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St. Barnabas 30. Back to Cyprus.

      It is now 50 AD. Imperial Rome is at the height of its political, economic, and military power. [1] According to a tradition of the Eastern Church, St. Matthew finished writing his Gospel in Aramaic this year, having begun six years earlier. [2]

      St. Barnabas and St. Mark have left Antioch of Syria for the Mediterranean Island of Cyprus. St. Luke does not mention Barnabas further in the book of Acts, so we look elsewhere.

      There exists a work called the Acts of Barnabas or, more fully, The Travels and the Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Barnabas, which scholars date no earlier than the 5th Century. It purports to be written by St. Mark, who writes in the first person. Some aspects (such as Mark’s own conversion, and the cause of the split between Barnabas and Paul) tend to be inconsistent with Scripture, other aspects (such the timing and manner of Barnabas’ death) is inconsistent with other traditions. However, scholars do say that the writer was well familiar with Cyprus and the locations mentioned are accurate. [3]

      The Acts of Barnabas says that unfavorable winds forced their ship to land at today’s southern Turkey and they first visited localities in Cilicia and Isauria, but eventually were able to cross over to Cyprus. It then speaks of multiple places they visited (all actual episcopal seats of Cyprus), persons they meet, converts made, and persons healed. The story relates that Barnabas ordained a prior convert of his, Heraclides, as Bishop, and also relates that Aristoclianus a former leper healed in Antioch, was previously ordained a Bishop by Barnabas and Paul. The local traditions for both Bishops holds these two as among the first Bishops on Cyprus. Barnabas and Mark also run into Bar-Jesus (Elymas), the Jewish sorcerer who had been with the proconsul on their first visit to Cyprus with Saul/St. Paul (Ac 13:6-11). True to character, Bar-Jesus creates much trouble for Barnabas and Mark wherever they went. So the recitation of these missionary endeavors may be substantially accurate.

      We do know from Scripture that Barnabas continued his apostolic and missionary work because St. Paul refers to him. Also Barnabas may well have been in Corinth with St. Paul around 52 AD when Paul was in Corinth for 18 months (Ac 18:11) on his second missionary journey. Lastly, Barnabas was obviously known himself to the Church in Corinth. How do we know these things? From Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

Ancient Corinth
      Paul’s letter was written during his third missionary journey (from about 53 to 58 AD), written about 54 AD while Paul was in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8). Paul addresses the role and ministry of the Apostles. He, Apollos, and Peter (Cephas) (1 Cor 1:12) had all previously preached in Corinth, and later Paul also mentions Barnabas. Paul speaks generally of all the Apostles when he says that the Apostles are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1). And, “I think that God has exhibited us Apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men” (1 Cor 4:9). Then later in the letter he writes, “Do we [Apostles] not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other Apostles and brethren of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? ... Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel of Christ.” (1 Cor 9:4-6, 12.)

      So clearly Barnabas was known to the Corinthians otherwise Paul would not have mentioned him. And Paul speaks of himself and Barnabas as distinguished from other Apostles because of their working for their living and being both unmarried – something else Paul’s words indicate Corinthians would have known. It seems clear, then, that Paul maintained contact with Barnabas, and perhaps likely even evangelizing together, in the years following Barnabas’ and Mark’s missionary work on Cyprus.

Dibby Allan Green
[1] Bennett, Rod, Four Witnesses, The Early Church in Her Own Words (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), p. 33
[3] István Czachesz (2002). "The Commission of John Mark in the Acts of Barnabas" (PDF). Apostolic commission narratives in the canonical and apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. University of Groningen. Retrieved 19 July 2018. From 11/15/21.

Originally published in the print edition of the Mojave Desert News  dated December 2, 2021.

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Dibby Allan Green has a BA in Religious Studies (Westmont College, 1978) and MA in Theology (Augustine Institute, 2019), is a lay Catholic hermit, and a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.