Missionary and traveling companion of Paul mentioned 23 times in the book of Acts and four times in the undisputed letters of Paul. The deutero-Pauline Epistle to the Colossians also mentions Barnabas in 4.10, where it identifies him as the cousin of (John) Mark.
According to Luke, Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus whose given name was Joseph (Acts 4.36). His more familiar name "Barnabas" was bestowed upon him by the apostles, a name Luke explains as meaning "son of encouragement." Luke's introductory vignette tells how Barnabas sold a field and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. Barnabas thus serves as a foil for the figures of Ananias and Sapphira, who also sold a piece of land but conspired to withhold some of the proceeds (Acts 4:34–5:11). The Jerusalem church later sent Barnabas to Antioch of Syria after hearing that evangelists from Cyprus and Cyrene had made converts among the Greeks (Acts 11:20–24).
Luke highlights the relationship of Barnabas to Paul in several ways. It was Barnabas who brought Paul to the church at Antioch (Acts 11:25–26) where the two collaborated and were remembered among the "prophets and teachers" associated with that church (Acts 13:1). In Acts 13–14, Luke narrates the collaboration of Barnabas and Paul on a mission to Cyprus and Asia Minor, a mission that scholars have come to refer to as Paul's "first missionary journey." Barnabas and Paul likewise represent the Antiochene church in Jerusalem when controversy arises over the Gentile mission (Acts 15:1–2).
More fundamentally, Luke identifies Barnabas as the one who facilitated the first meeting between the newly converted Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26–28). This may be an inference from their later collaboration at Antioch since this information stands in tension with Paul's own assertions about his first visit to Jerusalem (Gal 1:18–19). According to Luke, the collaboration of Barnabas and Paul came to an end when the two clashed over whether or not to take along John Mark on a follow-up mission in Asia Minor (Acts 15:36–40).
Apart from a passing reference in 1 Cor. 9:6, Paul mentions Barnabas only in his letter to the churches of Galatia (2:1, 9, 13). He does not mention the mediation of Barnabas when he describes his initial meeting with Cephas and James in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18–19). If Barnabas did play such a role, Paul's desire to show his apostolic independence could explain his willingness to overlook it (Gal. 1:1, 11–17). Paul does, however, acknowledge the collaboration of Barnabas in the circumcision-free mission to Gentiles and the subsequent trip to Jerusalem to defend this activity (Gal. 2:1, 9). From Paul's point of view, Barnabas compromised his principles when he withdrew from table fellowship with Gentiles, following the example of Cephas (Gal. 2:13). Some see this as the real reason for the parting of ways between Barnabas and Paul, but such a conclusion is speculative.
Later tradition places Barnabas in such faraway places as Rome and Alexandria and ascribes to him a martyr's death on Cyprus. The so-called Epistle of Barnabas and apocryphal works known as the Gospel of Barnabas and the Acts of Barnabas add nothing to our historical knowledge of the missionary companion of Paul.
Bibliography: Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.610 11.
[j. n. rhodes]