The Epistle of Barnabas—different from the Gospel of Barnabas—is a very early Christian writing. It was probably written around AD 80–120. Although it is not part of the New Testament canon, it is often mentioned by various church fathers.
The Epistle of Barnabas was probably written around AD 80–120.
Who Wrote the Epistle of Barnabas?
Although it is called the Epistle of Barnabas, the epistle nowhere mentions the name Barnabas. The epistle has this name because commentators such as Clement of Alexandria attributed the epistle to Barnabas. Origen believed this epistle was authentically written by Barnabas.
Can We Trust the Epistle of Barnabas?
Although there is agreement that the Epistle of Barnabas is not inspired or part of the Scriptural canon, we can also agree that the epistle can still be a valuable resource. Early church fathers believed that it was a useful document and quoted from it, even though they did not believe it was inspired.
The content of the Epistle of Barnabas is orthodox, so it is not a heretical document. At the same time, there is some criticism that the epistle too heavily utilizes oral traditions about the Old Testament, such as the Mishnah.
We do not know for certain whether the epistle was actually written by Barnabas. There is no absolute evidence in either direction.
Summary of the Epistle of Barnabas
The epistle uses the term gnosis, or “knowledge,” to summarize its message. However, the way the epistle uses the term gnosis is very different from the heresy of Gnosticism, and its content contradicts the teachings of Gnosticism.
Most of the epistle consists of interpreting the Old Testament in light of early Christianity. At the end of the letter, there are several commands, coupled with an explanation of what the opposite of the command would be. The commands are referred to as the Way of Light, and the opposites are referred to as the Way of Darkness.
The Way of Light is a Jewish interpretation of early Christian life and morality, and the Way of Darkness, or the Way of the Black One, consists of that which is opposite to the Way of Light.
Read the Epistle of Barnabas
Below are links to the text of the Epistle of Barnabas. There are four translations.
Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church