Barnabas is a nickname given him by the Apostles (Acts 4:36), and, therefore, his given name was really Joseph, and he was a Levite of the country of Cyprus who had resettled in Judea. Joseph, called Barnabas, is also the brother of Mary, the mother of John Mark (cp. Colossians 4:10 and Acts 12:12). I have identified Mary, the mother of Mark, as Mary, sister to Martha and Lazarus HERE. Therefore, if that study is true, Lazarus is probably Joseph, whom the Apostles called Barnabas.
It is said in John 11:3, 5 that Jesus loved Lazarus, but is this as far as we can go in saying that the Lazarus of the Gospels is also Barnabas of Acts? I think we can go further, understanding that nothing is crystal clear, but all of what we gather from these Scriptures is really only an allusion to this idea, but I, for one, believe what we do see in the New Testament is a strong implication, once we consider the idea that they may be showing us how God works in our lives—from the beginning to the end (cp. Philippians 1:6). In other words, I don’t believe they are mere guesses; I think what the Scriptures imply about Barnabas/Lazarus are more like probabilities.
One of the things I find really intriguing is the fact that only Luke and John mention anything about a person named Lazarus, and Luke mentions him only in a parable! Why would that be so? Scholarship tells us that the name Lazarus is another name of the Hebrew Eleazar, and its meaning is whom God helps or God has helped. Since Lazarus was raised from the dead and targeted by the Jewish authorities to be killed, because of how great a number of Jews were turning to Jesus over this miracle (cp. John 12:10-11), it may be that this is an encrypted name for someone God has helped, namely, Joseph, further nicknamed Barnabas by the Apostles. The ordinary reader would not understand that Lazarus pointed to Joseph, so the reason the Jewish authorities had for killing Lazarus becomes moot, if no one knows who he is, except for those who knew the key. I don’t mean to sound Gnostic, because the identity of Lazarus (if, indeed, he does point to another individual) is of little importance to the Gospel. The miracle Jesus performed is what is important, not the name of the person (cp. Luke 7:11-16).
If my study, concerning Mary, the mother of Mark, is true, then Joseph (Barnabas) is also the brother of the Apostle, James the Less (cp. Matthew 27:55-56 and Mark 15:40). Jesus chose several people from the same family to be his apostles. Peter and Andrew were brothers, as were James and John (the sons of Zebedee). Judas Iscariot was probably the son of Simon, called Zelotes (cp. John 6:71; 13:26). James the Less and Judas (the writer of the epistle Jude) were brothers (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13; cp. Jude 1:1).
The father of James the Apostle was Alphaeus (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), and the father of James the Less is Cleophas (cp. Mark 15:40; John 19:25). According to Thayer’s Greek Dictionary Alphaeus means ‘changing’ and is the same name as Cleophas which means ‘my exchanges’. Cleophas is of Chaldee or Aramaic origin and corresponds to Alphaeus, which is of Hebrew origin. So, since Cleophas and Alphaeus are the same man, his wife, Mary, is the mother of James the Less and the writer of the epistle, Jude, and of Joseph, called Barnabas by the Apostles in Acts.
I find it interesting that if Lazarus was loved by Jesus in a very special way, so that he was identified in this manner, and if he was the brother of two of Jesus’ apostles, why wasn’t Lazarus chosen as well? Remember, Lazarus and Barnabas are the same person, according to this study, and the Scriptures tell us that Barnabas’ real name was Joseph (Acts 4:36). According to the same Scripture, Barnabas was a wealthy man, because he sold land and laid the entire amount at the Apostles feet. Knowing this, I wonder about the ‘rich young ruler’ who came to Jesus asking how he might gain eternal life (cp. Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27 and Luke 18:18-27). Luke identifies him as a ruler (Luke 18:18), which may have to do with being a member of the Sanhedrin. Matthew identifies him as a young man (Matthew 19:20), and Mark identifies him as one that Jesus loved (Mark 10:21). So, we have a young ruler who was very rich (Matthew 19:22; Mark 10:22; Luke 18:23) whom Jesus loved and invited to follow him (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22). Wouldn’t it be appropriate for Barnabas, now converted and fully embracing Jesus to give to the Apostles in Acts 4:36 what he found so difficult to do for Jesus a few years earlier? After all Jesus concluded this episode with the rich young ruler whom he loved with the words: “with God, all things are possible.” Is Jesus merely stating a magnanimous fact about God, or does he intend that this record of this rich young ruler—whom he loved—to become a demonstration of how God both began and brought to completion his work of salvation in one individual (cp. Philippians 1:6)?
If the above is logical, let’s go a little further and suggest another scriptural comparison. Barnabas’ real name is Joseph, and we know Jesus was approached by a rich young ruler, whom Jesus loved. We know Barnabas/Joseph was rich, but could he have also been a member of the Sanhedrin? Well, there was a Joseph who was a member of the Sanhedrin who came to Jesus at night, implying he loved his position in his nation more than he loved Jesus (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42), but upon the death of Jesus, he boldly went to Pilate to crave Jesus’ body, and laid it in his own tomb. If Joseph is Lazarus, and was raised by Jesus from the dead, he knew he owed Jesus all he had. Therefore, he boldly craved the body of Jesus, not secretly as he had been his disciple up to that time, but now his position and riches mattered no more. All he cared about he laid in the grave. Remember, we are supposing that this study shows in the scriptures how God moves in the hearts of those who love him and brings that beginning work to its completion (cp. Philippians 1:6).
I would be remiss, if I didn’t deal with one more thing. The Gospel of John was written by the disciple whom Jesus loved. Is this John, the son of Zebedee or is it Joseph, called Barnabas in Acts? The writer of the Gospel of John is referred to in John 13:23 where he leaned upon Jesus’ breast at one of the meals Jesus had just before his death. Nothing is said in the Scriptures that only the Twelve were present. The writer of the fourth Gospel is again referred to at the site of the crucifixion when Jesus provided for his mother through the disciple whom he loved (John 19:26-27). Traditionally, this is supposed to be the apostle, John, but there is nothing here to show it could not be Joseph, called Barnabas in Acts. He is again mentioned in John 20:2 when Mary Magdalene ran to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved to tell them Jesus’ body was missing. Why would John be mentioned here? Peter is the leading disciple and should be told, but, if the disciple whom Jesus loved was Joseph/Barnabas in whose tomb Jesus was laid, it was entirely appropriate to tell him as well. Finally, he is referred to for a final time in John 21 in verses 7 and 20. We know John was among the disciples present (John 21:2), but so were two unnamed disciples, implying only the Apostles were identified by name; the other two were not numbered among the Twelve. So, Joseph/Barnabas may have been one of the two disciples. The Gospel writer identifies himself only as the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:20, 24). Traditionally, this would be John, the apostle, but it could also be Joseph, called Barnabas, because, if this study is true, only Joseph called Barnabas could be traced to the one known as the disciple whom Jesus loved.