Barnabas and Silas

Where do we begin when a friend we love is not in the Truth? Where do we begin when it is someone we dislike? Where do we begin when an individual, any new brother or sister, accepts the Truth?

Barnabas — Where do I begin?

Barnabas may have been asking that same question when approaching Paul for the first time after his conversion. The first time we meet Barnabas is in Acts 4:31-37:

“And when they [the apostles] had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness. And the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul. And not one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own. But they had all things common. And the apostles gave witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power. And great grace was on them all. For neither was anyone needy among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and they laid them down at the apostles’ feet. And distribution was made to every man according as he had need. And Joses, who was surnamed Barnabas by the apostles (which is, being translated, The son of consolation), a Levite, a Cypriot by race, a field being his, selling it, he bore the proceeds and placed them at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:31-37).

Barnabas was a caring man, a giving man, ready to give up all that he had in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we see much of this nature displayed as we continue. Bro. W.H. Boulton suggests that Paul and Barnabas might have been students together in Tarsus (Paul the Apostle, pp. 27-28). Barnabas’ first recorded meeting with Paul (Acts 9:27) took place many years after their time in Tarsus. There is a strong possibility that they met or knew of each other before the meeting that is recorded in Acts. Barnabas, like Paul, was not an immediate convert of Christ, at least not until the apostles had reached him as recorded in Acts 4. It is possible that prior to this conversion he was of a similar mind-set as was Saul prior to his own. He may have watched his former schoolmate persecuting the Christians with fervor and thought to himself:

“Where can I begin with him?”

There is a simple beauty in the way God works in our lives, always the way He intends, and if Barnabas and Paul had been classmates, then it made Barnabas the perfect candidate to assist Paul in his time of need. The first time Barnabas meets his new brother was after Paul’s life had been threatened. Forced to flee from Damascus, surely depressed and distraught at the resistance, the one thing Paul needed was a friendly face.

In Barnabas’ eyes, this answered his question. He began years ago, at a school for Levites, establishing a connection that would, through God, blossom into a wonderful friendship.

And what can we learn from this? How we conduct ourselves is essential. Barnabas surely had no idea that someone he knew from his schooling would become his travel brother, just as we have no idea who in our lives will become someone just as important. True, we do not know exactly how, or if they knew each other at all, but Barnabas has a connection with Paul that not many others in the ecclesia did and that was enough to create a bond between the two. Barnabas had the same mind, the same speaking abilities, and the same training in such fields that he could empathize with Paul and encourage him.

Barnabas was the opposite of Paul in many ways. Paul carried the weight of a sullied reputation among the Jews and Gentiles alike. Barnabas was an imposing man, likely good-looking and displaying authority. We know this from Acts:

“This one heard Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him, and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand up on your feet! And he leaped and walked. And seeing what Paul did, the crowd lifted up their voice, saying in Lycaonian, The gods have come down to us, becoming like men. And they called Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul Mercury, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Jupiter, being before their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, wishing to sacrifice with the crowds” (Acts 14:9-13).

It is never stated explicitly why the Lycaonians chose to label Barnabas as Jupiter. According to Roman mythology, however, Jupiter was king of the Roman gods. The pagans must have seen Barnabas as a good representation of their lightning-hurling idol. And while this does not mean that he had a dangerous demeanor or blasphemous attitude, it may speak to his physical nature. Barnabas was strong, thankfully both in body and in spirit. This event in the life of Barnabas brings to mind an often misunderstood element of his character. Paul was the chief speaker, and it seems that the assistants of Paul often are overshadowed by such a powerful orator. This, however, does not mean that Barnabas was in any way a bad speaker. In fact, it seems that Barnabas was a well-regarded member of the brethren and his words were highly respected.

Many years prior to their ministry together, and sometime after their first encounter, Paul was yet again called on by Barnabas to accompany him to Antioch. Barnabas’ recommendation of Paul allowed for him to be more widely accepted in the ecclesia. Again, this would never have been possible if their friendship had not already been built. It is likely that Barnabas saw and remembered this zealous Saul from their youth, and felt that his energy was now ready to be directed towards helping, not hindering, Christ’s message. In a way, Barnabas acted as the training wheels that Paul would need to begin his journey — a brother with similar life experiences, and a warm heart.

Barnabas is a great example of the strength we should have when we approach a new brother or sister. He showed Paul love and acceptance in the face of adversity. Paul did not seek out Barnabas, nor did the church send Barnabas to help Paul, rather Barnabas sought Paul out of his own accord. Barnabas had no misgivings about his former classmate’s intentions, despite the fearsome reputation Paul had attained.

‘Where do I begin?’ is no longer a cry of helplessness, but of excitement and anticipation of the journey ahead. ‘Where do we begin?’ is a cry of joy, like a family planning a vacation. ‘We will begin in Antioch…’ and from there Paul and Barnabas spread out and spoke the truth to all who would hear. His willingness to forgive made him the perfect partner for a budding apostle.

Barnabas stood by Paul as a teacher and guide when Paul needed more direction. Paul quickly rose in leadership and came into his own, and Barnabas stepped back as Paul stepped forward and, before long, the two would separate.

It was Barnabas’ forgiving nature that tore the two apart. When Barnabas asked if they could bring a young man, Mark, with them on a repeat journey to several ecclesias, Paul said no, because Mark had failed them in their time of need. As Bro. Boulton points out (pp. 73-74), it is pointless to state whether Paul was too harsh or if Barnabas was too forgiving; in truth, it was God’s hand at work. Barnabas was a strong speaker and a leader and God separated them so that both could grow and spread the truth separately to more brethren.

Silas — How can I help you?

In the wake of separation, Paul chose to bring with him a brother by the name of Silas. If Barnabas was the brother to introduce Paul to the ecclesias, Silas’ role was to prove to the new believers that what Paul and the other apostles were preaching to them was the truth. Silas is first introduced in Acts:

“Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men from them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; Judas, whose last name was Barsabas; and Silas, chief men among the brothers. And they wrote these things by their hand: The apostles and elders and brothers send greeting to the brothers, from the nations in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia. Because we have heard that certain ones who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, Be circumcised and keep the law! (to whom we gave no such command); it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have given up their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who will also announce to you the same things by word” (Acts 15:22-27).

Silas was one of the chief men in the brotherhood, hand chosen to travel with Paul and Barnabas. Yet, for all his prominence in the ecclesia, Silas often comes in second in Scripture. When paired with another of the apostles, Silas is only ever mentioned first with regard to Timothy. It may be that the writers of the New Testament just wanted to put the apostles in alphabetical order but, to counter that point, remember that Barnabas and Paul quickly switched to Paul and Barnabas when the leadership roles were reversed. This leads us to a theory as to why Silas is so often mentioned second. You see, while Barnabas specialized in early development (similar to Paul), Silas was a confirmer or reinforcer of the Truth. He came behind or after a brother had introduced the Truth, and proved that what they had been saying was accurate, or at the very least believed by the whole ecclesia.

“And when they had read it, they rejoiced at the comfort. And Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, exhorted the brothers with many words and confirmed them. And remaining for a time, they were let go in peace from the brothers to the apostles. But it pleased Silas to remain there” (Acts 15:31-34).

Keep in mind, that we live in a beautiful age of easy contact. If we want to make sure we have a clear understanding of the Truth, we can refer to a number of solid works by brethren and compare thoughts via e-mail and phone. But in an age where first principles were just being introduced, how were the ecclesias to believe that anything Paul was preaching was what the rest of the churches believed? They would look forward to other teachers, those that would come later or, as often in Silas’ case, would stay behind. In this case, Judas and Silas would confirm that what Paul and Barnabas had said was true and when Judas and Silas taught the same principles, it would have been absolutely clear that what had been said before was truth.

This is not a role to be taken lightly. As we know, after he had left a town, Paul had to deal with brethren coming through that town preaching something completely different. It was essential that Silas, and brethren like him, would come to the ecclesia preaching the same message, without it being polluted.

Silas was also a supporter. On several occasions, even while traveling with Paul, Silas would stay behind to make sure that the ecclesias would be able to function without his presence. It is important to note that he was not asked to stay but on many occasions made the independent choice. He stayed behind to work with an ecclesia, to make sure they truly understood what Paul had preached.

It is likely that Silas comes first in regards to this younger brother, Timothy, because Silas was so good at building up what Paul had started. He became a Barnabas figure to Timothy while Paul continued on to Athens. He prepared Timothy, just as Barnabus had prepared Paul, to eventually go on missionary journeys of his own.

Once Silas reaches Athens and travels to Macedonia to meet Paul, his name disappears from the records. After this point, Luke (the writer of the Acts) begins referring to the group in the first person plural (we), implying that he had joined the traveling ministry. Silas would have been a valuable asset to the group, strengthening and reaffirming their faith. And it was in these times that Paul would truly need some support. Shipwrecks, prison (again), beatings, harsh debates all would take their toll on Paul and he did not need another leader like himself by his side. He needed someone to confirm that what he was saying was true and right. Silas provided this.

If we are to take anything from these two brothers, it should be this: God chooses whom He will to get the job done. He knows what we need, who we need, when we need them. These two wonderful brethren were picked by God because He knew how they could help build up His servant Paul. No, they were not the focus, but then neither was Paul. He was a messenger, an apostle, an ambassador for Christ, just as they were, just as we are.

Ethan Bearden (Austin Leander, TX)