Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”) (Acts 4:36, NIV).
Joseph, also called Barnabas, is a prominent person in the Bible.
He is mentioned at least 15 times in the New Testament, and in Acts 4, we learn that the apostles had nicknamed him “son of encouragement.”
Name changes were common in Biblical times as Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul. Usually, a name change indicated a new calling in life. Jacob to Israel (from a shepherd to the name of a nation), Simon to Peter (or a fisherman to the founding rock of the church), and Saul to Paul (from a Pharisee to a missionary to the Gentiles).
When the apostles were in an upper room (having dinner after the church began in Acts 2), John or one of the apostles said, “We need to change Joseph’s name to Barnabas or ‘son of encouragement.’”
Why did they feel that way?
Barnabas had become known for his spirit of encouragement and edification. With thousands of new believers hanging around Jerusalem, having accepted Jesus after Peter’s first sermon, there were sizable food and other hospitality needs.
Scripture tells us that Barnabas, to help . . .
Sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:37).
Examining the Greek word for “encouragement” used by the apostles, it’s not the same, but very similar to the word used by Jesus for “the Spirit.” The Spirit is called the “paraclete” or “called alongside to help,” and Barnabas is nicknamed “paraclesis,” or “called alongside to encourage.”
The apostles were not calling Barnabas the Holy Spirit as that would be blasphemy, but in a playful twist of words, they were giving him great honor!
We find Barnabas throughout the New Testament playing the role of encourager. We see in Acts 9:26-27 . . .
When Paul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
Also, in Acts 15:36-41, Barnabas, wanting to take John Mark on the second missionary journey, disputed with Paul because John Mark had deserted them on the first missionary journey. We read . . .
Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care (vv. 39-40).
Barnabas, son of encouragement — generous, standing up for Paul, and being gracious with John Mark. I want a friend or perhaps a dozen friends like Barnabas!
Encouragement is needed in the church today.
Let’s pray for encouragement when we need it, and even better, let’s consider ways to become a Barnabas to those around us.