St. Barnabas Biography, St Barnabas, or Mar Bar-Naba as he is known in Aramaic, was a prominent leader in the formative days of the Church. His name is mentioned thirty times in the Scriptures, more often than most of the Twelve Apostles or even the Virgin Mary! St Barnabas is not a common saint in the Church of the East, nor are parishes named after him because he is considered a “Western Saint.” However, he is certainly a Biblical saint and therefore universally accepted. Let’s take a look at his life of service to the Lord.
St Barnabas was a Hebrew from the island of Cyprus. His Hebrew and Aramaic name was Yosip, or Joseph. Apostles saw in this Joseph from Cyprus a distinctive characteristic, one for which they renamed him “Bar-Naba,” or Barnabas in English. Bar-Naba is an Aramaic name, the meaning of which is “Son of Prophecy.”1 He was a Levite, a member of the tribe of Levi, the one tribe that did not inherit property in the Promised Land. Instead, their inheritance was God, for he said to Aaron, “You shall have no allotment in their land, nor shall you have any share among them; I am your share and your possession among the Israelites.”2 The Levites were the administrators of the Old Covenant. One part of the Levites, the “Sons of Aaron,” were the priests of the Old Covenant. The Levites served their cousins the priests in the Tabernacle, and later Temple, work. They were the gatekeepers, treasurers, groundskeepers and general assistants to the priests. They were supported by the tithes of the people. In turn, they tithed to the priests. We can see the similarities in this system to the New Covenant offices of deacons (shamashé) and the assistance they provide to the priests (qashishé) of the Church, although both are part of the “priesthood” (kahanutha).
Barnabas the Believer
We first encounter Barnabas in the fourth chapter of Acts. When he was converted and became a believer in Jesus as the Messiah, we cannot be sure. However, universal Eastern Christian tradition credits Barnabas as one of the “Seventy Disciples” who were sent out by Jesus in chapter 10 of St Luke’s Gospel. In the Syriac work, “The Book of the Bee,” Mar Solomon, Bishop of Basra (ca 1222) lists Barnabas as the seventh of the Seventy. Thus he was a member of the same group that included Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. These were men who were with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry and some were even earlier with John the Baptist. Concerning these men, Peter said, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”3