His mom and dad named him Joseph, but that’s not how we know him. He was a Levite from the island of Cyprus and a member of the Jerusalem church in the early chapters of Acts. Joseph was a cousin of John Mark; the same Mark who is probably to be identified with the writer of the Gospel of Mark. As time passed people stopped calling him “Joseph” and referred to him by his nickname, “Barnabas.”
It is as interesting thing how nicknames come to be. A person with red hair is often called, “Red.” A tall or large man may have a description added to his name like, “Big John.” My oldest son was called, “Little Joe” – though today he is much taller than his Dad. My son-in-law has a prominent beard and head of hair; sometimes he is called “Bear.” In most cases nicknames are given because they describe some prominent physical or behavioral characteristic of the one so named.
We should pay close attention when the Bible calls attention to a nickname. Usually, there is some spiritual point to be made. This is especially the case when God, Jesus, or an angel give someone a new name because it is indicative of a new identity or destiny in their lives. In the case of Barnabas, his nickname was given by the apostles and Luke calls attention to this in Acts 4:36-37.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
How do you think that nickname came to be? In my imagination, I envision a meeting of the apostles where they are trying to fill a ministry position. Peter says, “Let’s get Joseph to do it.” John replies, “Which Joseph are you talking about? In a church this size there are dozens of Josephs.” “You know,” says Peter, “The Joseph who is always encouraging people.” The nickname stuck. Barnabas means, “Son of Encouragement” or, as we would phrase it, “The Encourager.”
Fictious story? Sure, but only in the particulars, not the overall truth. As we examine the story of Barnabas in Acts, he is always encouraging someone. There is no wonder the apostles named him The Encourager or Luke singles him out as one of the major, minor characters in his narrative – he went about encouraging others!
My message Sunday will examine the occasions Luke mentions him in Acts and we will learn what he did to earn such a great nickname.
I Hope You Will Join Us! Joey