How was Marcus “sister’s son to Barnabas?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

Colossians 4:10 in the King James Bible tells us, “Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)….” Marcus is said to be “sister’s son to Barnabas.” Barnabas’ sister is Marcus’ mother; therefore, Marcus is Barnabas’ nephew. Alas, some have complicated the matter by arguing “sister’s son” is inappropriate, since the Greek word for “sister” (“adelphe”) appears nowhere in the verse. What our Authorized Version scholars have translated “sister’s son” is “anepsios” (“a” [article of union] joined to an obsolete word “nepos” [“brood, family”]). How should we go about handling this issue?

Here are the earlier English Bibles (note the King James Bible was published later, in 1611):

  • WYCLIFFE BIBLE (1382): “Aristarchus, prisoner with me [mine even-captive, or prisoner with me], greeteth you well, and Marcus, the cousin of Barnabas, of whom ye have taken commandments; if he come to you, receive ye him;….” (This edition of Wycliffe has modernized spellings, as Middle English is unintelligible to us.)
  • TYNDALE BIBLE (1530): “Aristarchus my preson felowe saluteth you and Marcus Barnabassis systers sonne: touchinge whom ye receaved commaundementes. Yf he come vnto you receave him:….”
  • COVERDALE BIBLE (1535): “Aristarchus my preson felowe saluteth you, and Marcus Barnabasses sisters sonne, touchinge whom ye receaued commaundementes: Yf he come vnto you, receaue him,….”
  • MATTHEW BIBLE (1537): “Aristarchus my preson felowe saluteth you/and Marcus Barnabas systers sonne: touching whom ye receaued commaundementes. If he come unto you/receaue hym:….”
  • GREAT BIBLE (1539): “Aristarchus my preson felowe saluteth you, and Marcus Barnabas systers sonne: touchynge whom, ye receaued commaundementes. If he come vnto you, receaue hym:….”
  • GENEVA BIBLE (1557): “Aristarchus my prison fellow saluteth you, and Marcus, Barnabas’s cousin (touching whom ye received commandments: If he come unto you, receive him.)” (The spelling here has been modernized.)
  • BISHOPS BIBLE (1568): “Aristarchus my prison felowe saluteth you, & Marcus Barnabas sisters sonne, (touchyng whom ye receaued commaundementes:) If he come vnto you, receaue hym….”

Most of them agree with the King James Bible—or, better stated, the King James Bible (published after) agrees with most of them. Only two out of the seven read “cousin.” The King James follows the remaining five with “sister’s son.” (In fact, the King James is largely based on Tyndale’s work, so the two read quite similarly here and many other places.)

In stark contrast, as pertaining to the modern English versions (produced during the last 150 years), “cousin” is the prevailing reading—Amplified Bible, Contemporary English Version, God’s Word, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Phillips, The Message, New American Standard Bible, New Century Version, New English Translation, New International Version, New King James Version, New American (Roman Catholic) Bible, New Living Translation, New Revised Standard Version, New World Translation (“Jehovah’s Witness Bible”), Revised Version, Revised Standard Version, The Voice. The Living Bible takes a more general position with “relative.” Knox’s Translation (Roman Catholic Bible) has “kinsman.”

Unfortunately, the King James translators are no longer alive on Earth (they are in Heaven!), so we cannot ask them why they chose “sister’s son” over a broader term (“cousin,” “relative,” “kinsman,” et cetera). All we have is speculation—and that will get us nowhere. So, what should we do? We take the position of faith and retain their reading. If we are “Bible believers” as we claim, then we will believe the Bible we have. If we disagree with it, and seek to change its text, then it is not (as we assert) our final authority. We should believe whatever Bible we use, or we need to stop playing the hypocrite and find a Bible we do believe. As touching many other passages, the King James translators have proven beyond any shadow of a doubt they were fully competent in handling the Greek, Hebrew, and other manuscripts before them—as well as the English Bibles that preceded their translation work. We trust they made the right choice in conveying the sense of the original Hebrew and Greek into English, and that would include “sister’s son” in Colossians 4:10.


“Marcus” is his Latin and Greek name (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 1 Peter 5:13). He is also known as “John surnamed Mark” (Acts 12:12,25; Acts 15:37), “John” being his name in Hebrew. In 2 Timothy 4:11, he is simply called “Mark.” Acts chapter 13, verses 5 and 13, refer to him as merely “John.” John Mark was a servant and ministry coworker of the Apostles Peter, Saul/Paul, and Barnabas. He accompanied Barnabas and Saul/Paul on their first apostolic journey, but abandoned them in Acts 13:13.

According to Acts 15:36-41, when Paul and Barnabas were setting out on their second apostolic journey, Barnabas preferred to take John Mark along with them but Paul opposed the idea because of Mark’s prior faithlessness. (Remember, Barnabas was partial to Mark because Mark was his nephew!) This major disagreement forced Paul and Barnabas to split, and they no longer travel together. Whereas Barnabas took John Mark, Paul picked up a new ministry coworker by the name of Silas. Many years later (15? 20?), John Mark and Paul reconciled, which brings us to Paul’s latter writings of Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24, and 2 Timothy 4:11. “He is profitable to me for the ministry.”

Also see:
» Why does the King James Bible say “nephews” instead of “grandchildren” in 1 Timothy 5:4?
» Were the King James translators justified in adding “women” to Matthew 24:41?
» Were the King James translators justified in adding the word “quarters” in Acts 9:32?