Barnabas: Portrait of an INFP

Thu June 25, 2020 · Comments

An INFP is someone who is:

  • Introverted: Gets energized by spending time alone.
  • INtuitive: Focuses on ideas and concepts as opposed to facts and processes.
  • Feeling: Prioritizes others and emotions over logic.
  • Perceiving: Prefers freedom and flexibility over structure and predictability.


People think that introverts don't like being around people, but that's not the case. It's just that being around others tends to zap their energy, and they need time alone to refresh their batteries. The INFP isn't great in a crowd but prefers spending time with one or two others where they can speak in-depth about the things that inspire them.

INFPs tend to be nonconformists and independent thinkers. They're generally accepting and non-judgemental towards others. Profoundly sensitive and empathetic, INFPs are typically gentle and accommodating, understanding how others might feel in certain situations. However, they can become extremely rigid when they think their values are being violated or that others are steamrolling them.

Barnabas the INFP

We don't have a lot of information about Barnabas, but the New Testament reveals that he has INFP characteristics. Here are a couple of examples of Barnabas exhibiting INFP tendencies.

1. Son of encouragement

Barnabas's real name is Joseph. Luke tells us that he picked up the nickname Barnabas which means "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36). Thousands of years later, we still know him by his nickname. Imagine being so inspiring that you just become synonymous with encouragement.

INFPs are often called "healers." They're not only empathetic and caring listeners, but they also want to dive deep with people around them. They want to talk about the topics that people generally avoid and bring a unique perspective to the problems and frustrations of others.

Because INFPs are often so in tune with their own weaknesses and shortcomings, they're quick to share their own failures. They're especially adept at drawing a connection between others' experiences and their own. And their willingness to be vulnerable and open is incredibly inspiring to others.

It's no surprise that people around Barnabas would find him to be so encouraging.

2. Agent of reconciliation

INFPs are agents of reconciliation. Whether you're talking about personal wounds or relational spats, they're idealists committed to the idea that healing is possible. They long to restore lost unity and integrity. When it comes to broken relationships, the INFP will often be quick to extend an olive branch.

We can see this in the way Barnabas dealt with Paul's conversion. Paul had persecuted the church. He'd rounded up Christians for arrest and approved of the killing of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:54–8:1). So it's no wonder that after Paul's dramatic conversion, the disciples would still be worried about him.

Here's how it played out:

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord (Acts 9:26–28).

This is such an INFP move. As an idealist, Barnabas recognized that if Jesus's message of reconciliation was valid, then it had to apply to their worst enemy. In this situation, Barnabas's instincts were right, and Paul's change of heart was completely sincere. But the disciples weren't entirely wrong for being nervous about taking Paul's word at face value.

In the end, Barnabas was so committed to the idea of reconciliation, that he was willing to vouch for Paul and put his own reputation on the line.

3. The tendency to take things personally

INFPs are so ideal-driven that it's hard for them to separate their perspective from their identity. When someone disagrees with their convictions, it's almost impossible for the INFP not to take it personally.

During their first missionary journey together, Paul and Barnabas took John Mark (Barnabas's cousin) with them. During the outing, Mark decided to head home (Acts 13:13). Luke doesn't tell us why he left, but it ended up creating some friction later:

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord (Acts 15:36–40).

When the topic of this split comes up, we often focus on the fact that, at the end of Paul's ministry, he requested that Timothy would bring Mark to visit Paul in prison (2 Timothy 4:11). People often point to this as a sign that Paul and Mark were reconciled, but that might not be entirely accurate.

It seems that Paul's personality is ENTJ. They're natural-born leaders who are very pragmatic. It's likely that Paul's choice not to take Mark with them wasn't personal at all. He wasn't angry at Mark. It was a practical decision, and as Mark matured, it made sense for Paul to include him again.

But INFPs—like Barnabas—don't always make their decisions based on the best strategy. They tend to be more focused on principles—often seeing things as very black and white. To Barnabas, forgiveness would have been demonstrated by inviting Mark back on the road. And Paul's refusal to take Mark out again would have been perceived as not only a failure of forgiveness but also a rejection of Barnabas's values. This might explain why we do see some reconciliation between Paul and Mark, but not between Barnabas and Paul.

The INFP needs to be aware that people don't always see things the same way. Sincere people can look at a situation and come to different conclusions about the best way to proceed. When someone disagrees with an INFP’s point of view, it isn't necessarily a personal rejection.

One of the most attractive things about the INFP is their sensitivity—but it's often their Achilles's heel, too.

What's your personality type?

If you're interested in learning more about your personality type, check out "Become Like Jesus While Being Yourself," a free discipleship guide for the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types.

It uses the 16 classic Myers-Briggs personality types to examine the unique ways each of us approaches faith. It identifies strengths and challenges faced by each personality as they seek to grow in their faith.

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