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October 26, 2008

St. Paul and St. Barnabas

                                    
     In listening to the epistles of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, one name that is often mentioned is that of Barnabas.  Even when listening to the readings attentively, it is quite easy to relegate the person of Barnabas to a secondary position in relation to Paul.  Barnabas is often mentioned as a companion to Paul but little else is ever offered to the reader.  Perhaps this is because the message of the epistles is not meant to be historical or biographical in nature.  Barnabas was much more than a companion to Paul however.  During this year of St. Paul, taking the time to deepen our knowledge of one of his closest companions would probably benefit us greatly.

    Barnabas, like Paul, was Jewish.  His aunt was the mother of John who was also known as Mark, widely assumed to be the same Mark believed to be the author of the Gospel of Mark.  Barnabas was a native of Cyprus where he was a landowner, a precious possession which he sold giving the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem.   Tradition tells us that Barnabas may have been among the original 72 disciples sent out by Christ.  It is believed that he may have traveled as far as Rome during Christ’s lifetime.

    After Paul’s conversion and his return to Jerusalem where he had become an outcast to Christianity, it was Barnabas who took Paul under his wing and introduced him to the apostles.  It is highly probably that the two men had been fellow students in the school of Rabbi Gamaliel.  Paul was invited into ministry by Barnabas when the latter found himself overwhelmed with the work in the church at Antioch.  The two men went to Antioch and worked together for a whole year.  

     Following their work in Antioch, the two men were sent to Asia Minor where they visited some of the principal cities, all mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles.  It was during this period that Paul began growing in prominence. After some years,  Paul evidently became the stronger partner, no doubt because of his personality, but the two men worked hand in hand for many years, serving the Gentile community of Asia minor.

    Paul and Barnabas were instrumental in bringing up the issue of Gentiles being admitted to the faith without first having to become Jews.  They stood together on this issue at the Council of Jerusalem while the other apostles disagreed vehemently.  This was probably the most crucial problem in the history of Christianity.

The two continued their work together for some time until they had a disagreement concerning John Mark.  The two men went their separate ways but both continued their ministry in the faith.  While Paul undertook several missionary journeys eventually ending in Rome, Barnabas traveled to Syria and Salamis where he seemed to have had extraordinary success in preaching the Gospel.  Although there is no written proof, Barnabas is said to have been martyred in Salamis, Cyprus.  Today, he is venerated as the Patron Saint of Cyprus.

                            Lorette P. Nault