Episode 44: O Barnabas!
Examining one of the most fascinating texts from early Christianity
Welcome to ForeverLDS. And welcome, officially, to the new year. Okay, I guess, officially, our last episode with fine artist Derek Hegsted, was my first podcast of 2019, recorded on New Year’s Day in Derek’s basement studio. But I forgot to acknowledge the arrival of the new year. So--!
Okay. Check that off.
Today’s topic is unique, maybe for some, rather peculiar. Several ideas were rattling in my brain and I settled on this. 3 reasons. First, my interview some weeks ago with New Testament scholar Thomas Wayment had me thinking about it. Second, we’re studying the New Testament this year. And third, I just felt like it.
First question some might ask is, “Who is Barnabas?” Most can name at least a few New Testament Apostles: Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, Thomas, Bartholomew. Actually, there are Apostles named in the New Testament even beyond the original 12. Barnabas was one those.
Much like today, whenever there was a vacancy, a new Apostle was called. Matthias, for example, filled the vacancy left by Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:26). Eventually, Paul was called as an Apostle. In fact, Paul and Barnabas might have been ordained the very same day (Acts 14:14, see also Acts 13:1-2).
Barnabas is first mentioned in Acts Chapter 4 (versus 36-37). He was a Levite, meaning he held the Aaronic Priesthood and likely served in the Jersalem Temple, from the island of Cypress. Barnabas sold his lands and donated the proceeds to the Church. He literally abandoned all earthly possessions to support the cause.
He was also instrumental in the life of Saul of Tarsus after his famous vision on the road to Damascus. The other disciples were terrified of Saul—later known, of course, by his Roman name, Paul. He’d earned a fierce reputation by persecuting Christians, rounding them up, committing them to prison, consenting to, and possibly even participating in, the stoning and martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:59-60, 8:1-3).
It was Barnabas who pleaded in Paul’s behalf, convincing the other disciples that Paul’s change of heart was sincere, and to give him a second chance (Acts 9:26-30). If Barnabas hadn’t stepped in at this critical moment, we might today be missing half of the New Testament, written, of course, by Paul.
Barnabas is a little-known hero in Christianity. In a future podcast I’d like to talk about little-known heroes of the Book of Mormon, but today the focus is Barnabas, and his little-known epistle.
Barnabas served as Paul’s first missionary companion and played a vital role in helping assimilate gentile converts by pleading with Church leaders at Jerusalem, alongside Paul, not to force them to live the law of Moses, such as being circumcised (ouch) and adopting the same dietary rules, etc. Certain Jewish coverts to Christ were adamant on the point, claiming to be a good Christian you also had to be a good Jew (Acts 15:1-31). Peter, the current leader of the Church, agreed with Barnabas and Paul. Peter later abolished the law of Moses altogether, declaring that in Christ Jesus the law had been fulfilled.
As I indicated, there’s an ancient epistle in our possession purported to have been written by Barnabas. The oldest version of this comes from the Codex Sinaiticus: a collection of Biblical and extra-Biblical material recovered in the mid-1800s from an old monastery in the deserts of the Sinai. The collection itself dates to about the 4th Century A.D.
Other copies of this epistle existed prior this discovery, and even prior English translations, but there were a few variations in the Codex Sinaiticus, so that’s the version most modern translators prefer.
In fact, I found about 8 different English translations of this epistle online with very little effort. Some of the oldest ones are actually better, meaning the translator was a better writer and the verses made more sense. The earliest English translators also seemed to revere this epistle. Many expressed the opinion that it ought to have been included in the official canon. However, later scholars, dating from about the late 1800s to about 1950, openly despised it, and their enmity is reflected in their translations, emphasizing, in particular, what they considered its anti-Jewish tone. After 1950 that perspective started to change, and the translations reflect it. The anti-Semitic tone was reinterpreted and in most cases just isn’t there. Yup, a translator actually has the ability to incorporate their own bias into a translation.
But unless you did a little deeper in your internet search on this topic, you’ll first read the outdated biases. One translator of the epistle in 2010 wrote:
“Pre-1950 notes on this text do not take into consideration the distinction between Nazoreans, Essenes, Messianics, and Christians, nor do they ever seem to realize that Christianity as they knew it in 1950 did not exist in 70 AD. Most highly regarded information about The Epistle of Barnabas even today uses out-of-date scholarship, ignoring the great bounty of texts and “Middle-Judaisms” that have turned up since the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi Library. Case-in-point: the editor(s) of the Epistle of Barnabas in the Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia seem to be completely unaware of modern scholarship as they advertise old commentaries and annotations, obsolete for decades or centuries. Did they read the same Epistle as we read?” (Dornan, Theodore, The Epistle of Barnabas, Introductory Notes II, 4th Revision, Jan. 6, 2010. http://www.jacksonsnyder.com/yah/manuscript-library/Bar-Nabba-final-021310.pdf.)
So in this episode I’ll read from different translations, identifying especially in the text of this episode on ForeverLDS.com, which translation I’m using. Let me read the first few verses from an 1891 translation by Joseph Lightfoot:
I Bid you greeting, sons and daughters, in the name of the Lord that loved us, in peace. Seeing that the ordinances of God are great and rich unto you, I rejoice with an exceeding great and overflowing joy at your blessed and glorious spirits; so innate is the grace of the spiritual gift that ye have received.
Now I’ll read starting at Barnabas verse 3 from a translation by Kirsopp Lake in 1912:
Wherefore I congratulate myself the more in my hope of salvation, because I truly see in you that the Spirit has been poured out upon you from the Lord, who is rich in his bounty; so that the sight of you, for which I longed, amazed me. Being persuaded then of this, and being conscious that since I spoke among you I have much understanding because the Lord has travelled with me in the way of righteousness, I am above all constrained to this, to love you above my own life, because great faith and love dwell in you in the "hope of his life." I have therefore reckoned that, if I make it my care in your behalf to communicate somewhat of that which I received, it shall bring me the reward of having ministered to such spirits, and I hasten to send you a short letter in order that your knowledge may be perfected along with your faith.
Not bad, right? Sounds like scripture. For several centuries this epistle was scripture, having the same authority as any other New Testament book. Many early Church “Fathers”, meaning Church commentators from the first couple centuries of the common era, AD, considered it authentic, that its author was, indeed, Barnabas, Apostle and missionary companion of Paul. However, as the New Testament was compiled and finally “canonized” around the time of the first counsel of Nicaea, in AD 325, Barnabas didn’t make the cut. Why?
That answer isn’t entirely clear.
Even prior to Nicaean Counsel in 325 AD, the debate about which books ought to be declared “scripture” and which were spurious had already been raging for centuries. Based on common logic, the best argument for rejecting the Epistle of Barnabas was that Barnabas wasn’t one of the original 12 Apostles. I just gave you a synopsis of practically every event where Barnabas is mentioned, mostly in Acts. Paul names him occasionally in his letters. Acts Chapter 11 describes him as “a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith . . . (vs 24)”, but that’s just one verse.
The ecumenical counsels of the “Catholic” or “universal” church—and there were seven of these altogether between 325 and 787 AD—decided the line had be drawn somewhere. Paul wasn’t one of the original 12 Apostles either, but you can’t exclude the epistles of Paul. As I said, that’s half of the New Testament! And you can’t cut Mark and Luke. I mean, they’re gospels! —historical accounts of Christ’s ministry and miracles. Can’t exclude Acts either, which focuses primarily on Paul’s missionary efforts and miracles, and is therefore foundational to the justification for including the Epistles of Paul. Every other book in the New Testament is attributed to an original member of the Counsel of the Twelve. Or to a sibling of Jesus Christ, i.e., James and Jude. The Epistle of Barnabas? Hmm.
Obviously, the canonization process was a mess, riddled by politics and bureaucracy. Even today certain denominations canonize certain books and exclude others. In the end, as far as the Church at Rome, it must have just seemed “cleaner” to exclude Barnabas. Keep in mind, that first counsel at Nicaea, which was convened by the Roman emperor Constantine in an effort to unify the doctrines of approximately 1800 bishops and Church congregations throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Only about 300 of those Bishops even showed up, and remember, the event took place almost three hundred years after the death and resurrection of Christ. That’s longer than the history of the United States.
Anyway, there are admittedly a few other little nagging things that disqualified the epistle of Barnabas. Unlike Paul’s epistles, Barnabas didn’t include his name in the introduction or at the end. It never says where it’s written from or who it’s written to. Who can even say for sure it was written by Barnabas? Common name. Might have been another Barnabas. Not the Apostle Barnabas. At least those were the arguments batted about in the 4th century, and still used today.
It certainly reads like an apostolic epistle, or at least a letter from a very high-ranking first-century Christian leader. Another problem may have been the very last event wherein Barnabas is mention in The Acts of the Apostles. The episode is rather contentious.
Paul and Barnabas had enjoyed so much success as missionaries that Paul asked Barnabas to head out with him again, check up on the various congregations they’d established. Barnabas was all for it, but he insisted that they bring his nephew, John Mark (yup, the same Mark traditionally named as the author of the Gospel of Mark). Paul didn’t like that idea.
Have no illusions. Sure, the people of Lycaonia may have called Paul and Barnabas gods—Zeus and Hermes—but they were still very much human beings. Mark had actually accompanied Barnabas and Paul on a previous missionary journey and wimped out. He deserted them and went home! Paul was still sore about that and didn’t want to take the chance of the same thing happening again. Barnabas, on the other hand (expressing much the same sentiment as he’d had for “Saul the persecutor”) felt that Mark ought to be given a second chance. Besides, Mark was family. None of that mattered to Paul. According to the King James, “the contention was so sharp between [Paul and Barnabas] that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas” and departed by way of Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:36-41).
Later references from Paul’s epistles seem to indicate that all was forgiven (1 Cor. 9:5-6), but whether those references date before or after this rift has been a challenge. It would have been difficult for those who assembled books of the canon to “un-remember” this negative event. Barnabas feuding with Saint Paul? Say it isn’t so! Not a positive end-note for our account of the Apostle Barnabas, and some may have used it to justify rejecting Barnabas’s epistle from the canon.
I first read the Epistle of Barnabas many years ago. I’ve always been fascinated with ancient texts—the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi library, etc. However, no apocryphal text has ever struck me quite as profoundly as the Epistle of Barnabas.
Admittedly, I’m no expert on the New Testament. I don’t speak Greek, Latin, or Hebrew. Maybe if I were to discuss this with Dr. Wayment or some other Bible scholar, they’d go, “What? Of all the ancient texts, that’s the one that impressed you the most? Barnabas? You really need to get out more.” And maybe they’d be right.
What is true is that of all books of the Apocrypha—and I’m talking about the traditional, formal Apocrypha, not more recent discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls—of all these texts, the Epistle of Barnabas is one of the only texts that reliably dates to such an early time period—between about 70 and 135 AD, depending on which scholar you ask, although earlier dates, closer to 70 AD, seem to have gained traction in recent decades. Internal references in the letter mention the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, as well referencing a prophecy in Daniel and applying it to a brief period of Roman unrest known as the “Year of Four Emperors”, or AD 69, wherein Vespasian, the former military commander in Judea, emerged as the triumphant ruler of the Empire (Barn 4:4-5, Hoole).
The Epistle of Barnabas stands virtually independent of any other New Testament writing. After all, the New Testament didn’t exist. It never refer to believers as Christians, reinforcing its early date, and it’s very clear that other organizational formalities of the Church are still in flux.
Scholars who published one the first complete collections of the Apocrypha, published at Oxford in 1820 (the same year, coincidentally, that Joseph Smith was born), said of this epistle, “It lays a greater claim to canonical authority than most other(s) [texts] and was read in the churches at Alexandria, as the canonical scriptures were. It has been cited by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome, and many ancient Fathers.”
It also names numerous scholars of that day who felt it ought to have been included in the official canon, and also a shorter list of those who believed it was apocryphal (The Apocryphal New Testament, trans. Jeremiah Jones, edit. William Hones, William Wake, London, 1820).
Here’s what’s funny. Later commentaries of the epistle read almost like movie reviews on IMDB.
- It’s interpretations of Old Testament scripture are “absurd and trifling” (“The Epistle of Barnabas” in Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. I, Edinburgh, 1867).
- The epistle is “artificial, irritating, and censorious” (Philip Carrington, The Early Christian Church: Volume 1, The First Christian Church, Cambridge University Press 2011, p. 491).
- Its “. . . thought and expression [must be assigned] a very low place”.
- Its verses are “strange to modern ears [and] out of fashion” (Maxwell Staniforth, Andrew Louth, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, Penguin UK, 1987)
- The epistle is “more anti-Jewish than anything that [made it] into the New Testament” (Bart D. Ehrman (2016). Jesus, the Law, and a "New" Covenant, YouTube).
- It too often “paraphrases” Old Testament scripture rather than quoting it verbatim.
The cinematography is juvenile. The costumes ludicrous. The director didn’t understand the script. The special effects are outdated.
In more recent decades, scholars have openly refuted and rejected all of these points. Robert A. Kraft wrote in his 1961 thesis, “There is a certain irony about the way in which some commentators have described the Epistle of Barnabas. On the one hand, its author is accused of being disorganized, unimaginative, and lacking in originality. In almost the next breath, [the epistle] is depicted as rewriting most of the scriptural materials [it] uses, and willfully allegorizing the [Old Testament] to such a degree that its literal meaning vanishes. It is, indeed, a unique author who can fulfill this paradoxical role . . .” (Kraft, Robert Allen, The Epistle of Barnabas: It’s Quotations and its Sources, PhD Thesis, Harvard, 1961). Kraft notes another academic who proclaimed, "The Epistle of Barnabas has no true literary style…little originality…” and its author seems incapable of writing “freely and yet accurately, unconsciously and yet vividly, simply and yet forcefully” then later this same scholar writes that the epistle demonstrates "the greatest freedom imaginable in his use of the Jewish canon…capable of altering the text in order to make a passage reveal more clearly what he believes to be the true sense…” and that its author is “free to interpret [its] real meaning..." (Muilenburg, James, Ph.D., The Literary Relations of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Marburg, Germany, 1929).
Personally, I find it extraordinary. No, I’m not saying the Restored Church should add the Epistle of Barnabas to the canon. Joseph Smith already addressed that question in section 91:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly;
2 There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men.
3 Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated.
4 Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth;
5 And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;
6 And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen.
According to our 8th Article of Faith, this same advice applies to every book in the Bible. Or as Joseph Smith explained: "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 327). For maximum benefit we have always been advised to seek the enlightenment of the Spirit (2 Tim 3:13-17).
For me, the silliness of many books in the Apocrypha is immediately obvious. Seems like someone is always being raised from the dead or being cursed by God and dying on the spot. Barnabas is different.
Let me read a little more, and as say, refer to the text on ForeverLDS to identify which translation I’m reading. It can get a little confusing because some translators divide the chapters and verses differently. Some don’t divide them at all but leave it as one solid chunk, ’cause I guess that’s how it was in the original Greek. Still, I’ll do my best to help those who wish to follow along.
Here’s my point. If the Epistle of Barnabas had been included in the Bible, it would have helped settle many points of doctrine still debated today. Barnabas addresses the pre-existence of Christ. (Barn 6:9, Lightfoot), the proper conduct of baptism by immersion, (Barn 10:14, Jones), the appropriate day for believers to keep the Sabbath (Barn 15, Hoole). It presents a clear and unmistakable condemnation of the practice of abortion (Barn 14:11, Jones), as well as condemning certain sexual perversions, which are too blunt to mention here. You’ll have to look those up yourself (Barn 9:7-9, Jones, 19:4, Snyder- Dornan).
Today we have about a dozen independent ancient copies of this epistle, as well as many incomplete fragments. And, as I indicated, the wording is sometimes different. Some might say, “Well, no wonder it wasn’t included in the Bible if the words themselves vary in different texts”, except that most canonical books have the same problem. For example, some of the earliest texts of the Gospel of John omit the story of the woman caught in adultery. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s hard to imagine the story of Jesus Christ without that episode.
For many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as other protestants and evangelicals the tradition has been, “Stick with the King James Version from 1611. That the most correct version. That’s the one you can rely on” except, if you listened to my podcast a few weeks ago with Dr. Thomas Wayment, you’ll understand why this isn’t necessarily true.
The oldest copy we have of the Book of Isaiah, for example, is from the Dead Sea Scrolls. And some of the verses read differently than they do in the King James. Newer translations of the Bible, such as the New Revised Standard Version (or NRSV), have tried to incorporate those differences.
As an aside, it’s sort of ironic that many of today’s conservative evangelicals are now so dogmatic about sticking with the KJV since many of these same denominations adamantly opposed it when first published, declaring that the only “true” translation of holy writ was the Geneva Bible, published in 1560. This was the version known to Shakespeare and brought to America by the Pilgrims. For some groups, it took several centuries for them to fully embrace the King James Version.
A common objection made against the Epistle of Barnabas, particularly by scholars from about 1880 to 1950, was that it was too anti-Jewish. This same criticism is commonly used today against the Gospel of Matthew. The Epistle of Barnabas was obviously written in a place and time when the very struggle described in Acts wherein Jewish converts insisted that gentiles converts keep the law of Moses was alive and well. It was written at a time when many believers considered Jews and Christians part of the same true religious tradition, disagreeing only on the Messiah and how the Atonement had altered this religion’s practice and perspectives. Barnabas had always been on the front lines of that conflict. Peter’s revelation that the Law of Moses had ended didn’t resolve these conflicts overnight. They lingered for decades, even generations. One sect called the Ebionites continued to believe in Christ and practice the law of Moses well into the 5th and 6th centuries.
Every missionary and Apostle who proselytized in a city with a large Jewish population would have faced this problem. During this same time period more Jews lived outside of Judea than inside. Massive Jewish communities existed in Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, Cypress—all over the Mediterranean, and beyond. Therefore, the philosophical struggle against so-called Judaizing Christians, as well as traditional Jews who’d rejected Jesus Christ, needed to be continually reinforced. It’s called pride. The only modern comparison I could think of—and even this one is fading and becoming outdated—would be Latter-day Saints from Utah, or Latter-day Saints with pioneer ancestry—feeling somewhat superior to converts from entirely different regions or cultures.
As a Levite, Barnabas would have been well versed in the Old Testament, and the Epistle of Barnabas reflects this. His objective would have been to provide his flock with the all the rhetorical tools and arguments they needed. Yet his emphasis, exactly like today, was that such ideas needed to be taught with love and patience.
The epistle itself is 10,000 words. I’d love to read it all, but you’d fall asleep. Still, I’ll focus on a few key sections, such as this interesting verse that discusses the Second Coming (Barn 7:9, Hoole).
“…they shall see him in that day, who had the scarlet robe about his flesh, and they shall say, Is not this he whom once we set at naught and crucified, and spat upon and pierced? Truly this was he who at that time said that he was the Son of God.
The same idea can be found in Doctrine and Covenants 45:51-53. And then shall the Jews look upon me and say: What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet? Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God. And then shall they weep because of their iniquities; then shall they lament because they persecuted their king.
Again in Revelation 1:7: Behold he cometh with clouds and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him, and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.
Again in Zacharias 12:10 and 13:6: . . . and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.
Barnabas includes the concept of a scarlet robe, described as part of the Savior’s apparent at the second coming in other verses (D&C 133:48), as well as reminding us of other abuses heaped upon Jesus. A fresh emphasis. An independent thought, exactly as we’d expect from an Apostle of God.
Where Barnabas is often considered to have really gone off the rails is his explanation of the symbolism behind the dietary restrictions of the law of Moses. These ideas can be found in other noncanonical sources, but not in the Bible. As members of the Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we accept and understand that the rites and ordinances of the law of Moses were all meant to symbolize doctrines and principles of Christ and the Atonement. It was to prepare the children of for living “higher law” of Christ, which Moses actually tried to give them on the first set of tablets he carried down off the mount but smashed them when he saw the golden calf. Moses's second set of plates was always considered the “lesser” or “preparatory” law.
Still, many have asked, what did not eating pork have to do with preparing the Jews for living a “higher law”? What was the symbolism behind that? Why consume only animals with cloven hooves? What was wrong with eating octopus, or ravens, or rabbits? Watch a few survival shows on cable and you soon learn all these animals are perfectly edible. So what was the point? What were these rules about clean and unclean animals supposed to teach?
Barnabas spells all that out. Trouble is, his explanations aren’t in the Bible. In spite of this, the symbolism he describes is actually rather profound. According to Barnabas, these rules aren’t random at all. Each one is tied to a specific doctrinal/spiritual lesson. For example, pork.
From Barnabas Chapter 9 (Lightfoot): Accordingly [Moses] mentioned the swine with this intent. Thou shalt not cleave, saith he, to such men who are like unto swine; that is, when they are in luxury they forget the Lord, but when they are in want they recognize the Lord, just as the swine when it eateth knoweth not his lord, but when it is hungry it crieth out, and when it has received food again it is silent.
Ahhh, so it finally makes sense! Swine represent those who live for pleasure and only turn to God when they’re hungry, or when things aren’t going so well. Then, as soon as things change, as soon as they get better, they stop praying again and again forget about God. Worth pondering.
So why not eat certain birds? Here’s from Barnabas Chapter 10 (Lake):
Neither shalt thou eat the eagle nor the hawk nor the kite nor the crow. Thou shalt not, he means, join thyself or make thyself like unto such men, as do not know how to gain their food by their labour and sweat, but plunder other people's property in their iniquity, and lay wait for it, though they seem to walk in innocence, and look round to see whom they may plunder in their covetousness, just as these birds alone provide no food for themselves, but sit idle, and seek how they may devour the flesh of others, and become pestilent in their iniquity.
Again, such birds are perfectly edible, if you’re hungry enough. The rationale has nothing to with health. For Barnabas, it’s what these animals represent. They’re scavengers, taking advantage of the labor of others. They’re lazy. Now, don’t get too caught up in the biology or zoology. It’s always been my impression that eagles and hawks worked pretty hard, but they certainly won’t hesitate to steal a meal from other animals, or even humans, when they can. Again, the reason such animals weren’t consumed was meant to be instructive. It was based on what they symbolized.
What about eels, and other ocean fare without scales. Barnabas writes (9:6, Jones):
Neither . . . will you eat the lamprey, nor the polypus (meaning octopus or squid), nor the cuttle-fish; that is, you must not become like such men, by being used to conversing with them, who are altogether wicked and adjudged to death. For so these fishes are alone accursed, and wallow in the mire, and do not swim [at the surface] as other fishes, but tumble in the dirt at the bottom of the deep.
Not quite sure about the practical application of all that, but Barnabas’s audience would have understood. I interpret it to mean don’t seeks out worldly company—“wallows in the mire”—whether for social reasons or just to fit in. Unavoidably, some of that mud gets on you.
Why not eat hares or rabbit? According to Barnabas (Foakes-Jackson, 2011):
Neither shalt thou eat of the hare. To what end? To signify this to us: You must not be an adulterer, nor be like such persons. For the hare every year multiplies the places of its conception; and so many years as it lives, so many it has.
Some translators have admitted that this is a really different verse in Greek. One translator didn’t even try to translate it. Just left it in Greek. Here’s another effort (10:6, Kraft):
But also eat not the rough-footed one (which in Greek means hare or rabbit, which may have a split hoof, but doesn’t chew the cud. Biology’s a little complex, but . . . yeah.) Why? Do not, he says, be one who seduces children, nor be like such ones, because the hare yearly increases unduly the voiding of excrement for as many years as it lives, it has that many holes.
Okay, we’re obviously talking about sexual sin—promiscuity, pedophilia. The kind of stuff I didn’t want to get into. The point is that for Barnabas it had nothing to do with rabbit meat being unhealthy.
Barnabas also spells out why the Jews were commanded not to eat hyenas(10:7), which is strange, ‘cause this animal isn’t even mentioned in the Bible, yet he teaches as if this prohibition is common knowledge to his audience. Barnabas is often criticized because early translations suggest he didn’t understand the actual biology or phylogenetical nature of the species. More recent translations make the verse metaphorical, not literal. Either way, it does nothing to water down what the prohibition symbolizes, which I won’t get into here. Not because we can’t find plenty of verses in the official canon that aren’t just as blunt. Just…look that one up for yourself. I like Snyder and Dornan’s translation (2010).
So that’s some the symbolism behind unclean animals—and keep in mind, Barnabas explains that these rules are no longer in effect. He just wants his audience to understand the rationale, presumably so they can intelligently discuss the doctrine with any Jews who confront them. However, what’s the symbolism behind animals you could eat? Or that were declared “clean”. Barnabas writes (10:11, Lightfoot).
Again Moses saith; Ye shall [eat] everything that divideth the hoof and cheweth the cud. What meaneth he? He that receiveth the food
knoweth Him that giveth him the food, and being refreshed appeareth to rejoice in him. Well said he, having regard to the commandment.
What then meaneth he? Cleave unto those that fear the Lord, with those who meditate in their heart on the distinction of the word
which they have received, with those who tell of the ordinances of the Lord and keep them, with those who know that meditation is a work
of gladness and who chew the cud of the word of the Lord. But why that which divideth the hoof? Because the righteous man both walketh
in this world, and at the same time looketh for the holy world to come.
Wow. So cows are okay—and sheep, and goats—because chewing the cud represents gratitude and mediation on God’s word. That’s kinda cool. Barnabas credits Moses with this teaching, declaring, Ye see now how wise a lawgiver Moses was. One problem. It’s not in the Bible. Where exactly did Moses, or any other prophet, teach this? Where’s it found? In some Rabbinical or Levitical text that’s been lost. We don’t know.
Similar ideas were written by Philo, Clement of Alexandria, Serapion of Thmuis, Eliazar, Aristeas, Plutarch, Theseas, Theophilus, Josephus, Asher, Plato, Darius, Strabo, and other ancient figures, some not even Jewish, just offering commentary on Jewish beliefs.
However, according to Barnabas, all that was abolished, because after the coming of Christ, (2:9-10, Hoole): The sacrifice unto God is a broken heart; a smell of sweet savour unto the Lord is a heart that glorifieth him that made it. We ought, therefore, brethren, to examine accurately concerning our salvation, lest the evil one, making an entrance among us, should draw us away from our life.
Compare that with 3 Nephi 12:19 wherein the Savior says: And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.
Barnabas presents a fascinating perspective on the Sabbath. He writes in Chapter 15 (Hoole): And God made in six days the works of his hands, and finished them on the seventh day, and rested in it and sanctified it. Consider, my children, what signify the words, He finished them in six days. They mean this: that in six thousand years the Lord will make an end of all things, for a day is with him as a thousand years. And he himself beareth witness unto me, saying: Behold this day a day shall be as a thousand years…After that his Son hath come, and hath caused to cease the time of the wicked one, and hath judged the ungodly, and changed the sun and the moon and the stars, then shall he rest well on the seventh day. …but all things have been made new by the Lord… The sabbaths, that now are, are not acceptable unto me, but … I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, which thing is the beginning of another world. (Foakes-Jackson) 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.
Okay, a little hard to follow, but not too bad. I trimmed some verses. If you’re interested, you can always read the whole thing in context, although I recommend different translations, because the first part of this can really vary. Essentially, Barnabas is saying, God made the earth in six days and rested the seventh day, and sanctified that day as the Sabbath. He then restates the same idea found in 2 Peter 3:8, that the Lord’s reckoning of a day is to us a thousand years. I don’t believe that’s literal. I think it’s a figurative way to say God and man don’t measure time the same way. I take it in the same spirit as Psalms 90:3-4, but take it however you want. The best insight on time found in the scriptures, and even the concept of Special Relativity, is found, I believe, in Abraham Chapter 3.
Interestinly, Barnabas declares that the original idea of the Sabbath—and the sanctification of the 7th day, has not ended. We, simply, presently, are unable to live it, because we’re not pure enough in heart. He seems to suggest that at the end of times, after we and the earth have been purified and sanctified, the original Sabbath on the 7th day will be reinstated.
In any case, interpreting the final verses of this chapter seem unmistakable. (Lightfoot) I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world. Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into the heavens.
This might be the most profound argument I’ve ever heard for why the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday. Rather than looking back to the 7th day, when the Lord rested, Christains are now directed to celebrate or reverence the 8th day in anticipation of the new heaven and the new earth. The practical application of keeping the Sabbath holy hasn’t changed, but the rational for what it symbolizes may have adjusted. Or expanded. However you want to look at it.
Now we come to Chapter 15, Verse 11. This is from the earliest translation I found from 1820 (Jones): Thou shalt not destroy thy conceptions before they are brought forth; nor kill them after they are born.
I didn’t even know abortions could be medically performed in that era. Apparently, they could. And Barnabas leaves us no doubt as to his opinion.
Here’s Lightfoot’s translation. (19:5) Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion, nor again shalt thou kill it when it is born.
Again, from Kirsopp Lake, Thou shalt not procure abortion, thou shalt not commit infanticide.
This is from the most recent translation I found, by Snyder and Dornan in 2010: You will not murder a child by abortion nor destroy it after it is born.
The meaning is plain and unmistakable. Oh, Barnabas! If only that line had made it into the canon. Either from you or some other Bible prophet or Apostle. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of lives might have been spared. But now my personal politics are slipping into the podcast. Oh well.
The last few chapters of Barnabas are often compared to an apocryphal work called the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles: a collection of so-called “wise sayings” from early Christianity. The two have been exhaustively compared online, and there are so many dissimilarities that I’m not sure why some decided it was the same document. The Didache is obviously dependent upon the exact text of canonical gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount, while the other is wholly independent. Besides, many doctrines in the Didache are, well, a little twisted. Or just plain wrong (see Didache Ch. 7:2-7, Ch. 9, Ch. 11, etc.). Barnabas, to me, just exudes a different spirit.
Sit back, just for a minute, as I read the last couple chapters. They’re short, I promise. Just relish a bit of 2000-year-old wisdom. Is it scripture? I dunno? But it’s certainly wisdom. Again I switch in and out of different translations. If you’re interested, follow along on ForeverLDS.
(Snyder and Dornan) There are two roads of instruction and authority – one of light and the other of darkness. There is a great gulf between the two roadways.
(Lake) For over the one are set light-bringing angels of God, but over the other angels of Satan. And the one is Lord from eternity and to eternity, and the other is the ruler of the present time of iniquity.
The Way of Light is this: if any man desire to journey to the appointed place, let him be zealous in his works. Therefore the knowledge given to us of this kind that we may walk in it is as follows:
Thou shalt love thy maker, thou shalt fear thy Creator, thou shalt glorify Him who redeemed thee from death, thou shalt be simple in heart, and rich in spirit; thou shalt not join thyself to those who walk in the way of death, thou shalt hate all that is not pleasing to God, thou shalt hate all hypocrisy; thou shalt not desert the commandments of the Lord.
Thou shalt not exalt thyself, but shall be humble-minded in all things; thou shalt not take glory to thyself. Thou shalt form no evil plan against thy neighbour, thou shalt not let thy soul be contrary and unmanagable.
Be not one who stretches out the hands to take, and shuts them when it comes to giving. Thou shalt love, as the apple of thine eye, all who speak to thee the word of the Lord.
Thou shalt remember the day of judgment day and night, and thou shalt seek each day the society of the saints, either labouring by speech, and going out to exhort, and striving to save souls by the word, or working with thine hands for the ransom of thy sins.
Thou shalt not hesitate to give, and when thou givest thou shalt not grumble, but thou shalt know who is the good paymaster of thy reward.
Thou shalt keep the precepts which thou hast received, adding nothing and taking nothing away. Thou shalt utterly hate evil. Thou shalt give righteous judgment.
(Jones) You must never cause divisions, but make peace between those that are at variance, and bring them together. You must confess your sins and not come to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.
But the Way of the Black One is crooked and full of cursing, for it is the way of death eternal with punishment, and in it are the things that destroy the soul: idolatry, (Snyder-Dornan) recklessness, arrogance of power, hypocrisy, (Lightfoot) doubleness of heart, adultery, murder, plundering, pride, transgression, fraud, malice, (Snyder-Dornan), witchcraft, sorcery, (Lightfoot) covetousness, absence of the fear of God;
(Lake) It is good therefore that he who has learned the ordinances of the Lord as many as have been written should walk in them. For he who does these things shall be glorified in the kingdom of God, and he who chooses the others shall perish with his works. For this reason there is a resurrection, for this reason there is a recompense.
(Roberts-Donaldson) I beseech those who are (Hoole) of high-estate among you, (Roberts-Donaldson) if you will receive any counsel of my good-will, have among yourselves those to whom you may show kindness: do not forsake them.
(Lake) I beseech you again and again be good lawgivers to each other, remain faithful counsellors of each other, remove from yourselves all hypocrisy. And may God, who ruleth the whole world, give you wisdom, understanding, science, knowledge of his ordinances, and patience.
(Jones) Be taught by God; seek what it is the Lord requires of you, and do it, so that you may be saved in the day of judgment. And if there is any remembrance among you of what is good, think of me by meditating on these things, so that both my wishes and my watching for you may turn to a good account.
I beg you, I ask it as a favor of you, that while you are in this beautiful vessel of the body, (Lake) fail not in any of these things, but seek them out without ceasing, and fulfil all the commandments, (Jones) for these things are proper and worthy to be done. Wherefore I have diligently written to you, according to my ability, that you might be glad and rejoice. Farewell, children, in love and peace.
May the Lord of glory and of all grace be with your spirit, Amen.
So is this really the voice of Barnabas, missionary companion of Paul, Apostle of God? Who can say? The dating is right. Personally, I can’t find anything in the epistle that sends up the red flag of false doctrine. In other apocryphal texts, red flags are everywhere. Still, there are different versions of this epistle, so the 8th Article of Faith still applies.
To reiterate from the Doctrine and Covenants (91:4-5): “…whoso readeth [the Apocrypha] let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom.
As for whether I was enlightened by the Spirit as I read it, I really can’t say. All I know is that I personally find the Epistle of Barnabas enlightening.
I want to thank you joining me today on ForeverLDS. Thank you for listening. May God bless your life and the lives of the ones you love and particularly those who desperately need your service and prayers.
Stay close to the Lord. If you don’t feel as close to the Lord today as you did yesterday—if you feel as if the adversary is creeping in—fight. Reach out. Ask God to guide back you back to the place you were yesterday, into His eternal embrace.
Feel free to add comments on ForeverLDS.com for this or any other episode. I don’t look every day to see if new comments have been posted, but I do get around to them, eventually.
So until next time, have a glorious two weeks.
This is Chris Heimerdinger. And this is ForeverLDS.