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Was Barnabas an Apostle?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series

"A Theology of Apostles and Apostleship"

You can read more posts from the series by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

San Barnaba by Anonimo Lombardo (an anonymous Lombard) - 17th CenturyWas Barnabas an apostle? This question is important because it is related to the larger question of whether or not apostles exist today. If the NT gave a pattern of apostles being added to the original Twelve (and Paul), could there be apostles today?

I explained in previous posts that the Twelve and Paul had a unique apostleship that singled them out from others that were called apostles in Scripture. In this post (and more to come), I will examine who else was called an apostle in the NT and the meaning of the term apostle as it applied to these individuals.

In Acts 14:4, Luke refers to “the apostles” who, in context, are Paul and Barnabas (cf. Acts 13:50). Ten verses later, Luke is more explicit and refers to “the apostles Barnabas and Paul” (Acts 14:14). Barnabas was clearly an apostle. But in what sense? Was he an apostle like the Twelve? Was he an apostle to the Gentiles in the same sense as Paul? Could the term apostle mean something else in this context?

Part of the difficulty in explaining Barnabas as an apostle lies in the fact that Paul, too, is called an apostle in Acts 14:4, 14. If Paul was an apostle in much the same way as the original Twelve, to call Barnabas an apostle alongside Paul seems to color Barnabas with the same apostolic hue as Paul. But this reasoning does not necessarily follow.

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Elder, Overseer, and Shepherd: One and the Same Office?

Luke typically describes Barnabas as an individual who was distinct from the twelve apostles (Acts 4:36; 9:27; 15:2, 22). These verses and others demonstrate that Luke consistently used the term apostle to refer to the Twelve.1 Luke’s use of the term apostle with reference to others such as Barnabas and Paul is exceptional.2 This is not to say that Paul was not an apostle, but it is to say that whether Paul, Barnabas, or anyone else, Luke did not typically call these men apostles. More likely, Luke used a more generic use of the term apostle, albeit with reference to two notable individuals. One scholar refers to Acts 14:4, 14 and explains this use of apostle as follows: “In this broad usage, then, an apostle was a first-century evangelist who bore witness to the resurrection of Christ, an itinerant missionary sent by Him to make disciples of all nations.”3 Barnabas was an apostle in the sense that he was sent to proclaim the gospel with Paul (cf. Acts 13:1–3).4

In short, Luke described Barnabas as someone distinct from the Twelve. He was sent with Paul to proclaim the gospel, and in this sense, he was an apostle. He cannot be used an example of someone who received an apostleship that was the same as the Twelve or Paul and thus be used as precedent for anyone to claim a similar apostleship today.

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David Huffstutler

About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.



Endnotes:

  1. F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 271; John B. Polhill, Acts (NAC 26; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 312. []
  2. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 276.Cf. A. F. Falls, “Apostle,” NBD, 123. []
  3. William C. Robinson, “Apostle,” ISBE 1:193. Cf. David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 408. []
  4. To get even more technical, Luke’s order of names in Acts 14:14 (Barnabas and Paul vs. Paul and Barnabas) could suggest the exceptional nature of this use of apostle as well. Unless referring to Paul by his Jewish surname Saul, Luke usually referred to Paul first and Barnabas second (Acts 13:43, 46, 50; 15:2, 22, 35; cf. 15:12, 25). If Luke was copying an irregular order of these two names from some external source, it could be that he also copied the term apostle along the way, explaining why Luke would have used the term with reference to someone other than the Twelve. (See Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 276.) Another suggestion for the unusual order of names is that this order corresponds to the order of the gods Zeus and Hermes mentioned in Acts 14:12. (See Andrew F. Falls, “Apostle, NBD, 123.) []

30 Responses to Was Barnabas an Apostle?

  1. I basically agree with your article, however, I believe you’ve left out an important consideration in this discussion, having studied this issue extensively in the past.
    II Cor. 12:12 – Paul says that a “true” apostle (“The things that mark an apostle”) performed signs, wonders and miracles. Acts 14:3 indicates that not only Paul, but also Barnabas did these. I think this is key in understanding why Luke would consider and call Barnabas an “apostle” and give him equal footing with Paul. I believe that Luke ascribes to Barnabas, the same level of apostleship as Paul.
    I would also point out that in my study of the use of the term apostle, ONLY Paul and Barnabas are clearly and unequivocally called “apostles” by Scripture along with the 12. All other references are open to interpretive issues.

  2. Tim, 2 Cor 12:12 plays a large part in my theology of apostles as well, and your point is noted. My hesitation to confer an official apostolate upon Barnabas is due to the fact that others (e.g., Stephen) performed these same signs and wonders but were obviously not apostles. I will agree, though, that the evidence could certainly go the other way. Barnabas is called an apostle and did miracles as well. Whatever his role may have been, his ministry was not exactly the same as the Twelve or Paul, but he certainly overlapped with Paul to a large degree.

  3. David,
    Like you, I am hesitant to ascribe the office of “apostle” to any other than the 12 and Paul. We probably both agree that the office no longer exists today and don’t want to open that “continuationist” door. The point about Stephen is well taken. Performing signs and wonders ALONE apparently did not qualify one as an apostle. We also know that an apostle must have been with Christ during His earthly ministry and/or have seen the risen Christ as Paul. Apparently, Stephen did not (unless we count his vision of God and Christ as he is being stoned). There’s also no record that Barnabas did either. In addition, there’s no direct revelation from God recorded in Scripture that is ascribed to Barnabas, however, he is also listed among the “prophets” in Antioch, a gift and office probably recognized as possessed by all the apostles, but also distinct from the apostles. Nevertheless, Barnabas is the only one outside of the 12 and Paul who is CLEARLY called an apostle that I can find. All other cases are subject to translation & interpretive difficulties, hence I do not accept that a Scriptural case can be built for the idea that “apostle” outside of the Biblical office was used in a looser sense. It seems the only answer for this is his close association with Paul. I leave it in the hands of the Holy Spirit whose inspiration led Luke to call Barnabas an apostle. Thanks for your response.

  4. Since the word for apostle carries the definition “one sent forth with orders” (Vine) certainly there is a sense in which Barnabas can be called an apostle.

    However, I agree with you that Barnabas was not an apostle in the same sense that “The 12” were apostles.

    The 12 were “sent forth” by Jesus Christ, as was Paul. Barnabas (with Paul) was sent forth by the church at Antioch in keeping with instruction from the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:1-3).

    Jesus himself is even described as an apostle (Hebrews 3:1).

    Thank you for the article.

  5. John – thank you. My apologies if that was unclear – I would certainly call Barnabas an apostle as one sent as you have described. I have also written a follow-up article that summarizes the different senses of “apostle” as you have. I think we agree.

  6. David,

    We seem to agree on the matter…my original post was meant to supplement some of what you had said.

    This article was my first exposure to your site, so I have not seen the follow up. Forgive my ignorance. :-)

    In my earlier comment I attributed the definition of “apostle” to Vine when it should have been credited to Thayer. The mistake is mine.

    Thanks again for the article!

  7. Hi I was just reading your article on Apostles.
    I have a question:If we do not have apostles in this day and age, do we have Pastors, Evangelist, Teachers and Prophets?
    Because Ephesians 4:11-13 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

  8. Hello Oliver – I would recommend reading the other articles I’ve written in this series. That would give a good sense of my understanding on this subject. I realize that not everyone agrees on this issue. In short, my answer is, yes, we do have pastors, evangelists, and teachers but not prophets because God no longer gives special revelation in this age.

  9. Dear David,
    I do not agree with you
    God said that He is the same, that He does not change. So if God spoke to men in the past, why should He have become deaf ?
    I know that many people say we now have the Bible (Thanks to God for it) and the Holy Spirit to help us to understand and apply it to our lives, but if we pray God, does He only respond to us with Bible ?
    It is like you would write to your earthly father but he does not answer because he has already written a lot of letters before… Sorry but I cannot believe that. God is a personal God and if He loves me and loves each of us, He continues to speak and why not by prophesies and revelations.
    Some said too that miracles cease because we now have medicine. Woah, does medecine heal AIDS, Cancer, rare diseases, Ebola and many more, The answer is definitly NO and do the people feel better because we now have psychologs and psychiatres, NO Do even people feel better because they read and believe the Bible, Yes, but even Christians may feel depressed and who can help, only God can and so why would He not do it ?
    What kind of God would it be if when you suffer, He turns His head away saying you have everything you need in medecine and in my book ???

  10. Pascal – thanks for your thoughts. They certainly bring up a number of issues that I have not addressed in detail in either this post or its comments (e.g., suffering, the possibility of miracles today, the cessation of revelation in the present age). It seems your primary thought to was indicate your disagreement over whether or not God still speaks through prophecy and revelation today, and I realize that good people can disagree on this issue. Since it was not the primary point of this post, however, I will leave it at that. Thanks again.

  11. David

    Not sure what you have against the continuation of the office of the Apostles. There were “the 12” but other than that – an apostle is simple that office the Apostle Paul himself describes. In fact Paul is emphatic – these offices are given UNTIL such and such. As a Pastor – I am pretty sure you are aware that “such and such” is FAR from having been reached….

    The real issue is not that the office is not available – as are the office of prophets, etc. But why there are not those available to fill….

    Likewise we have every Tom, Dick and Harry who can read the Bible calling themselves a “Teacher” – but that means nothing. Anyone can teach…anyone can call themself an apostle… We need the real thing – and, frankly, I am not sure I see any of it.

  12. Greg – thank you for the comment. I don’t have anything against the continuation of the office of an apostle. My series simply explains the office and points out my understanding that Scripture itself indicates it is no longer functional today. If I believed Scripture said otherwise, I’d be glad to say so. I realize that good men disagree on this issue.

  13. This article is so far from the truth that it barely deserves a response. The thought process is obviously take from a preconceived notion that there are only 12 “true” Apostles. This is the problem with these “scholars”. They are taught something and accept it as truth and then try and explain away obvious scriptures pointing against their thesis. How about deciphering scripture using the Holy Spirit and acting as if your reading it for the first time. If this is done then one can only come to the conclusion that Jesus gave to the church Apostles and Prophets and Pastors and teachers and Evangelists and there is no notion in scripture that any of these ever ceased.

  14. Dave

    Somehow I never saw your follow up comment.

    re: Your statement “Scripture itself indicates it is no longer functional today”

    Where?? I am not aware of a single such reference.

    In fact, as I noted, Paul is clear – the office of the Apostle REMAINS UNTIL…. 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

    Do you really believe that that we have the unity of the faith and the Son of God and mature manhood??

    After watching 80% of white American evangelicals support and defend a serial adulterer, who gloats over grabbing women by the genitalia, manipulating and abusing women, an inveterate liar and con-artist who has no ethics nor moral compass – completely darkened in his mind and energized by the prince of of the power of the air (as the scriptures tell us)??? And you honestly want to say we have reached anything other than the most pathetic form of flesh and that the old man and worldly lust are not a far more accurate description of American evangelicalism – while Jesus is far from it.

    No – we desperately need Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, workers of miracles and the like…. Unfortunately, I simply don’t see any of it – other than occasional momentary shreds here and there. I mainly see a sewer gushing forth foul and demonic grotesqueries. This makes me very sad – Jesus gave us such an opportunity – but, apparently, people love their religious flesh and partisan politics far more than separating themselves from the world and loving Christ. Brings tears to my eyes – but I don’t see a change coming. Maybe it would be good to wipe the whole thing out….

    Greg

  15. Greg, if you read the whole series, I think you’ll see my understanding of how (1) apostles are historically qualified and (2) how no one meets these qualifications today. The church is obviously not perfect, and modern politics (I would hope) have no bearing on how I interpret Scripture. Looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree, but thank you for taking the time to respond.

  16. David

    I acknowledge that I am not aware of any other posts on this subject. Did you ever deal with the Ephesians text? Has the church come to “a unity of the faith” – “a mature man” – as is REQUIRED before those offices might even be considered to be obsolete. Paul is as plain as day here. I would like to see your encounter with this text.

    Modern politics SHOULD bear on how we understand the text – the Bible is not intended to be isolated from real life. Ultimately there is no such thing as “politics”/”values”/”religion” – there is Jesus and the Kingdom of God – and we are either walking in accordance with – or directly contrary to – as is the case of the vast majority of American evangelicals -thus bring great shame and despite to the name of Jesus Christ (well, nothing new here really….).

  17. Greg, again, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. If you would like to know what I believe, the regular work of the Spirit according to the Word is sufficient for spiritual growth before, during, and after the apostles (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17). Foundational offices for the church in Eph 4:11-13 are foundational, and the foundation is not to be continually laid (cf. Eph 2:20; 3:5). I don’t expect you to agree with me or me to come into agreement with you, and this is going a bit beyond the intent of this particular post on Barnabas, so I’ll leave it at that.

    I would say that understanding one’s present circumstances are necessary for how to apply the text but not necessarily how to interpret it. I’m just trying to be careful to distinguish between hermeneutics and application. But again, these are topics beyond whether or not Barnabas was an apostle…

  18. David

    I appreciate what you are saying – however, you are still not dealing with Eph 4:11 – 13 and the condition which those offices are present. Why are you not dealing with the force of this text?

    There is nothing in this text about a very limited foundation that you are proposing – in fact, just the opposite.

    Again – my question is simple – have we fulfilled the specific purposes that Paul specifies for these offices – the key word is “UNTIL”…. Your doctrine re these offices MUST account for this word “UNTIL” – if it does not, it is defective on the face of it. Now you may have a way handling that within your system – but so far, I have not seen it.

    13UNTIL we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

    Best,

    Greg Logan

    PS The point of the “present circumstances” is, as an example, to correctly understand our exegesis. Do we see a “mature manhood” – absolutely and painfully not – we see a ranting child fibbing at every moment using an unbalanced scale for the purpose of, as it were, “peddling the Word of God” and power and control. In this case – our present circumstances MUST dictate our exegesis – since we now know that this purpose of these offices is FAR from being fulfilled.

    Either that or you must assert that Paul was both wrong and did not have a clue as to what he was talking about. Fair enough – at least then you would be making sense with this text.

  19. Greg, in these replies, I’m not seeking to convince you of anything, as strongly as you may choose to push back against what I believe. I’m simply giving my beliefs in response to your questions. I don’t expect anyone to walk away with a changed mind on this one. Just giving my own understanding, the apostles and prophets were given as a foundation (as already indicated within the letter to the Ephesians) to give revelation at that time which carries on through the completed Scriptures. As the church continues to have this inscripturated, foundational, apostolic, and prophetic doctrine, so also will it need as much to continue to mature in the faith, which obviously does not happen until it is face to face with Jesus. That would be my understanding of Eph 4:11-13 in a snapshot. Hopefully your assumptions of me from this post are not as pointed as those in your previous post. :)

  20. David

    Again I appreciate your response – and I appreciate your conclusion – which, based on present reality, seem to have some support.

    HOWEVER, again, you are not dealing with the actual wording of the text – but simply re-wording the text to fit your ideology. Why would you do that? I can dissect this for you if it is not clear.

    Here is your statement that represents the most obvious departure – “which carries on through the completed Scriptures” The text does NOT state this – only YOU state this. The text states exactly what it states – and so I continue to ask – do you really believe that the church has “attained” the following characteristics –

    the unity of the faith
    the knowledge of the Son of God
    mature manhood
    he measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

    This is the ONLY measure that Paul gives – and, if you want to truly provide a Biblically based doctrine, you must genuinely provide a model which includes an accurate exegesis of this passage. So far you have not done that.

    Again – you can simply say Paul was wrong. I know of instances where I believe he was plain wrong – and am happy to say so. He had the revelation that he had – and God used him – that is what matters.

    BTW – not sure what you mean “pointed”. I simply believe we are called to be true to the text – regardless of anything else – including even if we don’t believe it. This is the foundational integrity issue to which I am certain you and I both hold as a core value in the Kingdom of God in Christ.

    Also – please note – I am not interested in either agreeing or disagreeing or arguing or not. I am simply interested in honestly representing the actual words of the text.

    Does this make sense?

    Best
    In Christ,

    Greg

  21. Greg, based upon your previous post, we are coming from very different grounds. I hold to inspiration and thus the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. I will never say that Paul (and if inspired, God, too) was wrong in what he wrote. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you. Please forgive me if so.

    When a seeming contradiction appears, I am forced to compare Scripture to Scripture as here in Eph 4 and hope I come to the right conclusion. When it comes to apostles, as my series shows, I believe other passages clearly show the cessation of the apostles, which is a standard, cessationist, evangelical position. So, Christ did not give each of the five positions mentioned in the same way, as I believe Scripture elsewhere would lead me to conclude. I cannot interpret Eph 4 in isolation from other passages, and I do not believe my position contradicts these others passages.

    By pointed, I simply meant that you seemed to frame the conclusions for me and state that I either had to believe one thing or the other when I actually have a different understanding. If I misunderstood you, you have my apologies.

    In general, Eph 4 is usually a much-debated passage between those who do and do not see apostles today. I think we’ve exhausted this one down to the nub. But, it’s been helpful in reinforcing for me why I believe what I believe. Thanks for the interaction. :)

  22. David

    Thanks again for the follow-up.

    I grant you that you may have exegeted every other passage perfectly correctly. However, that is not relevant to the exegesis of this very clear passage. We cannot “pit scripture against scripture” – we need to let each passage stand on its own and NOT “massage”/”shoe-horn” to fit some pre-conceived idea we have created from our other efforts whatever the source. I am pretty sure you agree with this hermeneutic.

    So I remain lost – Eph 4 is very clear – “UNTIL”. Do you or do you not believe those characteristics of the church have been achieved??

    the unity of the faith
    the knowledge of the Son of God
    mature manhood
    he measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ

    I think you will have a lot of trouble with something called “reality” if you do…:-). I am pretty sure we are NOT called to turn our brains off and ignore reality!

    Best,

    Greg

    PS I am far more interested in your thinking/reasoning and, ultimately, integrity – than anything else. Inerrancy is really irrelevant – honesty and quality exegesis with a given text is what is relevant. People can cry “inerrancy” all day – and twist the text into macaroni to suit their agenda.

  23. Greg, if you can’t be gracious in your posts, and if I’ve answered all your questions, I’m afraid you’ll have to remain lost staring at my macaroni, to use your words. The church is not presently perfect, and I think I’ve answered things sufficiently to clarify that above. Thanks again. :)

  24. David

    Certainly I did not intend to be gracious – since that is also a high call in the Kingdom of God.

    Can you please point out my failure?

    Greg Logan

    PS I had not seen a previous admission to the fact that the church as NOT accomplished the necessary purposes of the offices of apostle, prophet and pastor/teacher. Thanks for making this sad – but reality based – acknowledgement.

  25. Greg – comments on macaroni, suiting my agenda, stationing me outside of reality…maybe I’m missing an assumed inflection or facial expression for such strong rhetoric in this written venue. Forgive me if so.

    I’m signing off, Greg. We’re off track on this thread. Thanks.

  26. David

    Thanks for the specifics – I will review.

    Please note – focusing on relating well seems to be the ultimate point about the offices though does not – building up into the perfect man??? Perhaps what you and I are doing is the real core of thread?

  27. re Macaroni

    :-)

    OK – to be clear – this was NOT directed at you in the least – in fact, if you please re-read the text – it was specifically hyperbolic (well, not necessarily entirely in some instances…) to make the real point – that “inerrancy” in itself is not very meaningful if one does not handle the WoG aright.

    Again – it was to make a point re inerrancy and not at all directed at you.

    Hope that works on that one.

  28. re: “suit their agenda”

    Again – same sentence as “macaroni” with same intent.

    BTW – to be clear – I believe the issue you are wrestling with is more complex than the overt “macaroni” text I mentioned. Ultimately seeming to come down to pitting certain texts that say one thing – against other texts that seem to say something else – and, because of an underlying admitted agenda “consistency of text due to inerrancy” you are forced to wrestle one to fit with the other. I understand that you have a dilemma. My goal is to, hopefully, graciously push you to acknowledge the reality of BOTH texts even if they are, ultimately, NOT consistent.

    And, acknowledge, that is OK – and God is still on the throne – and Jesus is still at His right hand.

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