We find details about Barnabas’ background spread throughout the book of Acts and Paul’s epistles. Luke tells us that Barnabas was a Levite whose family came from the island of Cyprus where some of the Jews of the Diaspora had settled. He was a cousin of Mark, the writer of the gospel by that name (Colossians 4:10). His Hebrew name was Joseph (or Joses), but he was better known as Barnabas. Joseph means “may God increase”; Joses, “He that pardons”; and Barnabas, “son of encouragement.” All three names contain wonderful attributes of God. Since the apostles called him “son of encouragement,” this may have been Barnabas’ most important characteristic.
Barnabas is first mentioned as a landowner who sold some land and generously donated all the proceeds to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36-37). A few years later, God appointed him as an apostle with Paul to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2-3; 14:14). He spent many years preaching the gospel in lands far distant from both Jerusalem and Cyprus.
Tradition says that Barnabas was one of the seventy whom Jesus Christ sent out in pairs “as lambs among wolves” into every city (Luke 10:1-12). They were to carry no money, baggage, or sandals, nor were they to greet anyone along the road. Jesus told them that they were on a special mission of peace only to those God was calling. He sent them to preach the gospel to those whom He defined specifically as “son[s] of peace”—the called of God.
Barnabas was not afraid to stand by God’s messengers in a time of tumult. He was the first person of influence and responsibility to extend his personal warmth and home to Saul of Tarsus, when all Jerusalem was still casting stones at him (Acts 9:26-31). The disciples in Jerusalem, who knew Saul only as a fierce persecutor and murderer of the saints, were afraid of him. They could hardly believe that the feared inquisitor had been converted. Although the rest shrank from Saul in fear and suspicion, Barnabas came forward and showed great kindness toward him.
He introduced Saul to the apostles (verse 27), so that he could tell them the story of his miraculous conversion and how he had preached with power at Damascus. In subsequent times, as Paul came into greater prominence, Barnabas quietly fell back into a supporting role.
Barnabas and Paul had their moments of disagreement, however. A serious conflict arose between them over John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. In Acts 15:36-41, Paul was still upset over Mark’s decision in Pamphylia to leave them and their work, and this led to a definite breach between them. Sharp contention caused Barnabas and Paul to head their separate ways—Barnabas with Mark to Cyprus and Paul with Silas to Syria and Cilicia. This breach between them apparently lasted for quite some time.
In Antioch, Paul considered certain converted Jews, including the apostle Peter, to be hypocrites regarding eating with the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-13). In verse 13, Paul writes, “Even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.” The wording indicates that Barnabas’ actions surprised Paul. Obviously, this was uncharacteristic of Barnabas, and it miffed Paul. It does seem odd that Barnabas would not fear harboring Saul of Tarsus in his home, protecting him from vigilantes, but was afraid to stand up to Jewish Christians regarding eating with Gentile Christians. This just shows that all Christians occasionally give in to the prejudices of our backgrounds, and we spend much of our lives trying to overcome them.
Although Barnabas and Paul had their differences, they were not irreconcilable. Paul last refers to Barnabas a few years later regarding the church’s support of them (I Corinthians 9:6). By this time, it seems Paul and Barnabas had reconciled and were working together again. We would expect nothing less from two converted individuals.
Scripture paints a picture of Barnabas as a kind, forgiving, encouraging, and compassionate man. Luke sums up his character in Acts 11:24, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Luke then follows this ringing endorsement with a meaningful postscript: Wherever he went, “a great many people were added to the Lord.” Despite Barnabas’ faults, no more or less than any of ours, he received a wonderful, God-inspired commendation as a permanent example of a true witness for God. How encouraging for us!
Barnabas sacrificed himself to be instrumental in God’s cultivation of His church. Paul makes specific mention of the fact that Barnabas, who willingly impoverished himself in the interests of the church, labored with his own hands to support himself on his missionary journeys.
Timothy himself is an interesting study. Born in Lystra of a Greek father and of a Jewish mother, he was brought up in the Jewish faith and was taught the Scriptures from childhood.
Paul made him an understudy in his second journey (Acts 16:1–3), and Timothy remained with him ever after. He shared in the evangelization of Macedonia and Achaia and aided Paul during the three years of preaching at Ephesus, where he became thoroughly acquainted with the city and with the needs of the local church. He was one of the delegates appointed to Jerusalem (20:4) and probably went with Paul all the way back to that city. He was with Paul in Rome during the first imprisonment, for his name appears in the headings of Colossians (1:1) and of Philemon (1). After the release he traveled with Paul and evidently was left at Ephesus to straighten out the tangle that had developed there, while Paul went on to visit the churches in Macedonia.
At the end of Paul’s life he joined him at Rome (II Tim. 4:11, 21), and himself suffered imprisonment (Heb. 13:23), from which he was later released.
(Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey, p. 334).
After Paul was acquitted by the Emperor and released from his first Roman imprisonment (a.d. 61), he resumed his missionary activities, accompanied by Timothy, Titus, Luke, and possibly some others. Contrary to his earlier thinking, he was able to return to Ephesus; there he left Timothy in charge while he moved on to Macedonia (I Tim. 1:3; cf. Acts 20:25, 37–38).
Paul expected to rejoin Timothy at Ephesus, but he was not sure about the time of his arrival (3:14; 4:13). Thinking that he might be delayed longer than he had expected, Paul thus wrote to Timothy to encourage and to instruct him in his many tasks: ‘But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth’ (3:15). The book therefore was written from Macedonia about a.d. 62, although some have suggested either a.d. 63 or 64.”
(Robert G. Gromacki, New Testament Survey, p. 295).