ANF – The Epistle of Barnabas

Authorship of this work is generally disputed.  It  is believed to have been written sometime after 70 AD (because it mentions the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem), but no later than mid 2nd century.  It is included in the Codex Sinaiticus in the 4th century, and for some years was treated by some Christians on the same level as Scripture while others rejected such a status.  This makes it part of the antilogomena – Christian writings that are disputed in terms of their authority.  Clement and Origen both assume it to have been written by the Barnabas mentioned in Acts, a traveling companion of St. Paul.  However Eusebius refused to see it as such.

I had the idea when I embarked on this effort that I would discover gold mines of biblical explication in the ancient writings of the Church Fathers.  While that may still well be the case, I wouldn’t say that this is such an example.  The majority of this epistle (letter) is dedicated to refuting Judaism and exalting Christians as the true chosen people of God.  To do this the author quotes a great number of Old Testament passages – oftentimes incorrectly or in paraphrase – and mixes this with apparent references or quotes from lost, non-Biblical texts.  He uses these texts in metaphorical ways to demonstrate the failure of the Jewish people to remain faithful to God and therefore their exclusion from his good graces as the Gospel passes to Gentiles.

Several very interesting tidbits come at the very end of the epistle, in the second section that enumerates the positive behavioral characteristics of  Christians as well as the negative characteristics of those who reject Jesus as the Messiah.  Included with these is the exhortation that Christians do not “slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt though destroy it after it is born.”  Once again testimony, along with the Didache, that the Christian faith has historically rejected abortion and infanticide, something the modern church in Europe and America would do well to take heed of.  This text also refers to the Christian practice of worshiping on Sunday rather than the traditional Jewish Saturday Sabbath, in deference to Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday morning.  This is perhaps the earliest reference to the Christian practice or worshiping on Sunday and anchors the practice deep in history, perhaps within a few decades of the life of Jesus.

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