Biblical Studies Epistle of Barnabas
David Lincicum
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0249


The Epistle of Barnabas is an early Christian tractate from the period just after the New Testament that evinces concern for a community to distance and differentiate itself from non-Christian Jews, to appropriate Jewish scriptures as their own, and to live an ethical lifestyle. Barnabas exhibits mixed generic tendencies and is probably best seen as a tract or essay in epistolary guise. It is formally anonymous, though ascribed, problematically, to Barnabas from the time of Clement of Alexandria. The text falls into two major parts. After an initial greeting (1.1–5), 1.6–17.2 is a long hortatory section urging the audience not to (re)turn to Jewish practices, arguing that the Law was intended spiritually and allegorically, rather than literally. Many of the basic institutions of Jewish practice are taken up and spiritualized, and the Greek Scriptures, mostly in a Septuagintal form, are quoted dozens of times in pursuit of this aim. Chapters 18–20 present the so-called Two Ways section, ethical material with substantial overlap with Didache 1–6, followed by a brief conclusion in chapter 21.


Barnabas survives in full in two Greek manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus (fols. 334r–340v = Q91 f2r–Q92 f2v) and Codex Hierosolymitanus (fols. 39r–51v), both rediscovered in the 19th century. Parker 2010 describes Sinaiticus in detail, and Batovici 2015 interrogates Barnabas’s place within the manuscript. It also survives in a defective branch of the Greek manuscript tradition that splices Barn. 5.7–21.9 directly onto the Epistle of Polycarp 1.1–9.2, extant in thirteen manuscripts, described in Funk 1880 and Prostmeier 1994 (counting an additional three manuscripts not yet published). Kraft 1967 calls attention to a Greek papyrus fragment of Barn. 9.1a–6, previously published in Vitelli 1925. An early Latin translation is presented and studied in Heer 1908. Wright 1901 and Baumstark 1912 call attention to a Syriac excerpt, and Schenke 1999 presents a Coptic text that quotes Barnabas.

  • Batovici, Dan. “The Less-Expected Books in Codex Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus. Codicological and Palaeographical Considerations.” In Comment le Livre s’est fait livre: La fabrication des manuscrits bibliques (IVe–XVe siècle): Bilan, résultats, perspectives de recherche. Edited by Chiara Ruzzier and Xavier Hermand, 39–50. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1484/M.BIB-EB.5.105419

    Draws on studies of scribal behavior to indicate that Barnabas (and the other relevant Apostolic Fathers) is treated similarly to the other books in Sinaiticus and that the only sign that Barnabas is separated from the books of the New Testament is its location at the end of the codex (together with the Shepherd of Hermas).

  • Baumstark, A. “Der Barnabasbrief bei den Syrern.” Oriens Christianus 2 (1912): 235–240.

    Baumstark studies the Syriac excerpt published by Wright 1901 and points out that the other authors in the miscellany are all translated into Syriac in full and excerpted here, so there is a prima facie case for thinking that Barnabas did exist in a full Syriac translation or at least in a translation of the Two Ways section, though he notes the date of the translation is difficult to fix.

  • Funk, F. X. “Der Codex Vaticanus gr. 859 und seine Descendenten.” Theologische Quartalschrift 62 (1880): 629–637.

    An important article establishing the priority of Vat. gr. 859 over the other manuscripts of the “G” family, which all derive ultimately from this manuscript.

  • Heer, Joseph Michael. Die Versio Latina des Barnabasbriefes und ihr Verhältnis zur altlateinischen Bibel. Freiburg im Bresgau, Germany: Herdersche Verlagshandlung, 1908.

    A single Latin manuscript preserves a translation, probably from the 3rd century, of Barnabas, excluding the Two Ways section (so containing Barn. 1.1–17.2). Heer offers a full study of this manuscript, including an edition of the manuscript, a side-by-side comparison of the Greek and Latin texts, and discussion of the translation’s relationship to the Vetus Latina.

  • Kraft, Robert A. “Unnoticed Papyrus Fragment of Barnabas.” Vigiliae christianae 21.3 (1967): 150–163.

    Offers a reedition and text-critical comments on the papyrus, with worthwhile summary of the implications of the papyrus for the text of Barnabas, notably calling attention to the tendency for the papyrus to agree with the “G” text form as well as the Latin.

  • Parker, David C. Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010.

    A learned but accessible treatment of this great manuscript by a noted expert in textual studies. Offers a very useful account of the manuscript as a whole and a good orientation to current work.

  • Prostmeier, Ferdinand R. “Zur handschriftlichen Überlieferung des Polykarp- und des Barnabasbriefes: Zwei nicht beachtete Deszendenten des Cod. Vat Gr. 859.” Vigiliae christianae 48 (1994): 48–64.

    Prostmeier puts the understanding of the descendants of Codex Vaticanus gr. 859 on new footing. Vat. gr. 859 is an 11th-century manuscript with twelve Greek descendants; in 859 and eleven of its descendants, Barn. 5.7–21.9 follows directly on from Polycarp 1.1–9.2 (the last is mutilated and contains Barnabas from 10.3). This important article is foundational for understanding this branch of the textual tradition.

  • Schenke, H. -M. “Der Barnabasbrief im Berliner ‘Koptischen Buch’ (P. Berol. 20915).” Enchoria 25 (1999): 53–75.

    The initial publication of an unknown text in Sahidic Coptic on papyrus from the 4th century that quotes Barn. 6.11–13 and 6.17–18. Its editor argues that the translation was probably made “on the fly” rather than reflecting a lost complete translation into Coptic.

  • Vitelli, G., ed. Papiri greci e latini VII (731–870). Publiccazioni della Società Italianà per la ricerca dei papyri greci e latini in Egitto. Florence: Società Italiana, 1925.

    The editio princeps of PSI VII 757, the Greek papyrus with a fragmentary text of Barn. 9.1–6a. See pages 40–43 (no. 757).

  • Wright, W. A Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts Preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge. Vol. 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1901.

    Catalogue details the contents of Codex Cantabrigiensis Univ. Add. 2023 (sy), a miscellany that includes on fol. 61v, Barn. 19.1–2, 8; 20.1. See pages 600–628.

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