Barnabas was one of the seventy-two disciples called by Jesus. He was from the Greek island of Cyprus. Originally named Joseph, he was known to the disciples as Barnabas, a Hebrew word meaning “son of encouragement.”
One cannot read the Acts of the Apostles without gaining an appreciation for Barnabas. Barnabas’ generosity and faith bore witness to Christ’s teachings. Our first knowledge of Barnabas is that “he sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles” (Acts 4:37).
Barnabas was an inspiration to many, most especially Paul. Without the help of Barnabas, Paul would have been unable to preach the Good News. Notorious for his persecution of Christ’s followers, few believed that Saul (later called Paul) had converted. They were afraid. Barnabas showed them by his words and actions that he strongly believed in the power of the Gospel message to change people’s hearts. Today he is heralded by the church for his role as an evangelizer and staunch supporter of St. Paul.
Barnabas boldly sponsored Saul into the community of believers, telling the apostles how Saul had come to know the Lord and that Saul had preached fearlessly in Jesus’ name in Damascus (Acts 9:27).
For years Barnabas and Paul would travel and preach together to Jews and Gentiles alike. They preached for a year in Antioch, in what is now present day Turkey. It is there that Christ’s followers were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).
Barnabas died a martyr in his native Cyprus. The Catholic Church celebrates his feast day on June 11.