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Another Instance of Gematria

From my last post on the gematria at work (possibly) in Matthew’s genealogy, I can’t resist adding a note about the Jewish use of gematria – or its Greek equivalent – in another early Christian writing, the epistle of Barnabas.

First: two bits of background.

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The Women in Matthew’s Genealogy
Matthew’s Genealogy: The Number “Fourteen”



  1. Robertus
    Robertus  December 20, 2012

    Hope no one told this to Timothy!

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    nichael  December 20, 2012

    You touch on a question that I’ve wondered, about: Why didn’t Barnabus make the cut for the NT?

    I think most modern readers would agree that it’s a good thing the book didn’t get in, but it certainly came close (e.g. its inclusion in Codex Sinaiticus). So given all that, do we have any idea why, at the time, the decision was finally made to exclude the book?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 21, 2012

      Yeah, it’s a good question. I don’t think at the end of the day we really know. It simply wasn’t used widely enough. I don’t know if there were serious doubts about its authorship, but since it doesn’t *claim* to be written by Barnabas (or any other apostle), that may have caused problems as well. Hebrews, of course, was in the same boat, but it was used much more widely and the reference to “Timothy” at the end was widely taken to mean that Paul wrote it.

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    bobnaumann  December 22, 2012

    So why was it thought to have been written by Barnabas?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 22, 2012

      Ah, I have a pet theory about that, but it’s too long for a reply here. I’ll post on it soon.

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    Yentyl  January 2, 2013

    Wow! I, for one, am certainly glad it didn’t make it! Just reading your book, The New Testament and other early Christian writings. Very well done, of course. Read the forward to the book of Barnabas and can see why it didn’t make it. Even scanning through it I can see that, the main point for me being that “Its basic thrust is that Judaism is, and always has been, a false religion.” Obviously, whoever wrote it was a Jew hater. As an aside, love The Gospel of Thomas except that the last verse, #114, seems to have been added by a woman hater. I’m slowly getting trained by you to spot out of place verses (hopefully). Do you also think it’s out of place and off the flow of the rest of the book? Thanks so much for all your time spent. Also reading Forgeries.

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    HenriettePeterson  December 1, 2017

    I’ve heard a theory that the Bible is supernaturally written in “7s code” which works on the principle of gematria. By using a special counting system one should be able to decide which words were/weren’t originally in the text. It is also a divine proof that the Bible is The Word of God. Have you heard of this?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 4, 2017

      Yes, it doesn’t work I’m afraid. Not even close.

      • Avatar
        HenriettePeterson  December 28, 2017

        This is the person – Ivan Panin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Panin
        It says on wikipedia that he was a textual critic:
        “While Panin spoke highly of the edition of Westcott and Hort of the New Testament, he found their textual criticism wanting and was obliged to produce his own critical text.”

        Have you ever heard of him or his works on the supposed numeric patterns in the original manuscripts?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 30, 2017

          No, never heard of him. I’m afraid we can’t determine numberic patters in the original manuscripts, simply because we don’t have the original manuscripts and don’t know exactly what was in them.

          • Avatar
            HenriettePeterson  February 7, 2018

            Well, the basic point is that one is supposedly able to use the existing numeric patterns as a mechanism to restore the original text. I guess it should work this way – if the pattern is not present in a current (corrupt) wording one can use it to determine the original wording by applying the pattern for the corrupt passage. Is there any current scholar you know of that orients her/his research this way?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 7, 2018

            No, there aren’t any scholars who do this. They have very good reasons for realizing that it simply can’t work.

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