Epistle of Barnabas

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The Epistle of Barnabas (Greek: Επιστολή Βαρνάβα, Hebrew: איגרת בארנבס‎) is a Greek epistle containing twenty-one chapters, preserved complete in the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus where it appears at the end of the New Testament. It is traditionally ascribed to Barnabas who is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, although some ascribe it to another Apostolic Father of the same name, Barnabas of Alexandria, or simply attribute it to an unknown early Christian teacher. A form of the Epistle 850 lines long is noted in the Latin list of canonical works in the 6th century Codex Claromontanus. It is distinct from the Gospel of Barnabas.

Manuscript tradition

The most complete text is in the Codex Sinaiticus (=S; 4th century) and the Codex Hierosolymitanus (=H; 11th century), which are usually in agreement on variant readings. A truncated form of the text in which Polycarp's letter to the Philippians 1.1–9.2 continues with Barnabas 5.7a and following, without any indication of the transition, survives in twelve Greek manuscripts (=G; from 11th century onward) and often agrees with the old Latin translation (=L) against S and H.[1]

Until 1843 eight manuscripts, all derived from a common source (G), were known in Western European libraries: none of them contained chapters 1 to chapter 5.7a.[citation needed]

The 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, in which the Epistle and the Shepherd of Hermas follow the canonical books of the New Testament, contains a more complete manuscript of the text, which is independent of the preceding group of texts.[citation needed]

The 11th century Codex Hierosolymitanus ("Jerusalem Codex"), which includes the Didache, is another witness to the full text. This Greek manuscript was discovered by Philotheos Bryennios at Constantinople in 1873, and Adolf Hilgenfeld used it for his edition in 1877.[citation needed]

There is also an old Latin version of the first seventeen chapters (the Two Ways section in chapters 18 to 21 is not present) which dates, perhaps, to no later than the end of the 4th century and is preserved in a single 9th-century manuscript (St Petersburg, Q.v.I.39). This is a fairly literal rendering in general (but sometimes significantly shorter than the Greek as well), often agreeing with the family G manuscripts. There are also brief citations from the Epistle in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, and a few fragments of the Two Ways material in Syriac and elsewhere.[citation needed]

Early citations

Toward the end of the 2nd century Clement of Alexandria cites the Epistle. It is also appealed to by Origen of Alexandria. Eusebius, the first major church historian, however, recorded objection to it (see Antilegomena), and ultimately the epistle disappeared from the appendix to the New Testament, or rather the appendix disappeared with the epistle. In the West the epistle never enjoyed canonical authority (although it stands beside the Epistle of James in the Latin manuscripts). In the East, the Stichometry of Nicephorus, the list appended by the 9th century Patriarch of Jerusalem to his Chronography, lists the Epistle of Barnabas in a secondary list, of books that are antilegomena— "disputed"— along with the Book of Revelation, the Revelation of Peter and the Gospel of the Hebrews.[citation needed]


The first editor of the epistle, Hugo Menardus (1645) advocated the genuineness of its ascription to Barnabas, but the opinion today is that Barnabas was not the author. It was probably written between the years 100–131 and addressed to Christian Gentiles.[citation needed] In 16.3–4, the Epistle reads:

Furthermore he says again, 'Behold, those who tore down this temple will themselves build it.' It is happening. For because of their fighting it was torn down by the enemies. And now the very servants of the enemies will themselves rebuild it.

This passage clearly places Barnabas after the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. But it also places Barnabas before the Bar Kochba Revolt of AD 132, after which there could have been no hope that the Romans would help to rebuild the temple. The document must come from the period between the two revolts. The place of origin remains an open question, although the Greek-speaking Eastern Mediterranean appears most probable (Treat).[citation needed]

John Dominic Crossan quotes Koester as stating that New Testament writings are used "neither explicitly nor tacitly" in the Epistle of Barnabas and that this "would argue for an early date, perhaps even before the end of 100 C.E." Crossan continues (The Cross that Spoke, p. 121):

Richardson and Shukster have also argued for a first-century date. Among several arguments they point to the detail of "a little king, who shall subdue three of the kings under one" and "a little crescent horn, and that it subdued under one three of the great horns" in Barnabas 4:4-5. They propose a composition "date during or immediately after the reign of Nerva (96-8 C.E.) . . . viewed as bringing to an end the glorious Flavian dynasty of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. . . when a powerful, distinguished, and successful dynasty was brought low, humiliated by an assassin's knife" (33, 40).

[citation needed]

Jay Curry Treat states on the dating of Barnabas (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 1, pp. 613–614):

Since Barnabas 16:3 refers to the destruction of the temple, Barnabas must be written after 70 C.E. It must be written before its first undisputable use in Clement of Alexandria, ca. 190. Since 16:4 expects the temple to be rebuilt, it was most likely written before Hadrian built a Roman temple on the site ca. 135. Attempts to use 4:4-5 and 16:1-5 to specify the time of origin more exactly have not won wide agreement. It is important to remember that traditions of varying ages have been incorporated into this work.

Treat comments on the provenance of the Epistle of Barnabas (op. cit., p. 613):

Barnabas does not give enough indications to permit confident identification of either the teacher's location or the location to which he writes. His thought, hermeneutical methods, and style have many parallels throughout the known Jewish and Christian worlds. Most scholars have located the work's origin in the area of Alexandria, on the grounds that it has many affinities with Alexandrian Jewish and Christian thought and because its first witnesses are Alexandrian. Recently, Prigent (Prigent and Kraft 1971: 20-24), Wengst (1971: 114-18), and Scorza Barcellona (1975: 62-65) have suggested other origins based on affinities in Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. The place of origin must remain an open question, although the Gk-speaking E. Mediterranean appears most probable.

Concerning the relationship between Barnabas and the New Testament, Treat writes (op. cit., p. 614):

Although Barnabas 4:14 appears to quote Matt 22:14, it must remain an open question whether the Barnabas circle knew written gospels. Based on Koester's analysis (1957: 125-27, 157), it appears more likely that Barnabas stood in the living oral tradition used by the written gospels. For example, the reference to gall and vinegar in Barnabas 7:3, 5 seems to preserve an early stage of tradition that influenced the formation of the passion narratives in the Gospel of Peter and the synoptic gospels.


Bart D. Ehrman has stated that the Epistle of Barnabas is "more anti-Jewish than [any of the books] that [made] it into the New Testament".[2]

Although the work is not gnostic in a theological sense, the author, who considers himself to be a teacher to the unidentified audience to which he writes (see e.g. 9.9), intends to impart to his readers the perfect gnosis (knowledge), that they may perceive that the Christians are the only true covenant people, and that the Jewish people are no longer in covenant with God (3.7). His polemics are, above all, directed against Judaizing Christians (see Ebionites, Nazarenes, Judaizing teachers).[citation needed]

In no other writing of that early time is the separation of the Gentile Christians from observant Jews so clearly insisted upon. The covenant promises, he maintains, belong only to the Christians (e.g. 4.6–8), and circumcision, and the entire Jewish sacrificial and ceremonial system have been abolished in favor of "the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2.8). According to the author's conception, Jewish scriptures, rightly understood, serve as a foretelling of Christ and its laws often contain allegorical meanings. He is a thorough opponent to Jewish legalism, but by no means an antinomist. At some points the Epistle seems quite Pauline, as with its concept of atonement.[citation needed]

The Epistle explains many Torah laws as having a spiritual lesson as their main purpose. For example, the prohibition against eating pork is intended to forbid the people to live like swine, who supposedly grunt when hungry but are silent when full: likewise, the people are not to pray to God when they are in need but ignore Him when they are satisfied. Similarly, the prohibition against eating rabbit means that the people are not to behave in a promiscuous manner, and the prohibition against eating weasel is also to be interpreted as a prohibition of oral sex, based on the mistaken belief that weasels copulate via the mouth.[3]

It is likely that, due to the resurgence of Judaism in the early 2nd century, and the tolerance of the Roman emperor Hadrian, Christians, such as the text's author, felt a need to resist Jewish influences polemically. In this case, the author seems to aim to demonstrate that Jewish understanding of the Mosaic legislation (Torah) is completely incorrect and can now be considered superseded, since in the author's view the Jewish scriptures foreshadowed Jesus and Christianity when rightly understood.[citation needed]

The author quotes liberally from the Old Testament, including the apocryphal books. He quotes from the New Testament gospels twice (4:14, 5:9),[4] and is in general agreement with the New Testament presentation of salvation-history. He quotes material resembling 4 Esdras (12.1) and 1 Enoch (4.3; 16.5), which did not become part of the Biblical canon except in some traditions (e.g. 1 Enoch is considered scriptural in the Ethiopian church). The closing Two Ways section (chapters 18–21), see also Didache, which contains a series of moral injunctions, presents "another gnosis and teaching" (18.1) in relation to the body of the epistle, and its connection to the latter has given rise to much discussion.[citation needed]


  1. ^ On the Greek manuscript witnesses to the Epistle of Barnabas, as well as traces of it in Syriac, see Sailors, Timothy B. "Bryn Mawr Classical Review: Review of The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations". Retrieved 13 January 2017. 
  2. ^ Bart D. Ehrman]] (2016). Jesus, the Law, and a "New" Covenant (YouTube video). University of Michigan. Event occurs at 31:50~31:55. Retrieved October 22, 2016. 
  3. ^ Ehrman, Bart D. (2005). Lost Christianities: the battles for scripture and the faiths we never knew. Oxford University Press. p. 146. ISBN 0-19-518249-9. 
  4. ^ Clontz, T.E. and J., "The Comprehensive New Testament", Cornerstone Publications (2008), ISBN 978-0-9778737-1-5


  • Kraft, Robert A., Barnabas and the Didache: Volume 3 of The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation and Commentary, edited by Robert Grant. New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1965. [1]
  • Treat, Jay Curry, in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 1, pp. 613–614.
  • Prostmeier, Ferdinand R., Der Barnabasbrief. Übersetzt und erklärt. Series: Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vätern (KAV, Vol. 8). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: Göttingen 1999. ISBN 3-525-51683-5

External links

  • Works related to Epistle of Barnabas at Wikisource
  • Greek text of Epistle of Barnabas
  • Early Christian Writings: Epistle of Barnabas; e-texts of translations and introductions
  • Catholic Encyclopedia 1907: Epistle of Barnabas from a Roman Catholic point of view: "the chief importance of the epistle is in its relation to the history of the Canon of the Scriptures."
  • Biblicalaudio Letter of Barnabas 2012 Translation & Audio Version
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