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St. Barnabas 34. The Letter of Barnabas.

Letter of Barnabas
We have from the Early Church a treatise called The Letter of Barnabas. The early Church was unanimous in believing this was authored by St. Barnabas himself, but modern scholarship does not believe Barnabas was the author. It appears to have been written between about 70-130 AD. The text has always been respected, sometimes treated as canonical Scripture and read at Mass (before the canon was defined). It is still read today in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings. The letter begins:

“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 honored 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.”

The author, perhaps it was Barnabas, perhaps a disciple or another, speaks of seeing “fruits of righteousness,” of them having received “the engrafted spiritual gift,” and that he does “truly perceive in you the Spirit poured forth.” [1] Wouldn’t that be a blessing to hear that said of us today? 

The text interprets great portions of the Old Testament in spiritual, typological, and allegorical ways, showing that all the events and institutions of the OT find their meaning in Christ. [2] Then it ends by contrasting the way of light with the way of darkness. The letter says the way of light is as follows:  

“You shall love Him that created you; you shall glorify Him that redeemed you from death. You shall be simple in heart, and rich in spirit. You shall not join yourself to those who walk in the way of death. You shall hate doing what is unpleasing to God; you shall hate all hypocrisy. 

“You shall not forsake the commandments of the Lord. You shall not exalt yourself, but shall be of a lowly mind. You shall not take glory to yourself. You shall not take evil counsel against your neighbor. You shall not allow over-boldness to enter into your soul. You shall not commit fornication: you shall not commit adultery: you shall not be a corrupter of youth. You shall not let the word of God issue from your lips with any kind of impurity....

“ You shall be meek; you shall be peaceable.... You shall not be mindful of evil against your brother.... You shall love your neighbor more than your own soul. 

“You shall not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shall you destroy it after it is born.... You shall not covet what is your neighbor's, nor shall you be avaricious. You shall not be joined in soul with the haughty, but you shall be reckoned with the righteous and lowly.

“As far as possible, you shall be pure in your soul. Do not be ready to stretch forth your hands to take, while you contract them to give.... You shall confess your sins. You shall not go to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.”

We can see these are simple words, based on the Ten Commandments, on Natural Law which every person knows in his conscience, and on Jesus’ teachings.

Dibby Allan Green
[1] The entire text quoted is from The Epistle of Barnabas,, accessed 12/21/21.
[2] Milton Walsh, Witness of the Saints, Patristic Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), p. 75.

Additional Background Information
The Letter of Barnabas gained high authority in the ancient church, so much so that the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus [] binds it in with the New Testament books immediately after the Apocalypse of John. It did not manage to keep its place in the New Testament canon, but it has always been regarded from early times as written by Barnabas, the apostolic companion of St. Paul. It was part of the Codes Hierosolymitanus, written in the year 1056, which was rediscovered ... in the library of the Jerusalem patriarchate in 1875: the [p. 68] same codes that contained the Didache and the first letter of Clement ....” John Anthony McGuckin, The Path of Christianity, the First Thousand Years (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), p. 67-68. More recent scholarship, however, dates the letter roughly between 70 AD (after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple) and about 130 AD [McGuckin, ibid., p. 69], thus questioning the actual authorship by St. Barnabas as most believe he died prior to 70 AD. However, others believe he died in 76 AD and was the true author of the Letter. Schmid, Bernard, OSB, Manual of Patrology, 2 ed., revised by V. J. Schobel (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder, 1899), p. 69.

There is no internal evidence in the Letter of its authorship. “External testimony, without a dissenting voice, ascribes it to Barnabas, the companion of Paul. But this testimony, although unanimous, is neither very string nor very extensive.” Clement of Alexandria “expressly and frequently ascribes it to Barnabas,” Origin [considering it Scripture] “quotes from the epistle twice, calling it the Epistle of Barnabas,” and Jerome “(de vir. ill. 6) evidently did not doubt its authenticity, but placed it nevertheless among the apocrypha, and his opinion prevailed down to the seventeenth century.”... “When we come to internal testimony, the arguments are conclusive against ‘the Levite Barnabas’ as the author of the epistle.... ,” though there have been an occasional scholar who still consider his authorship “highly probable.” but scholars generally do not accept Barnabas’ authorship.”
 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [NPNF], Series II, Vol. 1, fn. 798 on p.326, in reference to “The Acts of the Apostles,” of Book III, Ch. 25, §4, of Eusebius, Church History. Introduction to The Letter to the Hebrews, The Didache Bible, Ignatius Bible Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), P. 1636. See also Bardenhewer, Otto, Patrology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, reprint of 2nd Ed., by Thomas J. Shahan, St. Louis, MO: B. Herder, 1908) p.22-25.

The Fourth Century “Codex Sinaiticus ranks the Epistle among the canonical books of the New Testaments and lists it immediately after the Apocalypse of St. John.” Clement of Alexandria attributes to Barnabas; Origin “numbers it among the books of Sacred Scripture. Eusebius relegates it to the controverted writings and Jerome counts it among the apocryphal works. Modern research has definitely established that the Apostle Barnabas was not the author of this Letter ....” “The work is also extant in a Latin translation dating back to the third century,” although portions are missing. Quasten, Johannes, Patrology, Vol. 1 (Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1995, first published 1950), pp. 85-92.

Originally published in the print edition of the Mojave Desert News  dated December 30, 2021.

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Dibby Allan Green has a BA in Religious Studies (Westmont College, 1978) and MA in Theology (Augustine Institute, 2019), is a lay Catholic hermit, and a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.