The letter of Barnabas, not to be confused with the Gospel of Barnabas, contains 21 short chapters. There is a ton of stuff in this letter. There’s far too much for me to cover every detail, but I will give you an overview of its contents and address things that I feel must be addressed.
The letter of Barnabas was written sometime after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. The introductory notes suggest that it may have been written during the time of Trajan and Hadrian. This would be in the time period of Ignatius, Papias, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr. The introductory notes also indicate that the letter was quoted by Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Eusebius, however, considered it a spurious writing.
It has been suggested that the author, Barnabas, was the Levite of Cyprus or the Barnabas who traveled with Paul – both of which are unlikely. I tend to think Barnabas was a Gentile and not a Levite because:
- A Levite would probably not misquote Scripture, take Scripture out of context, or make non-Scriptural quotes and say it was Scripture.
- A Levite would probably not lead people away from the terms of the covenant with YHVH.
- I sense an “us” versus “them” mentality when reading Barnabas’ letter – “us” being Gentile believers in Yeshua versus “them” being Jewish non-believers in Yeshua.
Both Latin and Greek versions of the letter of Barnabas exist. These contain differences, and the introductory notes suggest the Greek text is corrupt.
As I write this post, I will highlight any Scripture that Barnabas quotes in blue. The rest of his quotes will be in black. All that I include from Barnabas will be in italics. All British-English variations in spelling will be left as printed.
Whenever I quote from Scripture, verses will be in italics. Single quotes will be in red; a parallel will be in red and blue; a chiasm will be in red, purple, and green, so you can see which parts correspond with each other.
Barnabas begins his letter by rejoicing in the fruits of righteousness among his readers. We are not told who the recipients of this letter are; he just leaves us wondering. He is writing this letter to his readers, so that along with faith, they might have perfect knowledge. He intends to set forth some things by which, in their present circumstances, they may become more joyful.
Barnabas begins his letter by saying since the days are evil, they should inquire into the ordinances of the Lord. At first, this sounds like a great idea, until we read what comes next.
In chapter 2, Barnabas immediately quotes from Isaiah 1:11-14, and he says that the Lord has revealed to them by all the prophets that YHVH needs neither sacrifices, nor burnt-offerings, nor oblations. Barnabas says that sacrifices, new moons, and Sabbaths have been abolished in order that “a new law of our Lord Jesus Christ (Yeshua Messiah), which is without the yoke of necessity, might have a human [or man-made] oblation.”
The footnote for #18 says, Psa 51:19 there is nothing in Scripture corresponding to the last clause. Listing Psalm 51:19 by itself is really an injustice. The context of this Psalm is when David repents of his sin with Bathsheba. David knew that a broken spirit and contrite heart was necessary before YHVH would be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness.
Barnabas then quotes Jeremiah 7:22 and Zechariah 8:17 by saying: “And again He says to them, ‘Did I command your fathers, when they went out from the land of Egypt, to offer unto Me burnt-offerings and sacrifices? But this rather I commanded them, Let no one of you cherish any evil in his heart against his neighbour, and love not an oath of falsehood.” We ought therefore, being possessed of understanding, to perceive the gracious intention of our Father; for He speaks to us, desirous that we, not17 going astray like them, should ask how we may approach Him. To us, then, He declares, “A sacrifice [pleasing] to God is a broken spirit; a smell of sweet savour to the Lord is a heart that glorifieth Him that made it.”18 We ought therefore, brethren, carefully to inquire concerning our salvation, lest the wicked one, having made his entrance by deceit, should huff us forth from our [true] life.”
Of course, I’m not giving you the full second chapter of Barnabas, just the highlights. Essentially, as I see it, Barnabas has taken something out of context, just like many people do, and set it out for his readers to consume. He’s setting forth partial truths. Let’s see these verses in context.
Isaiah 1:10-20 says, “Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the law of our God, You people of Gomorrah:
11 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. 12 “When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. (Why are their hands full of blood and what is the source of that blood? The answer is found in Jeremiah, which we will see shortly.)
16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.
18 “Come now, and let us reason together, “Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land;
20 But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword”; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
What we see in these verses is that God is not pleased with people who bring offerings to him or observe holy days when they are not observing His laws. The people are full of iniquity; they were not keeping the covenant. An unholy mixture was taking place – unholy, unclean, unsanctified people can’t bring what is supposed to be holy and clean to YHVH. The remedy is the same as what David mentioned in Psalm 51.
I noticed that Barnabas did not mention Amos 5:21-24, but I will. Here, YHVH is saying He hates their feasts, solemn assemblies, various offerings, songs, and the melody of their harps. If Barnabas had mentioned it, he would have a hard time justifying that people should avoid observing the feasts and solemn assemblies, but that it’s still okay to sing songs and play musical instruments during assembly meetings. YHVH’s people should have been doing all of these things as long as they were also letting justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Now, let’s look at Jeremiah 7:22-31:
A1 — 22 “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.” (YHVH did issue commands concerning offerings in the book of Leviticus, but the question we should ask is, what kind of offering did He not command them to do?)
B1 — 23 “But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”
C1 — 25 “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them.”
B2 — 26 “Yet they did not obey Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers. 27 “Therefore you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not obey you. You shall also call to them, but they will not answer you. 28 “So you shall say to them, ‘This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the Lord their God nor receive correction. Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth. 29 Cut off your hair and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on the desolate heights; for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath.’ 30 For the children of Judah have done evil in My sight,” says the Lord. “They have set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to pollute it.”
A2 — 31 “And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart.” (This is the corresponding verse to verse 22. YHVH never commanded the offering of their children as burnt offerings; they were guilty of shedding innocent blood.)
Now, I want you understand that there is a cycle in Scripture in which offerings were made and put on hold. When we see this cycle, we can understand that they are times when the offerings were on hold; they were not abolished forever. After the covenant was made on Mount Sinai, bringing offerings was dependent on the presence of the tabernacle or temple. As you can see, this cycle also applies to the temple as well.
The Cycle of Bringing Offerings and the Presence of the Temple
- Offerings brought
- Offerings were brought by Cain and Abel
- Cain – fruit, which YHVH did not respect
- Abel – firstborn of his flock, which YHVH respected
- Offerings were required, and instructions were given for them in detail by YHVH in Leviticus.
- Aaron – offerings accepted
- Nadab & Abihu – incense not accepted
- Korah & his company – incense not accepted.
- Much later, the prophets said that YHVH loathed their offerings, which were considered abominations.
- Offerings were reinstated under Ezra’s leadership.
- Offerings were reinstated under Judas, son of Mattathias (Maccabee).
- Offerings will be reinstated under Yeshua’s leadership – see Ezekiel 44-46.
- Offerings were brought by Cain and Abel
- Offerings on hold
- We do not know for sure whether or not YHVH’s people brought Him offerings while they were in Egypt. I suspect they weren’t since God gave them detailed instructions on how to properly bring them.
- Offerings to YHVH ceased during Babylonian captivity.
- Offerings to YHVH ceased under Antiochus Epiphanes IV — he forbid burnt offerings, sacrifices, and drink offerings in the temple. He told the people to profane the Sabbaths and festival days; to pollute the sanctuary and holy people; to set up altars and groves, and chapels of idols; and sacrifice swine’s flesh and unclean beasts.
- Offerings to YHVH ceased after the fall of the temple during the first Jewish revolt against Rome in Judea in 70 CE.
- Instead of clean animals, the kings of the earth will bring their glory and honor into the new Jerusalem. There will be no temple at that time.
- Presence of temple
- There was no tabernacle/temple prior to Mount Sinai. However, we can see the garden of Eden as a most holy place when compared to the land of Eden, and the rest of the world.
- The tabernacle in the wilderness was made according to the pattern given to Moses. The tabernacle was replaced by the temple built by Solomon according to the plans given by David. It was later destroyed.
- The second temple was built and later expanded.
- There is currently no temple built by human hands. Right now, the bodies of believers in Yeshua are the temple of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). We are not to do anything that would defile our temples or cause them to become unclean. We are to observe food laws, and avoid sexual immorality and idolatry.
- A future temple will be built according to the plans given to Ezekiel. After the judgment, there will be no temple because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. Nothing that defiles or causes abomination or a lie, but only those whose name are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will enter the New Jerusalem.
Barnabas taught that the physical offerings had been abolished in order that people may offer spiritual offerings. The Catholic Church changed the Sabbath to Sunday – the Lord’s Day, and it forbids the observance of the feasts of YHVH and dietary laws, and practices idolatry.
The physical sacrificial offerings have not been abolished; they have merely been put on hold while the Gentiles are being brought into the kingdom of God and until YHVH’s people can do them with the right attitude of heart.
Even now, people are beginning to observe the seventh-day Sabbath and the feasts of the Lord within the Scriptural boundaries that exist. This is a sign that people are preparing for Yeshua’s coming reign on earth.
In chapter 16, Barnabas suggests that God abolished the temple as well. He said that “the wretched [Jews], wandering in error, trusted not in God Himself, but in the temple, as being the house of God.” He offers Isaiah 40:12, 49:17, 66:1 as proof that YHVH abolished it. However, these verses do not support Barnabas’ position. He does acknowledge that a temple for God exists in the body of believers in Yeshua. Again, I am troubled by the choice of negative words that Barnabas uses, such as wretched [Jews], as well as his choice of Scripture to support his point.
In chapter 3, Barnabas presents a discourse on the fasting of the Jews. Barnabas lists things mentioned in Isaiah 58 and then ends the chapter by saying that God is longsuffering, knowing that those He has prepared will believe in His Beloved. “For He revealed all these things to us beforehand, that we should not rush forward as rash acceptors of their laws.” I find this statement so odd. There is no problem with YHVH’s laws; the long historical problem has been a failure to obey them, and that revelation has nothing to do with the idea that Gentile believers should refuse to accept the laws of YHVH. It is hard to say for sure if he is really referring to their oral traditions. The issue I have regarding his discourse on fasting is similar to that of the sacrifices, which we just discussed — their fasts were not acceptable because of their sin and the way they treated their fellow man. Based on Isaiah 58, it seems YHVH preferred an eternal fast from unrighteousness.
Chapter 4 begins with Barnabas saying that it is a duty for us to search diligently into those things which are able to save us. This sounds good. I agree with his statement that we should flee iniquity. Then, he cautions his readers saying we should not “be like some who say that the covenant is both theirs and ours.” Barnabas says that “they” lost the covenant because of the sin of the golden calf, and that “their” covenant was broken, so that the covenant of Yeshua could be sealed on “our” heart in the hope which flows from believing in Him. This discourse presents an “us and them mentality.” He has presented a pattern for us to see, but it’s not the whole pattern.
The Pattern of Covenant Renewal
- The covenant is made.
- The covenant was given to Moses and the mixed multitude at Mt. Sinai.
- The covenant was renewed/read by Joshua at Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. The altar was set up in Mt. Ebal and the law was written on stones (Joshua 8).The first covenant was dedicated with blood.
- Ezra taught the terms of the covenant to the people after the exile.Nehemiah renewed the covenant with YHVH (Nehemiah 9:38).
- The early church fathers did not properly teach the terms of the renewed covenant which was dedicated with Yeshua’s blood.
- The covenant is broken.
- YHVH’s covenant was broken; people made and worshipped a golden calf. Not everyone participated in this idolatry.
- By the time of the judges, the people had broken their covenant with YHVH. There was a cycle of sin and deliverance as the people repeatedly forsook and returned to the law.
- YHVH’s covenant was not kept at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes IV. People obeyed his commands to forsake the law; they embraced idolatrous practices of Hellenism. Not everyone participated in this idolatry.
- The teachings of the early church fathers have resulted in YHVH’s covenant not being properly kept by Jews or Gentiles who believe in Yeshua. In fact, Messianic believers often push the Noahide laws on the Gentile believers. Most believers obeyed the commands of the Catholic Church to forsake the law. They embraced an unholy mixture of paganism and God’s laws. However, not everyone is now participating in this idolatry; they are coming out of Babylon the Great.
- The covenant is renewed.
- YHVH’s covenant was renewed at Mt. Sinai;the same terms applied throughout the wilderness wanderings.
- The terms of the original covenant applied in the Promised Land.
- YHVH’s covenant was renewed through Yeshua. The same terms apply.; they are to be written on the hearts of YHVH’s people just as they were supposed to be originally. It’s for the whole combined house of Israel, as well as Gentiles.
- YHVH’s covenant will likely be renewed at the beginning of Yeshua’s millennial reign.
As we read Barnabas’ letter, we must remember the words of Paul in Romans 11. YHVH has not cast away his people Israel who He foreknew. There is a remnant according to grace — charis — favor. Even now, the unbelieving Jews are being provoke to jealousy by those who are keeping God’s commandments, including His feasts and dietary laws.
The firstfruits, lump, root, and branches of the faith are holy. These firstfruits of the covenant obeyed the holy statutes, ordinances, and law. Revelation 12:17 and 14:12 indicate that the enduring believers will be keeping YHVH’s commandments and will have the faith of Yeshua HaMashiach.
Jews who do not believe in Yeshua have been broken off, but they can be grafted back into the natural olive tree. Gentile believers are wild olive branches that have been grafted into the natural olive tree — the root of Israel’s natural olive tree supports the Gentiles; it has not been cast aside. Remember, access to the Father, in the most holy place, must be through Yeshua, the light of the world and the bread that came down from heaven, because he represents the Holy Place of the temple where the menorah and bread of the presence were. Obedience to the terms of the covenant are required because disobedience to the terms of the covenant breaks the covenant.
At the same time, Barnabas advocates meeting together so that the Black One, a reference to Satan, may find no means of entrance in them. He says let us be spiritually minded and be a perfect temple to God, to meditate upon the fear of God, and to keep his commandments that we may rejoice in his ordinances. So, even though the ancient sacrifices can’t be offered because the temple is no longer in operation, he does advocate for the observance of God’s commandments — without saying which ones we should obey.
Barnabas understands that YHVH will judge the world without respect of persons, and that each person will receive as he has done. However, how can one receive a righteous reward if one can’t agree on the fact that the law defines what righteousness is?
Barnabas talks about how Yeshua suffered for our soul in chapter 5. He begins by indicating that “the Lord endured to deliver up His flesh to corruption, that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His blood of sprinkling.” But Yeshua did not deliver up His flesh to corruption. Psalm 16:10b says, “Nor will You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.”
Barnabas makes several quotes in this chapter that I do not know the source of — nor do I understand the conclusions he draws from them. He also states true Scriptural quotes that merely show Yeshua was to suffer. In the middle of all of this, Barnabas says, “And He (since it behoved Him to appear in the flesh), that He might abolish death, and reveal the resurrection from the dead, endured [what and as He did], in order that He might fulfill the promise made unto the fathers, and by preparing a new people for Himself, might show, while He dwelt on earth, that He, when He dwelt on earth, that He, when He has raised mankind, will also judge them.” I have to take issue with the phrase “new people.” This is because this phrase can be interpreted in different ways by different people. The most pressing one has resulted in Replacement Theology – the errant idea that God rejected Israel as His people and has replaced them with what became mostly Gentile Christians. Wrong! According to Jeremiah 31:31 and Hebrews 8:8, the new covenant was supposed to be with the house of Israel (Ephraim) and the house of Judah! If the Gentiles want to join themselves to this united Israeli olive tree, they can do so through faith in Yeshua.
In chapter 6, Barnabas continues to talk about Yeshua’s suffering, which was foretold by the prophets.
The next several chapters cover a lot of typology. Types that he mentioned which point to Messiah include: Isaac being offered on the altar, the goats for the Day of Atonements, and the red heifer. These sections included several non-Scriptural things I’m not familiar with, such as only the priests eating “the inwards, unwashed with vinegar,” as well as conclusions I would have never drawn.
In chapter 9, Barnabas discusses the spiritual meaning of circumcision. Barnabas says that circumcision of the flesh, in which “they” trusted, has been abolished. He mentions circumcision of our ears – to hear His word and believe, as well as circumcision of the heart, which would otherwise remain stubborn. Barnabas is aware that the people were circumcised for a seal, but he points out that several other nations, who are not within the covenant, circumcise their males. Barnabas then explains that gematria shows the mysteries of three letters that come from the number of people that Abraham circumcised. He says that two letters reveal the initials of Yeshua and the other signifies the cross; therefore, he is saying that physical circumcision points to Yeshua’s death on the cross. I’ll let you decide where you stand on the use of gematria. But even if circumcision pointed to Yeshua, I’m not convinced that circumcision was abolished because Ezekiel 44:9 says, “Thus says the Lord God: “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel.” And this is a reference to the temple that will exist during Yeshua’s millennial reign.
Chapter 10 is an interesting presentation on the spiritual significance of the food laws. Barnabas says we are not to live in a way that represents what certain creatures do. He begins by mentioning the spiritual significance of swine, unclean birds, and fish without scales. He also compares these with the kind of people in Psalm 1 that I will put in italics.
- Clean ruminant animal with cloven feet – Fear the Lord and mediate on the commandments.
- Swine – They live in pleasure and forget their Lord, but when they are in want, they acknowledge him. Don’t stand in the manner of sinners; don’t profess to fear the Lord, but go astray.
- Unclean birds – Don’t associate with people who don’t know how to get their own food by working for it. These people seize on that of others in their iniquity; they are on the watch to plunder the flesh of others. Don’t sit in the seat of scorners.
- Unclean fish – Don’t associate with people who are ungodly to the end. Don’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly.
I found a few of Barnabas’ examples of the dietary laws odd.:
- He said that not eating the hare indicates one should not be a corrupter of boys due to the way it multiplies in conception – “as many years as it lives so many it has.”
- He said that not eating the hyena means one should not be an adulterer or corrupter because it changes its sex/gender each year. From what I’ve read, hyenas don’t change their sex each year. Apparently, the female clitoris is as large as a male penis causing people to be confused as to their actual gender.
- He said that one should not eat the weasel because it means you should not be joined to those who commit iniquity with the mouth, for this animal conceives by the mouth. Weasels mate just like other mammals to, and it’s not with the mouth. You can watch a video of that activity online if you want.
In chapter 11, Barnabas attempts to see if “the Lord took any care to foreshadow the water [of baptism] and the cross.” He begins by saying, “Concerning the water, indeed it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves.” I have no idea where he gets that from. Obviously, he never read about the baptisms recorded in the New Testament. In this section, there seems to be a few quotes from unknown sources, as well as accurate and non-accurate quotes from Scripture in order to support his position. I can’t draw the conclusions he has made, and I don’t want to waste the space or effort here.
In chapter 12, Barnabas says that the prophets frequently pointed to the cross. Not all of his sources are actually from Scripture. Chapter 13 – 14 readdresses whether or not the covenant belongs to “us” or “them.” We’ve already addressed that topic, so I’ll move on.
In chapter 15, Barnabas acknowledges that the creation ended with YHVH resting on the Sabbath — the seventh day of the week. YHVH rested on this day and sanctified it. This chapter also contains the teaching that “the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years.” He understands that the seventh day is the time when Yeshua is expected to return. Shockingly, Barnabas says, “If, therefore, any one can now sanctify the day which God hath sanctified, except he is pure in heart in all things, we are deceived. Behold, therefore: certainly then one properly resting sanctifies it, when we ourselves, having received the promise, wickedness no longer existing, and all things having been made new by the Lord, shall be able to work righteousness. Then we shall be able to sanctify it, having been first sanctified ourselves.” Based on Isaiah 1:13, he says, the Sabbaths of the Jews are not acceptable to YHVH, and when the Lord gives rest to all things, He will make a beginning of the eighth day – the beginning of another world. “Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus (Yeshua) rose again from the dead.”
From this, I understand that Barnabas believes we are unable to sanctify the Sabbath at this time because we are not fully sanctified; we are not properly resting; and because wickedness still exists.
He seems to indicate that once all things have been made new by the Lord, then we will be able to work righteousness. The main problem with all of this thought process is that:
- Exodus 20:8 tells us to remember the Sabbath day in order to keep it holy. We are to set it apart from the other days of the week as something special – something holy.
- Exodus 31:13 tells us that the Sabbath is a sign throughout our generations, that we may know that it is YHVH who sanctifies us. Those who profane it will be cut off from among his people.
- Deuteronomy 5:12 commands us to observe the Sabbath day; this command implies it’s doable.
If this is Barnabas’ reasoning for abandoning the Sabbath for the Lord’s Day, people are in big trouble.
Chapter 16 discusses how the Lord spoke when abolishing the temple. Since we’ve already discussed that, I’ll move on.
Barnabas begins making his concluding statements in chapters 17-21. He says he has omitted nothing which bears upon their salvation, and he won’t discuss future things because they are hidden in parables. He does present two ways of doctrine and authority – the way of light and darkness. He gives an abundant list for each.
I think it’s great that he says the following:
- “Thou shalt not forsake the commandments of the Lord.”
- “He who has learned the judgments of the Lord, as many as have been written, should walk in them. For he who keepeth these shall be glorified in the kingdom of God; but he who chooseth other things shall be destroyed with his works.”
- “Fulfil every commandment; for these things are worthy.”
Unfortunately, based on his whole letter, Barnabas is not advocating obeying all of YHVH’s commandments. Either that, or someone seriously and inconsistently corrupted this letter.
This letter reminds me of a lot of stuff that gets posted online today. It lacks an overall understanding of the Tanakh (Old Testament), and it leads people away from the truth.