The epistle of Barnabas.

Attributed to the former companion of Paul.


Attributed author(s).
Barnabas.

Text(s) available.
On site: Epistle of Barnabas 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16, 17-21 (Greek only).
Skeptik (Greek only).
CCEL: Barnabas 1-10 and Barnabas 11-21 (Greek only).
Early Christian Writings: Barnabas (English only).

Useful links.
Barnabas at Early Christian Writings.
Barnabas in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

A broad range of dates is available for the composition of this Christian text, reckoned among the apostolic fathers. Barnabas 16.3-4 both refers to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 and expects the temple to be rebuilt, an unlikely prospect after Hadrian erected a pagan temple on the site in about 135. Barnabas 4.4-6a affords an opportunity for further refinement of this dating. See the quotation from J. B. Lightfoot below. Few if any modern scholars would accept the historical Barnabas as the actual author of this work.

Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 2.6:

Εικοτως ουν ο αποστολος Βαρναβας· Αφ ου, φησιν, ελαβον μερους, εσπουδασα κατα μικρον υμιν πεμψαι, ινα μετα της πιστεως υμων τελειαν εχητε και την γνωσιν. της μεν ουν πιστεως ημων εισιν οι συλληπτορες φοβος και υπομονη, τα δε συμμαχουντα ημιν μακροθυμια και εγκρατεια. τουτων ουν, φησι, τα προς τον κυριον μενοντων αγνως, συνευφραινονται αυτοις σοφια, συνεσις, επιστημη, γνωσις.

Reasonably therefore does the apostle Barnabas say: From the portion which I have received I have hastened to send little by little to you, so that with your faith you might also have perfect knowledge.1 So fear and endurance are the accomplices of our faith, and longsuffering and temperance are our allies. Since these, therefore, he says, remain in purity in things toward the Lord, wisdom, intelligence, understanding, [and] knowledge rejoice with them.2

1 Refer to Barnabas 1.5.
2 Refer to Barnabas 2.3.

Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 2.7:

Και Βαρναβας ο αποστολος· Ουαι οι συνετοι παρ εαυτοις και ενωπιον αυτων επιστημονες, προσταξας, επηγαγε· Πνευματικοι γενωμεθα, ναος τελειος τω θεω· εφ ημιν μελετωμεν τον φοβον του θεου και φυλασσειν αγωνιζωμεθα τας εντολας αυτου, ινα εν τοις δικαιωμασιν αυτου ευφρανθωμεν.

And Barnabas the apostle, having [already] put down: Woe to those who are wise in themselves, understanding before themselves, added: Let us become spiritual, a perfect temple for God; let us upon ourselves take care in the fear of God and strive to keep his commands, so that we may rejoice in his judgments.*

* Refer to Barnabas 4.11.

Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 2.18:

Αμελει μυστικως ο Βαρναβας· Ο δε θεος ο παντος κοσμου κυριευων, φησι, δωη και υμιν σοφιαν και συνεσιν, επιστημην, γνωσιν των δικαιωματων αυτου, υπομονην. γινεσθε ουν θεοδιδακτοι, εκζητουντες τι ζητει ο κυριος αφ υμων, ινα ευρηται εν ημερα κρισεως τους τουτων επιβουλους. αγαπης τεκνα και ειρηνης γνωστικως προσηγορευσεν.

Of course Barnabas says mystically: May God who is Lord of all the world the universe also give you wisdom and intelligence, understanding, knowledge of his judgments, [and] endurance. Be taught by God, therefore, seeking out what the Lord seeks from you, so that he may find you in the day of judgment wishing for these things.1 He gnostically called them children of love and peace.2

1 Refer to Barnabas 21.5-6.
2 Refer to Barnabas 21.9.

Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 2.20:

Οπως δ ημεις του διαβολου τας ενεργειας και τα πνευματα τα ακαθαρτα εις την του αμαρτωλου ψυχην επισπειρειν φαμεν ου μοι δει πλειονων λογων, παραθεμενω μαρτυν τον αποστολικον Βαρναβαν, ο δε των εβδομηκοντα ην και συνεργος του Παυλου, κατα λεξιν ωδε πως λεγοντα· Προ του ημας πιστευσαι τω θεω, ην ημων το οικητηεριον της καρδιας και ασθενες, αληθως οικοδομητος ναος δια χειρος, οτι ην πληρης μεν ειδωλολατρειας, και ην οικος δαιμονων δια το ποιειν οσα ην εναντια τω θεω.

But how we say that the energies of the devil and the unclean spirits sow seed into the soul of the sinner needs no more words from me, adducing as witness the apostolic man Barnabas, and he was one of the seventy and a fellow worker of Paul, and he speaks in the following words: Before we believed in God, the housing of our heart was also sickly, truly a temple built with hands, since it was full of idolatry, and it was a house of demons on account of doing as many things as were against God.*

* Refer to Barnabas 16.7.

Refer also to Miscellanies 2.15 (quoting Barnabas 10.1, 10); 5.8 (quoting Barnabas 10.1, 11); 5.10 (quoting Barnabas 6.8-10).

Origen, Against Celsus 1.63:

Γεγραπται δη εν τη Βαρναβα καθολικη επιστολη, οθεν ο Κελσος λαβων ταχα ειπεν ειναι επιρρητους και πονηροτατους τους αποστολους, οτι, Εξελεξατο τους ιδιους αποστολους Ιησους οντας υπερ πασαν ανομιαν ανομωτερους.

Now it is written in the catholic epistle of Barnabas, whence perhaps Celsus took the saying that the apostles were infamous and most evil men, that Jesus elected his own apostles as men who were guiltier beyond all lawlessness.*

* Refer to Barnabas 5.9.

Eusebius, History of the Church 6.14.1:

Εν δε ταις υποτυπωσεσιν ξυνελοντα ειπειν πασης της ενδιαθηκου γραφης επιτετμημενας πεποιηται διηγησεις, μηδε τας αντιλεγομενας παρελθων, την Ιουδα λεγω και τας λοιπας καθολικας επιστολας, την τε Βαρναβα και την Πετρου λεγομενην αποκαλυψιν.

And in the Hypotyposeis, to speak briefly, [Clement] has made concise accounts of every testamental scripture, not even leaving out the disputed ones, that of Jude, I say, and the rest of the catholic epistles, and that of Barnabas as well as that called the apocalypse of Peter.

Jerome, On Famous Men 6:

Barnabas Cyprius, qui et Ioseph Levites, cum Paulo gentium apostolus ordinatus, unam ad aedificationem ecclesiae pertinentem epistolam composuit, quae inter apocryphas scripturas legitur. hic postea propter Ioannem discipulum, qui et Marcus vocabatur, separatus a Paulo, nihilominus evangelicae praedicationis iniunctum sibi opus exercuit.

Barnabas the Cyprian, who is also Joseph the Levite, ordained as an apostle to the gentiles with Paul, wrote one epistle, valuable for the edification of the church, which is reckoned among the apocryphal writings. He afterwards separated from Paul on account of the disciple John, who was also called Mark, but nonetheless exercised the work enjoined upon him of preaching the gospel.

J. B. Lightfoot offers an interesting interpretation of Barnabas 4.4-6a...:

Λεγει δε ουτως και ο προφητης· Βασιλειαι δεκα επι της γης βασιλευσουσιν, και εξαναστησεται οπισθεν αυτων μικρος βασιλευς, ος ταπεινωσει τρεις υφ εν των βασιλειων. ομοιως περι του αυτου λεγει Δανιηλ· Και ειδον το τεταρτον θηριον πονηρον και ισχυρον και χαλεπωτερον παρα παντα τα θηρια της γης, και ως εξ αυτου ανετειλεν δεκα κερατα, και εξ αυτων μικρον κερας παραφυαδιον, και ως εταπεινωσεν υφ εν τρια των μεγαλων κερατων. συνιεναι ουν οφειλετε.

And thus also says the prophet: Ten kingdoms shall be king upon the earth, and there shall stand up after them a small king, who shall humble three of the kings under one. Likewise Daniel says concerning the same thing: And I saw the fourth beast to be evil and strong and more intractable than all the beasts of the earth, and how from him rose up ten horns, and from them a small horn grew up, and how it humbled three of the great horns under one. You ought therefore to understand.

...in The Apostolic Fathers, part 1, volume 2, appendix B, pages 509-510:

The solution, which I venture to offer, has not, so far as I am aware, been given before. We enumerate the ten Caesars in their natural sequence with Weizsacker, and we arrive at Vespasian as the tenth. We regard the three Flavii as the three kings destined to be humiliated, with Hilgenfeld. We do not however with him contemplate them as three separate emperors, but we explain the language as referring to the reigning sovereign, Vespasian, associating his two sons Titus and Domitian with himself in the exercise of the supreme power. At no other point in the history of the imperial household do we find so close a connexion of three in one, until a date too late to enter into consideration. And lastly; we interpret the little horn as symbolising the Antichrist with Volkmar, and we explain it by the expectation of Nero's reappearance which we know to have been rife during the reign of Vespasian. No other epoch in the history of the Caesars presents this coincidence of the three elements in the image—the ten kings, the three kings, and the Antichrist—so appropriately. For these reasons we are led to place the so-called Barnabas during the reign of Vespasian (A.D. 7079).

The enumeration of the ten kings speaks for itself; but the significance of the three kings requires some illustration. When Vespasian assumed the supreme dignity, the power of the empire was sustained by Titus among the legions, while it was represented by Domitian in the capital (Tac. Hist. iii. 84, iv. 2, 3). The three were thus associated together in the public mind, as no three persons had been associated before in the history of the Empire. Immediately on the accession of their father the two young men were created Caesars by the Senate and invested with the title of 'Principes Juventutis.' The first act of Vespasian was to associate Titus with himself as colleague in the consulship, while Domitian was made praetor with consular power. Several types of coin, struck during this reign, exhibit the effigy of the reigning emperor on the obverse with figures of Titus and Domitian on the reverse in various attitudes and with various legends. An extant inscription, on a marble (Eckhel Doctr. Num. vi. p. 320 sq), which has apparently served as a base for three busts, commemorates the emperor and his two sons in parallel columns, Vespasian's name and titles occupying the central column. 'Along this path (to glory)', says the elder Pliny (N. H. ii. 5) 'now advances with godlike step, accompanied by his sons, Vespasianus Augustus the greatest ruler of any age.' The association of Titus with his father's honours was close and continuous. He was seven times colleague to the emperor in the consulate during the ten years of Vespasian's reign. He was associated in the Pontificate, the Censorship, and the Tribunician Power, which represented respectively the religious, the moral, and the political authority of the sovereign. From the moment of his return to Rome after his Eastern victories 'he never ceased,' we are told, 'to act the part of colleague and even guardian of the empire1.' The title Imperator itself was conferred upon him, so that the language of the elder Pliny is perfectly correct, when he speaks of 'imperatores Caesares Vespasiani, pater filiusque' during the lifetime of the father. On the other hand the relations of Vespasian towards his younger son were never cordial. But the good nature and generosity of Titus interposed to prevent any open breach between the two. He represented to his father that the safety of the empire was dependent on the harmony of the imperial household; and the baseness of Domitian was in consequence overlooked. Coins were struck, which had on the obverse the two sons of Vespasian, with the legend TVTELA AVGVSTI. At the triumph after the close of the Judaic war, 'Vespasian,' says one who witnessed it, 'preceded in a chariot, and Titus followed, while Domitian rode on horseback by the side, himself splendidly habited and mounted on a horse which was a sight to see.'

Here then were the very three kings of whom the prophecy spoke. It is true that the obvious interpretation of the words pointed to three several kings belonging to the ten who are mentioned just before, whereas the so-called Barnabas found the three combined in one of the ten together with his sons and colleagues in the kingship. But this manipulation was forced upon him by the stubbornness of contemporary facts; and he calls attention to it by repeating the expression 'three in one,' which has no place in the original.

Manuscripts.

According to Bart Ehrman (on pages 9-10 of volume 2 of the Loeb edition of the apostolic fathers) and Michael Holmes (on page 160-161 of The Apostolic Fathers) the following manuscripts are extant for the teaching of the twelve:

Sinaiticus (S), century IV, Greek.
First corrector of Sinaiticus (S*), century IV, Greek.
Second corrector of Sinaiticus (S**), century VII, Greek.
Hierosolymitanus (H), year 1056, Greek.
Greek manuscripts (G), nine in number,* century XI and later, noted as v, o, f, p, c, t, n, s, a.
Papyrus fragment (P), century IV or V, Greek (containing 9.1-6).
Latin version (L) of chapters 1-17 only.

* The nine Greek manuscripts all derive from the same exemplar, and all break off at Polycarp 9.2 in the middle of a sentence, at the words και δι υμας υπο. Each then proceeds with Barnabas 5.7, at the words τον λαον τον καινον.