness to Paul getting Paul accepted in the church of disciples.  Paul eventually forgave, but after the team had split.

But as we discussed in Sunday school about this topic, in splitting up Paul and Barnabas, it doubled the mission field, each going their own way.  God had commanded them to spread the Good News, and splitting up got that accomplished faster.

What Have We Learned thus far?

We have learned to:

  • Own our own mistakes and not blame others.
  • Be faithful to God, and worship properly, in the proper spirit.
  • Go to God in prayer, especially before any major decisions.
  • Do not show favoritism among family members, but always go to God.
  • Forgiveness is extremely important for none of us are perfect except for God.
  • Beyond physical love, there are other expressions of love, and respect is very important.
  • A relationship requires maintenance, nurturing, and an acceptance of the roles.
  • Be humble and listen to wise advice, and even wait when necessary.
  • At times, we must be bold and trust God, and we must obey.
  • And to love, love, and love.
  • Be trustworthy.  Trust is required.
  • And don’t worry.  God has this situation, and He has us in the palm of His hand.
  • And remember to forgive others and confess our sins.
  • And never go against what God instructs us to do.
  • And truly believe that God can show you mercy and accept the mercy offered.  Yet remember that it is indeed mercy.
  • Not blindly trust our buddies from our youth as advisors and there may be emotional ties that make their advice sound better than it is.
  • Understand that good cannot compromise with evil.
  • And sometimes you have to weather the storms, both in the home and in the world of public opinion.

A Closing Prayer

We look to You for guidance.  Sometimes there is strength when we stay together.  Other times, there is strength when we separate.  Give us the wisdom to know when to do each of these things and give us the strength to do them.
In Thy Name we pray,

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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