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Epistle of Barnabas

The Epistle of Barnabas is an epistle with twenty-one chapters, contained complete in the Codex Sinaiticus at the end of the New Testament. It is traditionally ascribed to the Barnabas mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. A complete Greek manuscript was discovered by Bryennios at Constantinople, and Hilgenfeld used it for his edition in 1877. Besides this there is a very old Latin version (now in the imperial library at St. Petersburg), in which, however, chapters 18-21 are wanting. Toward the end of the second century the epistle was in great esteem in Alexandria, as the citations of Clement of Alexandria prove. It is also appealed to by Origen. Eusebius, however, objected to it and ultimately the epistle disappeared from the appendix to the New Testament, or rather the appendix disappeared with the epistle. In the West the epistle never enjoyed canonical authority (though it stands beside the epistle of James in the Latin manuscripts). The first editor of the epistle, Menardus (1645) advocated its genuineness, but the opinion to-day is that Barnabas was not the author. Many scholars today believe it was probably written in Alexandria in 130-131, and addressed to Christian Gentiles.

The author, who formerly labored in the congregation to which he writes, intends to impart to his readers the perfect gnosis that they may perceive that the Christians are the only true covenant people, and that the Jewish people had never been in a covenant with God. His polemics are, above all, directed against Judaizing Christians. In no other writing of that early time is the separation of the Gentile Christians from the patriotic Jews so clearly brought out. The Old Testament, he maintains, belongs only to the Christians. Circumcision and the whole Old Testament sacrificial and ceremonial institution are the devil's work. According to the author's conception, the Old Testament, rightly understood, contains no such injunctions. He is a thorough anti-Judaist, but by no means an antinomist. The main idea is Pauline, and the apostle's doctrine of atonement is more faithfully reproduced in this epistle than in any other postapostolic writing.

The author no doubt had read Paul's epistles; he has a good knowledge of gospel-history but which of the gospels, if any, he had read, can not be asserted. He quotes IV Esdras (12:1) and Enoch (4:3; 16:5). The closing section (chapters 18-21), which contains a series of moral injunctions, is only loosely connected with the body of the epistle, and its true relation to the latter has given rise to much discussion.