YOUR QUESTIONS

Sr. Louise Zdunich

December 16, 2013

QuestionIn reading Church history, I found that Barnabas was the only educated disciple among the early followers of Jesus. Barnabas was well-versed in Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages in which Jesus preached.

I find it surprising that little is mentioned of his own account of Jesus' preaching. His own writings are hardly mentioned and completely left out when the four Gospels were selected even though the scribes of those Gospels didn't understand Hebrew nor Aramaic. Could you throw some light on this topic?

 


AnswerA few words about Barnabas to acquaint our readers. He was born of Jewish parents on the Island of Cyprus of the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe. Therefore, he spent much time in Jerusalem where he also had relatives and land.

Barnabas seems to have been most highly esteemed in the Christian community of the first century. He is first mentioned early in Acts 4.36-37 as having given to the apostles the proceeds from a field he sold. He was surnamed Barnabas meaning encouragement.

St. Barnabas

After Stephen's stoning, Jewish Christians fled to Cyprus and converted some Gentiles at Antioch in Syria. When word reached Jerusalem, Barnabas was sent to investigate what was happening (Acts 11.12). This shows that he was already a trusted Christian.

FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT

Luke (Acts 11.24) calls him a man of faith and filled with the Holy Spirit. Barnabas immediately thought of recruiting Paul to continue the work of conversion.

Paul was from Tarsus, widely known as an intellectual centre, but the two may have studied together with Gamaliel in Jerusalem. So even if most of the disciples were uneducated fishermen, we know that Paul was well educated.

Barnabas went to Tarsus and convinced Paul to join him. Although Acts speaks of both of them preaching, it is interesting that at first Barnabas seemed to have precedence "Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 13.7) while in the same chapter, it becomes "Saul and Barnabas" (v. 42).

When the changed order is recorded by Luke, there seems to be no problem.

Paul and Barnabas carried the proceeds of a collection to famine-stricken Jerusalem (11.39ff). The Jerusalem community, knowing Paul as a fiery persecutor of Christians, was reluctant to receive him.

TRUSTED MAN

Barnabas, highly trusted by the Jerusalem community, persuaded them to accept Paul. Together, they later went to Jerusalem to settle a dispute over circumcision for Gentile converts (Acts 15).

When Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch, Barnabas' cousin, John Mark, accompanied them but he soon returned to his family. Peter had come to Antioch and began to refuse to eat with Gentiles; Barnabas followed his example. Paul rebuked them before the whole Church (Galatians 2.11-14) because "they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel."

When Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark on another mission, Paul refused. Luke tells us that "the disagreement became so sharp" (Acts 15.39), they decided it best to separate.

It is interesting that Barnabas and Mark seem to have left without any fanfare while the community at Antioch "commended them (Paul and Silas) to the grace of the Lord" (Acts 15.40).

However, there is no evidence of any bitterness as Paul speaks positively about Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9.5-6) who was still labouring in God's vineyard in 56 or 57. In addition, John Mark is Paul's companion while Paul is imprisoned in Rome in 61-62 (Colossians 4.10). Scholars take this as an indication that Barnabas had probably died by then.

EARLY CONVERT

The early missionary apostles went to visit former converted communities personally so there was no need for written communication. There is no evidence that Barnabas heard Jesus teach, so it is believed that he was converted shortly after Pentecost. Nor is there any evidence of any written material from Barnabas.

Perhaps, a difference in personalities or age may account for Paul writing and Barnabas not writing. Besides, since Paul spent quite a bit of time imprisoned, he had time to write. Maybe Barnabas just wasn't interested in writing letters like Paul did.

WRITINGS SCRUTINIZED

The early Church scrutinized all the known writings carefully. A number of these such as the gospels of Thomas, James, Hebrews, etc., were not accepted as canonical because they differed in belief from the accepted books or because they were more like fragments.

By the year 200, most of the canonical books had been circulated and accepted while a few were accepted somewhat later. Early Church fathers mentioned these and frequently quoted them. However, there is no mention whatsoever of anything written by Barnabas.

Since Barnabas was held in such esteem by his contemporaries and by the early Church, it is certain that had there been any of Barnabas' writings, they would have received most serious consideration as others did. But there simply weren't any known writings from Barnabas.

(Other questions? Email: zdunich@telus.net)