Barnabas, named Joseph at birth, was an early and prominent disciple. His new name, Barnabas, means “son of encouragement” and was given to him by the apostles. They recognized his kindness, compassion, and ability to offer consolation in times of affliction.
Barnabas, a native of Cyprus and a Levite, is identified in the Acts of the Apostles. His first recorded action is one of generosity toward Jerusalem’s Christian community. He sold a parcel of land that he owned, and gave the much needed proceeds to the community. He showed an equal generosity of Spirit by welcoming Saul after his conversion. Himself highly respected by the Christian disciples in Jerusalem, Barnabas convinced them of Saul’s courage and sincerity. The two men subsequently led several successful missions, converting many to the Christian faith.
Barnabas is thought to be the cousin of Mark the Evangelist based on Colossians 4:10, which directly refers to them as cousins. It was a dispute over John Mark that led Barnabas and Paul to separate. Consequently, Barnabas returned to Cyprus with John Mark, while Paul and Silas evangelized Galatia.
According to fifth century writings, Barnabas was martyred for his faith in 61 AD. Tradition and legend describe his martyrdom as follows: certain Jews, jealous of his extraordinary success, fell upon him as he was disputing in the synagogue, dragged him out, and after the most inhumane tortures, stoned him to death. It’s also said that his kinsman, John Mark was present at his death, and privately interred his body.
Barnabas, prophet, teacher, apostle, and missionary is often depicted with a pilgrim’s staff and olive branch. A humble man, he was servant to all and understood the importance of prayer in daily life. He was a courageous and kindhearted man whose life of love and sacrifice made a difference.