Português: Icone neo-Bizantino de São Barnabé (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It may be something of an overstatement to see the three books we are studying this week (for Sunday School) as showcasing the breadth of early Christian thought as centered in geographic locations. Ideally, I would like to say the Epistle of Barnabas hails from Alexandria, Clement’s epistle from Rome, and the Didache coming from the Antioch-Jerusalem vortex. I will stick something with the ideal, although understand if I am pressed to support the location of Barnabas.
I guess one of the reasons I would place Barnabas in Alexandria is the affinity shares with the Epistle to the Hebrews as well as an early tradition assigning to Barnabas the authorship of the canonical epistle. Beyond that, there is some surface allegorizing (see chapter IX about the name of Jesus) I would place in the intellectual vicinity of Philo and St. Mark’s Alexandria.
One of the striking parts of this book is the author’s stance against ‘the Jews.’ He is almost Marcionite/Valentinus in his duality of the Law and the Gospel, of the Old and New Covenants. In chapter IV, he writes,
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.
It seems he believes the Law never really existed as beneficial, but was sorely misunderstood. This is a way of looking at Paul, no doubt, when the Apostle speaks of the Law as our schoolmaster. However, as I read it, Barnabas is rather stating that from Moses to Jesus everything was simply wrong and not, instead as the Apostolic witness would have it, a progressive revelation.
Several of his statements on salvation is rather Wesleyan. He writes in the first chapter of ‘being saved’ by growing in knowledge (the true gnosis) while in chapter V he writes, “This means that the man perishes justly, who, having a knowledge of the way of righteousness, rushes off into the way of darkness.”
Barnabas several times says the covenant is ours (i.e. Christians) and not the Jews.
In chapter XV, Barnabas writes,
This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years.
Note, 2 Peter 3.8 says this, but both are likely quoting Psalm 90.4. Oddly enough, unlike today’s eisegesis wherein 6,000 years is still yet to arrive, Barnabas ends the first/old world at the resurrection of Jesus:
Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens.
The first part of the epistles with declaring the Church is the new Temple — having previously declared the destruction of the Temple as God’s finalization of the New Covenant.
The second part looks rather like the Didache with it’s ‘Two Ways.’ One is light and the other dark.
What might we say about the anti-Semitism of Barnabas? Is it really as such or is this about ancient identities as we see in Romans 2 and John?
Barnabas quotes Matthew 20.16 at the end of chapter IV. Plus, he speaks to the two ways prevalent in the Didache and muted in Matthew.
His interpretive models of the OT has stayed with Christians for quite a while — everything points to Christ. Everything is somehow an allegory of Christianity. Academically, I find this quite impossible and unfair, divorcing it from the Semitic foundation. As a Christian, I am still rather opposed to this. I would rather see it in the Matthean sense – where Jesus completes the words of the prophets and the story of Israel by re-enacting them.