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 not to be confused with the Gospel of Barnabas.
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 Epistle to the Philippians 1.1–9.2 continues with Barnabas 5.7a and following, without any indication of the transition, survives in nine Greek manuscripts (=G; from 11th century onward) and often agrees with the old Latin translation (=L) against S and H.
- 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.
- 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.
- The 11th century Codex Hierosolymitanus ("Jerusalem Codex" – relocated from Constantinople), 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.
- 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.
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 (though 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 Revelation of John, the Revelation of Peter and the Gospel of the Hebrews.
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 70 – 131 and addressed to Christian Gentiles. 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).
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 had never been in a covenant with God. His polemics are, above all, directed against Judaizing Christians (see Ebionites, Nazarenes, Judaizing teachers).
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 are, according to him, due to misunderstanding. According to the author's conception, Jewish scriptures, rightly understood, contain no such injunctions (chapters 9–10). 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.
The Epistle reinterprets many of the laws of the Torah. For example, the prohibition on eating pork is not to be taken literally, but rather forbids 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 on eating rabbit means that the people are not to behave in a promiscuous manner, and the prohibition on eating weasel is actually to be interpreted as a prohibition of oral sex, based on the mistaken belief that weasels copulate via the mouth.1
It is likely that, due to the resurgence of Judaism in the early 2nd century, and the tolerance of the 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.
The author quotes liberally from the Old Testament, including the apocryphal books. He quotes from the New Testament gospels twice (4:14, 5:9),2 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.
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- Greek text of Epistle of Barnabas
- Early Christian Writings: Epistle of Barnabas; e-texts of translations and introductions
- Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. i: introduction and text
- 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
- 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. 
- 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