Biblical People

Biblical People: Barnabas

We know Joseph (8) better as Barnabas. That’s the name the apostles give him. It means “son of encouragement,” which is a great nickname because he serves as a mentor and encourages others.

The Bible records two occasions when he does this, and there are probably many others we aren’t aware of. 

Barnabas’s first mentee is Saul (2). After Saul’s conversion, the disciples in Jerusalem are understandably afraid of him, but Barnabas helps Saul get plugged in.

The disciples send Barnabas to Antioch as their first missionary. When he sees how the Holy Spirit is at work there, he finds Saul and the two of them work in Antioch for an entire year. Barnabas is Saul’s mentor.

Without Barnabas, Saul may have never been connected to the church and learned how to help it grow. Eventually, the dynamics of the relationship shift, with Saul (later known as Paul) taking a lead role in their partnership.

The pair continues to travel, tell others about Jesus, and establish churches.

Then Barnabas wants to take his nephew, John Mark, with them, but Paul doesn’t. This is because Mark deserted them on a prior trip. Barnabas and Paul argue about what to do, and their ministry breaks up over their disagreement.

Though their split is disappointing, it serves to double their effectiveness. Barnabas takes Mark, to mentor him, and they head for Cyprus. Saul picks Silas as his mentee, and they head for Syria. 

Though Barnabas and Saul made a good team, it’s time for them to mentor others.

How can we decide when we should leave something that’s good to pursue something that might be even better?

[Discover more about Barnabas in Acts 4:36–37, Acts 9:26–28, Acts 11:22–26, Acts 13–15 (especially Acts 15:36–41), Galatians 2:1–14, and Colossians 4:10.]

Read more about other biblical characters in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at