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Epistle of Barnabas

The following is transcribed from Kirsopp Lake in The Apostolic Fathers (published London 1912), v. I, pp. 337-339.

The document which is always known as the Epistle of Barnabas is, like I. Clement, really anonymous, and it is generally regarded as impossible to accept the tradition which ascribes it to the Barnabas who was a companion of S. Paul, though it is convenient to continue to use the title.

It is either a general treatise or was intended for some community in which Alexandrian ideas prevailed, though it is not possible to define either its destination, or the locality from which it was written, with any greater accuracy. Its main object is to warn Christians against a Judaistic conception of the Old Testament, and the writer carries a symbolic exegesis as far as did Philo; indeed he goes farther and apparently denies any literal significance at all to the commands of the Law. The literal exegesis of the ceremonial law is to him a device of an evil angel who deceived the Jews.

The date of Barnabas is doubtful. Two attempts have been made to fix it from internal evidence. In the first place, the ten kings in chap. vi. have been identified with the Roman Emperors, and thus a date well within the limits of the first century has been suggested, though there is no unanimity as to the exact manner in which the number of the ten Emperors is to be reached. In the second place attention has been drawn to the reference in chap. xvi. to the rebuilding of the Temple, and this is supposed to refer to the events of 132 A.D. Neither theory is quite satisfactory, but neither date is in itself improbable. The document no doubt belongs to the end of the first or beginning of the second century.

The text is found in the following authorities:

(1) The Codex Sinaiticus, an uncial of the fourth century, now at St. Petersburg, and published in photographic facsimile by the Clarendon Press.

(2) The Codex Constantinopolitanus, found by Byrennios in 1875 and now at Jerusalem, the same MS. as that known as C in I Clement and the Didache.

(3) In eight defective MSS., in which owing to some accident the ninth chapter of the epistle of Polycarp is continued without a break by the fifth chapter of Barnabas. These MSS. are clearly descended from a common archetype, copied from a MS. in which Barnabas followed Polycarp, but the pages containing the end of the latter and beginning of the former were lost, and a copyist who did not observe this mereged the one into the other.

(4) A Latin version, extant in a single MS. at St. Petersburg, in which the text stops at the end of chap. xvii. It thus omits the "Two Ways," and the question (perhaps insoluble) arises whether the Latin has omitted it, or the Greek interpolated it. At present the general opinion is in favour of the former view.

Barnabas, like I. Clement and Hermas, became canonical in some circles: it is quoted by Clement of Alexandria as Scripture, and is referred to by Origen as a Catholic Epistle, while it is included in the Codex Sinaiticus among the books of the New Testament, not, as is sometimes said, as an appendix, but following immediately after the Apocalypse, without any suggestion that it belonged to a different category of books.

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Kirby, Peter. "Introduction to the Epistle of Barnabas." Early Christian Writings. <>.