Epistle of Barnabas


I have a friend who is in school studying to be a Baptist minister. He told me he has heard that Chapters 18-20 are held in high esteem by Catholics and even taught dogmatically. He wanted to know if that was my experience in regard to this Epistle, which it hasn’t, and if what he had heard was true. Any ideas as to what he may be getting at will be most appreciated.


The Epistle of Barnabas is not part of canon due to its late date (circa 130 AD.). It should also be pointed out that this “Barnabas” is widely considered to be NOT the follower of Paul, but a different Barnabas.

It is badly written, poorly constructed, and its lack of “inspiration” was recognized by many of the Church fathers.

That said, in Chapters 18 - 20 the author expounds upon the “two ways”, in very much a similar way as does Chapter 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, as well as is found in the Didache… That is as much as can be said.

If the Church teaches that there is a narrow path and wide path as “dogma”, it hardly can be ascribed to the Epistle of Barnabas, but merely as coincidental, at best.


Why are certain brands of protestants always so obsessed about what Catholics believe? I don’t think I’ve met any priest in any country that had learned anything regarding the various brands of protestantism - other than that they exist - in seminary, except maybe some Canonical Lawyers (in regard to how to receive those that convert into the Church from them). Sure, some know from experience and others from learning outside seminary, but it’s not something that Catholic priests, deacons and clergy care about since we have our own and those of our church members’ salvation to work out in fear and trembling.


In regard to “Barnabas”, there’s a so-called “Gospel of Barnabas” that some proselytizing Muslims trot out to convince the ignorant and naive that the Church suppressed this or that Arian belief (that they support).


First, thanks for the input. It basically confirmed what I already knew. The way he asked the question made me think I missed something along the way when it came to my teaching. :slight_smile: I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to questions about being Catholic. I haven’t heard back yet from him so maybe it wasn’t a “trick question” like so many of these questions are. :slight_smile:


No clue. And you can tell him this too; he is misinformed, I have never even been told that Barnabas wrote an Epistle.
The Holy Scripture of the New Testament was declared inerrant by and as a result of the Decree of Pope St. Damasus I at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D. All Christians in the world have accepted this Canon.

The Decree of Pope St. Damasus I, Council of Rome. 382 A.D…

It is decreed: Now, indeed, we must treat of the divine Scriptures: what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she must shun.
The list of the Scriptures of the New and Eternal Testament, which the holy and Catholic Church receives: of the Gospels, one book according to Matthew, one book according to Mark, one book according to Luke, one book according to John. The Epistles of the Apostle Paul, fourteen in number: one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Ephesians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Galatians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to Timothy, one to Titus one to Philemon, one to the Hebrews. Likewise, one book of the Apocalypse of John. And the Acts of the Apostles, one book. Likewise, the canonical Epistles, seven in number: of the Apostle Peter, two Epistles; of the Apostle James, one Epistle; of the Apostle John, one Epistle; of the other John, a Presbyter, two Epistles; of the Apostle Jude the Zealot, one Epistle. Thus concludes the canon of the New Testament.
Likewise it is decreed: After the announcement of all of these prophetic and evangelic or as well as apostolic writings which we have listed above as Scriptures, on which, by the grace of God, the Catholic Church is founded, we have considered that it ought to be announced that although all the Catholic Churches spread abroad through the world comprise but one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless, the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The Council of Hippo in 393 reaffirmed the canon put forth by Pope Damasus I…

AD 393:
Council of Hippo. "It has been decided that besides the canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture. (canon 36 A.D. 393).

The Third Council of Carthage reaffirmed anew, the Canon put forth by Pope Damasus I…

AD 397:
Council of Carthage III. "It has been decided that nothing except the canonical Scriptures should be read in the Church under the name of the divine Scriptures. (canon 47 A.D. 397).

This Council of Carthage affirms the Decree of Damasus, sending its affirmation and the rest of the canons adopted at its proceedings to Rome for ratification.

418: Pope Boniface I ratifies the canons of the Council of Carthage and sends copies to the sees of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, resulting in informal acceptance of the canon world-wide.

419: The Fourth Council of Carthage re-affirms the actions of Pope Boniface. Canonical discussions remain mostly settled for the next three centuries.

787: The Second Council of Nicea formally ratifies the canon for the Eastern Churches.

1546: The Council of Trent again re-affirms the Scriptures traditionally recognized by the Church.

This is the New Testament Canon established by The Catholic Church that he and every other Christian accepts!


A quick rundown of what the Epistle of Barnabas is. It’s basically a late 1st-early 2nd century (AD 70-135) Christian work. It’s originally an anonymous letter (the author actually never names himself), but later, someone apparently gave it the title ‘Epistle of Barnabas’. We don’t know exactly who gave it its title or why.

The letter essentially addresses the issue of Jewish-Christian relations at the time it was written (a rather sensitive issue at the time). It’s rather anti-Jewish (anti-Judaism, not anti-Semitism) in tone, which was a rather common sentiment among many Christians at the time: the anonymous author perceived Judaism (which he seems to know rather well) as a dangerous rival and felt the need to address it. (It’s even thought that the letter could have been written at a time when Christians, who were just beginning to separate themselves from (other) Jews, could have been anxious that Judaism might experience a sort of revitalization that might prove a threat to Christianity, whether from a rebuilt temple or from a rival messianic movement.)

All in all, in the first half of the letter our author advocates a sort of allegorical interpretation of Scripture (in the same spirit as Alexandrian Jewish and Christian writers - which is why some scholars think that Barnabas may have originally been written in Alexandria) over against the literal interpretation favored by Jewish teachers at the time. Using this allegorical interpretation, our author tries to prove that Christians, not Jews, are really the true heirs of God’s covenant: the Jews have forfeited their right because of idolatry, disobedience and ignorance. The author consistently distinguishes Christians and Jews: for him, it’s “us” versus “them.”

(The author even thinks that the Jews are misled because they interpreted the Mosaic Law - all the food laws and ritual laws, etc. - literally, when he argued that it really should have been interpreted “spiritually.” In fact, it seems our author goes so far as to think the Jews never really had a true covenant with God in the first place: for our author, the covenant God intended to have with Israel was forfeited when Moses shattered the two tablets in Mount Sinai. In this our author is actually more radical than other Christian writers at the time.)

And this also I further beg of you, as being one of you, and loving you both individually and collectively more than my own soul, to take heed now to yourselves, and not to be like some, adding largely to your sins, and saying, “The covenant is both theirs and ours.” But they thus finally lost it, after Moses had already received it. For the Scripture saith, “And Moses was fasting in the mount forty days and forty nights, and received the covenant from the Lord, tables of stone written with the finger of the hand of the Lord;” but turning away to idols, they lost it. For the Lord speaks thus to Moses: “Moses go down quickly; for the people whom thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt have transgressed.” And Moses understood [the meaning of God], and cast the two tables out of his hands; and their covenant was broken, in order that the covenant of the beloved Jesus might be sealed upon our heart, in the hope which flows from believing in Him.



On the second half, our author expounds upon the “Two Ways,” a common Jewish form of ethical guidance that is also used in the Didache, a Jewish Christian work written at around the same time. (It would seem that the version in Barnabas is the earlier one. It’s still unclear whether the ‘Two Ways’ section in Barnabas was taken from the Didache, or whether the author of the Didache used Barnabas, or whether they are two independent adaptations of the same material.)

To sum, the ‘Two Ways’ are essentially a kind of ethical ‘do’s and dont’s’: love God, love your neighbor, do not sin, reject evil. A kind of expansion on the Ten Commandments, if you will. I’d say, it wouldn’t be just Catholics, but all Christians who’d agree with this moral code.

The way of light, then, is as follows. If any one desires to travel to the appointed place, he must be zealous in his works.
The knowledge, therefore, which is given to us for the purpose of walking in this way, is the following.

Thou shalt love Him that created thee: thou shalt glorify Him that redeemed thee from death.
Thou shalt be simple in heart, and rich in spirit.
Thou shalt not join thyself to those who walk in the way of death.
Thou shalt hate doing what is unpleasing to God: thou shalt hate all hypocrisy.
Thou shalt not forsake the commandments of the Lord.
Thou shalt not exalt thyself, but shalt be of a lowly mind.
Thou shalt not take glory to thyself.
Thou shalt not take evil counsel against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not allow over-boldness to enter into thy soul.
Thou shalt not commit fornication: thou shalt not commit adultery: thou shalt not be a corrupter of youth.
Thou shalt not let the word of God issue from thy lips with any kind of impurity.
Thou shalt not accept persons when thou reprovest any one for transgression.
Thou shalt be meek: thou shalt be peaceable.
Thou shalt tremble at the words which thou hearest.
Thou shalt not be mindful of evil against thy brother.
Thou shalt not be of doubtful mind as to whether a thing shall be or not.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain.
Thou shalt love thy neighbour more than thine own soul.
Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born.
Thou shalt not withdraw thy hand from thy son, or from thy daughter, but from their infancy thou shalt teach them the fear of the Lord.
Thou shalt not covet what is thy neighbour’s, nor shalt thou be avaricious.
Thou shalt not be joined in soul with the haughty, but thou shalt be reckoned with the righteous and lowly.
Receive thou as good things the trials which come upon thee.
Thou shalt not be of double mind or of double tongue, for a double tongue is a snare of death.
Thou shalt be subject to the Lord, and to [other] masters as the image of God, with modesty and fear.
Thou shalt not issue orders with bitterness to thy maidservant or thy man-servant, who trust in the same [God], lest thou shouldst not reverence that God who is above both; for He came to call men not according to their outward appearance, but according as the Spirit had prepared them.
Thou shalt communicate in all things with thy neighbour; thou shalt not call things thine own; for if ye are partakers in common of things which are incorruptible, how much more [should you be] of those things which are corruptible!
Thou shalt not be hasty with thy tongue, for the mouth is a snare of death. As far as possible, thou shalt be pure in thy soul.
Do not be ready to stretch forth thy hands to take, whilst thou contractest them to give.
Thou shalt love, as the apple of thine eye, every one that speaketh to thee the word of the Lord.
Thou shalt remember the day of judgment, night and day.
Thou shalt seek out every day the faces of the saints, either by word examining them, and going to exhort them, and meditating how to save a soul by the word, or by thy hands thou shalt labour for the redemption of thy sins.
Thou shalt not hesitate to give, nor murmur when thou givest. “Give to every one that asketh thee,” and thou shalt know who is the good Recompenser of the reward.
Thou shalt preserve what thou hast received [in charge], neither adding to it nor taking from it.
To the last thou shalt hate the wicked [one]. Thou shalt judge righteously.
Thou shalt not make a schism, but thou shalt pacify those that contend by bringing them together.
Thou shalt confess thy sins.
Thou shalt not go to prayer with an evil conscience.

This is the way of light.


About the Gospel of Barnabas: it’s essentially just either a 16th century European Muslim forgery or a 16th century Muslim adaptation of an earlier apocryphal gospel. It doesn’t really have any connection with the Epistle of Barnabas (which for the record is very big on the subject of Jesus’ death).

Funnily enough, the Muslim polemic use of GoB only began around the late 19th-early 20th century.


Thanks everyone! :slight_smile: The person I gave the information to thanked me and said he was just wondering if what he had heard was true. :slight_smile:




I should add that the GoB doesn’t only contradict Christianity, it actually contradicts Islam as well, when it claims that Muhammad is actually the messiah. (Muslims do believe that Jesus/Isa is the Masih and ascribe the title to him. Authentic Muslim sources - the Qur’an, for example - never call Muhammad al-Masih AFAIK; the title is specific to Jesus.) And there’s the absence of John the Baptist from the GoB: Muslims also revere John the Baptist (Yahya ibn Zakariyya) as a prophet; but the GoB never mentions him once. In fact, his ‘precursor’ role seems to have been taken over by Jesus. (Which ties in to the GoB’s claim of Muhammad as the messiah.)

For the record, for the interested, I found this book from a Muslim POV that also disputes the authenticity of the GoB. (So don’t worry, not every Muslim out there believes in the GoB.) The author argues that the GoB’s Jesus is not even the same as the Jesus of Islam, which should really say something. books.google.co.jp/books?id=t5rH2RwYSpIC

In other words, the GoB may have been written by a Muslim, but it seems that whoever forged it must have not been very conversant about his own religion either. Ergo, it’s a sloppy fake through and through. :shrug: But then again, it’s not the first time people have fallen for sloppy fakes.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.