We know nothing about St. Barnabas except what Scripture tells us. Luke says he was “a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24 NJB). No one could ask for a better recommendation! The saint was born at Cyprus, a Jew of the tribe of Levi. His given name was Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas, which meant “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36 NJB). That nickname suited him to a tee, for everywhere he went he seems to have played a major supportive role in establishing the Christian community. For example, he sold his property and donated the money to the apostles for the poor.
Later the apostles sent him to care for the fledgling church at Antioch (Acts 11:20–22). He brought Paul from Tarsus to help him, and the community flourished under their leadership (Acts 11:25–26). Twice Barnabas and Paul traveled to Jerusalem on behalf of the church at Antioch (Acts 11:27–30; 15:2). He also accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey that began in Cyprus and circuited through Asia Minor (Acts 13:1–2, 7).
Before the next missionary journey, however, Paul and Barnabas quarreled over some personal and pastoral matters and decided to separate. Barnabas returned to Cyprus and evangelized the island. Paul’s later references to Barnabas in his letters indicate that the two apostles were ultimately reconciled (see 1 Corinthians 9:6; Colossians 4:10).
Early Christians attributed an epistle to Barnabas, but modern scholars say he probably did not write it. Legend also says he died at Salamis in 61.
There are two ways of doctrine and authority, one of light, and the other of darkness. But these two ways differ greatly. For over one are stationed the light-bringing angels of God, but the angels of Satan are over the other. This, then, is the way of light: Love God who created you. Glorify God who redeemed you from death. Be simple in heart, and rich in spirit. Hate doing anything unpleasing to God. Do not exalt yourself, but be of a lowly mind. Do not forsake the commandments of the Lord. Love your neighbor more than your own soul. Do not slay the child by procuring an abortion, nor destroy it after it is born. Receive your trials as good things. Do not hesitate to give without complaint. Confess your sins. This is the way of light. But the way of darkness is crooked and cursed, for it is the way of eternal death with punishment. In this way are the things that destroy the soul: idolatry, overconfidence, the arrogance of power, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, adultery, rape, haughtiness, transgressions, deceit, malice, avarice, and absence of any fear of God. Also in this way are those who persecute the good, those who hate truth, those who do not attend to the widow and orphan, those who do not pity the needy, those who murder children, those who oppress the afflicted and are in every respect transgressors.
—The Epistle of Barnabas
from Voices of the Saints, by Bert Ghezzi
Image credit: St Barnabas Healing The Sick by Paolo Veronese, 1566. Public Domain via Wikimedia.