Bible Characters – Barnabas
Bible Characters – Barnabas
Barnabas does not have the biggest part to play in the unfolding story of the spread of the gospel, but everyone notices him and everyone loves him.
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Bible passages

Acts 9:26–28

When [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

Acts 11:19–26

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.


Barnabas does not have the biggest part to play in the unfolding story of the spread of the gospel, but everyone notices him and everyone loves him. We first come across him in Acts 4, when he sells a field he owns and donates the money to the church. We learn that he is a Levite whose real name is Joseph, but he has earned the nickname “Barnabas” because it means “Son of Encouragement”. Everybody – but everybody – needs encouragement, and it turns out that Barnabas is not only generous but also trusting and kind.

He is the one man willing to take a chance on Paul after his spectacular conversion (“Saul” and “Paul” are the same person – he changed his name from Saul to Paul to show he had been born again), a courageous act that showed he had good judgment and wise insight. “Full of the Holy Spirit and faith”, our passage says. Barnabas’ faith and Holy Spirit discernment was evident in his trusting Paul, and also in his enthusiastic willingness to accept Gentiles into the faith community when he saw for himself the evidence of God’s grace in their lives. As a Levite, he had been raised in the heartland of Jewish tradition, but his interest was not in preserving ritualized external forms of religion but in rising to the challenge of the new thing God was doing.

Ever since the book of Acts was written, Christians have been recognizing a wonderful role model in Barnabas. He was not rash – in each case we see him going to take a look for himself before making up his mind; he did not rely on hearsay – but he was trusting and optimistic, kind and full of faith. He had the lovely gift of being happy for other people.



O God of hope and love and kindness, we thank you so much for the Barnabas people in our lives – the ones who have encouraged and welcomed and accepted us when we were newcomers and strangers. Give us grace to develop in our own lives this lovely ministry of trust and acceptance, healing old wounds of rejection and helping the community to grow. For we ask it in Jesus’ holy name; Amen.