Saint Barnabas was one of the first prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch. He was born of Jewish parents of the tribe of Levi who named him Joseph. He was the cousin of John Mark, the person believed to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. He was a native of Cyprus, where he possessed land (Acts 4:36, 37), which he sold, and gave the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem. Following this act he was given the name Barnabas. This name appears to be from the Aramaic, meaning “the (son of the) prophet”. However, the Greek text of the Acts 4:36 explains the name as meaning “son of exhortation and or encouragement”.
When Saint Paul returned to Jerusalem after his conversion, Barnabas took him and introduced him to the apostles. It is possible that they had been fellow students in the school of Rabbi Gamaliel.
The prosperity of the church at Antioch led the apostles at Jerusalem to send Barnabas there to superintend the movement. He found the work so extensive and weighty that he went to Tarsus in search of Paul to assist him. St Paul returned with him to Antioch and labored with him for a whole year (Acts 11:25, 26). At the end of this period, the two were sent up to Jerusalem (AD 44) with the contributions the church at Antioch had made for the poorer members of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:28-30).
Shortly after they returned, bringing John Mark with them, they were appointed as missionaries to Asia Minor, and in this capacity visited Cyprus and some of the principal cities of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia (Acts 13:14).
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 Barnabas was included with Paul in the agreement made between them, on the one hand, and James, St. Peter and St. John, on the other, that the two former should in the future preach to the pagans, not forgetting the poor at Jerusalem. 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.
Having returned to Antioch and spent some time there, St Paul asked Barnabas to accompany him on another journey. Barnabas wished to take John Mark along, but Paul did not, as he had left them on their former journey. The dispute ended by Paul and Barnabas taking separate routes. Paul took Silas as his companion, and journeyed through Syria and Cilicia; while Barnabas took John Mark to visit Cyprus where, according to 1 Corinthians 9:6, he continued to labor as a missionary.
Other sources bring St Barnabas to Rome and Alexandria and he is depicted as preaching in Rome even during Christ’s lifetime.
When Barnabas was preaching the gospel in Syria and Salamis certain Jews became exasperated at his extraordinary success and stoned him to death. John Mark, who was a spectator of this, privately interred his body in a cave. The year of his death is not known
A monastery was built in his name at Salamis, Cyprus, where a tomb is reputed to hold his remains. He is venerated as the Patron Saint of Cyprus.
The feast day of St Barnabas is celebrated on June 11.