My new research project on The Epistle of Barnabas

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My new research project on The Epistle of Barnabas

Post by Apologeticsislying » Sat Dec 28, 2019 12:20 am

Hi all,
I am hard at work on what I believe is a most intriguing research project that kept hankering me as I plow my way through Margaret Barker's interesting materials this coming up year (among other projects!). I present the beginning of my project to give you the gist of what will be involved in what I expect to be a quite enlightening piece of work. I am having a blast researching it and have hundreds of texts scattered all over my study, all lined up ready to use as I have exhausted my library concentrating on this theme of "The Epistle of Barnabas." Unfortunately, the italics do not come through when I copy and paste, but they will be in the printed version, for which I apologize. Please don't let that stop you from enjoying what I think is going to be a whalloping project, one that we all might be able to learn something from! ENJOY for now, the "Preface." (I will be demonstrating how many Mormon "interpretations" of using Barker's materials to verify their views of the Gospel are wrong, hence its relevance to Mormonism here).

The Former-Canonical Epistle of Barnabas: Ancient Christian Exegesis, Modern Divergent Interpretations – Just What Did Early Christians Actually Believe as Their World-View?
By Kerry A. Shirts

You can’t read very far into the independent Methodist biblical scholar Margaret Barker’s materials before you begin running into an utterly fascinating new interpretation into the largely lost and forgotten world-view of early Christians which modern scholars have not yet agreed upon, let alone investigated with any sort of thoroughness which ought to characterize their discipline. Her approach answers a lot of quite tough questions, and provides some of the most fascinating connections with the early Christians, the Gnostic discoveries , the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the First Temple ancient Judaism of the Old Testament. Her ancient Enoch, Melchizedek, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and pseudepigraphic linguistic, historical, and spiritual analysis into the world-view of early Christian belief is eye opening! I will investigate all these interesting lines as I have time, but it is to her ideas of the Epistle of Barnabas, I turn, which used to be in the canon of some early Christian groups before the later councils lost their wisdom and understanding as had their earlier cousins of Second Temple Judaism (according to the author(s) of the Enoch books) and threw it out.

I cannot possibly do anything like an exhaustive analysis of the epistle, nor of the variegated and sometimes contradictory views of many modern biblical scholars concerning its meaning, but there is enough available to justify going into it a bit and discovering just why there is so much difficulty coming to anything like a kind of consensus about what Barnabas was all about and its meaning for early Christians. Is there anything in this nearly forgotten little piece of written faith that can be a valuable in our learning the early Christian world view? Indeed there is, especially concerning issues about Jesus, the Melchizedek King, the Son of God, and Scapegoat, and the deification of human beings in the ancient holy of holies in the First Temple, the world-view of the First Temple which early Christians knew about and believed. There are hints of these themes throughout Barnabas as we shall see. The vocabulary in Barnabas appears to be that of temple theology as Barker calls it in her examination of “temple texts” as she calls them, in Isaiah, the Psalms, Deuteronomy, Malachi, and in the New Testament, and several Early Church Father’s teachings. The entire background world-view of the New Testament Christians and Jesus’ life was the First Temple, according to Barker, which I will examine through the Epistle of Barnabas as she understands it, along with other scholarship discussing divergent views and interpretations.

The Greek manuscript mainly used in this study will be that of Tischendorf’s Sinaitic version, as translated by Samuel Sharpe, and Bart Ehrman’s translation in the Loeb edition, with other translations of various scholars as they have presented them, in order to note differences, similarities and comparisons.(1) The Sinaitic version was in the biblical Codex Sinaiticus, discovered in 1862, published by Tischendorf.(2)

Clement of Alexandria, one of the early Christian Church Fathers, in the Stromata quoted Barnabas as authoritative scripture, his most interesting sentence being “These then in what respects the Lord, continuing in purity, there rejoice along with them, wisdom, (Σοφια) understanding, (Συνεσις) intelligence, (Επιστημη) knowledge (Γνωσις).”(3) These four principle ideas are the world view of the First Temple (Solomon’s) according to Margaret Barker in sources I will cite throughout this research, to be sure. Origen, another early Christian Father “seems to rank it among the Sacred Scriptures (Comm. In Rom. i.24)”(4) And in his Contra Celsus, Origen uses the epistle of Barnabas and other writings of Peter and Paul to refute Celsus’s claim that they were wicked apostles.(5) In the Clementine Recognitions, Clement describes how he met Barnabas and how he confuted the philosophers of his day with his wisdom instead of using philosophic discourse and syllogisms to make his case, he just described his actual experience, which impressed Clement about Barnabas’s character, honesty and knowledge.(6)

The provenance of Barnabas is fairly established based on internal factors of what it says. Of course there is a range of years since exactly pinning down ancient texts is nigh unto impossible to do, however we have a pretty good idea of the time we are looking at with Barnabas because the text does indicate the temple has already been destroyed, (16: 3-4) and the possibility that it would be built back up again (“they who destroyed this temple, shall themselves build it up”)(7), a very real possibility, until Hadrian (117-38 CE) “had a Roman shrine constructed over the temple’s ruins. Most scholars have concluded, on these grounds, that the book was written sometime during the first half of the second century, possibly around 130 CE.”(8) This being said, as L. Michael White has noted, Barnabas is never mentioned as the author of the epistle, nor is he in it at all. It was assigned to him probably because he was Paul’s missionary companion.(9) John Dominic Crossan notes that “New Testament writings are never used in Barnabas, neither explicitly nor tacitly, which would argue for an early date, perhaps even before the end of 1 CE.”(10) Others using other internal data have argued, based on Barnabas 4: 4-5 a composition date around the reign of Nerva (96-98 CE).(11)

One thing is certain, Barnabas as well as the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, quoted from Enoch material which is not at Qumran, nor in any of the extant Enoch texts we do possess today.(12) George W. E. Nickelsburg noted that when Barnabas quotes Enoch concerning the destruction of the temple he says λέγει γάρ ή γραϕή – “For scripture says…” (16:5). He loosely quotes 1 Enoch 91:13 again introducing it as scripture: γεγραπται γαρ – “For it is written,” 16:6. And at 4:3 Barnabas quotes a text of uncertain origin, describing the tribulation at the end of time, and says this is “concerning which it is written, as Enoch says,” which “indicates that the author’s community ascribed scriptural authority to the writings of Enoch the prophet.”(13) Not only Enoch and Barnabas, but the Shephard of Hermas was considered scripture early on, and the most popular early Christian writing, having been found with the Epistle of Barnabas attached to Codex Sinaiticus with the pattern that along with Codex Claromontanus, a western biblical manuscript, which inserts between the New Testament book Philemon and Hebrews the texts of the end of the Letter of Barnabas, the Shephard of Hermas, The Acts of Paul, and the Apocalypse of Peter, as we realize there was no set canon or an undivided Christianity in the early centuries.(14) Caroly Osiek makes a stellar point when she notes “If similarities can be detected between Hermas and James, Barnabas, the Didache, Elchasai, and the Ascension of Isaiah, it is difficult to see how it can be considered ‘not in the current’ of Christian tradition. It would seem that our notions of the Christian tradition need to be widened.”(15) Margaret Barker has taken up that challenge and her clarion call of bringing in the new background, which is the old forgotten one, is the ancient Judaic First Temple theology which she has elaborated on in over 14 books so far, which we are investigating in this research, focusing on her views of the Epistle of Barnabas’ teachings.

The Epistle of Barnabas was considered genuine especially among Alexandrian Christians from the time of Clement of Alexandria (approx.. 200 CE). “The first external reference to the Epistle of Barnabas comes from Clement of Alexandria, and so the work was widely known and considered authentic by the end of the second century.”(16) As such, Birger A. Pearson says “it is one of the most important sources we have for early-second-century (or even first century) Christianity in Alexandria.”(17) The LDS scholar John Gee flippantly describes it as “largely a pastiche of scriptural quotations; he simply strings one scripture after another.”(18) He gives the impression that there isn’t much here worth considering, when in fact, there are enormous ramifications on careful analysis. Gee merely skims the surface of Barnabas with no actual work into what Barnabas alludes to in so many of his interesting interpretations of scripture and history, which, to Barnabas was central to his understand of Christ, as we shall see.

Barnabas belongs to a corpus of writings called the apostolic fathers, a 17th century scholarly designation, consisting of several early Christian works such as 2 letters of Clement of Rome, Ignatius’s seven letters, the Didache, the epistle of Barnabas, The Shephard of Hermas, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, a letter of Polycarp, and the Epistle to Diogentus, all supposedly carrying on the apostles work after they were gone, but earlier than the full blown theological systems developed later in the patristic period of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. Burton Mack has called into question the entire “myth” of the apostolic fathers as a singular collection of documents since these are supposed to support the idea of apostolic succession in a linear fashion without interruption. The myth is that “there was a continuous line of teaching from Jesus, through the apostles, and on to the bishops who were thus able to guarantee the truth of the Gospel and pass it on to their own successors.”(19) We won’t concentrate on this aspect of our problems involving scriptural and historical exegesis so much as the interesting First Temple background Barker has brought forward to our attention, along with the fascinating doctrines which were “purged” by the Deuteronomists, (following Josiah’s lead) according to Barker, from the First Temple, which was the actual mission of Jesus to restore to Israel.(20) “The theme here is Christ restoring the unity which, as we shall see, was represented by the holy of holies, the place of light…”(21) The hints, the ideas, without being fully developed, are in the Epistle of Barnabas, among other writings of the early Christians, which is what caused me to write this research.


1. Samuel Sharpe, ΒΑΡΝΑΒΑ ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗ, The Epistle of Barnabas from the Sinaitic Manuscript of the Bible, Williams and Norgate, 1880. This translation includes the complete Greek manuscript which is quite helpful. Hereafter cited as Sharpe Barnabas; Bart Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, II, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 2003. This also has the Greek text.
2. Bart Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, II, p. 9-10. Hereafter cited as Ehrman AF II.
3. Clement of Alexandria, “The Stromata or Miscellanies,” 2:6, in The Rev. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, editors, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, The Writings of the Fathers down to A. D. 325, Vol. 2, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. reprinted, Nov. 1979. Hereafter cited as ANF. The General Index, Vol. 9 to the ANF demonstrates Clement quoting Barnabas several times on numerous subjects in Vol. 1, pp. 137-149, (the epistle itself), Vol. 2, pp. 354, 355, 362, 366, 372, 459, and in vol. 4, p. 97, 424. Cf. Harry Y. Gamble, “The New Testament Canon: Recent Research and the Status Quaestionis,” in The Canon Debate, Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders, editors, Hendrickson Publishers, 2002: “Clement of Alexandria considered it too, as an apostolic letter (Strom. 2.6, 7.5)” p. 289; Bart Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament, Oxford University Press, 2003: “The Letter of Barnabas was one of the most important writings for proto-orthodox Christianity. Some churches regarded it as part of the New Testament canon; it is included among the books of the New Testament in the fourth-century Greek manuscript, codex Sinaiticus.” P. 219.
4. Sharpe Barnabas, p. vii. Also Robert M. Price, The Pre-Nicene New Testament, Fifty Four Formative Texts, Signature Books, 2006: 1108 – “Codex Claromontanus preserves an Egyptian canon list from around 300 with Barnabas between Jude and the Revelation…”
5. “Origen Against Celsus,” Book I. LXIII, (p. 424) in ANF, Vol. 4.
6. “Clementine Recognitions,” ANF, vol. 8: 1.7. (pp. 78ff).
7. Sharpe, Barnabas, p. 50).
8. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, p. 219.
9. L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco, 2004: 326.
10. John Dominic Crossan, The Cross that Spoke, The Origins of the Passion Narrative, Harper & Row, 1988: 121. LDS scholar John Gee says otherwise, noting Barnabas quotes many Old Testament books and prophets, to be sure, but also Matthew and Romans, although the “citations of these passages differ from the later standard text.” “The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity,” in Early Christians in Disarray, Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, FARMS, 2005: 191. We shall see that Barnabas echoes many New Testament themes, even though it doesn’t directly quote any New Testament Gospel.
11. Crossan, Cross that Spoke, p. 121. Also Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco, 1998: 569. Richard Carrier largely agrees to the date 130 CE, and says “it surely dates to the period 130-132 CE.” In On the Historicity of Jesus, Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014: 315 n. 44.
12. Margaret Barker, The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005: 9-10. See James VanderKam, Enoch, A Man For All Generations, University of South Carolina Press, 1995: 174; R. H. Charles, The Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch, Makor Publishing, 1912: lxxxi, 199 n.56.
13. George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, Fortress Press, 2001: 87.
14. Carolyn Osiek, The Shephard of Hermas, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, Fortress Press, 1999: 5-6.
15. Osiek, Shephard of Hermas, p. 38.
16. White, From Jesus to Christianity, p. 327.
17. Birger A. Pearson, Gnosticism and Christianity in Roman and Coptic Egypt, T & T Clark, 2004: 50.
18. John Gee, “Corruption of Scripture,” p. 191.
19. Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament?, The Making of the Christian Myth, HarperSanFrancisco, 1995: 243.
20. Margaret Barker, On Earth as it is in Heaven, Temple Symbolism in the New Testament, T & T Clark, 1995: 62-71; Barker, The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God, SPCK, 2007: 1-3; Barker, Temple Mysticism, An Introduction, SPCK, 2011: 1-13; Barker, Temple Theology, An Introduction, SPCK, 2004: 1-11, among other of her works which we will make use of throughout this paper.
21. Margaret Barker, King of the Jews, Temple Theology in John’s Gospel, SPCK, 2014: 7.
The same energy that emerges from the fountain of eternity into time, is the Holy Grail at the center of the universe of the inexhaustible vitality in each of our hearts. The Holy Grail, like the Kingdom of God, is within. -Joseph Campbell-

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