The Epistle of Barnabas, Part 1
Named for the companion of Paul (Acts 9:27, 11:19-30, 14), the Epistle of Barnabas is technically anonymous, and scholars continue to debate whether its author was the canonical Barnabas, another early Christian leader named Barnabas, or simply someone else. The possible dates of composition for this epistle range from the reign of Diocletian (r. 79-81 CE) to around the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE). Widely understood as orthodox in character, the Barnabas intends to teach its readers true gnosis (knowledge), especially the belief that followers of Jesus live as the true covenant people of God. This letter will strike modern readers at certain points with its supercessive theology, as the author writes as one firmly convinced that Christianity has surpassed Judaism. Similarly, Barnabas reads much like Hebrews in its discussion of how Jesus requires a new interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures. Belonging to the collection of non-canonical early Christian writings known as the Apostolic Fathers, the Epistle of Barnabas continues to speak to Christians today.
The Epistle of Barnabas, Part 1
Chapter 1. After the salutation, the writer declares that he would communicate to his brethren something of that which he had himself received
All hail, you sons and daughters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us in peace.
Seeing that the divine fruits of righteousness abound among you, I rejoice exceedingly and above measure in your happy and honoured spirits, because you have with such effect received the engrafted spiritual gift. Wherefore also I inwardly rejoice the more, hoping to be saved, because I truly perceive in you the Spirit poured forth from the rich Lord of love. Your greatly desired appearance has thus filled me with astonishment over you. I am therefore pursuaded of this, and fully convinced in my own mind, that since I began to speak among you I understand many things, because the Lord has accompanied me in the way of righteousness. I am also on this account bound by the strictest obligation to love you above my own soul, because great are the faith and lovedwelling in you, while you hope for the life which He has promised. Considering this, therefore, that if I should take the trouble to communicate to you some portion of what I have myself received, it will prove to me a sufficient reward that I minister to such spirits, I have hastened briefly to write unto you, in order that, along with your faith, you might have perfect knowledge. The doctrines of the Lord, then, are three: the hope of life, the beginning and the completion of it. For the Lord has made known to us by the prophets both the things which are past and present, giving us also the first-fruits of the knowledge of things to come, which things as we see accomplished, one by one, we ought with the greater richness of faith and elevation of spirit to draw near to Him with reverence. I then, not as your teacher, but as one of yourselves, will set forth a few things by which in present circumstances you may be rendered the more joyful.
Chapter 2. The Jewish sacrifices are now abolished
Since, therefore, the days are evil, and Satan possesses the power of this world, we ought to give heed to ourselves, and diligently inquire into the ordinances of the Lord. Fear and patience, then, are helpers of our faith; and long-suffering and continence are things which fight on our side. While these remain pure in what respects the Lord, Wisdom, Understanding, Science, and Knowledge rejoice along with them. For He has revealed to us by all the prophets that He needs neither sacrifices, nor burnt-offerings, nor oblations, saying thus, What is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me, says the Lord? I am full of burnt-offerings, and desire not the fat of lambs, and the blood of bulls and goats, not when you come to appear before Me: for who has required these things at your hands? Tread no more My courts, not though you bring with you fine flour. Incense is a vain abominationunto Me, and your new moons and sabbaths I cannot endure. He has therefore abolished these things, that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity, might have a human oblation. And again He says to them, Did I command your fathers, when they went out from the land of Egypt, to offer unto Me burnt-offerings and sacrifices? But this rather I commanded them, Let no one of you cherish any evil in his heart against his neighbour, and love not an oath of falsehood. Jeremiah 7:22; Zechariah 8:17 We ought therefore, being possessed of understanding, to perceive the gracious intention of our Father; for He speaks to us, desirous that we, not going astray like them, should ask how we may approach Him. To us, then, He declares, A sacrifice[pleasing] to God is a broken spirit; a smell of sweet savour to the Lord is a heart that glorifies Him that made it. We ought therefore, brethren, carefully to inquire concerning our salvation, lest the wicked one, having made his entrance by deceit, should hurl us forth from our [true] life.
Chapter 3. The fasts of the Jews are not true fasts, nor acceptable to God
He says then to them again concerning these things, Why do you fast to Me as on this day, says the Lord, that your voice should be heard with a cry? I have not chosen this fast, says the Lord, that a man should humble his soul. Nor, though you bend your neck like a ring, and put upon you sackcloth and ashes, will you call it an acceptable fast. Isaiah 58:4-5 To us He says, Behold, this is the fast that I have chosen, says the Lord, not that a man should humble his soul, but that he should loose every band of iniquity, untie the fastenings of harsh agreements, restore to liberty them that are bruised, tear in pieces every unjust engagement, feed the hungry with your bread, clothe the naked when you see him, bring the homeless into your house, not despise the humble if you behold him, and not [turn away] from the members of your own family. Then shall your dawn break forth, and your healing shall quickly spring up, and righteousness shall go forth before you, and the gloryof God shall encompass you; and then you shall call, and God shall hear you; while you are yet speaking, He shall say, Behold, I am with you; if you take away from yourself the chain [binding others], and the stretching forth of the hands [to swear falsely], and words of murmuring, and give cheerfully your bread to the hungry, and show compassion to the soul that has been humbled. Isaiah 58:6-10 To this end, therefore, brethren, He is long-suffering, foreseeing how the people whom He has prepared shall with guilelessness believe in His Beloved. For He revealed all these things to us beforehand, that we should not rush forward as rash acceptors of their laws.
Chapter 4. Antichrist is at hand: let us therefore avoid Jewish errors
It therefore behooves us, who inquire much concerning events at hand, to search diligently into those things which are able to save us. Let us then utterly flee from all the works of iniquity, lest these should take hold of us; and let us hate the error of the present time, that we may set our love on the world to come: let us not give loose reins to our soul, that it should have power to run with sinners and the wicked, lest we become like them. The final stumbling-block (or source of danger) approaches, concerning which it is written, as Enoch says, For for this end the Lord has cut short the times and the days, that His Beloved may hasten; and He will come to the inheritance. And the prophet also speaks thus: Ten kingdoms shall reign upon the earth, and a little king shall rise up after them, who shall subdue under one three of the kings. In like manner Daniel says concerning the same, And I beheld the fourth beast, wicked and powerful, and more savage than all the beasts of the earth, and how from it sprang up ten horns, and out of them a little budding horn, and how it subdued under one three of the great horns. You ought therefore to understand. 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 says, 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; Exodus 31:18, Exodus 34:28 but turning away to idols, they lost it. For the Lord speaks thus to Moses: Moses go down quickly; for the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt have transgressed. Exodus 32:7; Deuteronomy 9:12 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. Now, being desirous to write many things to you, not as your teacher, but as becomes one who loves you, I have taken care not to fail to write to you from what I myself possess, with a view to your purification. We take earnest heed in these last days; for the whole [past] time of your faith will profit you nothing, unless now in this wicked time we also withstand coming sources of danger, as becomes the sons of God. That the Black One may find no means of entrance, let us flee from every vanity, let us utterly hate the works of the way of wickedness. Do not, by retiring apart, live a solitary life, as if you were already [fully] justified; but coming together in one place, make common inquiry concerning what tends to your general welfare. For the Scripture says, Woe to them who are wise to themselves, and prudent in their own sight! Isaiah 5:21 Let us be spiritually-minded: let us be a perfect temple to God. As much as in us lies, let us meditate upon the fear of God, and let us keep His commandments, that we may rejoice in His ordinances. The Lord will judge the world without respect of persons. Each will receive as he has done: if he is righteous, his righteousness will precede him; if he is wicked, the reward of wickedness is before him. Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are the called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. And all the more attend to this, my brethren, when you reflect and behold, that after so great signs and wonders were wrought in Israel, they were thus [at length] abandoned. Let us beware lest we be found [fulfilling that saying], as it is written, Many are called, but few are chosen.