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It is always very humbling to realise how much one doesn’t know and how mistaken we have been. Before researching Barnabas I wondered what on earth I was going to say about him. I thought all that was known about him was that he was Saul/Paul’s assistant for a while, until they had an argument and parted company.

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How wrong can you be? Barnabas, although not one of the Twelve, was a very significant person in the Church in the Apostolic age, one of the earliest converts. A Jew and a Levite. Tradition has it that he was one of the seventytwo appointed by Jesus - Luke 10. Despite being Paul’s ‘sponsor’ in the early church, he has been overshadowed by Paul’s more flamboyant personality. Even here I started to digress into a discussion about Paul – I have been firm with him. It is not his turn. He kept trying to take it over though.

Image courtesy of gesinek on rgbstock.comBarnabas is described as a Levite called Joseph from Cyprus. He sold his estate and gave the proceeds to the Church, The Apostles named him Barnabas which means Son of Encouragement. Acts 4: 36-37. He introduced Paul to the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, giving Paul credibility and acceptance in the Jerusalem Church. At first they were terrified of Paul thinking that he was not really a disciple. Acts 9: 26-28. Later, the Jersualem Church sent Barnabas to Antioch to help the growing Church there. In Acts it says that after the Christian diaspora caused by the martyrdom of Stephen, most of those scattered only preached the gospel to Jews. The Antioch Christians preached the good news to Greeks as well. Acts hints that it was concern with this that prompted them to despatch Barnabas to check things out. But Barnabas found clear evidence of the grace of God and Image courtesy of trublueboy on sxc.huwas glad and encouraged them. The Antioch church grew rapidly and Barnabas went to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him to Antioch to help him. Acts 11: 19-26. Barnabas and Paul stayed in Antioch for a year. Then the church sent them on missionary journeys. Later the Church at Antioch was disturbed by visitors from Jerusalem claiming that Christians had to circumcised it if they were to be saved. Barnabas and Paul returned to Jerusalem and the matter was thrashed out. It was agreed that circumcision and the other requirements of the Jewish law were not necessary for gentiles to be accepted into the Christian church. Acts 15: 1-35

Image courtesy of lonniehb on sxc.huInterestingly Paul’s account of these events in Galatians 2: 1-16 is subtly different. Barnabas is kept in the background, almost appearing as Paul’s assistant, and Paul accuses him of being led astray by those who wanted to insist on the requirements of the law. Do you know, I have never really appreciated how Barnabas is described in Acts before? ‘He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith,’ Acts 11: 24. Maybe I am being fanciful, but when I read that I had such a strong sense of serenity, compassion, peace and love. How I wish I could have met him. Eventually Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch and after a while Paul suggested revisiting the churches they had established and encouraged on their travels. However, there was a dispute between them, Acts 15: 36-40, and they went their separate ways.

Image courtesy of ross666 on sxc.huThe other thing that has struck me is how much fierce argument Paul generated everywhere he went. I have always thought that this was an inevitable result of his fearless and uncompromising preaching of the gospel, after all - many of the effective early church evangelists were persecuted and martyred and often controversial even within the Church - but Paul’s capacity to generate disputes and personal hostility appears exceptional even by these standards. I have a theory about this, but this is not about Paul.

Image courtesy of HelenMary on sxc.huLittle or no writing has survived that can be confidently attributed to Barnabas. There are apocryphal documents. Some have been attributed to him in the past but modern scholarship does not consider him to be the author. Early Christian writers attributed both the Epistle to the Hebrews and Acts of the Apostles to Barnabas, but this did not become the mainstream tradition for the authorship of these books. There is an Epistle of Barnabas which in the 4th Century appeared in a manuscript at the end of the New Testament and a shorter form appeared in a 6th Century Latin list of canonical works. It enjoyed considerable, even canonical authority amongst parts of the Eastern church in the early centuries. Its authorship has been ascribed to various people, but Barnabas is not considered to be the author today. The book emphasises that is unnecessary to follow the old Jewish religious laws and reinterprets the dietary requirements of the law suggesting a spiritual rather than literal interpretation.

Image courtesy of Morrhigan on sxc.huI learnt a new thing about myself as well as about Barnabas. I am probably an antinomist, or have antinomist leanings. This is a heresy although there is a great deal of disagreement about how it is recognised in practice. Apparently despite his opposition to the Jewish laws of the Old Covenant, Barnabas was not an antinomist. (The term was coined by Martin Luther who is some centuries later than Barnabas, and has its origin in a Greek work meaning lawlessness or against the law).

“a belief or tendency in most religions that some therein consider existing laws as no longer applicable to themselves. The term originated in the context of a minority Protestant view that since faith itself alone is sufficient to attain salvation, adherence to religious law is not necessary, and religious laws themselves are set aside or "abrogated" as inessential. While the concept is related to the foundational Protestant belief of justification through faith alone in Christ, it is taken to an extreme. It is seen by some as the opposite of the notion that obedience to a code of religious law earns salvation: legalism or works righteousness. An antinomian theology does not necessarily imply the embrace of ethical permissiveness; rather it usually implies emphasis on the inner working of the Holy Spirit as the primary source of ethical guidance.”

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Anyone else out there recognise themselves as an antinomist?

The Epistle of Barnabas is not to be confused with the Gospel of Barnabas for which there are two 16th Century manuscripts, although it is claimed to have a much earlier origin. While it contains much material found in the canonical gospels, it is more in line with the Islamic view of Jesus, in particular his death and resurrection. Some Muslims consider that it contains material belonging to a suppressed Apostolic manuscript and some Islamic organisations cite it (this site gives a full English translation text) in support of the Islamic view of Jesus. It is also not in agreement with much of the content of the Epistle of Barnabas. There does not appear to be a connection between the two books. Image courtesy of raichinger on sxc.huThere is also a book – The Acts of Barnabas – which claims its author as John Mark who accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journeys, and about whom Paul fell out with Barnabas later; Mark staying with Barnabas as described earlier. It is believed to be a 5th Century document ‘designed to strengthen the claims of the church of Cyprus to apostolic foundation as the site of Barnabas' grave, and therefore of its bishops' independence from the patriarch of Antioch.’ Tradition has it that he was martyred in Cyprus in the year 61.


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