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Why Was The Letter of Barnabas Attributed to Barnabas?


So why was the Letter of Barnabas thought to have been written by Barnabas?



This question was asked in reference to my discussion of “Gematria” in the Letter of Barnabas. For fuller background, if you’re interested, you should refer to this post: “Another Instance of Gematria (For Members)” (the search function on the blog is very good, btw; it is in the upper right hand corner of your screen).

In that post I note that the “Letter of Barnabas” was not actually written by Barnabas. In fact, it could not have been, since it is almost certainly to be dated to the 130s CE (for reasons I could explain if anyone really wants to know….). Barnabas, the companion of Paul, must have died no later than the 70s CE, more likely the 60s – some seventy years before this letter was written. So Barnabas couldn’t have written it.

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Why Was Barnabas Attributed to Barnabas: Part 2
Introductions to The Lost Gospels



  1. Avatar
    James Dowden  December 30, 2012

    “To describe him in full would take a very long book or two.”

    Is that a hint that you might write it (or them) one day? 🙂

  2. Avatar
    Walid_  December 31, 2012

    Dear professor Ehrman

    I hope that you are well and enjoying our lovely weather.

    I have learned your and other books that we don’t really have any works of Marcion himself.
    All that we have are other people talking about Marcion.
    I can remember reading you saying that the proto-orthodox christians may probably not have been fair in their accusations against this person. Iraeneus in particular have attacked him senseless.
    Since I can’t decide what’s mint from what’s dodgy I have to accept what we have.

    However, in relation to a particular point which you have made over the festive season with regards to the first two chapters of Luke, I think I have a point and would like to read your comment please.

    With regards to Irenaeus having accused Marcion of scissor-cutting the first two chapters, and in light of your essays balancing towards this not being the case, simply Marcion didn’t have those two chapters. (point no 1)

    Also in ‘Forged’ I have learned that it’s your view that the apostolic epistles are not also genuine, and then reading the Marcion didn’t have Titus and Timothy. (point no 2)

    Why can’t based on points 1 and 2 say that we simply don’t know! .. Marcion has been proven right on two major occasions, why can’t he be the rightful owner of orthodoxy and his opponents not so?
    I know the word Orthodox is in the eyes of the beholder, but we are stuck with a pile of books that we don’t know if they are genuine or not, and most likely they are not.
    This opens the door to Dr Robert Price’s theory (by the way I am not a Mythycist, I am all Ehrman-ist, to the bones) but Dr Price really says that the gospels are Polycarbus’ produce and that whitewashes everything.

    So what do you think doctor?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 31, 2012

      Yes, I think it’s possible that Marcion’s text of Luke did not have chs. 1-2; and it’s possible that he rejected 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus because they were not actually by Paul. The first of these two seems even probably to me. But I think he simply didn’t know about the letters of Timothy and Titus.
      We can’t call Marcion “orthodox” though becuase his views were rejected, and by definition “orthodoxy” is the side that won out. Whether he was *right* or not is another question, and for that you would need to make a theological (not a historical) judgment.

  3. Avatar
    hschick  December 31, 2012

    Prof. Ehrman,
    I have a question and I hope this is the right place to ask it.
    With the recent shootings in Newtown, I have been surprised that some of my most “conservative Christian” friends are taking a rather strong pro-gun position.
    My question is were early Christians pacifists?
    As a student in the mid-60s, I took class in Roman history. The professor claimed that the reason Christians were persecuted was that they refused to serve in the Roman army. Since Rome owed its dominant position on its army, this was seen as treason and the Christians thrown to the lions as punishment.
    Also, Rome had a strong tradition of religious toleration often inviting the gods of an opponent to abandon that opponent and in return Rome would build those gods a temple. Therefore, there was no reason to persecute the Christians for their beliefs.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 31, 2012

      Good question. Many Christians did refuse to serve in the Roman army, and some of them were attacked for it. But I don’t think there’s any evidence that the persecutions at large were related to that. There were other, more pressing (and well attested) reasons. Such as the refusal to worship the state gods. (romans wouldn’t have cared if Christians worshiped other gods, or new gods, so long as they reverenced the Roman gods). On pacifism: yes, many Christians were.

  4. Avatar
    jimmo  December 31, 2012

    I have watched several debates with Gary Habermas and he uses the phrase “critical scholars” quite often. He never actually defines it, but it seems quite clear that by you saying it means “everyone except for very conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists”, you are certainly not including Habermas. Personally, I have a hard time accepting anyone as being a “critical scholar” who supports inerrancy.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 31, 2012

      Interesting. I don’t know what he means by it, without hearing him use it in context. he’s a smart guy, and knows that most critical biblical scholars disagree with him on major points (with regard to the Bible).

  5. Avatar
    bobnaumann  December 31, 2012

    Bart, help me out here. I’m a little confused. You say that Paul kept referring to a version of the Gospel of Luke. I thought the Gospel of Luke was written years after Paul’s death and Luke contains the Vitgin Birth (which mat have been added later) and the miracle stories, of which Paul seemed to be unaware. I don’t recall seeing any reference to a written Gospel anywhere in Paul’s letters. I thought he claimed all of his knowledge came directly from God.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 31, 2012

      Nope, sorry — either you misread me or I misstated my point. (I know which option *I* prefer 🙂 ). Paul did not quote, know, or refer to the Gospel of Luke, because, as you say, it wasn’t written yet. But Marcion didn’t know that. What I said, or meant to say, was that Marcion maintained that Paul’s Gospel was the Gospel of Luke. That’s not the same thing as saying that Paul’s Gospel *was* the Gospel of Luke. (Paul almost certainly didn’t know about any such thing as a written Gospel.)

  6. Avatar
    Scott F  December 31, 2012

    “In fact, it could not have been, since it is almost certainly to be dated to the 130s CE (for reasons I could explain if anyone really wants to know….)”

    I, for one, would be quite interested in the how these various works are dated. Seems like it would be of utmost importance seeing as the date of composition all but decides the question of authorship. Even if it only provides a general sense of why a particular date is hung on a manuscript or composition, I think it would be helpful.

  7. Avatar
    wgmccollum  January 1, 2013

    Hello, Dr. Ehrman. My question concerns the claim made by some today that Jesus came not for the gentiles (non Jews) but for the Jewish people alone. They cite Matthew 15:24 and Matthew 10:5 among others, including the conversion of the Roman centurian Cornelius as told in the Book of Acts, citing Cornelius as an obvious Jew since he is said to be favored by God for his devotion, prayers, and charity to the Hebrew God. The word “gentile” being the Latin for the Hebrew “goy” seems to be used in the NT to signify the non Jew. However, isn’t the term “goy” used in the Hebrew Bible to denote both non Jews and Jews? How do you counter the claim that the Hebrew god Yaweh (who was said in the OT to be the god who favored the Israelites alone) has been hijacked by those outside of the tribe and turned into a “universal” god for the world? This is, in essence, the opposite view apparently held by Marcion and in some ways Paul too. Thanks and happy New Year!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 1, 2013

      I think that is probably a theological question about God’s ultimate purposes, and as such, I’m in no position to answer it. I can say, as a historian, that some early Christians like Paul definitely thought that Jesus came for both gentiles and Jews, in fulfillment of Scriptural promises, and that other carly Christians, like Paul’s enemies in Galatia, definitely thought not, that Jesus came as the Jewish messiah to the jewish people in fulfillment of the Jewish law and that to be his follower, one had to become Jewish. Which side was/is *right* is a question for a theologian to answer.

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