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Martyr (New Testament)

 A friend of the apostles, a companion of Saint Paul, a believer in Christ; this was Barnabas, an early convert to Christianity who plays a prominent role in the events narrated by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. "Barnabas" means "son of consolation" and was the name the apostles gave the saint when he joined the Church at Jerusalem. Originally called Joseph, he was a Jewish Levite from the island of Cyprus. The first action recorded of him is the generous one of selling a piece of land he owned and giving the money to the apostles for the support of the Christian community.

 When Saint Paul made his first visit to Jerusalem after his shattering experience on the road to Damascus, it was Barnabas who brought him to the apostles and thus gave him the opportunity of convincing those still skeptical men of the sincerity of his conversion. Paul and Barnabas were eventually to make a missionary trip together, but for the present Paul had to return to his native Tarsus in order to escape attempts on his life by the enraged Jews with whom he had formerly persecuted Christians. A few years later, when Barnabas had been sent to Antioch to help strengthen the small Christian group there, he went to Tarsus and brought Paul back to help in the work. About a year later, when a famine struck the countryside around Jerusalem, the two men were sent there with a relief collection taken up from the Christians of Antioch; on their return they brought with them John Mark, a nephew of Barnabas and the future evangelist.

 It was now about the year 45, and time for Paul's most important missionary trip; the command for the journey came from the Holy Spirit speaking through certain prophetically gifted members of the Church at Antioch: "Set apart for me Saul (Paul had not yet started to use the Roman form of his name) and Barnabas unto the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2). With the blessing of their brethren, the two men, with Mark as an assistant, set out on a long and eventful trip: at Cyprus, the home of Barnabas, Paul (who seems to have been in charge and was the spokesman) converted Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul; back on the mainland, at Perge, Mark left them, perhaps because he wished to rejoin his master, Saint Peter. At Antioch in Pisidia, where they were received with hostility by the Jews, Paul took the momentous step of preaching to the gentiles, a thing not yet generally done by the Christians; at Iconium they preached to the Jews and suffered a stoning in return; at Lystra, where they preached in the public forum, the pagans first worshipped them as incarnations of pagan gods because of Paul's curing of a cripple, then stoned them when troublemakers from Iconium arrived and turned the. Lystrians against the two; Derbe was their last stop, after which they returned to Antioch by the way they had come, except for bypassing Cyprus.

 The next major event in the lives of the two men, who seem to have been inseparable for some time, was the Council of Jerusalem, which took place about the year 51. It was there that Peter ruled against the "Judaizers" in the Church who wanted to subject even gentile Christians to all the ceremony and custom of the Jewish law; his pronouncement that salvation came through faith in Christ, not through observance of the Old Law, was supported by testimony from Paul and Barnabas as to the effectiveness of their missionary work among the gentiles, who, of course, had never observed the Jewish law. Peter's decision, an important one for the Church, was taken back to Antioch by the two friends, who resumed their preaching there.

 Their final separation came about when Paul suggested they return to the places they had visited on their first missionary trip; Barnabas was willing, but wanted to take Mark along once more. Paul would have none of this, remembering Mark's desertion on the first trip, and a "sharp contention" (Acts 15:39) sprang up between the two over the issue. Finally, each went his own way; Paul, with another disciple named Silas, left for Syria and Cilicia; Barnabas went back to Cyprus with Mark. Although we know that Paul later became reconciled with Mark and bore no grudge against Barnabas, the latter is not mentioned again in the Acts. Tradition has it that he met death by stoning at Salamis.

 Saint Luke gives the title of apostle to Barnabas for the missionary work he did and describes him as "a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" (Acts 11:24).

 From the time of these pioneer missionaries, the Church has never lacked apostolic men who give up property, family, fatherland, and life itself to carry the good Dews of salvation in Christ to new places and to the very ends of the earth.



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved