Richard Crespo sent an email which contains his thoughts on Barnabas. It’s so great I wanted to share it with everyone!
Thoughts on Barnabas by Richard Crespo
Luke is a great writer! I think he makes a number of points in the way he lays out his narrative in the book of Acts. This is especially true in how he tells us about Barnabas and the important role he played in the early church.
Luke introduces Barnabas in chapter 4, as a contrast to Ananias and Sapphira. In Jewish tradition, a person’s name reflects their character, and Luke specifically points out Barnabas as a “son of encouragement.” Out of the hundreds of people who probably donated their property, Luke sets up Barnabas for his role later on in the book.
Barnabas shows up next in chapter nine. After his conversion, Saul, immediaetly began preaching in Damascus. People were “astonished,” by his preaching. He brought so much attention to himself that he created enemies. They became so riled up that they planned to kill him. It is instructive that Luke says it was only Saul that had to be spirited out secretly at night to escape being killed.
Saul spent some days in Damascus. If you look at a timeline of Saul/Paul’s life he was in Damascus for up to three years.
Despite having been converted for about three years, and creating such notoriety in Damascus, when Saul got to Jerusalem, the believers shut him out (9:26). They were afraid of him. Yet they had to have heard about what was happening in the church in Damascus.
I love how in v. 27 Luke writes, “But Barnabas . . . .” It was Barnabas that put his credibility and reputation on the line to defend Saul and bring him into the fellowship. It was Barnabas that knew what was going on beyond Jerusalem. He was the one who told them about Saul’s conversion. Because of Barnabas, Saul was able to, “move about freely in Jerusalem.”
Saul, however, created havoc again. He stirred people up to such an extent that once more people wanted to kill him. Not just shun him, not just beat him up, but kill him. Again, all we hear from Luke is that the enmity was only directed towards Saul. It got so bad that the brothers had to send Saul home, to Tarsus. Saul created so much trouble that he was sent home! (I’ve had pastors get upset with me when I pointed this out!)
Then Luke adds a poignant bit of irony by writing, “Then the church . . . enjoyed a time of peace.” After Saul left it was strengthened and grew in numbers. After this we hear nothing about Saul for about five years. Luke goes on to tell us about Peter and Cornelius, and the gospel being preached to the gentiles. Peter gets into trouble for doing this and had to defend himself before some of the brothers in Jerusalem.
The conversion of gentiles continued to bedevil the early church, so that when a church was started in Antioch that included gentiles, the leaders in Jerusalem were concerned and sent someone to check it out. Fortunately, I believe, they sent Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. Barnabas had the credibility and esteem of the leaders in Jerusalem such that he was the one sent to investigate. Luke tell us here, in chapter 11, that Barnabas was a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”
After reporting to the leaders in Jerusalem, Barnabas returned to Antioch to teach and disciple the new believers. But, he also takes a pivotal action that affects the rest of Christianity, up to today. In 11:25 Barnabas looks up Saul. All indications are that people did not know where Saul was. Barnabas had to search him out. From the time Saul was sent home to Tarsus to when Barnabas sought him out, it was about five years. Saul was a forgotten man, except for Barnabas.
Barnabas and Saul teach together in Antioch for a whole year. What is interesting in this case is what did NOT happen. For the 1sttime Saul is able to preach and teach without people trying to kill him! I think one of the things that Luke is telling us between the lines is that Saul stayed out of trouble because Barnabas preached and taught with him, unlike the previous two occasions. Barnabas discipled Saul.
Barnabas and Saul are then commissioned by the church in Antioch on a missionary journey. People commonly refer to this as Paul’s first missionary journey. I believe that the leader of the first missionary journey was Barnabas. Luke is deliberate throughout Acts in the order of their names, and to start out Barnabas is always mentioned first.
In Luke’s history of the early church, his narrative hinges on 13:9. Up to this point he writes about a variety of people: Peter, Peter and John, Stephen, Phillip, Cornelius, etc. When Barnabas and Saul are commissioned in Antioch, it is still about Barnabas. He is always named first.
In 13:9, however, when in the middle of confronting a sorcerer, three transforming things happened.
One, Luke choses this encounter to change Saul’s name. As noted earlier with Barnabas, names represent peoples’ character and position in society. Saul has matured sufficiently that he merits a name change. Finally, he is ready to take leadership.
Two, the order of their names change. From here on the order is always Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Barnabas. Up until 13:9 the order is, Barnabas and Saul. From the time that Saul “graduates” and is renamed Paul, the order changes to Paul and Barnabas. From here on only twice is the order changed. In 14:14 and 15:12 the order is Barnabas and Paul. These were critical incidents in which they truth of the Gospel was questioned. Especially before the Council in Jerusalem, Barnabas stepped forward to “take the heat” and defend the Gospel to the Gentiles. Additionally, the leaders knew him and still did not know Paul well. Paul was out in the field all this time, not at headquarters.
Three, from here on Luke only writes about Paul’s ministry. It is as if there is a part A and part B to his historical account. It represents the significance of Paul’s role in the growth of the early church. Before Paul was ready, however, there was Barnabas giving him a chance by bringing him into the leadership circle in Jerusalem, and giving him a second chance in Antioch. There was Barnabas disciplining Saul in Antioch (keeping him out of trouble!) and leading the first missionary journey.
After the council meeting in Jerusalem in Chapter 15, Paul and Barnabas have such a sharp disagreement about taking John Mark with them that they separate. Some people want to ascribe blame and say that Barnabas was wrong. Indeed, from here on Barnabas is no longer mentioned. Yet because of Barnabas we have the Gospel of Mark. Because of Barnabas’ commitment to mentoring leaders, even when the fail, he sticks with them. It is ironic that Barnabas give Saul a second change in Antioch, but he was not willing to give John Mark a second chance. In the end we know that Barnabas, Mark, and Paul reconciled. In Colossians 4:10 Paul writes that Mark is with him in prison. In I Corinthians 9:6, Paul refers to Barnabas as a co-worker, worthy of support from the churches.
Typical of disciple-makers, Barnabas has a muted presence in the history of the early church, yet he played a crucial role in training leaders who, in the case of Paul and Mark, contributed to writing the New Testament and influencing the world, even today.