Galatians 1: Where’s Barnabas?

The opening lines of Galatians are perhaps the most significant of all of Paul’s letters.  By comparing this introduction to the other letters of Paul, Bible students have usually focused on the absence of praise for the Galatian churches.  This is certainly true, but something else is missing from the introduction of this letter.  Paul normally includes others in the address of a letter (1 Thess 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1).  In this case Paul alone is writer of the letter.  Barnabas, the logical person to include, is missing.  Where is Barnabas?

Richard Bauckham wrote a short article on Barnabas in Galatians in which he suggests that Paul purposely did not include Barnabas because at the time of the writing of the letter, he was still estranged from Paul.  When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after planting several churches in Galatia, two things happened.  First, men from (allegedly) from James came to Antioch and complained about table fellowship.  Peter and Barnabas withdrew from eating with Gentiles, resulting in a stern condemnation from Paul (Gal 2:11-14).  Second, Paul hears a report that Gentiles in his Galatia churches are also being pressured to keep the Law, including circumcision.  (These events could be reversed chronologically, it does not matter for the point of this argument.)

While it appears that Barnabas and Paul reconcile before Acts 15, it may be that the rift goes deeper than either Galatians or Acts lets on.  By the end of Acts 15, immediately after the Jerusalem conference, Barnabas and Paul part company again.  The reason Luke gives is the presence of John Mark in a renewed mission to Gentiles.  While Bauckham does not say this, I think that the presence of John Mark indicates that Barnabas is unwilling to do Gentile ministry in the same way Paul does.  The Incident at Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12) is the key.  John Mark leaves after Paul’s dramatic condemnation of unbelieving Jews.  In my view, John Mark is reacting to Paul’s ministry to Gentiles who are not God-Fearing Gentiles within the context of a synagogue.  In addition, he may have disagreed with Paul over a gospel which did not require Gentiles to at least become God-Fearers, let alone not keep food laws or Sabbaths.

In addition, it is likely that Barnabas was the leader of the first mission effort to Cyprus and Asia Minor.  Remember that at Lystra he was thought to be Zeus, implying he was older and “in charge” while  Paul was Hermes, the spokesman for Zeus.  Paul’s actions on Cyprus and his sermon in Acts 13 make it clear that his theology was going beyond Gentiles in the Synagogue.   By taking John Mark back as a travel companion, Barnabas may be signaling his unwillingness to minister outside of the synagogue in quite the way Paul does in Acts 16 and following (balancing synagogue with marketplace ministry, engaging pagan philosophers, etc.)

Admittedly this is speculative, but Bauckham’s reconstruction (and my slight extension of it) seems to explain the absence of Barnabas from the introduction of the letter.  If Paul could say “even Barnabas agrees with me,” he would have since that would have silenced the opponents.  However, he cannot say this at the time Galatians was written.

Richard Bauckham, “Barnabas in Galatians,” JSNT 2 (1979): 61-70.

Acts 5:1-16 – Barnabas and Ananias

OK, I was a sluggard and did not get this post done.  My apologies!  The audio for this week’s evening service will be available at, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service.  You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer.

Luke gives an ideal example: Joseph the Levite, also known as Barnabas (4:36) Barnabas is a significant figure int eh book of Acts, introduced here as a member of the community at Jerusalem. Joseph is a common name in the first century, so his second name might be a nickname. Luke tells us the name means “son of encouragement.”

Barnabas was from Cyprus. We know a community of Jews was present on Cyprus as early as 330 B.C., but they were expelled in A.D. 117. It is possible that Barnabas was in Jerusalem to serve his time in the Temple, or he may have been living in the city more or less full time. If he was wealthy, then he may have owned property in Jerusalem and Cyprus. When he accompanies Paul on the first missionary journey, the first location they travel to is Cyprus, perhaps to people who knew Barnabas quite well.

Barnabas sells some property and turns the proceeds over to the apostles. This stands in contrast to Ananias in the next paragraph, who claims to do the same thing but is not telling the truth.

Ananias also participated in communal living, but not fully (5:1-2) Taking the end of chapter four together with the beginning of chapter 5, it looks as though Barnabas and Ananias are intentionally place in contrast with each other.

Since the sale of property is voluntary, there is no reason for Ananias to lie about the price of the property – what is his motivation? Possibly he is simply motivated by greed, he did not want to give as much as the price of the property but when others gave the whole amount, he claimed a larger amount that he actually gave. Since Peter describes him as “filled with Satan” many scholars see him as parallel to Judas, another man who was filled with Satan, whose sin also include money (eventually) used to buy some land.

The word used to describe the sin (“kept back” in verse 2-4) includes the idea of financial fraud, such as embezzlement. BDAG describe it as “a type of skimming operation.” The word is used for people who hold back some of their crops which are to be used for the public good (Diodorus Scourus, 5, 34, 3). A more surprising use of this word is in LXX Joshua 7:1, 19-26 to describe the sin of Aachen. In that text, Aachen holds back some property which was supposed to be devoted to the Lord. His theft is therefore described as stealing from the Lord.

Peter confronts Ananias and his judgment is immediate (5:3-6) Peter tells Ananias that Satan has filled his heart. How is this possible, if the Jerusalem community was filled with the Holy Spirit? Was Ananias possessed, or does this language simply describe temptation? This must be parallel to the experience of Judas, who was the only other person in the gospels described as “filled by Satan.” Peter makes it clear that Ananias’ sin is against the Holy Spirit – his lie is not told to the apostles or the apostolic community, but to the Holy Spirit.

His wife Sapphira also lies, and is likewise judged (5:7-11) Luke tells us about three hours have passed since Ananias died before Sapphira came to Peter. We know that Ananias acted with the full support of his wife. Just ast the apostolic community is of “one mind and heart,” so too this couple was of one mind in heart.

Remember that the community in Jerusalem is a new Israel, and like the original founding of Israel, there is no room for the double-minded. Ananias is a negative example of someone not fully committed to the new community. Barnabas is fully committed, and will be a significant player in the missionary efforts of the earliest church.