Saint Barnabas, a Christian.teacher, noted for his early connection with the apostle Paul. His original name was Joses or Joseph. The surname Barnabas (Gr. Bapvaβac, from Chald. Bar-nebuah), signifies " son of prophecy," or "son of exhortation" ( Acts iv. 36). He was born in Cyprus of Jewish parents, and possessed of property, which he. sold, giving the proceeds to the common Christian fund. As this occurred soon after the day of Pentecost, he must have been one of the earliest converts. When the tidings reached Jerusalem of the conversion of Saul, Barnabas was sent to Antioch, where a gentile church had been organized, to investigate the matter. He labored there with Paul for a year, and when a contribution was raised for the poor brethren of Jerusalem, it was sent up by Barnabas and Paul. They were soon despatched on a mission to Cyprus and Asia Minor. A controversy having arisen at Antioch respecting the obligation of gentiles to receive the rite of circumcision, they were deputed to lay the matter before the elders of Jerusalem. Their representations induced the elders to decide, notwithstanding the opposition of Peter, that the rite was not essential. Barnabas and Paul then proposed another missionary journey. Barnabas wished to take with them his nephew Mark. Paul objected to this, for some reason not assigned; but as Mark is afterward spoken of as the special companion of Peter, it may be that he had sided with him in the controversy about circumcision.
The dispute became so sharp that a separation took place, Barnabas and Mark going to Cyprus, while Paul, taking with him Silas, went through Syria and Cilicia. Beyond this, with the exception of three incidental allusions in the epistles of Paul, nothing is certainly known respecting Barnabas. From these it appears that he was unmarried, and supported himself, like Paul, by some manual occupation; and that he so far went over to the Judaizing party as for a time to keep aloof from communion with the gentile converts. From the fact that the heathen of Lystra called him Jupiter, while they styled Paul Mercury on account of his eloquence, it has been inferred that Barnabas was a man of imposing aspect and demeanor. There are numerous legends respecting him, none of which can be traced beyond the 6th century. According to one, he attempted to preach in the synagogue at Salamis, was dragged out and stoned to death, and an ineffectual attempt was made to burn his body. Mark rescued the body and buried it in a cave; but a persecution arising, the Christians were dispersed, and the knowledge of the place of interment was lost.
Four centuries later a heretical attempt was made to set aside the orthodox bishop of Salamis. Barnabas three times appeared to the bishop in a vision, and told him where his body might be found, with a copy of Matthew's Gospel lying upon it. Search was made, and the body and book were found. A tradition wholly unsupported makes Barnabas the first bishop of Milan; but Ambrose does not mention him among the bishops who had preceded him in that see. The Roman Catholic church celebrates the festival of St. Barnabas on June 11. The church at Toulouse claims to possess his body, and there are eight or nine other churches which claim to possess his head. A spurious gospel attributed to Barnabas exists in Arabic, which has been translated into English, Spanish, and Italian. It appears to be a forgery by some heretical sect, with interpolations by Mohammedans. It was placed among the apocryphal books by Cotelerius in his edition of the "Apostolic Canon," and was formally condemned by Pope Gelasius II. in 1118.