We first meet Barnabas in the early days of the church. A Levite, he owned estates on the island of Cyprus. In ancient times, Cyprus was famous for its vineyards, wheat fields, oil and figs. It was a secular Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. Anyone who possessed land in Cyprus was rich and influential.
With his great wealth, generosity, noble character and services to the family of God, the disciples gave him a new name. To his old name Joseph they added the new name Barnabas, which means "son of consolation, son of exhortation, and son of prophecy."
The apostles called Joseph, Paraklesis (Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Paraclete--"the Comforter, the One called alongside to help.") Barnabas' character was such that the disciples identified him with God's Spirit as a comforter and as a man gifted to communicate God's Word.
Barnabas opened his door to Saul, three years after his conversion. He took him in, sat him with at supper, and listened to his story. Then he introduced him to the apostles, including James and Peter.
When reports were carried to Jerusalem of the Holy Spirit's work in Antioch, the apostles decided to investigate evangelism among the Gentiles.
Heads of Jerusalem church chose Barnabas to go and see what was going on.
It was a wise choice because Cypriots and Cyrenians were spearheading the work in Antioch, and Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew.
He was a spiritual man, "a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." (Acts 11:24).
It didn't take Barnabas long to realize that the work in Antioch was growing so fast that it needed a stronger hand than his to guide it correctly.
"Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, to seek Paul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch." It was a bold move.
Paul and Barnabas worked together in Antioch for at least a year to enlarge the church, to encourage the believers, and to evangelize the city. At Antioch, pagans coined the term Christians as a nickname of contempt for believers.
After the conference in Jerusalem (settling the question of the Gentile church and the Hebrew Christian church) Paul proposed to Barnabas that they set out on a second missionary journey. Barnabas agreed. But then the separation came.
The issue: Barnabas wanted to take his young nephew, John Mark, along again, despite the young man's failure on the first missionary journey. Paul, however, adamantly refused even to consider this option. (Acts 15:39) This was not a small disagreement. It was a major argument. Who was right? As with so much quarrels, both men were right and both were wrong.