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Paul and Barnabas

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The Barnabas Connection* 

While the letters do not provide bountiful references to Barnabas—and there was little occasion to do so—there were a number of things Paul and Barnabas had in common. 

     1. From 1 Corinthians 9:6, we learn that Paul and Barnabas shared a common policy of self-support: “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” It remains uncertain whether this policy implies some kind of prior consultation, or whether they had worked together for a period of time.

     2. From Galatians 2:1-10, we can conclude that Paul and Barnabas were willing to join forces at the Jerusalem conference to champion the cause of a law-free mission to the gentiles. Paul tells his readers that he went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas (2:1). Paul would likely have been traveling from one of his missionary foundations, probably Corinth, and could have met Barnabas at some pre-arranged point such as Antioch or Caesarea.1

     3. Paul has little or nothing to say bout the rôle of Barnabas at the conference. His own rôle is given greater prominence—understandably so, in light of Paul’s purpose in the letter. The recognition by the pillars of the mission to the gentiles which Paul has been engaged in (and which presumably Barnabas has also been engaged in) is phrased in a curious way: the pillars (Cephas, or Peter, James, and John) see that Paul has been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised (2:7); Paul explains that the same Lord who worked through Peter’s apostolate for the circumcision has worked through Paul’s apostolate2 for the gentiles (2:8); the pillars recognize the grace which has been given to Paul (2:9a)—with still no mention of Barnabas; then, the pillars “gave to me and Barnabas [finally, the plural; note the order] the right hand of fellowship, acknowledging that we [should go, or continue going, hina hêmeis eis ta ethnê] to the gentiles . . .” (2:9b). We are probably not to conclude that Paul begrudged the mission or apostolate or grace of Barnabas; rather, it is Paul’s authorization which is the focus of his dispute with the Galatians.

  * This page originally appeared as a detached note in “Paul and Galatia,” Proceedings: Eastern Great Lakes and Midwest Biblical Societies 13 (1993) 64-65.
  1Dieter Georgi has difficulty understanding “why and how Paul and Barnabas should and could have met at that time, long after their separation [sic], in order to go to Jerusalem (Remembering the Poor: The History of Paul’s Collection for Jerusalem [Nashville: Abingdon, 1992] 129). On the basis of this perceived difficulty, Georgi seeks to refute chronology [A], as represented in the writings of John Knox, Gerd Luedemann and Robert Jewett; see below. On the contrary, one may suppose that Paul was not without ways of arranging to meet Barnabas in Antioch or some other place.
  2In Galatians 2:8 Paul writes elliptically; the absence of apostolên [apostolate] is not Paul’s concession to Peter of an apostolate which he himself cannot claim. Betz (98) does not acknowledge the elliptical character of Paul’s statement; cp. 2:7. See E. DeW. Burton, The Epistle to the Galatians, ICC (New York: Scribner’s, 1920) 93-4.

     4. Barnabas and the collection: The text is reasonably clear that Barnabas is linked with Paul in the obligation to gather a collection for the poor: “. . . only they asked that we should remember the poor” (2:10a); but the plural abruptly changes back to singular: “which very thing I made haste to do” (2:10b). Paul gives an accounting of his own fidelity to the agreement, without specifying whether Barnabas did or did not fulfill his part of the obligation.

     5. Barnabas and the Antioch episode: As for the Antioch episode and Barnabas’ part in it (Galatians 2:11-14), we have only Paul’s pointed remark, that even Barnabas, his fellow missioner to the gentiles, was carried away by the hypocrisy of the others (Galatians 2:13). Thus Paul is doubly disappointed by what he perceives as the defection of a co-advocate for the gentiles. Click on Barnabas at Antioch.

The Barnabas Texts and Pauline Chronology

This discussion of the Barnabas texts leads us to address squarely a problem which some interpreters see as a fatal flaw in chronology [A], the chronology which has been adopted in this web site, as argued in Letters Based Chronology (1) and (2). This chronology places at least three of the great founding missions of Paul before the Jerusalem conference. Some opponents of chronology [A] call attention to the lack of any convincing evidence that Barnabas participated with Paul in the founding missions in Macedonia and Achaia. The argument runs essentially as follows:3 (a) Paul and Barnabas were partners in the gentile mission until the Antioch collision, when Barnabas yielded to the Judaizers; (b) but there is no convincing evidence that Barnabas was part of Paul’s founding mission in Macedonia and Achaia; (c) hence, these founding missions can not have been before the Jerusalem conference.

The weak link of this argument is point (a): the letters do not justify the notion of a lengthy partnership between Paul and Barnabas, extending until the Antioch episode.4 The fact that the two met for the trip up to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1) does not require that they had been laboring together for the previous fourteen years. The idea of such a lengthy association is of course based only upon Acts (11::25-30; 12:24–15:39). If the letters are harmonized to Acts, anything is possible! With the invalidation of the argument’s major premise, the whole argument is shown to be unfounded.

  3See George Ogg, The Chronology of the Life of Paul (London: Epworth, 1968) 90, 131; Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach [SNTSMS] (Cambridge: University Press, 1986) 56-7; and Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians [WBC 41] (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1990) lxxv-lxxvi.
  4See John Knox, “Chapters in a Life of Paul—A Response to Robert Jewett and Gerd Luedemann,” in Colloquy on New Testament Studies: A Time for Reappraisal and Fresh Approaches, ed. Bruce Corley (Macon, GA: Mercer U. Press, 1983) 361, “There is really no evidence in the letters that Paul and Barnabas ever worked together, although they shared in many opinions and attitudes. (First Cor 9:6 and Gal 2:1 cannot be pressed into meaning more than this mutual sympathy; only in Acts are the two represented as being actual collaborators and even there only at the very beginning of Paul’s career.)”


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