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The Gospel of Barnabas

Accurate account of Jesus' life, or a medieval forgery?

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About Barnabas:

Barnabas was a major leader in the early Pauline Christian movement:

bulletActs 4:36 identifies Barnabas as an early Pauline Christian leader who was Jewish,  a Levite from Cyprus.
bulletActs 9:26-27 describes Paul's initial trip to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles. However, they were afraid of him because they did not believe that he had his persecution of Christians and had converted to Christianity. Barnabas personally brought Paul to the apostles and supported Paul's claim to have seen Jesus in a vision and to have accepted Christianity.
bulletActs 11:22 describes how the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to check the status of missionary work there.
bulletActs 11:25 describes how Barnabas met with Paul in Tarsus and brought him to Antioch where they both performed missionary activity.
bulletActs 13 lists the teachers and prophets at Antioch, including Barnabas. It describes how Barnabas and Paul later went to Seleucia, Cyprus and Salamis.
bulletActs 14 describes Paul and Barabas' evangelizing activities in Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga and Attalia, including serious persecution that they experienced in Iconium.
bulletActs 15 covers Barnabas and Paul's trip to Jerusalem to settle a conflict over whether male Gentiles had to be circumcised if they wished to become Christians. They described to the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem "the miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles" during their missionary trips. Barnabas and Paul later returned to Antioch with Silas and Judas.
bulletActs 15:35 - 41 describes a dispute between Paul and Barnabas over whether they should take John Mark with them on a multi-city tour. They resolved the conflict by splitting their missionary group in two: Barnabas and Mark sailed to Cyprus; Paul and Silas went to Syria and Cilicia.
bulletBarnabas is also mentioned in Galatians 2:9 and 2:13.

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Confusion of the Gospel and the Epistle of Barnabas:

The Gospel of Barnabas is often confused with the Epistle of Barnabas.

bulletThe Gospel of Barnabas is a description of alleged activities and teachings by Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ). In contrast with the canonical gospels, it repeatedly portrays Jesus as fully human, as a prophet, and not as the Son of God. Many of the events described in the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) appear in the Gospel of Baranabas. Also unlike the canonical gospels, it records long and involved conversations between Jesus with his disciples. However, it also mentions that Muhammad would later emerge as a prophet of greater stature than Jesus. This is a strange teaching for a gospel allegedly written in the first century CE, about a half a millennia before Muhammad's birth.

Opinions differ greatly concerning the authenticity of the gospel: whether it was actually authored by Barnabas, an early church leader during the first century CE, or whether it is a medieval forgery perhaps dating from the fourteenth century.
bulletThe Epistle of Barnabas is an anti-Judaic letter whose existence was mentioned by Clement of Alexandria circa 190 CE which may or may not have been written by the Barnabas mentioned in the book of Acts.

Barnabas 16:3 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Barnabas 16:4 expresses the anticipated reconstruction of the temple. Those hopes were dashed when Hadrian built a Pagan temple on the site circa 135 CE. Thus the epistle was apparently written between these two dates. Most commentators suggest it was dated between 80 and 120 CE -- that is, in roughly the same time frame as the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John. 1

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Text of the Gospel of Barnabas:

The Gospel begins with a scene which is parallel to the Gospel of Matthew: Mary and Joseph were engaged. Mary was both pregnant and a virgin. Joseph was considering quietly severing the relationship. An angel appeared to Joseph telling him that Mary will give birth to Jesus who is specifically defined as a "prophet of God" -- i.e. a normal human being who was not divine, but who had a major religious and spiritual role in their future. 2

After Jesus is born, shepherds appear in the Gospel of Barnabas as in Luke; magi appear as in Matthew. The family flees to Egypt, as in Matthew, and later return to the Galilee. While on a Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, his parents lost track of him, and later found him discussing the Torah with the priests.

There is no indication that he visited or joined with John the Baptizer. Instead, at the age of 30, he had a vision in which the angel Gabriel presented a book to him which "descended into the heart of Jesus." He became instantly knowledgeable about the actions and wishes of God, apparently including the future arrival of Muhammad -- the final prophet who would be even greater than Jesus.

Jesus then left his mother to start his ministry. He is described as performing miracle healings and teaching the public. After a 40 day fast without food or drink, he returned to Jerusalem and selected twelve followers, whom he called apostles. Jesus mentioned that God had sent 144,000 prophets to Earth. In an apparent reference to Muhammad, Jesus said that the "Splendor of all the prophets and holy ones" will arrive in the future; he will be referred to as the messenger of God.

Jesus and his disciples met ten lepers whom Jesus healed. They acknowledged that Jesus was a "man like us, but yet an holy one of God and a prophet of the Lord." They ask Jesus to pray to God so that God will heal them. Jesus appears to be portrayed as a person without any miraculous powers. He can only pray that God will perform miracles.

The incident in Matthew 15:22-28 between Jesus and a Canaanite woman -- which is also found in Mark 7:25-30 where the woman is described as a Greek/Syrophenician -- is described differently from Mark and Matthew. Jesus is said to have verbally attacked uncircumcised Christians and Pagans. He is quoted as saying: "Verily I say unto you that a dog is better than an uncircumcised man." (A dog was a despised animal in Judea during the first Century CE and remains so to the present time in much of the Middle East.

The Gospel of Barnabas includes material similar to the passages in Luke 10 in which Jesus tells the lawyer what he must do to inherit eternal life, and the subsequent parable of the Good Samaritan. Many other passages from the synoptic gospels are also included, such as the healing of the Centurion's "boy," the Lord's Prayer, the Transfiguration, the parable of the vineyard, Jesus preaching on a boat near the shore of the sea of Galilee, etc. The Gospel of Barnabas agrees with the Gospel of John as having Jesus' ministry lasting three years. This is in conflict with the synoptic gospels who imply that it was of one year duration.

Some of the more remarkable chapters include:

bullet#39 in which Adam sees writing in the sky "There is only one God, and Mohammed is the messenger of God."
bullet#41 in which Adam sees the same phrase over the gate to the Garden of Eden as he and Eve are ejected.
bullet#42 in which Jesus specifically states that he is not the Messiah, or a reincarnation of Elijah or Jeremiah. Instead he is a "...voice that crieth through all Judea, and crieth: 'Prepare ye the way for the messenger of the Lord'." The messenger referred to is Muhammad who was expected to appear in Jesus' future. Muhammad "...shall bring the words of truth....so that his faith shall have no end." This appears to be a reference to Islam.
bullet#43 in which God tells Abraham "Behold, in thy seed I will bless all the tribes of the earth..." However, this passage refers to the descendents of Abraham through Ishmael, not Isaac. That is, God gave the promise to Arabs, not Jews.
bullet#53 in which Jesus curses "...every one who shall insert into my sayings that I am the son of God."
bullet#70: After Peter identified Jesus as "Christ, son of God," Jesus responded: "Begone and depart from me, because thou art the devil." To the remaining eleven disciples, he said: "Woe to you if ye believe this, for I have won from God a great curse against those who believe this." Jesus is apparently described as willing to use black magic against those who believe that he is the son of God.
bullet214 to 218: Judas offers to betray Jesus to the priests for thirty pieces of gold. But when Judas approached Jesus with the soldiers, God "...commanded Gabriel, Michael, Rafael, and Uriel, his ministers, to take Jesus out of the world" up to the third heaven. God then altered Judas' speech and appearance so that he appeared to be Jesus. The soldiers mistook Judas for Jesus. "...they led him to Mount Calvary, where they used to hang malefactors, and there they crucified him naked, for the greater ignominy. Judas truly did nothing else but cry out: 'God, why hast thou forsaken me, seeing the malefactor hath escaped and I die unjustly?'." The disciples later stole the body of Judas from the tomb where it was placed, and propagated the lie that Jesus had been resurrected.

By this point, it is quite obvious to even the casual reader that the Gospel of Barnabas heavily favors Islam over Judaism and Christianity, and Muhammad over Jesus.

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Is the Gospel of Barnabas legitimate?

Islam teaches that the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) have become extensively corrupted since the time that they were first written down. Some Muslims believe that the Gospel of Barnabas is an accurate description of Jesus' teachings and life events, whereas the canonical gospels are seriously distorted.

The Sabr Foundation is one Muslim source that supports the legitimacy of this gospel. It is widely quoted elsewhere on the Internet. They comment:

"The Gospel of Barnabas was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the Churches of Alexandria till 325 C.E. In 325 C.E., the Nicene Council was held, where it was ordered that all original Gospels in Hebrew script should be destroyed. An Edict was issued that any one in possession of these Gospels will be put to death." 10

Unfortunately, they do not offer proof that the Alexandrian churches did accept the Gospel of Barnabas. Their statement about the Nicene edicts appears to be in error. No such edicts were ever issued. 11

The Sabr Foundation also states that:

"Iranaeus (130-200) .... had quoted extensively from the Gospel of Barnabas in support of his views. This shows that the Gospel of Barnabas was in circulation in the first and second centuries of Christianity." 12

Iranaeus does refer to the Epistle of Barnabas in his writings. However, we have been unable to locate any reference by Iranaeus to the Gospel of Barnabas. Although there are many references to Barnabas in early Christian writings, Christian theologians and writers have been unable to find any mention of the Gospel of Barnabas prior to medieval times.

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Is the Gospel of Barnabas a forgery?

Cyril Glassť a Muslim scholar states:

"...there is no question that it is a medieval forgery. A complete Italian manuscript exists which appears to be a translation from a Spanish original (which exists in part), written to curry favor with Muslims of the time. It contains anachronisms which can date only from the Middle Ages and not before, and shows a garbled comprehension of Islamic doctrines, calling the Prophet 'the Messiah', which Islam does not claim for him. Besides its farcical notion of sacred history, stylistically it is a mediocre parody of the Gospels..." 3

Rafique notes a number of conflicts between the gospel and science. The gospel states that:

bulletThe Earth is larger than the sun.
bulletOne's navel resulted from Satan spitting on the clay from which God created Adam.
bulletAdam tried to stop himself from swallowing the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and thereby caused his larynx to form. This he passed on to succeeding generations.
bulletNazareth is described as a costal city on the Sea of Galilee. Actually, it is 9 miles (15 km) inland from the sea. 6
bulletCapernaum is described as being some distance away from the lake. Actually, it was a city on the lake shore.

To which one might add the improbability of a human surviving 40 days without food or drink.

There are also internal problems with the text of the gospel:

bulletAt the beginning of the gospel, Jesus is referred to as "Jesus Christ." Later in the text, Jesus claims to not be the Messiah, as in Chapter 42: "I am not the Messiah." The author of the gospel appears to be unaware that "Christ" and "Messiah" are synonyms. Yet Barnabas was a Jew who grew up in Cyprus, a Greek-speaking area. If he were the author of the gospel, he would not have make such an obvious error. 4
bulletChapter 3 mentioned that Herod and Pilate ruled Judea at the same time. But Herod died in 4 BCE and Herod did not become governor until 26 CE -- a gap of three decades. Again, if the actual author had been Barnabas, he would have know that. 4
bulletChapter 113 refers to pine-cones. There were no pine-cones in the area. 8
bulletChapter 127 describes Jesus preaching from the pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple. This was about 200 meters above the ground, so his audience would not have been able to hear him. 7
bulletChapter 169: Jesus comments on the beauty of Judea in summertime. Actually, the rains fall there during the winter; the fields are parched during the summer. 9
bulletChapter 193 discusses the incident when Jesus brought his dead friend Lazarus back to life. At the time, Jesus predicted his own death and subsequent resurrection. The gospel  "Mine hour is not yet come; but when it shall come I shall sleep in like manner, and shall be speedily awakened." Yet chapters 214 to 218 describe how God had Jesus removed from the earth and had Judas executed in his place. 5
bulletChapter 214 states that Herod Antipas controlled Jerusalem and the rest of Judea. Actually, the historical record shows that he had authority only in the Galilee. 7

There is some evidence that the Gospel was written during the 14th century CE:

bulletChapter 54 refers to golden coins ("denarius divided into sixty minuti."} These were actually Spanish coins not circulated for centuries after the life of Jesus. 8
bulletChapter 82 refers to Jubilee years as once every century. But in ancient Israel, it was celebrated every 50 years. "In the year 1300 A.D. Pope Boniface VIII falsely proclaimed that the Jubilee should be celebrated by Christians every 100 years instead of 50 years." The author of the gospel apparently picked up this error and incorporated it into his text. 4
bulletChapter 178 refers to nine Heavens and to Paradise above the highest heaven. This is exactly the same as described by Dante in his 14th century work The Divine Comedy. 4

Author Samuel Green concludes:

"The Gospel of Barnabas is not an authentic Gospel of Jesus. The author does not understand the language, history or geography of the 1st century A.D., and there is no ancient evidence for the book. The internal evidence of the book suggests it was written in the 14th century and there are Muslim scholars who agree with this dating. The book is a rewrite of the Biblical Gospel most likely by a Muslim who wanted to show that Jesus taught Islam and predicted the coming of Muhammad. This type of rewriting has been done elsewhere by Muslims in the Gospel According to Islam." 4

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "The Epistle of Barnabas," Early Christian Writings, at: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/
  2. Lonsdale & Laura Ragg, "The Gospel of Barnabas," at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/
  3. Cyril Glassť, "The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam," Harper & Row, 1989, Page 64. Cited in: "What do we know about the 'Gospel of Barnabas'?," Answering Islam, at: http://answering-islam.org.uk/
  4. Samuel Green, "The Gospel of Barnabas," Answering Islam, 2004, at: http://answering-islam.org.uk/
  5. "Contradictions in the 'Gospel of Barnabas'," Answering Islam, at: http://answering-islam.org.uk/
  6. Rafique, "The Gospel of Barnabas," Good News for You!, at: http://www.injil.org/
  7. "The Gospel of Barnabas," Into The Light, at: http://islam.itl.org.uk/
  8. "The forgery of the Gospel of Barnabas," Muslim Hope, 2004-DEC, at: http://www.muslimhope.com/
  9. John Gilchrist, "The Gospel of Barnabas: The Spurious Gospel in Islamic Apologetics," http://answering-islam.org.uk/
  10. "Gospel of Barnabas"  The Sabr Foundation, 2001-NOV-22, at:  http://www.barnabas.net/
  11. "First Council of Nicea - 325 AD," at: http://www.piar.hu/
  12. "How the Gospel of Barnabas Survived," The Sabr Foundation, http://www.barnabas.net/. This essay was taken from an unnamed book published by The Quran Council of Pakistan, in Karachi, Pakistan.

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Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-APR-22
Latest update: 2006-APR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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