The “Epistle of Barnabas” is not inspired. It was clearly not written by the Apostle Barnabas. Mosheim states in his “Ecclesiastical History” that the author “must have been a very different person from the true Barnabas, who was St. Paul’s companion.”
The epistle contains numerous Scriptural errors and should therefore not be considered as inspired. It was never referred to by Jesus or any of the New Testament writers as Scripture, and it was not included in the New Testament by the apostles. As we explained in a prior Q&A, the apostles Paul, Peter and John canonized the New Testament Scriptures, but the Epistle of Barnabas was not one of those books.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that a reference in the Epistle of Barnabas (in chapter 4, verse 4) pertains to a command given by Adrian in A.D. 130 for the reconstruction, in honor of Jupiter, of the Temple at Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by Titus. Adrian had also forbidden the Jews to practice circumcision. The epistle must, consequently, have been written in A.D. 130-131–long after the canonization process of the New Testament writings was completed.
It is further explained that “the extremely allegorical character of the exegesis leads to the supposition that the author of the letter was an Alexandrian. His way of constantly placing himself and his readers in opposition to the Jews makes it impossible to believe that either he or the larger part of his readers were of Jewish origin. Besides, he is not always familiar with the Mosaic rites… The history of the epistle confirms its Alexandrine origin. Up to the fourth century only the Alexandrians were acquainted with it…”
Some Interesting Concepts
Even though the Epistle of Barnabas is clearly not inspired, it does contain some interesting concepts. For instance, the author speaks out against abortion. It says in chapter 19, verse 5 (We should note that some divide the epistle in different chapters than the ones given in this Q&A): “thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou destroy it after it is born…”
Abortion is indeed wrong. For more information, please read our free booklet, “Are You Already Born Again?,” pages 13-15.
In addition, the author seems to refer to the belief of a 7,000 year plan–the concept that God assigned six “days” of 1,000 years each to man to rule himself, followed by the Millennium or the seventh “day” of one-thousand years, which is referred to in the book of Hebrews as a “Sabbath” rest (compare Hebrews 4:1-10):
We read in chapter 15 in the Epistle of Barnabas:
“(15:3) He speaketh, too, of the sabbath in the beginning of the creation: And God made in six days the works of his hands, and finished them on the seventh day, and rested in it and sanctified it. (15:4) Consider, my children, what signify the words, He finished them in six days. They mean this: that in six thousand years the Lord will make an end of all things, for a day is with him as a thousand years. And he himself beareth witness unto me, saying: Behold this day a day shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, my children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, shall all things be brought to an end. (15:5) And the words, He rested on the seventh day, signify this: After that his Son hath come, and hath caused to cease the time of the wicked one, and hath judged the ungodly, and changed the sun and the moon and the stars, then shall he rest well on the seventh day.”
For further information on the existence of a seven-thousand-year plan, see our Q&A.
However, the doctrinal errors contained in the Epistle of Barnabas are quite striking, showing that this book could not possibly be “inspired” by God. We are setting forth below some of its major errors:
The Epistle of Barnabas alleges that the Seventh-Day Sabbath has been replaced by the “eight day” Sunday, on which “Jesus rose from the dead.”
Quoting from the 1885 translation of the “Apostolic Fathers, Charles H. Hoole,” we read in chapter 15, verses 8 and 9:
“(15:8) And, further, he saith unto them, Your new moons and your sabbaths I cannot endure. See, now, what he meaneth. The sabbaths, that now are, are not acceptable unto me, but that which I have made is, even that in which, after that I have brought all things to an end, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, which thing is the beginning of another world. (15:9) Wherefore we keep the eighth day as a day of gladness, on which also Jesus rose from the dead, and after he had appeared ascended unto heaven.”
Nowhere does the Bible teach that the Sabbath was replaced by Sunday; nor, that Sunday is the “eighth day”; nor, that Christ rose from the dead on Sunday. For more information, please read our free booklets, “Jesus Christ–a Great Mystery,” and “God’s Commanded Holy Days.”
The Epistle of Barnabas alleges that the dietary laws (as contained, for instance, in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) were never meant to be understood literally and that they were never binding, in their literal application, on anyone, including Jews or Christians.
We read in chapter 10, verses 1-9:
“(10:1) But in that Moses said, Thou shalt not eat the swine, nor the eagle, nor the hawk, nor the crow, nor any fish that hath not scales in itself… The commandment of God is not, therefore, that they should not eat; but Moses spake in a spiritual sense. (10:3) He spake of the swine with this meaning: Thou shalt not cleave, he meaneth, unto men of this sort, who are like unto swine, for when they become wanton they forget their Lord, but when they are in want they think upon the Lord; even as the swine when it eateth knoweth not its lord, but when it is hungry it crieth, and when it hath received it is again silent. (10:4) Nor shalt thou eat of the eagle, nor of the hawk, nor of the kite, nor of the crow. Thou shalt not, he meaneth, cleave to, nor be like to men of this sort, who know not how to provide sustenance for themselves by labour and sweat, but in their iniquity seize the property of others, and, as though they walked in innocence, watch and observe whom they shall plunder, through their covetousness; even as these birds alone provide not sustenance for themselves by means of toil, but, sitting idle, seek out how they may eat the flesh of others, being destructive by reason of their wickedness.
“(10:5) And thou shalt not eat, he saith, of the lamprey, or the polypus, or the cuttle-fish. Thou shalt not, he meaneth, cleave to or become like unto men of this sort, who are impious unto the end, and have been already condemned to death, even as these accursed fish alone swim in the depth, not floating as the others do, but dwelling in the earth below the depth of the sea. (10:6) Thus, he saith, Thou shalt not eat the hare, meaning thou shalt not indulge in unnatural lusts; (10:7) nor shalt thou eat the hyaena, meaning thou shalt not be an adulterer; (10:8) nor shalt thou eat the weazel, meaning thou shalt not do uncleanness with thy mouth concerning food; (10:9) therefore Moses spake in the spirit these three doctrines. But they, according to the lusts of their flesh, received them as being about meat.”
This is utter nonsense and totally contradicted by Scripture. For more information, please read our free booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound.”
The Epistle of Barnabas alleges that the “Azazel” goat to be sent alive into the wilderness at the time of the annual Day of Atonement was a symbol of Christ, not of Satan. We read in chapter 7, beginning in verse 6:
“(7:6) How, then, did he give his commands? Attend ye. Take ye two goats, fair and like each other, and offer them up. And let the priest take one of them as a whole burnt offering for sin. (7:7) But what shall they do with the other? Let the other, he saith, be accursed. Now attend ye, how the type of Jesus is made manifest. (7:8) And do ye all spit upon it and pierce it, and put scarlet wool around its head, and so let it be cast out into the wilderness… One is brought to the altar, the other is accursed, and the accursed one is crowned, because they shall see him in that day, who had the scarlet robe about his flesh, and they shall say, Is not this he whom once we set at naught and crucified, and spat upon and pierced? Truly this was he who at that time said that he was the Son of God.”
The Azazel goat was NOT a symbol for Christ, but for SATAN. For more information, please read our free booklet, “The Sacrificial System and the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.”
The Epistle of Barnabas alleges that the Twelve Apostles were the most unrighteous of all people prior to their conversion. It says in chapter 5, verse 9:
“But when he chose out his own Apostles, who were about to preach his gospel, they were men unrighteous beyond all sin, that he might show that he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Nowhere do we read anything like this in Scripture. To state that the apostles Peter, John and James, for example, were more unrighteous men than others–in fact, “beyond sin”–is utterly ridiculous.
For all the foregoing reasons, we must in no way view the Epistle of Barnabas as inspired. It is a book which contains some truth and many errors, and should not be viewed as a manual for Christian living or doctrine.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link