Notes on the Epistle of Barnabas

The Epistle of Barnabas comes down to us among the Christian apocrypha of writings. Tradition holds that Barnabas was the author – the same Barnabas mentioned in Acts. However, the text itself is anonymous. Some early Church Doctors accepted the epistle as canonical, but theologians like Eusebius considered it non-canonical. The letter is distinct from Gospel of Barnabas. It was known to Clement, Origen, Jerome, and other early Church founders.

Barnabas was a companion to the “Apostle” Paul. The letter first appears on record in Alexandria. The letter draws swords with Marcionism by reinterpreting the “Old Testament” as mere prelude to the new teaching of Jesus. God never made a covenant with the Israelites because they sinned so greatly, and circumcision was meant to be interpreted as allegorical, not physical. The text contains certain elements of manicheanism – the schism between the “light” and the “dark.” However, it is not a polemical letter. It describes its intent to convey the true knowledge of salvation to readers. Since the text looks forward to a second-coming, and a rebuilding of the temple, it was likely written sometime after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, but before the revolt around 130 AD, making it among the earliest of Christian documents.

In an early listing of authoritative Christian works called the Codex Sinaiticus (330-350 C.E. – discovered at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, one of the world’s oldest Christian monasteries), the Epistle was listed at the end of the New Testament next to the Shepherd of Hermas.

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