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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Barnabas, Epistle of.

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An epistle has come down to us bearing the name of Barnabas, but clearly not written by him.

1. Literary History. This epistle was known to the early church, as it is cited by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 1. 2, p. 273, Paris, 1629, et al. seven times); by Origen (contra Celsum, p. 49, Cantab. 1677, et al. three times); and is mentioned by Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 6:14), and by Jerome (Catal. Script. Eccles. c. vi). It was lost sight of for several centuries, until Sirmond (17th century) discovered it at the end of a manuscript of Polycarp's Epist. ad Philipp. Hugo Menardus also found a Latin version of it in the abbey of Corbey, and prepared it for publication. It appeared after. his death, edited by D'Achery (Paris, 1645), and this was the first printed edition of the epistle. Isaac Vossius had previously obtained a copy of the Corbey MS. and of that of Sirmond, and had conveyed them to archbishop Usher, who annexed them to a copy of the Ignatian Epistles he was preparing for the press. But the fire at Oxford (1644) destroyed all but a few pages, which are given by Fell in the preface to his edition of Barnabas (Oxford, 1685). Vossius published the epistle in 1646, at the end of the Ignatian Epistles. It is given also in Cotelerius, Patr. Apostol. (1672), in both what was then known of the Greek text and also in the Corbey Latin version; in Russel, Apost. Fathers (1746); Galland, Biblioth. Patrum (1765); and recently in Hefele, Patr. Apostol. Opera (1842). Several German translations were made; also an English one by Wake, Apostolic Fathers. All these editions were based on the same materials, viz. a defective Greek text, in which the first four chapters, and part of the fifth, were wanting, and the Latin version of Corbey, which lacked four chapters at the end. But in 1859 Tischendorf brought from Matthew Sinai a manuscript containing the entire epistle in Greek, with a part of the Pastor of Hermas. It was published in his Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum (2d edit. Lips. 1863). The first five chapters are also given in the second edition of Dressel, Patr. Apostol. Opera (Lips. 1863, 8vo), with a preface by Tischendorf; also, separately, by Volkmar, under the title Monumentum vetust. Christianae ineditum (Zurich, 1864), with a critical and exegetical commentary. The best edition is that of Hilgenfeld, Barnabae Epist. integ. Greece primum ed., with the ancient Latin version, a critical commentary and notes (Lips. 1865, 8vo). An English version of the Epistle, from the Codex Sinaiticus, is given in the Journal of Sacred Literature, Oct. 1863; reprinted in the American Presbyterian Review, Jan. and July, 1864.

2. Authorship and Date. Some of the early editors, (e.g. Voss), and some eminent modern critics (e.g. Pearson, Carr, Wake, Lardner, Gieseler, Black), maintain that this epistle was written by Barnabas, the companion of St. Paul. But the current of criticism has gone the other way, and it is now held as settled that Barnabas was not the author. For a history of the discussion, see Jones, Canonical Authority of the New Testament (Lond. 1726; new ed. Oxford, 1827, 3 vols. 8vo); Lardner, Credibility, etc., Works, 2:19; Hefele, Patres Apost. Prolegomena. The following is a summary of the reasons against the genuineness of the epistle:

"1. Though the exact date of the death of Barnabas cannot be ascertained, yet, from the particulars already stated respecting his nephew, it is highly probable that that event took place before the martyrdom of Paul, A.D. 64. But a passage in the epistle (ch. 16) speaks of the Temple at Jerusalem as already destroyed. It was consequently written after the year 70.

"2. Several passages have been adduced to show that the writer, as well as the persons addressed, belonged to the Gentile section of the church; but, waiving this point, the whole tone of the epistle is different from what the knowledge we possess of the character of Barnabas would lead us to expect, if it proceeded from his pen. From the hints given in the Acts, he appears to have been a man of strong attachments, keenly alive to the ties of kindred and father-land. We find that, on both his missionary tours, his native island and the Jewish synagogues claimed his first attention. But throughout the epistle there is a total absence of sympathetic regard for the Jewish nation; all is cold and distant, if not contemptuous. It remains yet that I speak to you (the 16th chapter begins) concerning the Temple; how those miserable men, being deceived, have put their trust in the house.' How unlike the friend and fellow-laborer of him who had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart for his brethren, his kindred according to the flesh' (Romans 9:2).

"3. Barnabas was not only a Jew by birth, but a Levite. From this circumstance, combined with what is recorded in the Acts of the active part he took in the settlement of the points at issue between the Jewish and the Gentile converts, we might reasonably expect to find, in a composition bearing his name, an accurate acquaintance with the Mosaic ritual, a clear conception of the nature of the Old Economy and its relation to the New Dispensation, and a freedom from that addiction to allegorical interpretation which marked the Christians of the Alexandrian school in the second and succeeding centuries. But the following specimens will suffice to show that exactly the contrary may be affirmed of the writer of this epistle; that he makes unauthorized additions to various parts of the Jewish Cultus; that his views of the Old Economy are confused and erroneous; and that he adopts a mode of interpretation countenanced by none of the inspired writers, and at utter variance with every principle of sound criticism, being to the last degree puerile and absurd.

"(1.) He mentions in two passages the fact recorded in Exodus 32:19, of Moses breaking the two tables of stone, and infers that Jehovah's covenant was thereby annulled. The falsity of this statement need not be pointed out to the Biblical student. He says, They (the Jews) have forever lost that which Moses received. For thus saith the Scripture: And Moses .... received the covenant from the Lord, even two tables of stone, etc. But, having turned themselves to idols, they lost it; as the Lord said unto Moses, Go down quickly, etc. And Moses cast the two tables out of his hands, and their covenant was broken, that the love of Jesus might be sealed in your hearts unto the hope of his faith' (ch. 4). The second passage, in ch. 14, is very similar, and need not be quoted.

"(2.) On the rite of circumcision (Acts 15:1-2) we find in this epistle equal incorrectness. The writer denies that circumcision was a sign of the covenant. You will say the Jews were circumcised for a sign, and so are all the Syrians and Arabians, and all the idolatrous priests.' Herodotus (2. 37), indeed, asserts that the Syrians in Palestine received the practice of circumcision from the Egyptians; but Josephus, both in his Antiquities and Treatise against Apion, remarks that he must have alluded to the Jews, because they were the only nation in Palestine who were circumcised (Ant. 8:10, 3; Apion, 1:22). How,' says Hug, could Barnabas, who traveled with Paul through the southern provinces of Asia Minor, make such an assertion respecting the heathen priests!' "

(3.) Referring to the goat (ch. 7), either that mentioned in Numbers 19 or Leviticus 16, he says, All the priests, and they only, shall eat the unwashed entrails with vinegar.' Of this direction, in itself highly improbable, not a trace can be found in the Bible, or even in the Talmud.

"(4.) In the same chapter, he says of the scape-goat that all the congregation were commanded to spit upon it, and put scarlet wool about its head; and that the person appointed to convey the goat into the wilderness took away the scarlet wool and put it on a thornbush, whose young sprouts, when we find them in the field, we are wont to eat; so the fruit of that thorn only is sweet. On all these particulars the Scriptures are silent.

"(5.) In ch. 8 the author's fancy seems to grow more fruitful and luxuriant. In referring to the red heifer (Numbers 19), he says that men in whom sins are come to perfection (ἐν οϊ v ς ἁμαρτίαι τέλειαι were to bring the heifer and kill it; that three youths were to take up the ashes and put them in vessels; then to tie a piece of scarlet wool and hyssop upon a stick, and so sprinkle every one of the people. This heifer is Jesus Christ; the wicked men that were to offer it are those sinners that brought him to death; the young men signify those to whom the Lord gave authority to preach his gospel, being at the beginning twelve, because there were twelve tribes of Israel.' But why

(he asks) were there three young men appointed to sprinkle? To denote Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And why was wool put upon a stick? Because the kingdom of Jesus was founded upon the cross, etc.

"(6.) He interprets the distinction of clean and unclean animals in a spiritual sense. Is it not (Ἀρα οὐκ see Dr. Hefele's valuable note, p. 85) the command of God that they should not eat these things? (Yes.) But Moses spoke in spirit (ἐν πνεύματι ). He named the swine in order to say, "Thou shalt not join those men who are like swine, who, while they live in pleasure, forget their Lord,"' etc. He adds, Neither shalt thou eat of the hyena; that is, thou shalt not be an adulterer.' If these were the views entertained by Barnabas, how must he have been astonished at the want of spiritual discernment in the apostle Peter, when he heard from his own lips the account of the symbolic vision at Joppa, and his reply to the command, Arise, Peter, hath at any time entered into my mouth' (Acts 11:8).

"(7.) In ch. 9 he attempts to show that Abraham, in circumcising his servants, had an especial reference to Christ and his crucifixion: Learn, my children, that Abraham, who first circumcised in spirit, having a regard to the Son (in Jesum, Lat. Vers ), circumcised, applying the mystic sense of the three letters (λαβὼν τριῶν γραμμάτων δόγματα den geheimen Sinn dreier Buchstaben anwendend, Hefele). For the Scripture says that Abraham circumcised 318 men of his house. What, then, was the deeper insight (γνῶσις ) imparted to him? Mark first the 18, and next the 300. The numeral letters of 18 are I (Iota) and H (Eta), I = 10, H = 8; here you have Jesus, Ι᾿Ησοῦν; and because the cross in the T (Tau) must express the grace (of our redemption), he names 300; therefore he signified Jesus by two letters, and the cross by one.' It will be observed that the writer hastily assumes (from Genesis 14:14) that Abraham circumcised only 318 persons, that being the number of the servants born in his own house,' whom he armed against the four kings; but he circumcised his household nearly twenty years later, including not only those born in his house (with the addition of Ishmael), but all that were bought with money' (Genesis 17:23). The writer evidently was unacquainted with the Hebrew Scriptures, and has committed the blunder of supposing that Abraham was familiar with the Greek alphabet some centuries before it existed."

The probable opinion is that this epistle existed anonymously in the Alexandrian Church, and was ignorantly attributed to Barnabas. It was probably written by a Jewish Christian, who had studied Philo, and who handled the O.T. in an allegorical way in behalf of his view of Christianity. Its date is assigned to the first century by Hilgenfeld, De App. Vater (Halle, 1853); Reuss, Geschichte der Schriften des N.T. 1:223; Ewald, Gesch. d. Volkes Israel, 7:136; and to the early part of the 2d century by Dressel, Patres Apost. Proleg., and Ritschl, Entstehung d. Altkath. Kircne, 294. Volkmar gives the date as 119, or later, in Hadrian's time. Hefele puts it between 107 and 120. Weizsacker, in his treatise Zur Kritik des Barnabasbriefes aus dem Codex Sinaiticus (Tubingen, 1864), seeks to prove that the epistle was written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, and not under Hadrian. See also Weizsacker in Jahrbucher f. Deutsche Theologie, 1865, p. 391. 1-17) is directed against the Judaizing party, and aims to show that the abolition of Judaism, by means of the spiritual institutions of Christianity. is foretold in the O.T., so that the true covenant people of God are the Christians, not the Jews. The four remaining chapters are ethical, containing practical advices and exhortations for walking "in the way of light," and avoiding "the way of darkness." "The names and residence of the persons to whom it is addressed are not mentioned, on which account, probably, it was called by Origen a Catholic epistle (Origen contr. Cels. lib. 1, p. 49). But if ly this title he meant an epistle addressed to the general body of Christians, the propriety of its application is doubtful, for we meet with several expressions which imply a personal knowledge of the parties. It has been disputed whether the persons addressed were Jewish or Gentile Christians. Dr. Hefele strenuously contends that they were of the former class. His chief argument appears to be, that it would be unnecessary to insist so earnestly on the abolition of the Mosaic economy in writing to Gentile converts.

But the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians is a proof to what dancer Gentile Christians were exposed in the first ages from the attempts of Judaizing teachers; so that, in the absence of more exact information, the supposition that the persons addressed were of this class is at least not inconsistent with the train of thought in the epistle. But more than this: throughout the epistle we find a distinction maintained between the writer and his friends on the one hand, and the Jews on the other. Thus, in chap. 3, God speaketh to them (the Jews) concerning these things, "Ye shall not fast as ye do this day," etc.; but to us he saith, "Is not this the fast that I have chosen?"' etc.; and at the end of the same chapter, He hath shown these things to all of us, that we should not run as proselytes to the Jewish law.' This would be singular language to address to persons who were Jews by birth, but perfectly suited to Gentile converts. In chap. 13 he says, Let us inquire whether the covenant be with us or with them' (the Jews); and concludes with quoting the promise to Abraham (with a slight verbal difference), Behold I have made thee a father of the nations which without circumcision believe in the Lord' a passage which is totally irrelevant to Jewish Christians. For other similar passages, see Jones On the Canon, pt. 3, chap. 39." Dr. Schaff remarks of the epistle, as a whole, that "it has many good ideas and valuable testimonies, such as that in favor of the observance of the Christian Sabbath. But it goes to extremes in opposition to Judaism, and indulges in all sorts of artificial, sometimes absurd, allegorical fancies.... It is an unsound application of the true thought, that the old is passed away and that all is made new by Christ. Compare especially ch. 4" (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, § 121). Besides the works cited in the course of this article, see Zeitschrift f. d. histor. Theologie, 1866, p. 32; Donaldson, Christian Lit. 1:201 sq.; Neander, Church History, 1:381; Henke, De epistolae quae Barnabae tribuitur authentia (Jen. 1827); Rordam, De authentia ep. Barnabae (Havn. 1828) (both argue for the genuineness of the epistle); Heberle, in the Stud. d. wurt. Geistl. 1846, 1; Ullmann, in the Stud. u. Krit. 1828, p. 2 (opposes the genuineness); Schenkel, ib. 1837 (contends that ch. 7-17 are interpolations); Hug, in the Zeitschrift d. Erzbisth. Freiburg, p. 2; Lardner, Works, 2, p. 2.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Barnabas, Epistle of.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/barnabas-epistle-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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