Today is the feast day of St Barnabas, an early Christian who was one of the most prominent Christian disciples in Jerusalem in the 1st century, although he is not all that well known these days, probably because his work was overshadowed by Paul’s. Barnabas, who was a Hellenized Cypriot Jew, undertook missionary journeys with Paul and participated with him in the Council of Jerusalem (c. 50). Barnabas and Paul successfully evangelized Gentiles who attended synagogues in various Hellenized cities of Anatolia. Barnabas’ story appears in the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul mentions him in some of his epistles. Tertullian named him as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but this and other attributions are flimsy conjecture. Clement of Alexandria and some scholars have ascribed the Epistle of Barnabas to him, but this authorship is also disputed. General consensus is that if Barnabas wrote anything, it does not survive. Although the date, place, and circumstances of his death are historically unverifiable, Christian tradition holds that Barnabas was martyred at Salamis on Cyprus in 61. He is traditionally identified as the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church. Whatever his status as an early Christian, his activities are well attested historically. We are not now talking about shadowy apostles mentioned in the gospels written well after the events they narrate by people who were not eye witnesses, but a real, live, flesh-and-blood man, written about contemporaneously by Paul in his letters, who knew him and traveled with him. The historicity of the Acts of the Apostles can be called into question; Paul’s epistles cannot.
Barnabas was known as Ιὠσης (Iōsēs), a Greek variant of ‘Joseph’, but when he sold all his goods and gave the money to the apostles in Jerusalem, they gave him a new name: Barnabas. This name appears to be from the Aramaic בר נחמה, bar neḥmā, meaning ‘son of consolation’ ultimately, although the Greek text of the Acts 4:36 explains the name in Greek as υἱὸς παρακλήσεως, hyios paraklēseōs, meaning “son of consolation” or “son of encouragement”.
Barnabas was a native of Cyprus and a Levite, and is first mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as a member of the early Christian community in Jerusalem, who sold some land that he owned and gave the proceeds to the community (Acts 4:36-37). When the future apostle Paul returned to Jerusalem after his conversion, Barnabas introduced him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). This suggests that they were previously acquainted. The successful preaching of Christianity at Antioch to non-Jews led the church at Jerusalem to send Barnabas there to oversee the movement (Acts 11:20–22). He found the work so extensive and weighty that he went to Tarsus in search of Paul (still referred to as Saul), “an admirable colleague”, to assist him. Paul returned with him to Antioch and worked with him for a whole year (Acts 11:25–26). At the end of this period, the two were sent up to Jerusalem (in 44 CE) with contributions from the church at Antioch for the relief of the poorer Christians in Judea.
They returned to Antioch taking John Mark with them, a relative (possibly the cousin or nephew) of Barnabas. Later, they went to Cyprus and some of the principal cities of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia (Acts 13:14). After recounting what the governor of Cyprus Sergius Paulus believed, Acts 13:9 speaks of Barnabas’ companion no longer as Saul, but as Paul, his Roman name, and generally refers to the two no longer as “Barnabas and Saul” as previously (11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7), but as “Paul and Barnabas” (13:43, 46, 50; 14:20; 15:2, 22, 35). Only in 14:14 and 15:12-25 does Barnabas again occupy the first place, in the first passage with recollection of 14:12, in the last 2, because Barnabas stood in closer relation to the Jerusalem church than Paul. Paul appears as the more eloquent missionary (13:16; 14:8-9; 19-20), hence the Lystrans regarded him as Hermes and Barnabas as Zeus.
Returning from this first missionary journey to Antioch, they were again sent up to Jerusalem to consult with the church there regarding the relation of Gentiles to the church (Acts 15:2; Galatians 2:1). According to Galatians 2:9-10, Barnabas was included with Paul in the agreement made between them, on the one hand, and James, Peter, and John, on the other, that Paul and Barnabas should in the future preach to the pagans in Asia Minor and Europe, while James, Peter, and John would continue their work in Jerusalem. This was probably the most critical decision in the 1st century for the survival of the Christian church because the sack of Jerusalem destroyed the Jerusalem church, but the churches outside of Israel created by Paul and Barnabas, not only survived, but flourished. Without them, Christianity would have died in 70.
This matter having been settled, they returned again to Antioch, bringing the agreement of the council that Gentiles were to be admitted into the church without having to adopt all Jewish practices, most notably circumcision. After they had returned to Antioch from the Jerusalem council, they spent some time there (Acts 15:35). Peter came and associated freely there with the Gentiles, eating with them, until criticized for this by some disciples of James, as against Mosaic law. Upon their remonstrances, Peter yielded apparently through fear of displeasing them, and refused to eat any longer with the Gentiles. Barnabas followed his example. Paul considered that they “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” and upbraided them before the whole church (Galatians 2:11-15). Paul then asked Barnabas to accompany him on another journey (Acts 15:36). Barnabas wished to take John Mark along, but Paul did not (Acts 15:37-38). Paul and Barnabas ended up taking separate routes. Paul took Silas as his companion, and journeyed through Syria and Cilicia; while Barnabas took John Mark to visit Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41).
Barnabas is not mentioned again in the Acts of the Apostles. However, Galatians 2:11-13 says, “And when Kephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews also acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” In these early days of the Christian church the split between Paul, who wanted to convert everyone and anyone, and the Jerusalem church, represented by Peter, James and John, saw Christianity as an offshoot of Judaism for Jews only. Peter could waver on his travels, but ultimately sided with the apostles in Jerusalem, and it seems that Barnabas was deeply torn as well.
Barnabas is also mentioned in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in which Paul talks about how they funded their missions, and implies that they had foregone having wives (out of choice).
This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas[Peter]? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? (1 Cor. 9:3-6)
In this chapter he makes it clear that he and Barnabas have every right to expect to be paid by the churches they had founded, but they do not ask them for anything – not even food and drink. They preach for free, and are proud to do so. It is recorded that Paul was a tent maker, but there is no indication of Barnabas’ occupation. It is not just the “prosperity gospel” preachers who ought to pay more attention to this original state of affairs. All preachers and churches ought to pay attention. Do you preach because it is a good thing to do, or do you preach to make money??????
Antioch, the third-most important city of the Roman Empire, then the capital city of Syria province, today Antakya in Turkey, was where Christians were first called Christians. Before that they were referred to as followers of The Way. Some of those who had been scattered by the persecution that arose because of Stephen’s martyrdom went to Antioch, which became the site of an early Christian community. A considerable minority of the Antioch church of Barnabas’ time belonged to the merchant class, and they provided support to the poorer Jerusalem church.
Church tradition, developed outside of the canon of the Greek Bible, describes the martyrdom of many saints, including the legend of the martyrdom of Barnabas. It relates that certain Jews coming to Syria and Salamis, where Barnabas was then preaching the gospel became highly exasperated at his extraordinary success and fell upon him as he was disputing in the synagogue, dragged him out, tortured him, and stoned him to death. His kinsman, John Mark, who was a spectator, privately interred his body.
According to the History of the Cyprus Church, in 478 Barnabas appeared in a dream to the Archbishop of Constantia (Salamis, Cyprus), Anthemios, and revealed to him the place of his sepulchre beneath a carob-tree. The following day Anthemios found the tomb and inside it the remains of Barnabas with a manuscript of Matthew’s Gospel on his breast. Anthemios presented the Gospel to Emperor Zeno at Constantinople and received from him the privileges of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, that is, the purple cloak which the Greek Archbishop of Cyprus wears at festivals of the church, the imperial sceptre and the red ink with which he affixes his signature. Anthemios then placed the venerable remains of Barnabas in a church which he founded near the tomb. Excavations near the site of a present-day church and monastery, have revealed an early church with two empty tombs, which some claim to be that of St. Barnabas and Anthemios.
Afelia, pork braised in red wine and coriander, is a Cypriot dish that is pretty much timeless, so can work for the celebration of Barnabas. It is traditional to use belly pork or pork neck, but any boneless pork will work.
1 kg pork belly, cut in cubes
1 glass dry red wine
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp crushed coriander seeds
½ tsp cinnamon (or cumin)
salt and pepper
Mix the wine, coriander and bay leaves and use them as a marinade for the pork. Some cooks put everything in a bowl to marinate for an hour, others let the meat marinate overnight. Go to the HINTS tab for suggestions on marinating.
Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drain the meat and reserve the marinade. Quickly brown the meat on all sides.
Pour the reserved marinade over the pork, and add the cinnamon (or cumin), along with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow simmer, cover, and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the pork is tender. For the last 10 minutes of cooking, uncover to allow the sauce to reduce if it has not already done so.
Serve with a rice or bulgar wheat pilaf.