In the early years of Christianity a number of well-known saints led the way in spreading the gospel throughout much of the known world – missionaries Peter and Paul, gospel writers Mark and Luke, among them.  But a number who get a lot less attention were also crucial for the spread of the faith, and even for the development of the ministries of Paul and Mark.  My favorite is St. Barnabas.  It is not an exaggeration to say that, if it weren’t for Barnabas, we most certainly would not have Paul.  And if it weren’t for Barnabas, we might not have had Mark and his gospel, either.  In his quiet, out of the limelight way, Barnabas made contributions which were vital in those early days.  History would have unfolded in a vastly different manner without him.

The key to his effectiveness in Christian ministry is that, simply put, Barnabas was a good man. Luke admired him and speaks highly of him several times in the Acts of the Apostles.  Barnabas was from the island of Cyprus and an early convert to what then was called “the way.”  His given name was Joseph, but the apostles nicknamed him, “Barnabas,” which means “son of encouragement.” (See Acts 4;36).  Think of that.  What an extraordinary compliment to receive – from the apostles themselves!  Luke introduces us to Barnabas by telling us that he sold a field and placed the proceeds at the feet of the apostles.  He was liked.  He was respected.  He was a brother to the apostles. 

Barnabas’s status as a good and reliable brother made all the difference in what was his greatest contribution to the furtherance of Christianity: he vouched for Paul.  (See Acts 9:26-27).  Before his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was a fierce enemy of the followers of Jesus.  That fierce relentlessness which became Paul’s primary asset in spreading the faith throughout Europe was first directed against the Christians.  He had them in his crosshairs.  The believers feared him – with good reason.  When word traveled several hundred miles south from Damascus to the apostles in Jerusalem that one of their fiercest persecutors had supposedly converted, they did not believe it.  It was Barnabas who saved the day.  Paul came to Jerusalem to join the disciples but was stymied at first because of their fear of him and reluctance to believe his conversion.  Imagine if tomorrow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced that she was becoming a pro-life Republican.  Who would believe it was not a hoax? Such was the apostles’ concern about their enemy Paul (Saul as he was then known).  Barnabas brought Paul to the apostles and calmly explained to them what had happened.  That’s all he did.  And that was enough.  These two verses in Acts record a turning point in Christian history.  The apostles knew Barnabas and trusted him.  If Barnabas said that Paul’s conversion was authentic, then on his word, the disciples believed.  Starting then, Paul was unleashed on the world.  Think for a moment what would have happened if Barnabas had not stepped forward to vouch for Paul.  Maybe there would be a workaround down the road, but undoubtedly Paul’s missionary activity would have been delayed or derailed.  Christianity would not be the same.  Barnabas was the hero here.

This is somewhat speculation, but Barnabas may also have saved Mark’s gospel.  Consider the facts, especially in Acts 15:36-40:  Paul and Barnabas were about to embark on another missionary journey, but first, they got into a “sharp disagreement” over Mark, who had traveled with them earlier but had left them at Pamphylia.  Paul was not happy about that and had no intention of taking Mark with them on a new mission.  Barnabas pleaded with Paul to give Mark another chance.  Paul refused, leaving Barnabas with a choice.  Barnabas could have left Mark behind and traveled with Paul.  After all, that was the plan.  They had had great success preaching together on their first journey.  But Barnabas chose to stay with Mark.  This had two effects.  First, Paul paired with Silas instead for his next journey, raising up another missionary.  Second, Mark is supported in his Christian faith.  We do not know how Mark felt about Paul’s lack of confidence in him.  If he had been left behind, his life as a Christian may have been different and his future contact with key leaders such as Peter limited.  And it is at least possible that he would not have written his gospel.  Barnabas kept Mark in play.  Later in life Mark became an associate of Peter, the source of much of his gospel.  No doubt Barnabas “encouraged” Mark, kept his spirits up, and stayed with him.  And, like Paul, Mark became a key figure in the early Church.  Paul later reconciled with Mark.  We don’t know, but one wonders if Barnabas had a hand in that. 

Barnabas is prominent throughout the Acts of the Apostles, all in his quiet, supportive way.  He was a companion to Paul in Paul’s crucial early years and, as we read the account in Acts of their spectacular missionary successes, it is easy to contemplate the support and encouragement that Barnabas provided the high-strung Paul as they rested their heads each night.  I, for one, would love to have been a fly on the wall during those conversations.

Barnabas is someone we can imitate.  He is perhaps more reachable for us than the big saints.  We, too, can do the “little things” well, and with openness to grace.  This quiet dedication to being a servant will bear fruit – be it big or less noticeable.  Some of you may remember from years past the Michael Jordan-Nike commercials with the jingle, “I want to be like Mike.”  For me, I want to be like Barnabas.


  • Norm Posted June 18, 2022 11:49 am

    Very insightful article about Barnabas. Thanks for sharing.

  • Elizabeth Petrides Posted June 22, 2022 1:42 pm

    A test to see if comments are getting posted.

  • Norm Williams Posted June 22, 2022 2:06 pm


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