Barnabas, or Bar Nabe, which means ‘son of consolation’ or ‘son of exhortation’, was a Jew and was born in Cyprus. He was known as Joses, or Joseph, but was given this new name by the disciples of Jesus, peace be on him and them. Although little mention is made of him in the four accepted Gospels, it is evident from some of the other books in the New Testament that he became one of the leaders of the disciples after Jesus had disappeared. It was he above all who endeavoured to hold to the pure teaching of Jesus and opposed any innovators, notably Paul of Tarsus. Luke, who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, was Paul’s personal physician and therefore gave Paul’s point of view. This explains why Barnabas is only mentioned by him when it serves to illustrate Paul’s story.
Unfortunately, books like The Travels and Teachings of the Apostles were destroyed by the Pauline Church, once it had adopted the doctrine of Trinity, in its attempts to eliminate any record which contradicted this dogma.
Therefore, much that was known about Barnabas and the early Christians has been lost. It is this policy of the Trinitarians which probably indicates why any reference to Barnabas during Jesus’s mission is strangely missing from the four accepted Gospels; and why Barnabas, who, according to Luke, acquires an importance second to none soon after the disappearance of Jesus, himself disappears from the pages of history as soon as he and Paul have a disagreement part company.
Barnabas was with Jesus from the very start of his mission. His Gospel clearly demonstrates his great loyalty to Jesus and the love he had for him. Barnabas was not only his constant companion, but also absorbed and retained his teaching, so that very soon he must have acquired the reputation, which is attested to so dearly in the Acts, as a man who had the ability to transmit what he had learned from his master.
The name which the other disciples gave to Barnabas indicates his power and eloquence as a speaker who was a source of solace and encouragement. He was sincere, as well as generous. After meeting Jesus, he sold all that he possessed and gave the money for the use of the followers of Jesus. The affection Jesus and the disciples had for mm is shown in the number of different names by which he was known.
When the apostles decided to elect an apostle in the place of Judas from among those who had constantly been with Jesus ‘beginning from the baptism of John,’ they selected two people to choose from; ‘Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Mathias.’
There is no other Joseph who accompanied Jesus during his life referred to in the New Testament except the one who was popularly known as Barnabas. Thus, although Clement of Alexandria always refers to Barnabas as an apostle in his writings, there is nevertheless a possibility that Barsabas – who, Good speed tells us, once drank a deadly poison but experienced no ill effects was none other than Barnabas.
If this is so, then it also confirms that even if Barnabas was not one of the first twelve apostles, he was certainly one of the first seventy-two disciples – and if this is the case, then the fact that he was regarded highly enough to be proposed as someone suitable to make up the number of the first apostles to the original twelve is supported by the tradition that as Mary, the mother of Jesus, lay on her deathbed, she called for the apostles, and Barnabas was one of those who came.
It is more likely, however, that Barnabas was indeed one of the original twelve apostles – which is what he himself states in his Gospel, when he describes what Jesus first did after his fast of forty days in the wilderness had been completed:
“Jesus, having returned to the region of Jerusalem, was found again of the people with exceeding great joy and they prayed him that he would abide with them; for his words were not as those of the scribes, but were with power, for they touched the heart.
Jesus, seeing that great was the multitude of them that returned to their heart for to walk in the law of God, went up into the mountain, and abode all night in prayer, and when day was come he descended from the mountain, and chose twelve, whom he called apostles, among whom is Judas, who was slain upon the cross. Their names are:
Andrew and Peter his brother, fishermen; Barnabas, who wrote this, with Matthew the publican, who sat at the receipt of custom; John and James, sons of Zebedee; Thaddaeus and Judas; Bartholomew and Philip; James, and Judas Iscariot the traitor, To these he always revealed the divine secrets; but the Iscariot Judas he made his dispenser of that which was given in alms, but he stole the tenth part of everything..
It is interesting to note in passing that although the names of the apostles which Barnabas gives do not all correspond to those listed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the same observation can equally be made as regards the three groups of names given in Matthew 10.24, Mark 3.14-19 and Luke 6:13-16 respectively:
Luke does not mention Thaddaeus, whereas Barnabas, Matthew and Mark do. Both Matthew and Mark do not mention the other Judas, the son of James, whereas Barnabas and Luke do. Matthew, Mark and Luke mention Thomas and Simon the Zealot, whereas Barnabas does not. Neither Matthew, Mark nor Luke refer to Barnabas, whereas Barnabas does. The Gospel of John in its present form does not provide a complete list of the twelve apostles. As always, when faced with gaps or contradictions, it is up to the reader to decide which of these Gospels in their present form is the most divinely inspired and the least altered, and accordingly the most accurate and reliable!
As we have already seen, it is likely that Jesus was brought up by the Essene community, and there is a tradition that Barnabas was a student of Gamaliel, the greatest teacher of orthodox Judaism at that time. Thus the meeting of Jesus and Barnabas meant the fusing together of all that was best in the gnostic teaching of the Essenes and the orthodox Judaism of the Temple. Doubtless this contributed to the harmonious understanding between them. Since Barnabas was a Levite, he could well have been the commander of a division of the Zealots.
Although so little is known about Barnabas, the latest historical research is slowly uncovering the importance that was undoubtedly his while Jesus was on earth. It is now generally agreed by historians that the Last Supper was held in the house of Barnabas’s sister – although it must be remembered that, as we have already seen, Barnabas states that it took place ‘in the house of Nicodemus beyond the brook Cedron’, which was on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Albert Schweitzer, however, who may not have had access to the Gospel of Barnabas, in his book The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christian Belief writes:
“It may be inferred from the Acts that the disciples and the believers from Galilee met in the house of the mother of John Mark, who later accompanied Barnabas and Paul on the First Missionary Journey
The meeting place of the believers was the ‘upper room’, which means the room situated immediately under the fiat roof
lt must have been a large one to hold the entire company. It was in this room that the believers were ‘all together in one place’ on the day of Pentecost
How did it come to be identified with the one in which Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the disciples?
When Jesus sent two disciples from Bethany to the city with instructions to prepare the Passover meal for him, he told them that they were to follow a man who would meet them with a pitcher of water. He would lead them to a house with a large upper room furnished with rugs, where they were to prepare the meal. We owe this valuable piece of information to the Gospel of Mark (Mark 14: 13-15), which rests on a tradition going back to John Mark. Matthew only relates that Jesus sent the two disciples with directions to inform someone in the city, ‘The Master saith, “My time is at hand; I keep the Passover at thy house with my disciples,”
Theodore Zahn was one of the first to put forward the view that the house of the last meal of Jesus with his disciples was identical with that of John Mark’s mother, in which the disciples met together with the believers from Galilee.”
Although Schweitzer says the house was that of John Mark’s mother, he does not remind us that Mark’s mother was the sister of Barnabas. Since Barnabas had by then sold all that he possessed, it is likely that he stayed with his sister when in Jerusalem, especially if she had a house with a room big enough for all the disciples to meet in. Perhaps the reason why none of this is clearly stated in the New Testament is because the disciples wished to keep their meeting place a secret at a time when they were being persecuted for their beliefs.
If Albert Schweitzer’s hypothesis is correct, it might be asked why no mention of Barnabas is made in the descriptions of the Last Supper in the four accepted Gospels, since clearly he would have been the host to any gathering of men in his sister’s house. Either mention of him was made, but has been removed, or else he simply was not present. It is possible that he was unable to be there because he was in prison. It is recorded that a man named Barabbas, with a company of men, attacked a group of pro-Roman Jews in the fighting which took place shortly before the feast of the Passover. Although the leader of these Jews was killed, Barabbas was captured and put in jail. Heinrich Holtzman, who examined the records of this fighting in detail, says that among those arrested was ‘the famous Barabbas who was certainly a patriot and a political ‘prophet’ and was tried at almost the same time as Jesus.’
Since Barnabas was a Levite and one of Jesus’s foremost disciples, he could well have been a chief of one of the divisions of the Zealots. These four divisions, as we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, were an integral part of the Essene community and were committed to freeing the land of its foreign aggressors and their supporters. Only a band of Zealots could have been capable of an organised attack on the pro-Roman Jews at that time, and thus it may well be that Barabbas and Barnabas were one and the same person. It is quite possible that, along with its other amendments, the Pauline Church either eradicated, or at least altered, Barnabas’s name when he was mentioned in connection with an event which was not a part of Paul’s story. They could not adopt this procedure every time Barnabas was mentioned in the books of the New Testament, however, since, as the Acts of the Apostles indicates, without the support which Barnabas gave Paul in the early days of the Church, Paul May well have had no place in the history of Christianity at all.
There is scant record of what happened to the close followers of Jesus after he had disappeared. It appears that many of them scattered after his supposed crucifixion. After some time they began to re-group in Jerusalem, Exactly how many of the twelve disciples and seventy-two closest followers came back is not known. It is certain, however, that those who did were men of faith, sincerity, and courage, and possessed a very deep love for Jesus.
Barnabas’s eminence as a man who had been close to Jesus made him a prominent member of this small group of disciples. They continued to live as Jews and practice what Jesus had taught them, observing the Law of the Prophets, which Jesus had come ‘not to destroy, but to fulfil.’
That the teaching of Jesus could ever be regarded as a new religion did not occur to any of them. They were sincere practicing Jews and were distinguished from their neighbours only by their faith in the message of Jesus. In these early days, they did not organise themselves as a separate sect and did not have a synagogue of their own. There was nothing in the message of Jesus, as understood by them, to necessitate a break with what was clearly the continuance and revivifying affirmation of the guidance which Moses had brought.
The conflict between some of the Jews and the true followers of Jesus, which had already arisen during the time that Jesus had been delivering his message, peace be on him, had been started by those Jews who had changed and adapted Moses’s message to suit their own ends, and who feared, quite correctly, that to support Jesus and his followers would inevitably lead to their losing the wealth, the power and the position which they enjoyed.
The pact which the upper echelon of Jews had made with the Romans, to safeguard their vested interests and the privileges which they had enjoyed for centuries, had necessitated their departing even further from the guidance they had been given.
This group of Jews continued to actively support the Romans after the disappearance of Jesus in the persecution of those whose actions and words threatened to expose what they had done. Thus it was that a fol1ower of Jesus accepted Jesus while a Jew rejected him. It could not have been an easy time for the early followers of Jesus. On the one hand, they were hounded by the Romans who regarded them as a threat to their political power, and on the ether hand they were pursued by the Jews who feared that their own ‘religious authority’ would be undermined by them.
In the years that followed, the gulf between the Jews who refused to acknowledge Jesus and those who followed him began to widen. During the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD – after which the Temple of Solomon was utterly destroyed by the Romans – the followers of Jesus left the city; and, by the time of the Bar Koch’eba rebellion in 132 AD, they refused to fight with the Jews. These two major confrontations which occurred between the Romans and the Jews demonstrate the main difference between the Jews and the true followers of Jesus. The former sought political power, the latter to live in a manner pleasing to their Lord. Although there were certainly Jews who fought because they wished to be able to follow their religion, free from foreign invaders, there were also followers of Jesus who disassociated themselves from the Jews in order to avoid the persecution which was being directed specifically at the Jews.
The questions of the origin of Jesus, his nature and his relation to God, which were later to become a source of much contention, were not raised among the first followers of Jesus. That Jesus was a man who was a Prophet and one who had been given many gifts by God, was accepted without question. Nothing in the words of Jesus or in the events in his life on earth had led them to modify this certainty. According to Aristides, one of the earliest apologists, the worship of the early Christians was more purely monotheistic than even that of the Jews.
It was into this circle of sincere followers that Paul of Tarsus walked. He had never met Jesus, nor had he been well acquainted with any of Jesus’s closest disciples. He had the reputation of being one of the greatest enemies of Jesus. He had watched over the stoning of Stephen, who had been full of faith and the Holy Ghost,’ (Acts 6:5), and who was one of the growing number of people who had joined the followers of Jesus after his disappearance. When Paul’s own teacher, the famous Gamaliel, had tried to protect Stephen, he too had been stoned to death, without Paul attempting to intercede.
And it is recorded that Paul, who was then called Saul, was responsible for’ a great persecution against the Church’ at that time, and that he ‘made a havoc of the Church, entering into every house and haling men and women and committed them to prison.’
Paul himself admitted that: “You have heard … how that beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God and wasted it – and profited in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”
And, as it is related in Acts 9: 41:
“Saul yet breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.”
It was on this journey to Damascus that Paul is said to have met Jesus in a vision and become one of his followers as a result.
Not long before all these events took place, it is recorded that Paul had desired to marry a woman called Popea, who was the attractive but ambitious daughter of the high priest of the Jews. She possessed haunting beauty and an intriguing mind. She liked Paul, but she rejected his offers of manage and went to Rome as an actress. Starting on the stage, she climbed step by step until she reached Nero’s bed. Ultimately she married him and so became the Empress of the Roman Empire.
Paul therefore had good reason to resent both the Jews and the Romans. Paul’s conversion coincided with his being rejected by Popea. He must have been under considerable emotional and mental strain at the time. It is possible that this crisis in his life had some bearing on this sudden change from his being one of the greatest supporters of the Jewish Law to one of its greatest enemies.
After his conversion, Paul stayed with the followers of Jesus who were in Damascus and ‘straight away, he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the son of Cod.’
As a result, he began to taste the persecution in which he himself had so recently been involved. If he actually used the term ‘son of God’ to describe Jesus, then it was probably this which helped to anger the Jews. The idea of God having a child ascribed to Him was abhorrent to them, since they firmly believed in the Unity of God.
Paul then left Damascus and, instead of seeking out the company of the other followers of Jesus, he went into the Arabian desert where he remained hidden for three years. It may well have been here that he began to formulate his own version of what Jesus had taught. This involved a rejection of the Law of Moses, which in turn meant his turning away from the fact that throughout his life Jesus had remained a true practising follower of the Law of Moses, and had always sought to uphold the teachings which Moses had brought before him.
It was after this long period of withdrawal in the desert that Paul came to the apostles in Jerusalem, The sudden arrival of Paul caused more suspicion than surprise. The stories of his persecution of the followers of Jesus must still have been fresh in their minds, Could a leopard change its spots? It seems that the disciples had no reason to accept him into their circle. Not only had he been their persecutor, but also he now claimed to know what Jesus had taught, although he had never even seen him and had spent little time, if any, with those who had been with him. Instead of trying to learn from those who had been so closely and strongly connected with Jesus while he was on earth, Paul wanted to teach them. Paul later justified this approach in his epistle to the Galatians where he states:
“I certify you brethren that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Thus, Paul claimed to have an access to Jesus which had been denied to even the closest followers of Jesus while he had been on earth. The teaching which Paul claimed he had been given did not ta1lywith what the apostles had heard from the very lips of Jesus. It is understandable that they were therefore suspicious of his conversion and considered his ‘revelations’ unreliable. Many probably suspected that he was no more than a spy, posing as a follower of Jesus. The dispute as to whether Paul should be accepted was therefore a bitter one and its outcome must have seemed a foregone conclusion.
Barnabas, however, who according to tradition had been Paul’s class fellow under Gamaliel, intervened and spoke in favour of Paul. Against their unanimous opposition, he succeeded in having Paul accepted by the followers of Jesus. This indicates the degree of influence which Barnabas had over the apostles, and therefore
a1sopoints to the degree of intimacy which he must have enjoyed with Jesus when he was on earth. Paul must have realised that he had been accepted by virtue of Barnabas’s authority and not because of his own efforts. He probably felt dissatisfied as a result. This may well have been one of the main reasons why he decided to return to Tarsus, his home town, shortly afterwards, although it is also recorded that he left because his life was in danger.
The persecution of the followers of Jesus, not only by the Romans but also by the Jews, forced many of them to disperse throughout the Holy Land. After the martyrdom of Stephen, some of the apostles made their way to Antioch where they hoped to escape any further persecution by Paul and his followers. Originally founded by Seleucus Necator, Antioch had grown in size until by then it was the third largest city of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria. It had once been the capital of the Greek kingdom and had grown into a centre of trade and commerce. With the accumulation of wealth, its people had begun to lead a life of luxury and decadence and so Antioch had acquired the reputation of being a city of loose living.
It was here that this small group of strangers, dressed in rags, began to lead a God-fearing life with simplicity and honesty. Those who had grown tired of an immoral life began to gather around them, but the majority of those who met them regarded them with contempt and ridicule and nick-named them ‘Christians’. For a very few people, this might have been a term of respect, but to a large number of people it was used as a term of hatred and abuse.
Up until this point, the followers of Jesus had always been known as Nazarenes. The root of this word in Hebrew means ‘to keep’ or ‘to guard.’ Thus the adjective indicated their role as keepers and guardians of the guidance which Jesus had brought. Libanius records that the Jews in Antioch used to pray three times a clay: ‘Send the curse of God upon the Nazarenes,’ Prophecy, an other historian, who always opposed the Nazarenes, described their way of life as a ‘barbarous, new and strange religion.’ Celsus records that, according to Jerome, the Christians were called ‘Greek imposters and deceivers’ because they wore the same Greek cloaks which the priests of the Greek temple wore.
In spite of the opposition which they faced, people continued to visit these strange newcomers and their number increased. Encouraged by this interest, the disciples in Antioch sent word to Jerusalem asking the apostles there to send a man to help spread the truth and teaching of Jesus among the pagans who surrounded them. The disciples selected Barnabas as the most suitable person for this task, and thus Barnabas became the first missionary in Christian history. Barnabas came to Antioch and met with unexpected success. Due to his efforts, ‘much people was added unto the Lord,’, for ‘he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and faith.’
After a year had passed, Barnabas decided that the time had come to extend his activity beyond Antioch. He was sure that Paul would make a good helper and with this in view he went to Tarsus and brought Paul back with him. Thus, again, Paul came face to face with some of the people who had suffered persecution at his hands, and again he met with hostility and opposition.
Once more, the importance of and respect for Barnabas can be assessed by the fact that he had his way, and Paul was received into the community. Perhaps Barnabas was looking to the best in his former class-mate and felt that if Paul’ s zeal and enthusiasm, which had made him such a thorough persecuter, could only be re-channelled, he would make an outstanding and invaluable follower of Jesus.
Not all the apostles shared this view, and Peter came out in open opposition to Paul. As well as the hostility kindled by Paul’s past actions, there was a difference of opinion over two other issues. They could not agree to whom the teaching of Jesus should be taken and what should be taught. Peter held that Jesus had come to revivify the guidance given to the Jews and that, therefore, what he had taught could only be preached among the Jews, On the other hand, there was Paul who not only believed in spreading the truth to everyone, Jew or otherwise, but also asserted that he had been given additional instruction from Jesus after his disappearance. He felt that any necessary adjustment should be made to adapt the teaching according to the apparent demands of time and situation.
Barnabas held the middle position between the two. He held that they should only teach what they had been taught by Jesus, but felt that they should bring this guidance to anyone who would benefit from it and was receptive to it, Jew or non-Jew,
Both Barnabas and Peter regarded the guidance they had been given as a continuation and an extension of Judaism, They could not accept Paul’s teaching where it differed from what they them selves had heard from Jesus. They believed that Paul’s new doctrine was in the main a purely personal creation of his own. Albert Schweitzer, in his book Paul and His Interpreters, says that, ‘Paul never appealed to the sayings and commands of the Master,’
It is likely that Barnabas hoped that the two extremes would mellow, and that Paul, especially, by keeping company with the followers of Jesus, would forsake his own ideas in favour of their own knowledge of what must still have been a fairly complete understanding and embodiment of what Jesus had taught. It is clear how important Barnabas’s support was to Paul at this stage, since Barnabas shielded and protected him against the unanimous opposition of the Apostles. It is probably for this reason that this part of Barnabas’s life is recorded with such detail in the Acts of the Apostles. The relationship between Barnabas and Paul is indicated in
“There was in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers as Barnabas, and Simone that was called Niger and Lucius of Cyrene and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said: ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto 1 have called them.”
In this list of these followers, Luke mentions Barnabas first and Paul last. Having been selected to work together, they set out, accompanied by John Mark, who was Barnabas’s nephew, to spread the teaching of Jesus in Greece. James, who was related to Jesus on his mother’s side, was left at the head of the followers of Jesus. Peter also stayed behind.
It is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles that, in spite of being stoned in some places, these three missionaries were on the whole successful. Their reputation as men of Truth spread far and wide. When they reached Lucaonia and healed a cripple in Lystra, it was rumoured that:
“… the gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter and Paul, Mercurius. Then the priests of Jupiter … brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes and ran in among the people crying out. And saying: ‘Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you the living God, which made heaven and earth and the sea and all things that are thereon.”
If this reaction by the inhabitants of Greece was typical, it is an indication of some of the practical difficulties which must have faced Barnabas and Paul. A true Jew would have immediately recognised the teaching of Jesus as a reaffirmation of what Moses had taught. But to many a pagan, it must have seemed new and strange and perhaps a little complicated.
Most of the pagans in Europe still believed in a multitude of gods who, it was thought, mixed freely with human beings, mated with them. and took part in every sphere of human life. To the common people of Greece, any description of Jesus must have seemed like a description of one of their gods, and they were probably quite ready to accept Jesus in this capacity. There was always room for one more god. However, the actual teaching of Jesus negated all their gods, since it affirmed the Divine Unity. This could not have been received with favour by many of these idol worshippers.
Furthermore, the code of behaviour which was an integral part of Jesus’s guidance, would have necessitated an immediate and far-reaching change in the way of life of anyone who decided to follow it unless, of course, that person was already a practicing Jew, which these pagans were clearly not. The Jews, who were regarded as a nation of money-lenders, were not at all liked by those who were not Jews. Toland, in his book The Nazarenes, says that:
“… amongst the Gentiles, so inveterate was the hatred of the Jews that their observing of anything, however reasonable or necessary, was sufficient motive for a Gentile convert to reject it.”
To anyone not as sincere and steadfast as Barnabas, the task of establishing Jesus’s way of life in Greece without making any compromises must have seemed overwhelming. To Paul, who had al ready displayed his tendency to change what little teaching he did know, it must have now seemed absolutely necessary to make what adjustments were needed to make Jesus’ s teaching palatable to the common people. Greece was now part of the Roman Empire. The Roman gods bore a marked resemblance to the Greek ones and belief in them only served to support the same misconceptions which a belief in the Greek gods entailed.
Paul had previously spent some time in Rome and was a Roman citizen. It is possible that his own reasoning had been influenced by his contact with the Roman way of life. He was well aware of the strong hold which the Graeco Roman religions had on the common people within the Roman Empire. It is clear that he seems to have felt that it would not be possible to change their ways without making changes too. Barnabas, on the other hand, as is recorded of Jesus in Matthew 5: 17-18, knew that his Creator did not wish His Law to be diminished or changed ‘one jot or one tittle.’ He therefore held firm to the guidance he had been given.
At this stage in the spread of Christianity, the main source of contention was not of a metaphysical nature. The subtle arguments and fine distinctions of the intellectuals were a development which was to come later. The issues over which Barnabas and Paul disagreed were principally those which affected a human’s everyday existence and way of life. Paul wished to avoid making any abrupt changes in those customs which the Greeks had probably taken for granted before his and Barnabas’s arrival in Greece. He therefore wished to abandon the commandments transmitted through Moses as to what meat it was lawful to eat and how the animal was to be sacrificed. He also wished to relinquish, where it seemed expedient, the commandment established by Abraham regarding the necessity of circumcision for males. Faced with the practical difficulty of establishing and implementing these aspects of Jesus’s teaching, the difference between Paul and Barnabas must have been emphasised rather than diminished.
However, at this stage, these differences were probably not that marked. Both Paul and Barnabas were faced with the practical challenge of establishing Jesus’s way of life. The teaching of the affirmation of the Divine Unity was essential to this, but initially it was necessary to establish a pattern of behaviour which was probably different in many ways to the one to which the pagans had been accustomed. Clearly, this new way of doing things could only be learned and assimilated into the texture of everyday life gradually. No pagan community could have adopted overnight the whole way of life which Jesus embodied.
From what records there are, it seems that Barnabas and Paul never stayed for very long in any one place. It would have been impossible in any case to have transmitted the whole of Jesus’ s teaching in such a short space of time. They must, therefore, have taught what seemed to be the most important parts first, with the intention of returning later and supplementing what they had shown the people with further instruction. Whereas Barnabas intended to transmit the whole teaching of Jesus, Paul was prepared to dispense with many of its aspects altogether, since, according to the new doctrine he was developing, they were no longer necessary. Thus, on their return to Jerusalem, they must have defended their actions each for a different reason. Despite their descriptions of the miracles they had performed together, this underlying difference remained, and finally there was a parting of the ways.
It is said that they fell out with each other because Paul refused to take John Mark with them on any future mission, while Barnabas insisted that John Mark should continue to accompany them. It is recorded in Acts 15: 39-40 that, ‘the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other and so Barnabas took Mark and sailed unto Cyprus,’ which was Barnabas’s birth-place.
The fact that John Mark accompanied Barnabas clearly indicates that his beliefs were in harmony with his uncle’s. This was probably one of the reasons why Paul had no desire to keep his company. Hardly any mention of Barnabas is made in the New Testament after this point.
It is interesting to note that Barnabas, who, it is recorded in the Acts, was chosen by the Holy Ghost, was rejected by Paul. Perhaps Paul felt that he no longer needed Barnabas. In his early days as a Christian, no one would have relied on him once they knew that he had not been with Jesus. Now that he had become a leader and an established figure with his own community, this was no longer the case. Paul’ s reputation was now such that perhaps he felt that he could go out and preach his doctrine without fear of being rejected, and without the restraining hand of Barnabas to check him, whenever he deviated from what Jesus had taught.
Furthermore, Paul was a Roman citizen. He must have learned the language of Rome. He certainly spoke Greek, which was the official language of the area in which he was born. The epistles he later wrote to the Christian communities in Greece must have been written in their native tongue. This meant that Paul could travel in Greece and probably in Italy without any difficulties over language.
Barnabas, on the other hand, spoke neither of these two languages. John Mark, who spoke Greek, had accompanied him on the first missionary journey into Greece to ad as his interpreter. If Barnabas were to go there by himself, he would not be able to make himself understood. Thus Paul’s refusal to travel with John Mark may have been a round about way of ensuring that Barnabas would refuse to travel with him. Commenting on their parting in his History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, MacGiffert says:
“That Barnabas … whose right to work among the Gentiles had been recognised in Jerusalem … should have drawn back and separated himself from them is very strange. Barnabas was not in full sympathy with Paul’s doctrine of the Christian’s complete liberty from all laws of whatever kind … The separation of Paul and Barnabas is stated by the author of the Acts to be the result of a disagreement concerning Mark, but the real reason lay deeper than that … The man who stood closest to Paul and was most intimately associated with him during the early years of his Christian career was Barnabas, who was a member of the Church in Jerusalem in its primitive days … His friendship meant much to Paul and doubtless contributed in no small degree to his credit and influence with the Christians. Barnabas stood sponsor for Paul in the early days when the memory of his persecuting career was fresh in the mind of the Church.”
The change in Barnabas’s attitude towards Paul could only have come about as a result of his experiences while travelling with Paul. Any hopes that Paul would change his views and become a true follower of Jesus must have been dispelled by what happened on that first missionary journey. Perhaps too Barnabas realised the futility of trying to spread a guidance, which had only been intended for the Jews, among the Gentiles, and, seeing the folly of this course of action, left it.
Before it had been attempted, perhaps spreading Jesus’s message among the Gentiles had seemed a viable proposition. But, having actually tried it, experience had proved that it was not possible. Perhaps the reason why his experience in Antioch had seemed to be so successful was because there the Gentiles had been coming to the followers of Jesus and asking to be accepted as Christians – whereas, when he, Mark and Paul went to Greece, it was they who had been asking the Gentiles to come to them and become Christians.
There is no record of what happened to Barnabas after he returned to Cyprus, but it is known that, like so many who held to a new prophet’s teaching, he died as a martyr. In spite of the fact that Barnabas has been blocked out from many of the pages of the Bible, it is evident that he acquired an integral position in the history of Christianity and cannot be forgotten. He was willing to openly affirm and teach what he had learned from Jesus in the early days of the Church, at a time when even some of those who were nearest to Jesus were afraid to acknowledge their association with mm.
Barnabas’s loyalty to Jesus is accepted as a fact by friends and foes alike. As we have already seen, it is possible that it was his sister’s house where Jesus had his last Passover meal, and it must have remained a meeting place for the followers of Jesus after he had disappeared. Furthermore, the influence of Barnabas over the Apostles and other followers of Jesus has been established from the Bible itself, In it he is called a prophet, a teacher, and also an apostle by Luke, whose unquestioned loyalty was to Paul. Above all, Barnabas is remembered as a man who was not prepared to compromise or change Jesus’s message in the least.
That these two, who had opposed each other so vehemently in the past, should now come together is perhaps surprising. However, the situation had changed. Paul was now accepted by many as a Christian and was no longer regarded as a possible spy or persecutor. Celsus, a Greek philosopher and a bitter critic of the Christians, said that the root of the disagreement between the two in Antioch had been Paul’s jealousy of Peter’s popularity. Obviously, Paul’s jealousy would by now have dwindled with his own increase in reputation, especially among the Gentiles.
The persecution of the first Christians had also probably played its part in drawing them together. The persecution by the Romans and those Jews who supported them was quite severe by now. Peter had already demonstrated his weakness when, under pressure or faced by immediate danger, he denied his being a companion of Jesus at the time of Jesus’s supposed trial and crucifixion. He was probably now more willing to fall in line with Paul’s approach to Jesus’ s message, since changes here and there might mean less confrontation with established customs, and accordingly perhaps less persecution.
Thus the situation in these early days was such that it seemed expedient to some to change and adapt the message of Jesus not only so that people who were not Jewish would accept it, but also so that it would not offend or apparently threaten those in authority in the land. This policy of obeying rulers indiscriminately, whether their laws were in accord with those of the Creator of the Universe or not, is evident in Peter’s first Epistle:
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by mm for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maIiciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your master with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.”
Paul travelled West with Peter. Without the sincerity and restraining influence of Barnabas, he must have met with little opposition to his new doctrines and adapted ways of conduct and behaviour. In Romans 15: 20-21, he says, referring to Isaiah 52:15:
“Yea, so have l strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest l should build upon another man’s foundation: but as it is written: ‘To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: And they that have not heard shall understand.”
If Paul had been spreading the original teaching of Jesus, then ‘another man’s foundation’ would have been the same as his. They would both have been involved in building the same structure. The people who were hearing about Jesus, or rather Christ, for the first time from Paul’s lips, had no means of comparing his account with that of the Apostles who still held to Jesus’s teaching. Paul’s version was the only one to which they had access.
Paul was helped a great deal in spreading his message by a learned Jew from Alexandria called Appolos. He was very successful in spreading the ideas of Paul among people. Paul, it was said, planted and Appolos watered. Ultimately, even Appolos could not accept all the innovations of Paul, and, like Barnabas, parted company with him.
Paul deviated further and further from the original teaching which Jesus had embodied, and laid more and more emphasis on the figure of Christ whom he claimed had appeared to him in his visions. His defence against those who accused him of changing the guidance which Jesus had brought was that what he was preaching had its origin in a direct revelation which he had received from Christ.
This, in effect, gave Paul Divine Authority. It was by virtue of this ‘authority’ he claimed, that the blessings of the Gospel were not limited to the Jews, but to all who believed. Furthermore, he asserted that the requirements of the Law of Moses were not only unnecessary, but also contrary to what had been directly revealed to him from God. In fact, he said, they were a curse.
As a result, Paul incurred not only the wrath of the followers of Jesus, but also that of the Jews, since he was now contradicting both of their Prophets. It is clear why he chose to spread his teaching among people who hated the Jews and who had not heard the truth about Jesus.
Paul justified his new doctrine with the use of this analogy: “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
So then, if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but, if her husband be dead, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
The use of this analogy clearly indicates that Paul made a distinction between Jesus and ‘Christ’. According to his reasoning, the law which had bound Jesus and his followers was no longer necessary, since Jesus had died. Now they were no longer ‘married’ to Jesus, but to Christ, who had brought another law. It was, therefore, necessary to follow Christ and not Jesus. Thus, anyone who still persisted in holding to Jesus’s original teaching had gone astray.
It was with the use of spurious reasoning such as this that Paul assembled his doctrine of redemption and atonement, a theory which Jesus had certainly never taught. It was a great success, since, in so many words, it preached that a man could do what he wanted and not face the inevitable consequences of his actions, provided that, at the end of the day, he said: ‘I believe in Christ.’
The basic premise on which Paul’s reasoning was based, however, is faIse, since Jesus was neither crucified nor resurrected. Thus Paul’s doctrines of redemption and atonement are clearly fallacious and misleading,
Paul’s reasoning had two major consequences. It not only resulted in further changes being made to what Jesus had taught, but also prepared the way for completely changing people’s ideas of who Jesus was. He was being transformed from a man to a conception in people’s minds. As has already been noted, divinity had been attributed to Jesus even when he was on earth by some of those who marvelled at his words and miracles, and who, mistakenly, considered him to be more than a Prophet.
Some of his enemies had also spread the rumor that Jesus was the ‘son’ of God, hoping to arouse the orthodox Jew’s anger against him for associating himself with God. Thus, even before Jesus disappeared, there had been a tendency to obscure his true nature and attributes, and to ascribe Godhood to Jesus. This imaginary figure of Christ, who apparently had the power to annul what Jesus had previously taught, was clearly no ordinary mortal, and, inevitably, became simultaneously confused by many both with Jesus and with God. It did not take very long before this imaginary super-human figure became an object of worship, and was associated with God.
This shift of emphasis from Jesus as a man to the new image of Christ, who was divine, enabled the intellectuals in Greece and Rome to assimilate into their own philosophy what Paul and those who followed him were preaching. Their view of existence was a tripartite one, and, with the Pauline Church’s talk of ‘God the Father’ and the ‘Son of God’, it only needed the inclusion of the ‘Holy Ghost’ to have a Trinity which matched theirs. With the passage of time, these two pictures merged into one, and the doctrine of Trinity was born.
Not only the philosophical ideas prevalent in Greece at that time coloured Paul’s teaching, but also the very language of Greece it self influenced the expression of that teaching, trapping and limiting its meaning. Greek could contain the philosophy of the Greeks, but was neither vast nor supple enough to carry the entire meaning of what Jesus had taught. Thus, even a true follower of Jesus who spoke fluent Greek could not have expressed the totality of Jesus’s teaching in this language. It had to be reworded and in the process changes were inevitably made. When the time came to translate the Hebrew Gospels into Greek, these limitations were made permanent, and finally sealed, when nearly all the Gospels in Hebrew were subsequently destroyed.
Although Paul never actually preached the divinity of Jesus, nor the doctrine of Trinity, his manner of expression and the changes he made opened the door to both these misconceptions, and prepared the way for their becoming established doctrines in Europe. It was these doctrines which eventually lead to Mary being put in the impossible position of being regarded as the ‘mother’ of God even though most Christians in every age who have been heard repeating, ‘Hail Mary, mother of God!’ in one breath have also been equally willing to emphasise that God has no beginning and no ending – and no mother – in another breath.
It appears that Paul rationalised his actions by holding that there was no link between the period in which Jesus had lived and the period in which he himself now lived. Times had changed and the conditions which now prevailed were such that the teaching of Jesus was out of date and could no longer be applied. It had therefore become necessary to find a new basis for human ethics and behaviour. Paul took stock of the conditions which existed at the time and taught what they seemed to require him to believe:
“All things are lawful unto me, but 1will not be brought under the power of any.”
Thus Paul not only rejected the divine law which both Moses and Jesus had followed in all humility, but also he asserted that he was a law to himself. The followers of Moses and Jesus, obviously, could not accept this. Paul responded by claiming that God does not measure a person’s righteousness by looking at how much he or she follows and obeys the commandments of God by following His Prophets and Messengers – but by whether or not a person puts their faith in Jesus Christ:
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not Justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no-one will be justified.”
Thus, argued Paul: “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”
From this anarchistic statement, it appears that the basis of Paul’s arguments was the implied – and never expressly stated – claim that out of all of the Jews and Christians in the Holy Land at the time, Paul alone knew what was most pleasing to God:
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
Assuming that this assumption was correct, and assuming that the means justifies the end, Paul then apparently assumed that this viewpoint must therefore be pleasing to God, Whose commands and Prophets he had just rather clumsily but nevertheless almost completely negated:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Paul’s attitude towards the Law of Moses is, to some extent, understandable, perhaps at times even laudable, because as we have already seen, by the time that Jesus began his mission, the Jews had already re-written and redefined the Law of Moses on more than one occasion, transforming it into their own religion. Thus Jesus had upbraided them in no uncertain terms, when referring to, for passing off their own man-made laws and interpretations as being the ‘Law of God’:
“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: (The Lord says:) ‘These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
This, as we have already seen, is one of the main reasons why the Pharisees and the Sadducees plotted to kill Jesus – because he was fully aware of just how much they had changed the original teaching of Moses. Jesus had, however, while he was on earth, succeeded in restoring the original teaching of Moses, breathing back into it the mercy and justice which had all but been squeezed out of it.
It is highly significant that whereas Jesus rejected the rewritten law of the Jews but reaffirmed the original Law of Moses, Paul rejected both the rewritten law of the Jews and the original Law of Moses. To use that well known phrase, Paul threw the baby out with the bath water – claiming that this was exactly what its mother wanted – and his followers, perhaps mistakenly thinking that they were following Jesus when they were really following Paul, have been paying for it ever since!
Thus Paul produced a religion which encompassed different contradictory elements. He took the Unitarianism of the Jews and added to it the philosophy of the pagans. This admixture was combined with some of what Jesus had taught and some of what Paul claimed Christ had revealed to him. Paul’s theology was based on his personal experience interpreted in the light of contemporary Greek thought. Jesus was deified and the words of Plato were put in his sacred mouth.
The theory of redemption was Paul’s brainchild, a belief entirely unknown to Jesus and his disciples. It was based on the mistaken belief in ‘original sin’, the ‘crucifixion’, and the ‘resurrection’, none of which have any validity. In this way a synthetic religion was produced: Christianity – mathematically absurd, historically false, yet psychologically impressive, guaranteeing simultaneously, as it apparently did, both absolute guilt and complete freedom from retribution.
In the magnificent temple of the religion which Paul helped so zealously to erect, he built doors on all sides. The result was that people who came across his brand of Christianity for the first time, when they entered its temple, were given the impression that they were paying homage to the same deity that they had worshipped an along, whether they were Jew or Gentile. As the basic misconceptions introduced by Paul evolved and became established, many a man who thought that he was following Jesus followed Paul without knowing it.
There is, therefore, some justification for Heinz Zahmt calling Paul a ‘corrupter of the Gospel of Jesus,’ and for Werde describing him as ‘the second founder of Christianity’. Werde says that, due to Paul:
“… the discontinuity between the historical Jesus and the Christ of the Church became so great that any unity between them is scarcely recognisable.”
And Schonfield concluded that: “The Pauline heresy became the foundation of Christian orthodoxy and the legitimate Church was disowned as heretical.”
And so Barnabas who had been regarded by the disciples of Jesus as one of the most reliable of his close followers subsequently came to be considered an arch-heretic, and, as we shall see in greater detail further on, every attempt was made by the followers of Paul to destroy his writings and diminish his influence.
Thus it was that very soon after the disappearance of Jesus, there was a sharp disagreement, followed by a parting of the ways, between the true followers of Jesus and the enthusiastic followers of Paul, which in time was to develop into all-out war between what became the Unitarian church on the one hand, and the Trinitarian church on the other.
To the followers of Jesus, the path of Truth, like a geometrical straight line, had length but no breadth. They were not prepared to change the teaching of Jesus merely because it seemed expedient. To them what Jesus had taught was the Truth and the whole Truth. Barnabas and his followers continued to preach and practice the Christianity they had learned from Jesus himself. They were always and still are to be reckoned with as a force. From among them came many saints and scholars respected by every sect of Christianity.
The true followers of Jesus and Barnabas never developed a central organisation, yet, due to the devotion of their leaders for the Truth, their number increased rapidly.
These leaders were wise and learned men who loved and feared God. They went into the deserts and mountains. Small communities formed around each saint. They were independent of each other, largely due to the rough terrain which surrounded them. Their lack of a structured organisation was a source of strength because it was not so easy for their persecutors to pick them out or up.
While Paul’s version of Christianity spread northwards up through Greece and Italy, and then Europe, these men of God – the ‘real’ Christians – spread with their knowledge to the east and to the south and, eventually, right across North Africa, The communities they formed retained the lifestyle of Jesus. Although the time came when what these people knew by heart began to be recorded in writing, those who still embodied Jesus’s teaching transmitted much of their knowledge directly from person to person. Behaviour was imitated and the doctrine of Jesus passed on orally. They continued to affirm the Divine Unity.
Thus there are records of various sects who lived in the early centuries after Jesus’s disappearance, such as, for example, the Ebionites, the Cerinthians, the Basilidians, the Carpocratians, and the Hypisistarians, who refused to worship God as a father, They revered Him as the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, the Highest of all with no one equal to Him.
In time, many different written accounts of Jesus’s life and teachings – some clearly more reliable than others – appeared and were used, Jesus had spoken in Aramaic, a dialect of Arabic, which was not commonly written. The first Gospels were therefore usually recorded in Hebrew. In these early days, none were formally accepted or rejected. It was up to the leader of each Christian community to decide what books he would use. Depending on whom they had been taught by, each community or sect went to a different source. Those who followed Barnabas’s example, for instance, went to one source – and those who followed Paul went to another.
Thus, quite soon after Jesus’s disappearance from earth, there was a definite and widening divergence between the followers of Jesus and the members of the Pauline Church, which was later to become known as the Roman Catholic Church. Differences between the two were not only evident in life-style and belief, but were also clearly delineated geographically.
As the Pauline Church became more established, it became increasingly hostile to the followers of Jesus. It aligned itself more and more with the rulers of the Roman Empire, and the persecution which to begin with had been directed at all who called them selves Christians, now began to fall mainly on those who affirmed the Divine Unity. Attempts began to be made to change their beliefs and forcefully to remove those who refused to do so, together with the books they used. Most of the early martyrs were Unitarians. The more the doctrines of Paul became accepted, the more its adherents opposed those who affirmed the Divine Unity. By the time the Emperor Julian came to power, this infighting had reached such a stage that he said: ‘No wild beasts are so hostile to man as Christian sects in general are to one another.’
Naturally, those who deviated from the teaching of Jesus were prepared to change the Scriptures too, and even to introduce false writings in order to support their opinions. Toland, in his book The Nazarenes, records these words of Iranaeus, who was one of the early Unitarian martyrs:
“In order to amaze the simple and such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of Truth, they obtrude upon them an inexpressible multitude of apocryphal and spurious scriptures of their own devising.”
Toland continues: “We know already to what degree imposture and credulity went hand in hand in the primitive times of the Christian Church, the last being as ready to receive as the first was to forge books … This evil grew afterwards not only greater when the Monks were the sole transcribers and the sole keepers of all books good or bad, but in process of time it became almost absolutely impossible to distinguish history from fable, or truth from error as to the beginning and original monuments of Christianity …
How immediate successors of the Apostles could so grossly confound the genuine teaching of their masters with such as were falsely attributed to them? Or since they were in the dark about these matters so early how came such as followed them by a better light? And observing that such Apocryphal books were often put upon the same footing with the canonical books by the Fathers, and the first cited as Divine Scriptures no less than the last, or sometimes, when such as we reckon divine were disallowed by them. l propose these two other questions:
Why all the books cited as genuine by Clement of Alexander, Origen, Tertullian and the rest of such writers should not be accounted equally authentic? And what stress should be laid on the testimony of those Fathers who not only contradict one another but are also often inconsistent with themselves in their relations of the very same facts?
Toland goes on to say that when these questions are asked of the ‘wooden priests and divinilings,’ instead of meeting the arguments, they react by calling those who raise the questions ‘hereticks or concealed atheists.’ He continues:
“This conduct will make them suspect all to be a cheat and imposture, because men will naturally cry out when they are touched in a tender part … No man will be angry at a question who is able to answer it…”
Finally Toland asks: “Since the Nazarenes or Ebionites are by all the Church historians unanimously acknowledged to have been the first Christians, or those who believed in Christ among the Jews with which, his own people, he lived and died, they having been the witness of his actions, and of whom were all the Apostles, considering this, I say how was it possible for them to be the first of all others (for they were made to be the first heretics), who should form wrong conceptions of the doctrines and designs of Jesus? And how came the Gentiles who believed on him after his death by the preaching of persons that never knew him to have truer notions of these things, or whence could they have their information but from the believing Jews?” How, or whence, indeed!