V. BARNABAS AS
The following works have been attributed
ii) Epistle of Barnabas
iii) Gospel of Barnabas
There is another short work ,‘The Acts
of Barnabas’, but it was not written by Barnabas. The work itself claims
of having been written by John Mark , the cousin of St. Barnabas
, which is evident from the following:
(....) and since I have zealously served Him, I have
deemed it necessary to give an account of the mysteries which I have heard
I, John, accompanying the holy apostles Barnabas and
Paul, (....), for assuredly thy name shall be changed to Mark, and thy
glory shall be proclaimed in all the world1.
But the claim is controversial and ‘The
Acts of Barnabas’ is said to be doubtlessly ‘originated at the end of the
5th or in the beginning of the 6th century.’2
i) The Epistle to the Hebrews
This is a canonical book and is the
19th title of the New Testament of the Bible. Its authorship is a
disputed question, as is elaborated in W. Barclay’s ‘The Daily Study Bible’:
Perhaps the most insoluble problem of all is the
problem of its authorship. (...). The title in the earliest days was simply,
‘To the Hebrews.’ No author’s name was given, no one connected it directly
with the name of Paul. Clement of Alexandria used to think that Paul might
have written it in Hebrew and that Luke translated it, for the style is
quite different from that of Paul. Origen made a famous remark, ‘Who wrote
the Letter to the Hebrews only God knows for certain.’ (...). Jerome said
the Latin Church did not receive it as Paul’s and speaking
of the author said, ‘the writer to the Hebrews whoever he was.’ Augustine
felt the same way about it. Luther declared that Paul could never have
written it because the thought was not his. Calvin said that he could not
bring himself to think that this letter was a letter of Paul.
At no time in the history of the Church did men ever
really think that Paul wrote Hebrews. (....).
Can we guess who the author was? Many candidates have
been put forward. We can only glance at three of the many suggestions.
thought that Barnabas wrote it. Barnabas was a native of Cyprus;
the people of Cyprus were famous for the excellence of the Greek they spoke;
and Hebrews is written in the best Greek in the New Testament. He was a
Levite (Acts 4:36) and of all men in the New Testament he would
have had the closest knowledge of the priestly and sacrificial system on
which the whole thought of the letter is based. (...). He was one of the
few men acceptable to both Jews and Greeks and at home in both worlds of
thought. It might be that Barnabas wrote this letter, (...).
(ii) Luther was
sure that Apollos was the author. (....).
(iii) The most romantic
of all conjectures is that of Harnack, the great German scholar. He thought
that maybe Aquila and Priscilla wrote it between them.3
‘A New Commentary on Holy Scripture’ has
also dealt with the subject in a bit detail. Some excerpts are given below:
(...) His[author’s] great interest in the details of
the Law, and especially the details of sacrifice, make it almost certain
that he was a ýJew, and probable that he was of a priestly family
or connexion. If a Jew, he was a Hellenistic Jew and highly educated. The
arrangement of his argument is in the best rhetorical style of the day;
his Greek in language, grammar, and syntax is the best in the New
Testament, (....). The nearest approach to a ‘tradition’ is one quoted
by Tertullian as current in North Africa at the close of the 2nd century
ascribing the epistle to ýBarnabas. In the first three centuries
the Eastern Church generally --- probably in order to justify its inclusion
in the canon --- attributed it to St Paul, while the westerns denied
the Pauline authorship, (...). It was only after the 4th century that the
Latin Western Church accepted the Pauline authorship. ý(...) At
the Reformation the Pauline authorship was at first again disputed. (...)
it came back into general acceptance, and so remained until the 19th century.
Today, however, it is almost universally regarded on the grounds of style
and subject matter as very improbable. (....).
These indications all agree in placing the date of the
epistle not later than 70 (earlier than 64, if written to Rome),
but not earlier than about 55-60. In any case it is certainly earlier
than the letter of Clement of Rome (A.D. 95).4
J. L. McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible
asserts as follows:
Very few modern scholars still maintain that Heb is the
work of Paul. (....), and both ancients and moderns have made various suggestions:
Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Jude, Apollos, and even Priscilla, the
wife of Aquila. These are no more than guesses. (....)
The divergences from Paul in vocabulary, style, sentence
structure, and patterns of thought are more numerous and more notable than
the resemblances. The style of Heb is the most polished of all the
NT writings. The author knows and uses the rhetorical figures and periods
Encyclopaedia Biblica has also dilated
upon the subject. Some relevant excerpts would further elaborate
With this it agrees that the early Roman church ---where
the epistle was known about the end of the first century, and where indeed
the first traces of the use of it occur (Clement, and Sheferd of Hermas)
--- had nothing to contribute to the question of authorship and origin
except the negative opinion that the book is not by Paul. (....);
Hippolytus (like his master Irenaeus of Lyons) knew our book and declared
that it was not Pauline.
The earliest positive traditions of authorship to which
we can point belong to Africa and Egypt,(...). I. The African tradition
preserved by Tertullian (De Pudicitia, 20), but certainly not invented
by him, ascribes the epistle to Barnabas.6
W. Tong observed as follows:
(....) some have assigned it to Clement of Rome; others
to Luke; and many to Barnabas, thinking that the style and manner of expression
is very agreeable to zealous, authoritative, affectionate temper that Barnabas
appears to be of, in the account we have of him in the Acts of the Apostles;
and one ancient father quotes an expression out of this epistle, as the
words of Barnabas.7
About similar views are held by most of
the authorities. It shows that Barnabas admittedly held the talent of an
author. Some of the authorities are given below:
i) A.M. Stibbs, V. Principal,
Oak Hill Theological College, London, the New Bible Commentary, p. 1088
ii) Dr. Allan J. McNicol,
Prof. of N.T., Inst. for Christian Studies, Austin, Texas, Harper’s Bible
Dictionary, Bangalore, 1994, p. 94.
iii) Myles M. Bourke,
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Bangalore, 1994, p.920.
iv) Dr. Robert W. Ross,
Dptt. of History, N. W. College, Minnipolis, Minn., The Wycliffe’s Bible
Commentary, 1987, p. 1403 f.
v) William Smith, A Dictionary
of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988, p.238.
vi) Dr. F. F. Bruce, Ryland’s
Prof. of Biblical Criticism & Exegesis, Manchestor University, in Peake’s
Commentary on the Bible, Thomas Nelson Ltd, London, 1967, p. 1008.
From the above data it is clear that:
1. The attribution of the authorship
of ‘The Letter to the Hebrews’ towards Paul is catagorically ruled out
by all the authorities. He could not have been the writer of it.
2. If the authorship of ‘The
Letter to the Hebrews’ can be attributed to anyone, he can only be Barnabas;
and, that’s why, it has actually been attributed to him by so many celebrities.
3. The attribution of ‘The Letter
to the Hebrews’ to anyone else is not acceptable.
It can thus be concluded that Barnabas was recognized
as a scholar and as a writer from the early centuries of Christianity,
otherwise one of the best documents of the New Testament could not have
been attributed to him by a number of celebrities.
ii) The Epistle of Barnabas
This is not a canonical book; it is
an Apocryphal book. ‘Its Greek text was first discovered entire in
the Codex Sinaiticus.’8 Its
authorship is also a matter of dispute. Although, in view of the modern
scholarship, it is difficult to assert that Barnabas
is the author of it, but previuosly it was ascribed only to Barnabas, which
is evident from the following:
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 Rom., 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 certainly no other name is ever hinted at in Christian
antiquity as that of the writer. 9
The Epistle was first cited by Clement of Alexandria,
and Origen, as a work of the apostolic Barnabas, who plays so prominent
a part in the early history of the Church. Origen seems to rank it almost
with the inspired Scriptures. In the Sinaitic Bible, of the fourth century,
it follows as the ‘Epistle of Barnabas,’ immediately after the Apocalypse
(even on the same page 135, second column), as if it were a regular part
of the New Testament. (...). Eusebius and Jerome likewise ascribe it to
Barnabas, but number it among the ‘spurious,’ or ‘apocryphal’ writings.
They seem to have doubted the authority, but not the authenticity of the
epistle. The historical testimony therefore is strong and unanimous in
favor of Barnabas, and is accepted by all the older editors and several
of the later critics.10
From the Above references it is abundantly
clear that almost all the renowned Christian scholars acknowledge and greet
Barnabas as a competent writer. M. J. Shroyer, Professor Emeritus of New
Testament, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C. puts it as follows:
The testimony of the later Church gives Barnabas a role
as writer. Tertullian assigned to him the authorship of the letter
to the Hebrews. Both Clement of Alexandria and Origen gave him credit for
the epistle which bears his name, and they gave it canonical standing because
they rated its author as an apostle. However, the nature of both
Hebrews and the Epistle of Barnabas is hard to reconcile with the conservative
tendencies of Barnabas as indicated in Galatians, and the identification
of Barnabas with Jerusalem in the book of Acts. Moreover, the Epistle of
Barnabas seems to be dated ca. A.D. 130 on internal evidence, and
too late for our Barnabas.11
It can thus be concluded from the above
dissertations that although the attribution of the above two books
to Barnabas is not safe yet his potential, capability and talent as
a competent writer and author was universally admitted.
iii) The Gospel of Barnabas
Setting aside the question of the
Gospel printed at the Clarendon Press, Oxford, in 1907; only the question
whether a gospel had ever been written by Barnabas, would be discussed
in this section.
There are two documents providing
the lists of accepted (canonical) and rejected (apocryphal) books of the
Bible in which ‘The Gospel of Barnabas’ has catagorically been recorded
and described as APOCRYPHAL (rejected). A brief account is given below:
(a) DECRETUM GELASIANUM
It was ‘An early Latin document, handed
down most frequently under the name of Pope Gelasius (492-96), but in some
MSS. as the work of Damasus (366-84) or Hormisdas (514-23), containing
inter alia a Latin list of the Books, of the Bible. Acc. to E. von.
Dobschutz, it is not a Papal work at all, but a private compilation which
was composed in Italy ( but not at Rome) in the early 6th century.’12
W. Schneemelcher has provided some details of this Decree.
Some of its excerpts are given below:
In the so called Decretum Gelasianum de libris recipiendis
et non recipiendis, which upon the whole is probably of South
Gallic origin (6th century) but which in several parts can be traced back
to Pope Damasus [366-84 A.D.] and reflects Roman Tradition, we have in
the second part a canon catalogue, (...), and in the fifth part a
catalogue of the ‘aporypha’ and other writings which are to be rejected.
The canon catalogue gives all 27 books of the NT, the canon therefore
being settled definitely in this form. The list, already outwardly and
sharply separated from it, of the ‘apocrypha’, i.e. of the writings
to be rejected, is given here in translation (acc. to the edition of v.
Dobschutz, see below). (....).
Further Enumeration of Apocryphal Books:
(....). Itinerary (books of travels) under the name of
the apostle Peter, (...) apocryphal
Acts under the name of the apostle Andrew,Thomas, etc.
Gospel under the name of Matthias apocryphal
Gospel under the name of Barnabas apocryphal
These and the like, what Simon Magus, (....), have taught
or compiled, we acknowledge is to be not merely rejected but excluded from
the whole Roman Catholic and apostolic Church and with its authors and
the adherents of its authors to be damned in the inextricable shackles
of anathema forever.13
(b) CATALOGUE OF THE 60 CANONICAL BOOKS
The heading of this catalogue is quite
misleading. True, it provides the names of 60 canonical books of
the Bible, but its author has recorded in it 25 names of apocryphal books
as well. Relevant excerpts are reproduced from W. Schneemelcher:
This list transmitted in several manuscripts (for information
about these see Zahn, Gesch. d. ntl. Kanons II I, pp. 289 f.) reflects
the view, widely held in the Greek Church, at a later time, of the canon
of sixty books (34 OT and 26 NT, therefore without the revelation of John).
After the enumeration of the canonical books, in which the complete silence
observed regarding the Apocalypse of John is the most serious matter,
there follows that of the writings ‘outside the sixty’ and the ‘apocrypha’.
And the following (writings) outside the
And the following apocryphal (writings):
1. Adam --- 23. The Teaching
24. The Gospel according to Barnabas
25. The Gospel according to Matthias 14
It is thus clear that ‘The Gelasian Decree’---
whosoever its writer and whatsoever its status --- (a) had been written
and physically existed before the advent of Islam in the 7th centuryA.D.
(b) There would have been something
in it unacceptable for the Church which was by that time under complete
hold of the Pauline Creed and, therefore, the Church denounced it as apocrypha
(literally meaning a hidden or secret thing ). Had it not ever existed
in written form, it could not have been declared as rejected.