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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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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.


  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.) []

13 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.

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