Why does 1 Corinthians 9:6 mention Barnabas, when he did not travel to Corinth with Paul?


by Shawn Brasseaux

“Why did Paul refer to Barnabas and himself in 1 Corinthians 9:6, as Barnabas was not with Paul when he (Paul) established the church in Corinth? Silas and Timothy were Paul’s companions on his second journey.”

Good question! We look at 1 Corinthians 9:6: “Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?” Paul suggests that the Corinthians are familiar with Barnabas. Yet, when Paul first visited Corinth in Acts chapter 18, Barnabas was not traveling with him. As you mentioned, Barnabas separated from Paul’s company at the close of Acts chapter 15, a few years prior to Paul’s visit to Corinth in chapter 18.

We turn to Acts chapter 15 for sake of comparison: “[36] And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. [37] And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. [38] But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. [39] And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; [40] And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. [41] And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.”

Paul and Barnabas conducted their first apostolic journey throughout Acts chapters 13 and 14. By the end of chapter 15, however, a sharp disagreement forced them to part company. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them on their second apostolic journey, but Paul decided against it because Mark had abandoned them near the close of chapter 14. With Paul choosing Silas for his companion on his second apostolic journey, Barnabas decided to take John Mark on his separate journey. We never read about Barnabas again in the book of Acts. Historically, Barnabas drops off the Biblical narrative entirely.

In their second apostolic journey (15:40–18:22), Paul and Silas met young Timothy in chapter 16. They arrived in Corinth in chapter 18. But, 1 Corinthians 9:6 seems to pose a problem. How could the Corinthians know Barnabas, if Barnabas was no longer traveling with Paul and Silas? We learn the most likely answer by appealing to Acts chapter 18: “[9] Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: [10] For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. [11] And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”

Here is the most likely scenario. True, Barnabas was not traveling with Paul anymore. Yet, the last time we read about Barnabas (Acts 15:39), he was traveling with John Mark. Evidently, Barnabas, in his own journeys, visited Corinth sometime during the 18 months Paul was living there (Acts 18:11). That is the only way the Corinthians would have been familiar with Barnabas. First Corinthians 9:6 in no way demands Barnabas be traveling with Paul. It simply means Barnabas and Paul met together in Corinth sometime during the 18 months of Acts 18:11.

You must remember the book of Acts will often supply details that Paul’s epistles do not. Also, Paul’s epistles will give information that Acts does not. Luke never mentioned Barnabas in Corinth, yet Paul affirms Barnabas was there at some point for the Corinthians to know him.

Also see:
» Should we pray for safe trips and “traveling mercies?”
» Why did Paul tell the Corinthians to be “reconciled to God?”
» How did Satan hinder Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:18?