The Acts of Barnabas

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (July, 2005)

Another apocryphal document, the Acts of Barnabas (not the same as the Epistle of Barnabas) adds to the strong evidence of a form of Christianity that preceded the Roman kind and was close to Qumran. Moreover, it gives a further case, additional to those in Acts, of a secret appearance of Jesus after the crucifixion , in which he gave directions on appointments of ministers. Like those in Acts, it is readily understood as a record of the real Jesus, who had survived the crucifixion, guiding his party from within the secluded monastic centres in which he was living.

The Acts of Barnabas gives a detailed account, with geographical accuracy about places, of a mission of Barnabas and John Mark on the mainland off Cyprus in the forties and fifties AD. It impressed a nineteenth century editor as having "more an air of truth about it than any of the others".

According to Acts 15:36-40, there was a sharp disagreement, paroxysmos in Greek, between Paul and Silas on the one side, and Barnabas and John Mark on the other. The latter two went to Cyprus, where they had previously been found with Paul (Acts 13: 4-13), but now they went there independently.

The Acts of Barnabas records a visit to Iconium in South Galatia. Here John Mark was baptised and given the new name Mark - that is, he was advanced to a higher grade of ministry than his previous one, and now permitted to always use a Latin name. The name was given to him by "a certain man standing clothed in white raiment". John Mark went to Barnabas, who said that the Lord had also stood by him that night and directed him to accept John Mark as his servant.

The two missionaries performed healings, the only kinds of miracle in the book, easily understood as initiations and promotions. A man named Heracleides was ordained a bishop over Cyprus. They encountered "a certain Jew, by name Barjesus". That is a name for Simon Magus in Acts 13:6-8.

The party of Barnabas and John Mark was derived from the Magians of Simon Magus, with whom Jesus himself was at first involved. As may be shown from the pesher with the help of the Clementines, Barnabas was the brother of Jesus, the next after James. He appears as Joses in the list of Mark 6:3, and Joseph in Matthew 13:55. It was he who replaced Judas in the twelve apostles, under the name Matthias. Recognitions of Clement 1,60 states that this Matthias was Barnabas. In Acts 4:36 he is introduced as Joseph Barnabas, said to have been ordained ("born") in Cyprus, and called a levite. That was because he had shown much greater sympathy with Jesus' outlook than James. At a point of political tension in the gospel period, recorded in symbolic form in John 9:1-41, Jesus made Joses-Barnabas, the "blind man" his successor and "crown prince" in place of James. He made him his "Joseph", the title of the crown prince. Since Jesus claimed full priesthood, Barnabas became his levite deputy.

Cyprus was an original mission centre for the Magians. Atomus the Magus who appears in Josephus came from Cyprus. Simon Magus or Bar-Jesus led those Magians who had long turned against the Herods, but in the encounter with the Herodian Paul on Cyprus in Acts 13:6-8, when Agrippa II had become the new Herod, Simon was displaced as Chief Magus and replaced by Atomus. As Josephus' narrative shows (Josephus, Ant. 20, 142), Atomus acted as an adviser to the Herod family, arranging the marriage of a Herod princess with the Roman governor Felix.

The history set down in the Acts of Barnabas shows the continuing process in South Galatia of modifying fully Magian centres to bring them closer to the revised views of Jesus, but not going so far as the pro-Roman doctrine of Paul. The main issue was the militarism of Simon Magus, which Jesus had repudiated. The tensions between the two kinds of Magians increased. The narrative shows that a Jew using the title Barjesus brought about the death of Barnabas. "They burned him with fire, so that even his bones became dust". After the cremation John Mark buried his ashes and departed for Alexandria.

Iconium in South Galatia was the place where the encounter between Paul and Thecla took place, recorded in The Acts of Paul and Thecla. In a later entry we'll look at this story of a young woman who wanted to become a nun and was encouraged by Paul.

John Mark-Eutychus was reconciled with Paul in March AD 58 (Acts 20:7-12). In his final letters Paul speaks of Mark the "cousin" (anepsios, a symbolic family relationship) of Barnabas, as one who would visit him in Rome (Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11). By the early sixties, when Paul was writing his final letters, the gap between Simon Magus and the Christians in Rome had so widened that they acted as rival missions, as shown in the "The Acts of Peter" (in this section on this site). John Mark and Barnabas were forced to join the Christians, although always holding views that were not fully Roman. The records about them are historically priceless, showing the attitudes of Jesus before he was brought into the party of Peter and Paul.