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Barnabas, a Good Man
by Frank Chow
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Barnabas, a Good Man
(Acts 11:24)

No one was honored as ¡°a good man¡± by the Holy Spirit in the Bible except Barnabas. Barnabas¡¯ real name was Joseph, and then he was called Barnabas by the apostles (Acts 4:36). The Bible gave us an explanation for the name of Barnabas: ¡°Son of Encouragement¡±. This is a biblical definition for ¡°a good man.¡± Barnabas was called ¡°a good man¡± because he was a Christian gentleman. He was kind to both leadership and fellowship. Like the affect that oil has on a car, Barnabas made the operation of the church run more effectively.

The Bible told us that Barnabas was a Levite. We should not overlook any clues mentioned by the Holy Spirit. Not everyone is worthy enough to be able to trace his tribe in the New Testament. Even though Peter was one of the pillars of the church, his tribe was never cited. Levite, an ancient Jewish tribe, still played its religious role in the ages of the New Testament. As an element of Jewish society, Levite certainly became the enemy of the Gospel and the persecutor of the church. In Jerusalem, the priests and the temple-servants must be the Levites. The majority of the Sanhedrin, who sentenced the Lord Jesus to die, was the Levites. In Jesus¡¯ parable of a Good Samaritan, there were two negative characters, a priest and a Levite. They were both symbols of hypocrites. Barnabas, however, was a converted Levite. He was born again by the grace of God, and became ¡°a good man¡± in the church of Christ.

Those who read the Bible may ignore the fact that Barnabas was an apostle (Acts 14:14). Why? The reason is very simple. Barnabas was never mentioned in the four Gospels. His name appeared only in Acts and some of Paul¡¯s epistles. He did not leave any writings in the Bible, though some Biblical scholars assumed that Barnabas was the author of the Book of Hebrews. He had no sermons recorded and he did not perform any miracles. In the story of the Bible, Barnabas was a common Christian with genuine faith. For example, like other believers, Barnabas ¡°sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles¡¯ feet¡± (Acts 4:37). In addition, according to Paul (1 Corinthians 9: 3-6), none of the apostles had to work for their living but Barnabas and Paul did. Barnabas was honored as ¡°a good man¡± first because of his humbleness.

Humble never means feeble. A humble man is a mighty man. Barnabas proved his strength when the church of Jerusalem fell into a weak spot. Barnabas stood up bravely when the Holy Spirit was looking for a response. The Lord Jesus gave his disciples the last command before his ascendant: ¡°But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth¡± (Acts 1:8). Eight years passed and the Lord¡¯s word had not been fulfilled. The church of Jerusalem faced great persecution. Stephen was martyred; believers scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Where were the apostles? Where was Peter? Where were James and John? They all stayed in Jerusalem. Did they forget the last word of the Lord? Were they too indulgent of their families to leave Jerusalem? Or were they too busy in the business of Mother Church? We are not sure. The Bible told us that when the church needed someone to preach Gospel to the Gentiles, they sent Barnabas. Why Barnabas though? We can only make assumptions. First of all, Barnabas was probably single (1 Cor.9:5); he did not have a family burden. Secondly, Barnabas was born in Cyprus. Therefore, his connection with Jerusalem was not strong as other apostles. It should have been less difficult for him to leave the holy city. Thirdly, Barnabas knew the language and the culture of Gentiles well. It should have been easier for him to deal with those Gentile believers. Fourthly, Barnabas was not ¡°a pillar¡± of the Jerusalem church; his departure should not have been a trouble for the church. It is possible that Barnabas left Jerusalem for these reasons.

Barnabas, the last one of the apostles, had been selected to carry the great work of the Lord; this was the will of God. Guided by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas rapidly became a pioneer of the Gospel. He made his way to the north and finally arrived in Antioch, the third city of the Roman Empire. The Bible claimed that ¡°the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch¡± (Acts 11:26). Antioch soon became the leading center of Gentile Christianity. Barnabas was one of the earliest builders of Antioch¡¯s church. More importantly, Barnabas discovered Apostle Paul. This was Barnabas¡¯ greatest accomplishment in his spiritual life. It is hard to imagine Paul as the greatest apostle if he were without Barnabas. Twice in the special moments of church history, Barnabas helped Paul. The first instance was when Paul came to Jerusalem to see the disciples after his conversion but no one dared to receive him. Only Barnabas trusted Paul and persuaded the apostles to receive him (Acts 9:27). This was the first step Paul took to build his personal relationship with the apostles. Although Paul had a revelation directly from the Lord, his mission ought to be recognized by the church of Jerusalem. The second instance was when Barnabas brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch (Acts 11:25). The Antioch church was a training base for Paul, a place where Paul was molded into the most excellent preacher in Christian history.

Barnabas and Paul were friendly brothers and co-workers. Barnabas accompanied Paul on his first missionary, but later separated because of Mark. Paul was opposed to bringing Mark with him on the second missionary trip because Mark had turned back from the first. Maybe Paul¡¯s opposition to bringing Mark was justified: the soldiers needed time to prepare before marching to the front of the battle. However, Barnabas insisted on bringing Mark with them. Maybe Barnabas¡¯s insistence on bringing Mark was justified also: no one can become a soldier unless he experiences a real battle. The Holy Spirit seemed to agree with both of them.

No man is perfect, not even ¡°a good man¡± Barnabas. In the Letter of Galatians, when Paul criticized Apostle Peter and his followers for their ¡°hypocrisy,¡± he added, ¡°even Barnabas was led astray¡± (Galatians 2:13). Let us examine this matter. First, Peter was held responsible for the ¡°hypocrisy.¡± He no longer dared to eat with Gentle believers because he feared of those who belonged to the circumcision group. Paul told us that those men ¡°came from James.¡± This was the true reason why Peter was a hypocrite. James was the Lord¡¯s brother, and the real leader of the Mother Church. James himself was certainly not a member of the circumcision group (Act 15) but his name was probably used by those men. Peter honored James more than he honored the truth of the Lord. Likewise, some Jews, including Barnabas, followed Peter¡¯s hypocrisy. They obeyed Peter more than they obeyed the truth of the Lord. This shocked Paul, who respected Barnabas more than he respected others. He was surprised at Barnabas¡¯ hypocrisy. He could not believe that a man of such perfection had fallen into the same mistakes of Peter and the other Jews.

I was interested in the story of Barnabas because he was called ¡°a good man.¡± Prior to writing this article, I tried to find some ¡°beautiful¡± words, such as sympathetic, sensible, selflessness, and mighty, in order to illustrious the ¡°good man¡±. I soon changed my mind because I found that these words are not appropriate enough for Barnabas. I cannot describe him in that way because then he would be like a character from a movie, too perfect, too ideal. In actuality, the people in the Bible were living human beings with complex and changeable personalities. I discovered that the best word to describe Barnabas was ¡°a good man.¡±

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esther robinson 26 Apr 2006
Recently I read an article about Barnabas titled, 'How to play the second fiddle?" There I did not get this information mentioned by you. The probe into the tribe of Barnabas is interesting and informative. Simply superb.


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