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Shock, Scandal & The Gospel of Barnabas

barnabasA recent article being passed around Facebook, headlines, “1500 Year Old Bible Claims Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican In Awe,” The subtext reads, “Much to the dismay of the Vatican, an approx. 1500-2000 year old bible was found in Turkey, in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara.”[1]

Every so often, some group, wishing to capitalize on the general ignorance of the world about history and wishing to cast doubt on the teaching of Scripture and the Church of Jesus Christ in any of its more traditional forms, whips up some scandal that “challenges” this or “proves” that.

I’ve spent over 25 years in the academic community liberal and conservative, attending conferences, taking more than my share of classes, auditing many more, and reading thousands of articles and books by yet more. Here is one thing I’ve learned about “liberals”:

Not all, but many, Liberal Scholars would take the word of a Bazooka Joe gum wrapper found in the Egyptian sands with the words, “Paul was a cross-dresser” over the whole testimony of Scripture and Christian history. If it disparages the testimony of the Bible that’s enough to make a show over it.

So I’d like to have a little fun with the discovery and presentation of the discovery of this “shocking” Bible and encourage those among us who are worried by such proposed discoveries to take a deep breath and know that this kind of thing means little.

First, but by no means greatest among my critiques is the subtext. Is the text 1500 years old or 2000 years old? A five hundred year swing is the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr.

Can we even remotely take 2000 as a legitimate number? Was this Bible that challenges Jesus’ crucifixion really written when Jesus was just a boy? When you read just a short way into the first chapter of the text that “worries the Vatican” you also discover that it decries the Apostle Paul. So 2000 years old would mean that the book accuses Paul before Paul was even a twinkle in his Daddy’s eye.  So… the whole 2000 years old tag is exposed immediately as inflammatory rhetoric and sensationalizing.

You also discover when you begin to read, that the text of concern within this Bible supports Islamic teachings about Jesus. Wow! So an old Bible found within a Turkish community that has been Muslim for 1000 years supports Muslim ideas about Jesus and Paul. Stop the presses!!!!

So, what is in this Bible that is so shocking?

The Bible contains the Gospel of Barnabas.[2] You can read the book for yourself at http://www.answering-christianity.com/barnabas.htm.  It is long, so if you want a summary go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Barnabas. To summarize the scholarly consideration of the work, I’ll quote this easily accessed site. “This Gospel is considered by the majority of academics, including Christians and some Muslims… to be late and pseudepigraphal; some academics suggest that it may contain some remnants of an earlier apocryphal work (perhaps Gnostic,[3] Ebionite[4] or Diatessaronic[5]), redacted to bring it more in line with Islamic doctrine.”

Let me explain this quote. Scholars, many of whom are eager to embrace those floating Bazooka Joe Gum wrappers with defamatory scribblings against Scripture on them, don’t regard this Gospel of Barnabas as being from Barnabas. Some, and only some, give any credence at all to the minimal idea that the book even contains any truly old source material from groups who were rejected by the Christian community from their earliest inception, for the very doctrines that this book teaches with an Islamic twist.

Now, just for fun, I’d like to consider one, and only one, element of the opening chapter that proves the invalidity of any claims that the book originates with Barnabas. I could do this all day, but my space is almost used up for the day.

The opening reads in Aramaic, “Dearly beloved the great and wonderful God hath during these past days visited us by his prophet Jesus Christ in great mercy of teaching and miracles, by reason whereof many, being deceived of Satan, under presence of piety, are preaching most impious doctrine, calling Jesus son of God….”

Now, Barnabas was a Jew. In this excerpt, the author declares that Jesus is the Christ. Then declares that any notion that Jesus was “son of God” is Satanic deception. I don’t need to read any further to know that Barnabas did not write this. Could it be an early Ebionite writer? Not likely. They denied the deity of Jesus while holding to his Messiahship, but being that they were Jewish too, they would not have phrased things this way.

Here is the problem. The phrase “son of God” means deity to modern readers, means deity to some pagans maybe. Son of God did not, however, mean deity to the Jews. The phrase “son of God,” was a
term of Messiahship.  Christ/Messiah/Son of God were terms for the coming Davidic ruler, declared by Psalm 2:7 to be the adoptive son of God… as Adam was Son of God (Cf Genesis 1:26 & Genesis 5:1-3)… as Israel was Son of God (Exodus 4:22).

Think of Nathaniel’s remarks on the day he meets Jesus. After Nathaniel reveals his contempt for Jesus’ geographic heritage, Jesus lays a prophetic wowzer on him. Nathaniel replies in John 1:49, ” “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Did Nathaniel have some amazing revelation of Jesus’ deity years before the other disciples? No.

Nathaniel’s two remarks are equal remarks. Son of God = King of Israel… no deity in sight… not yet. The gospels will preach the deity of Jesus plenty, for those who understand how to see it, but this phrase is a vehicle for another type of label… a Messianic one.

There is no way that this was written by Barnabas.



[2] Don’t confuse this with the Epistle of Barnabas, or the Acts of Barnabas.

[3] One of the earliest “Christian” cult groups singled out for eradication by the Early Church. Their doctrines are just plain weird. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnostic

[4]The Ebionites were “… a Jewish Christian movement that existed during the early centuries of the Christian Era. They regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah while rejecting his divinityand insisted on the necessity of following Jewish law and rites. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionite

[5] The Diatessaron (c 160–175) is the most prominent early Gospel harmony; and was created by Tatian, an early Christian Assyrian apologist and ascetic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatessaron

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