Apostle Barnabas.

Epistle of Barnabas : from the Sinaitic manuscript of the Bible online

. (page 1 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



; OLJiw/

<yi f

/ c













REC. DEC 18b0

The Epistle of Barnabas seems to claim notice in any-
Life of tlie Apostle Paul : firsts because tlie two apostles
had at one time lived in close friendsbip^ and it in part
explains why at a later time PauFs feelings towards
Barnabas were changed ; and secondly, because it offers
the earliest example of the Gnosticism which was
creeping into the Christian Churches, very much to
the trouble of Paul. But when I wished to mention
this Epistle in my work on '^ The Journeys and Epistles
of the Apostle Paul/' I was met with the difficulty of
not knowing of any English translation that I thought
satisfactory. Hence this publication.

S. S.

32 Highbury Place,
11th September, 1880.

JosES, who by the Apostles was surnamed Barnabas, was an
Israelite of the island of Cyprus, and of the tribe of Levi.
He is first mentioned in Acts iv. 36, as selling his land in
Cyprus and laying the money at the Apostles' feet as a
contribution to the young Church. We next hear of him
as bringing Saul, who had lately been persecuting the
Church, to the Apostles who distrusted him, and assuring
them that Saul's conversion was real (Acts ix. 27). He
next goes down from Jerusalem to Antioch to preach to
the Church in that Grreek city (Acts xi. 22). He then goes
to Tarsus in search of Saul, and brings him to Antioch to
join in preaching there (Acts xi. 25). When the Church
of Antioch sends money to the relief of the poor of Jeru-
salem, they send it by the hands of Barnabas and Saul
(Acts xi. 30). He then accompanies Saul on his first
missionary journey (Acts xiii. 3). Up to this time, of the
two friends Barnabas had been the chief ; he had been the
longest time a Christian, and he was probably the older
man. From this only can we form an opinion of his age.


If we suppose that Saul, now called Paul, was about 22
years old when he is called a young man, at the time of
Stephen's martyrdom, in a.d. 40, he may have been born in
A.D. 18 ; and we may by conjecture suppose that Barnabas
was born as early as a.d. 15 or earlier, and therefore was at
least 55 years old when Jerusalem was destroyed and our
Epistle probably written. "When Paul and Barnabas travel
together they are both called Apostles in Acts xiv. 14.

The last we know of Barnabas in the 'New Testament is
in the Epistle to the Colossians, when Paul, haA'ing occasion
to mention Mark, describes him as the cousin or nephew of
Barnabas, adding "about whom ye have received commands;
if he come to you, receive him." Thus Paul had sent to
the Colossians some i^rivate warning against Barnabas's
teaching, which he had latterly found reasons for disliking.
Erom his Greek education in Cyprus we might suppose
taat Barnabas had adopted something of the Alexandrian
philosophy, which no doubt was the character of Apollos's
teaching. He probably was a ready speaker, as we judge
from his new name — Barnabas, or Son of exhortation. As a
Levite he is likely to have had a full acquaintance with the
Scriptures, but, from the place of his birth, perhaps in
Greek rather than in Hebrew. This is nearly all that we
can know of him before reading the Epistle which bears his

Erom the Epistle we shall learn that when Xero's perse-
cution of the Christians broke out, in a.d. 64, Barnabas was
able to save his life by withdrawing to some place of safety,


which he does not think proper to name ; and that from
thence, in the beginning of Vespasian's reign, he was able to
write to the flock among whom he had been ministering
before the persecution.

This Epistle scholars have lately very much put aside as
not being the work of Paul's companion, but, as I consider,
\\4thout good reason. The evidence for and against cannot
be better stated than in the words of Drs. Eoberts and
Donaldson in the preface to their translation : —

"External and internal evidence here come into direct
collision. The ancient writers who refer to this Epistle
unanimously attribute it to Barnabas the Levite of Cyprus,
who held such an honourable place in the infant church.
Clement of Alexandria does so again and again (Strom, ii. 6,
ii. 7, etc.). Origen describes it as 'a catholic epistle' (Cont.
Cels. i. 63), and seems to rank it among the Sacred Scriptures
(Comm. in Eom. i. 24). Other statements have been quoted
from the fathers, to show that they held this to be an
authentic production of the apostolic Barnabas ; and cer-
tainly no other name is ever hinted at in Christian antiquity
as that of the writer. But notwithstanding this, the internal
evidence is now generally regarded as conclusive against this
opinion. On perusing the Epistle the reader will be in cir-
cumstances to judge of this matter for himself. He will be
led to consider whether the spirit and tone of the writing, as
so decidedly opposed to all respect for Judaism — the nume-
rous inconsistencies which it contains with regard to Mosaic
enactments and observances — the absurd and trifling inter-


pretations of Scripture which it suggests — and the many-
silly vaunts of superior knowledge in which its writer
indulges — can possibly comport with its ascription to the
fellow -labourer of St. Paul."

Thus these translators find nothing in the Epistle which
leads them to think it not genuine, except, 1st, its want of
respect for Judaism, which, however, is not remarkable in
the friend of Paul ; 2nd, its inaccuracy as to the Mosaic
law, which is certainly a proof of an imperfect education
but no proof that it was not written by Barnabas ; 3rd, its
trifling interpretations of Scripture, in which it is by no
means singular among the writings of the time, as in those
of the learned Philo ; and, 4th, its silly vaunts of superior
knowledge, which is exactly the failing which we should
expect to find in any Grreek Jew who had fallen into the
conceited Gnosticism of that age. Upon the whole there is
nothing whatever to be said against the genuineness of this
Epistle, except that it falls far short of the high excellence
that we should wish to find in any writing which puts forth
a claim from the name of its author to be admitted into the
canon of the New Testament.

One reason given for doubting the authenticity of the
Epistle is that in ch. v. he says that Jesus, when choosing
his Apostles who were to preach the Grood Tidings, chose
"those who were avofxivrepoi, impious [or, rather, neglectors
of the Law, in matters important], above all sin," in order to
show that he came " to call not the righteous but sinners."
This has been understood to mean that he calls the Apostles


impious ; and therefore that he could not have been Barnabas.
If, however, this argument were good, the words would prove
that the writer could not have been a Christian ; and hence
the argument is very clearly of no weight. Moreover the
words do not necessarily bear that meaning ; and the writer's
aim throughout the Epistle is so obviously to show his cle-
verness in handling Scripture, that we need not so understand

When the Apostles at the Council (Acts xv.) consented
to waive much of the Mosaic Law in favour of Gentile
converts, they certainly were neglectors of the Law ; and
Barnabas's words do not necessarily mean more, although
by the fancifully applying to the call of the twelve Apostles
the text, " he came to call not the righteous but sinners," the
words would be so understood in any less fanciful writer.

In considering the authorship of the Epistle we must have
regard to Paul's words in Coloss. iv. 10. There he says very
clearly that he had written a private letter, or had sent
a message of commands, to the Colossians about Barnabas.
This cannot have been otherwise than something that he
would not mention in the public Epistle, some warning
against listening to Barnabas's teaching. "We thus have rea-
sonable proof that Paul at that time did not like Barnabas's
opinions ; and as Cyprus, of which island Barnabas was a
native, was much under the influence of Alexandria, we might
guess, without the evidence of this Epistle, that it was Bar-
nabas's leaning towards Gnosticism that displeased Paul.

The Epistle is important in the history of Paul. It shows


what Barnabas was ; it explains how it was that when
starting in missionary work as Paul's superior he soon fell
into the second place ; and it justifies Paul for warning the
Colossians against him. Moreover it does much to explain
the difficulties which met Paul on the side of the Graecizing
Jews, while on the other side he was struggling against the
ceremonialism of the Jewish disciples who shunned the

We can only approve of the judgment of the early
Christians, who while acknowledging this Epistle as the
work of Barnabas, thought it not worthy of a place in
the New Testament. Had it been limited to the last four
chapters, we should gladly have seen it standing beside the
other Apostolic Epistles. Those latter chapters can alone
be profitably read for religious instruction.

But notwithstanding the want of judgment and the
conceit shown by Barnabas in his explanation of the Scrip-
tures, this Epistle is a valuable addition to the scanty
literature of the Apostolic times. It seems to have been
written after the Epistles of Paul and James, after the
Book of Revelation, but before any of the other Epistles.
It is probably the only Christian w^ork remaining outside of
the New Testament which was written while the books
of the New Testament were being written, except the
Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha. That was written
before Barnabas's Epistle, and may indeed be the earliest
Christian writing remaining to us ; but its value is lessened
by our not knowing the name and circumstances of the


writer. There are many things in the "New Testament
which we should understand better i£ we had more eon-
temporary Christian writings. E\'en if they were of little
value of themselves for religious instruction, yet they would
be of the greatest value as offering us examples of style, of
the use of words, and of modes of thought, for comparison
with the New Testament. The Epistle of Clement, bishop
of Eome, addressed to the Corinthian Church, belongs to a
later generation. It was m ritten probably about a.d. 95 ;
and the writer must not be taken for the Clement mentioned
in Philipp. iv. 3, who was a fellow worker wdth Paul at
Philippi nearly forty years before, in a.d. 57 or earlier.
The chief peculiarities in the Epistle of Barnabas are : —
1st. The writer's fondness for a strained interpretation of
Scripture ; as in finding that the world would come to an end
in six thousand years from the creation, because it was made
in six days. Yet more fanciful is the fi.nding the Grreek
name of Jesus and his cross in Abraham's 318 servants,
taking the first two letters in his name, IH, as the Greek
numerals for 18, and for the cross using the letter T, the
Greek numeral for 300. We notice the same peculiarity in
a less degree in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where in vii. 6
Levi is said to have paid tithes through Abraham. Paul
also is not wholly free from this, as when in Gal. iv. he
compares the Jews to Abraham's children through the
bondwoman, and the Christians to his children through his
wife Sarah.

In this matter Philo seems to have been the great mis-


leader of his generation, by the forced allegories with which
he ventures to explain the Bible. Barnabas had no doubt
read his writings ; and he so far copies him as often to
introduce his fanciful explanation of a text bj a question, such
" What is the meaning of these words ? "

2nd. A conceited claim to superior knowledge, and to
the possession of " the Knowledge," or Gnosticism. It was
against this conceit that Paul warns the Corinthians in
1 Cor. viii. and warns Timothy in 1 Tim. vi. 20. But
Barnabas's Gnosticism does not partake of the mischievous
opinions which troubled Paul in the Corinthian church, and
at a later time in the Asiatic churches.

3rd. A strong dislike for Judaism and the Jews, while
every part of the Epistle shows that he was himself of
Hebrew birth and of Jewish or rather Graeco-Jewish educa-
tion. But we must remember that this dislike was as much
political as religious. A Le^dte of Cyprus, when he came up
to Jerusalem, was probably treated as an inferior by the
proud priests of Jerusalem ; and like the Israelites of
Galilee, and the common people of Judea, he may naturally
have felt some jealousy against that upper portion of the
nation who claimed to be the only true Jews. This was
shown in the fate of Jesus, whom the common people, his
admirers, followed in crowds, while the Jews said " Crucify
him." It had been equally shown four centuries earlier,
when the people of Jerusalem came up complaining to
Nehemiah the Pacha, with " a great cry against their
brethren the Jews " (Nehem. v. 1). But in his disHke of


Judaism Barnabas goes beyond the Apostle Paul. Paul
advised the Gentiles not to come under circumcision (Gal.
V. 2); but Barnabas wishes the practice to be abolished
altogether. In a time of revolution, whether political or
rehgious, opinions change very fast; and Barnabas was
writing this seven years after the latest of Paul's Epistles,
and fifteen years since Paul had written about Judaism.

4th. There are many peculiar thoughts and words the
same as in the New Testament. Of the words, we have in
ch. xiii. Tov fie-a^v the future, as in Acts xiii. 42, to fxeralv
the next. There are also some few words which are not there
found. Such are

o MaKpodvfj.os, the Forbearing one, a name for God, ch. iii.

6 MeXas, the Blach one, the Devil, ch. iv. and xx.

eTTiXvTos, perhaps for eTTTjXvros, a proselyte, in a bad sense,
one who had fallen away from Christianity, ch. iii. A pervert
rather than a convert.

fiovai^o), to live alone, as a monk, ch. iv.

The Eighth Day, meaning the first day of the week, ch. xv.

The Holy Age, meaning the life after death, ch. x.

The Vessel of the Spirit, a name for Christ when in the
flesh, ch. vii. and xi.

The Excellent or Noble Vessel, the same, ch. xxi.

5th. The Greek is very faulty. The indicative mood is
often used for the subjunctive, and the present tense for the
future. These are Hebraisms, and they sometimes lead to
obscurity, as in eojs ean, which I venture to render until it
shall he, thus, " until the excellent Vessel [the body of Christ]


sliall be with you," ch. xxi. This I understand to mean
" Until the second coming o£ Christ."

Drs. Eoberts and Donaldson render it " While you are in
this fair vessel."

Other Hebraisms are : —

aKoij atcovaaru), let him carefully hear, ch. ix.

f-ireia i.ivr]}.Lo revere, rememher carefully^ ch. xxi.

ei . . . et, luhether . . . or, ch. xiii., like D^^ . . . Dt^.

cKj)' u)r,from u'here, ch. iv. and xxi., like "^tZ}b^ 72.

For the numeral Seven he writes in ch. xv. e^, or in the
MS, EZ, not the simple letter Z. Hence we may suppose
that Ez, not Zeta, was his name for the latter ; as we form
names for P, L, M, Is^, R, S, and X, by the help of a fore-
going vowel.

Before the discovery of the Sinaitic manuscript of the Bible
by Tisehendorf we possessed no perfect copy of this Epistle
in the original Grreek. . The first four chapters and a half were
known only in an ancient Latin version. Since Tisehendorf
published his facsimile of the MS. several editions of this
Epistle have appeared, such as one by Dressel in 1863, and
one by Hilgenfeld in 1866. These editors in forming their
texts have made use of other MSS. also, and of the Latin
version ; but in the following pages the text is strictly given
as it appears in the Sinaitic MS.

This MS. was corrected throughout by a second hand, pro-
bably as soon as it was written. These corrections Tisehendorf
has carefully noted ; and I have adopted them as being the
text. The M'ords are often badly spelt, which in the case of


the diphthongs, and in them alone, I have ventured to correct ;
as the scribe has often written i for et, and e for at, and the
reverse. These departures from the MS. I have noted in the
margin, while all other seeming faults are left uncorrected.
I have never ventured on any conjectures in order to make
the quotations better agree with the Septuagint, or to make
the words more probable. Thus I leave in ch. v. that on
Jesus preaching to Israel " they greatly loved him," not, as
some have read, " he loved them." Barnabas may have been
thinking of the common people who heard him gladly, not of
the Jews who put him to death. I have made no note of
where contractions are used in the MS. except in one case,
in ch. vii., where we have to dvaiav. This, I consider, not
a mistake, but a contraction for to dvmaarrjpioy, and I have
mentioned it in the margin, together with one or two conjec-
tural emendations, to which I am driven by the needs of the
translation, but which I have not introduced into the text.

While adding capital letters, stops, and the customary
division of the Epistle into chapters, I have also added the
aspirate and the Iota suhscriptum to those vowels which
usually receive them from the printer.

This MS. of our Epistle is important on two accounts :
first, because the Epistle there stands as part of the Bible
following immediately upon the Book of Eevelation, and
thereby receives a strong testimony to its genuineness ; and
secondly, because it gives us in ch. iv. a few words which
help us towards a date of when the Epistle was written.
These words had been omitted in the ancient Latin version,


perhaps because the writer could give no meaning to them.
Tischendorf also seems to have found a difficulty in them, as
he puts a note upon them to say that they are uncorrected
by the corrector of the MS. Dressel repeats Tischendorf's
note, and in his Prolegomena further remarks that the
Epistle makes no mention of persecutions, which is the very
thought which I find in these words, and from which we may
gain a date. Hilgenfeld also in his edition, and Drs. Roberts
and Donaldson in their translation, consider the Greek here
incorrect and unintelligible. There is a second passage near
the end of the Epistle, which helps to explain the first ; but
in this also these scholars find a difficulty.

The first passage is in ch. iv. and is as follows (p. 10) : —
" And wishing to write many things to you, not as a teacher,
but as one who loveth, I have hastened to write to you acf wr,
from [jplaces'] tvhicJi exoi^-er, lue jpurpose not to leave. There-
fore TTfjoffexofiev, we notice your defilement in the last days.
Eor the whole time of your faith will profit you nothing,
unless now in this wicked time, and in the coming difficulties,
we oppose ourselves as becometh sons of God, so that the
Black one should gain no sly entrance." Here we may take
a0' wj/ as a Hebraism, and compare it to "^tZ^b^ 72, from
where ; for the Hebrew pronoun has the force of ivliere, as
well as ivho ; or we may compare it to Homer's e^ ov, from
[the time'] when, 1\. i. 6. To e^ofJiev we may give a not unusual
intransitive sense, as, lue have a mind, we hold ourselves, or
ive purpose; and see in ch. vii. and xv. Trpoo-exere, do ye
notice, followed as here by an accusative case.


The second passage is in ch. xxi. (p. 62), thus : " Therefore
I have the rather hastened to write, in order to cheer jou,
a^' d)v, from \^j>laces] ivJiere I was able to be safe."

These passages are so far important that I add the trans-
lation proposed by Drs. Roberts and Donaldson, which they
at the same time acknowledge is very unsatisfactory. They
render the first of these passages as follows : —

" Now, being zealous to write many things to you, not as
your teacher, but as becometh one who loves you, I have
taken care not to fail to write to you from what I myself
possess, with a view to your purification. We take earnest
heed in these last days ; for the whole [past] time &c." And
to this they add the following l^ote. " The Greek is here
incorrect and unintelligible ; and as the Latin omits the
clause, our translation is merely conjectural. Hilgenfeld's
text, if we give somewhat a peculiar meaniug to eWnreiv,
may be translated, ' but as it is becoming in one who
loves you not to fail in giving you what we have, I, though
the very offscouring of you, have been eager to write to


The second passage they render thus : — '^ Wherefore I
have been the more earnest to write to you, as my ability
served, that I might have to cheer you. Tarewell, &c."
They read aM^cffdai, to he safe, as being meant for aio^eaQe,
fare ye well.

These translators agree with Tischendorf, Dressel, and
Hilgenfeld in thinking the Greek of the first passage incor-
rect and corrupt ; whereas I venture to think that the diffi-



culty arises wholly from Barnabas choosing to write guard-
edly and obscurely, because during the persecution it was
not safe for him to write about himself otherwise. Paul
wrote several Epistles from his prison in Eome ; but he is
careful to say nothing about the treatment that he received ;
nor does he in the later Epistles venture to describe his
trial and his release. Such was the caution necessary in
those "evil times." The Eirst Epistle of Peter and the
Epistle to the Hebrews are equally guarded in speaking of
the persecution.

The falling-off of the flock to whom the Epistle to the
Hebrews was written is very slightly but severely mentioned :
" Though by this time ye ought to be teachers, ye have again
need of one to teach you what are the first principles of the
oracles of God ; and ye are become such as have need of milk,
and not of strong meat" (Heb. v. 12). Peter writing from
Babylon to churches in Asia Minor did not know how those
flocks bad acted in the difficulty, and says, " Eejoice ye,
having just now for a short time, if need be, been made to
grieve in manifold temptations, so that your faith when
tried, &c." (1 Peter, i. 6).

Though the persecution of the Christians by Nero was
carried on in Eome with great cruelty, and many suffered a
torturing death, yet in other parts of the empire humanity
softened the severity. All men are not brave enough to be
martyrs ; all men are not clear enough in their opinions to
feel it a duty to suffer for them ; and when the easy alternative
■« as offered of escaping death by painting some Pagan emblem


" the mark of the Beast " on the forehead or right hand, as
said in Eev. xiii. 16, we may be sure that the larger number
availed themselves of it. But there were others yet more
fortunate, whose Christianity was not known to those in
power, and who thus escaped unquestioned. These, who so
escaped the notice of the persecutors, were probably the
humbler portion of the church ; w^hile those w^ho were more
wealthy, and more in sight, had to defile themselves if they
would escape martyrdom ; and in ch. xix. Barnabas, having
an eye to this, says " Thou shall not accept persons when
reproving any one for falling off."

From the above sentences, if our translation is right, we
gain some new facts in ecclesiastical history. We learn that
in a time of persecution, probably that by Nero, in which
Paul was put to death, Barnabas had escaped to some place
of safety, as Peter, Mark, and Silas had fled to Babylon
(1 Peter v. 12). Prom his place of retreat Barnabas wrote
this Epistle to his Christian flock at the first moment that he
was able. Many of his flock, not having been able in the
same way to retire from the persecution, had saved their
lives by consenting to some outward act of idolatry. This
sacrifice of principle Barnabas calls their " defilement.''
"With the same figure of speech the Writer of Eevelation
says, in iii. 4, of those who had not fallen off from the faith,
" Thou hast a few names in Sardis which have not defiled
their garments."

Prom ch. xvi. of our Epistle we learn that the Temple
of Jerusalem was in the hands of the Eomans, if not already

1 3 4 5 6 7