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The Gospel of Barnabas is a text that has turned up in the form of 16th century manuscripts in Italian and Spanish. The text claims to be the witness of Jesus' disciple Barnabas, however its content runs quite contrary to Christian doctrine in every major tradition that I know of.

Secular media, however, loves to trumpet its claims and it periodically makes the rounds in pop culture. Sometimes it is touted as an alternate rendition of the Biblical New Testament account (either to be considered the true one if you discount the NT or a bogus one if you trust it). While the media doesn't tend to cover this, most scholars recognize that it's teachings are hugely divergent from those of Christianity.

What Christian traditions have come down with official statements with direct bearing on this text either approving or rejecting it's claims? What secondary positions (creeds, confessions, etc) could be shown to directly address it? Have any Christian traditions ever given it's teaching any authority?

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The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church asserts that the Gospel of Barnabas was declared a rejected book in the Decretum Gelasianum by Pope Gelasius [Pope of Rome 492-96]. –  Gilbert Le Blanc Jul 11 '12 at 13:00
    
With the absence of any manuscripts or quotes from before the 16th C, there is no reason to believe that the Gospel of Barnabas that exists today is the same one referred to in 5th C. –  DJClayworth Jul 11 '12 at 13:09
    
For what it's worth, I asked something similar to this on the Islam.SE site earlier today. –  Caleb Jul 11 '12 at 13:10
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4 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Both Christians as well as Muslims scholars, for genuinely valid reasons have already rejected the gospel of Barnabas as forgery. Here are a few of these reasons:

  • According to this book, Barnabas was one of Jesus’ original twelve apostles which is not so. Barnabas as an apostle came after the original twelve, and was a fellow missionary with the apostle Paul. In their travels, Paul and Barnabas boldly declared Jesus’ death, resurrection and lordship in the first century. Therefore, this book could not be from Barnabas who was moving with Paul.

  • If Barnabas really is the author then it is reasonable to expect that he would be familiar with the basic facts of Jewish life at this time. This is not so as evident from this book itself. This ancient Italian manuscript departs from the teaching of the Qur'an by calling Muhammad the Messiah rather than Jesus.

  • The word (Christ) is the Greek translation for the Hebrew word (Messiah). Both these words when translated into English mean the Anointed One or the Chosen One. This word is not an obscure or rarely used word, on the contrary it is one of the most famous words in the Jewish and Christian religions. There is no doubt that a religious Jew like Barnabas would have been very familiar with this word. At the very start of the Gospel of Barnabas Jesus is called the Christ.

“God has during these past days visited us by his prophet Jesus Christ (p.2).”

However, thereafter throughout this book Jesus denies being the Messiah:

“Jesus confessed and said the truth, "I am not the Messiah" (chap. 42).”

It cannot be that Jesus is the Christ and deny being the Messiah when both words mean exactly the same thing. Whoever wrote this book did not know the Greek meaning of the word Christ is Messiah. Barnabas was a Hebrew who lived on the island of Cyprus, a Greek-speaking island, and travelled around the 1st century Greek-speaking world. He was Hebrew, knew Greek, and could not have made this mistake with such a famous word. This another reason that this book could not be from Barnabas of First century.

In chapters 20-21 of this book there is mention about Jesus sailing to Nazareth and being welcomed by the seamen of that town. He then leaves Nazareth and goes up to Capernaum. Jesus went to the sea of Galilee, and having embarked in a ship sailed to his city of Nazareth. ...Having arrived at the city of Nazareth the seamen spread through the city all that Jesus wrought (done) ... (then) Jesus went up to Capernaum (chaps. 20-21).

  • Scholars have found a major error in this account because Nazareth was not a fishing village. In fact, it was about 14 km from the Sea of Galilee and situated in the hills of a mountain range. Capernaum was the fishing village that Jesus arrived at with his disciples, not Nazareth. Nazareth and Capernaum were two towns, which Jesus often visited with his disciples therefore any disciple of Jesus would know these towns well. However, the author of this book does not! This casts doubt over the claim that he was a disciple of Jesus. It also puts aspiration on the author that he ever lived in that region. The Gospel of Barnabas makes basic mistakes about the language and geography of the Jewish world in the 1st century A.D. These mistakes have cast doubt over the claim that it was written by Barnabas in the 1st century

  • In the news item, they have shown the photographs of the two or three pages of the book where there is a picture of Cross at some places. This is in contradiction to the stated claim of this book. It claimed that Jesus was human being; it rejects the idea of holy trinity and the crucifixion of Jesus. With this claim, prominently displaying the cross on its pages is self-defeating.

  • The research by Scholars on the Muslims history relating to the writing on Koran indicates that no Muslim scholar has ever referred this gospel until after 1500. This was true also concerning Christian scholars. It is argued that why the Muslim scholars did not refer to this Gospel when there was an intense debate going on between the Muslims and Christians about the identity of Jesus between the seventh and 15th century. It has been established that not one scholar mentioned about the existence of this book at that period of time.

  • Furthermore, the Christians scholars like Irenaeus wrote extensively against the existence of various other anti Christians documents, such as Gnostic gospels classifying them as heretical. Yet not one of Irreaeus letters or documents mentions the Gospel of Barnabas.

  • Perhaps the most indicative of its late date is that the Gospel describes medieval life in Western Europe as well as a 100-year Jubilee that was not declared until fourteenth century.

Not only does the evidence argue against it being written by Barnabas in the first century but also scholars believe the gospel is a forgery. Scholarly research has proved that it was a fake. Even Muslim scholars likewise are also of opinion that it is a fake. The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam states that ”as regards the ‘Gospel of Barnabas ‘ itself, there is no question that it is a medieval forgery”.

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This has some rough edges but does the best job of anything so far in summing up the issue. The witness of Irenaeus and others that would have dealt with this issue is important and answers the question about Christianity's official position. That Islamic scholarship agrees about the nature of the work drives the point home. The material's self-contradictory nature is kind of beside the point. If it was early and genuine, any difficult facts it brought to light would need to be examined. Since it clearly is not, it's display or non-display of a cross hardly matters. –  Caleb Sep 29 '12 at 5:51
    
Wait - did I read one of your bullet-points correctly? A text "set" (if you will) in a 1st century timeline, as an early / original apostle, actually comments on Muhammed, who was born roughly CE 570? Personally I would say that is the biggest problem, right there! Or is it done obliquely, rather than by name? –  Marc Gravell Sep 29 '12 at 6:27
    
@MarcGravell. Please elucidate. –  JoaoRodrigues Sep 29 '12 at 6:50
    
@MarcGravell Assuming I have read you correctly what I meant to say is that the original Barnabas proclaimed Divinity of Jesus, His crucifixion as well as Resurrection along with Paul. Same Barnabas cannot contradict these claims in this book purportedly written by him and therefore the author of this book is not original Barnabas but a pretender for him. –  JoaoRodrigues Sep 29 '12 at 7:07
    
What I mean is "This ancient Italian manuscript departs from the teaching of the Qur'an by calling Muhammad the Messiah rather than Jesus." - such a statement would be clearly nonsense if dated as claimed. –  Marc Gravell Sep 29 '12 at 7:47
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The clearest statements I know of are its exclusion from the N.T. That alone suggests that it was either not present at the time the N.T. was codified or that, if it was present (doubtful as there are no references to it prior to the Renaissance), then it was not viewed as having a substantial claim as being Apostolic.

At a minimun, however, the very fact that scholars believe that he may have borrowed from Dante make all of the claims of authenticity outright laughable if not mockable. I will go ahead and say that I do not believe any church should be held responsible for condemning every single forgery that man can create: if they were, then the churches would likely do little else. The very fact that people even think this document plausible makes me think of the quote, "What do they teach in school these days?"

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Good point on the issue of the Canon! While I understand your reasoning in the second paragraph, that is a stance that can only be held very loosely and only in some cultural contexts. Where I live, you can walk into almost any bookstore in the country and the Gospel of Barnabas will be much more prominently displayed than the Bible under the "Christian" heading (in big stores that have such, at smaller ones just under an "Other religions" heading). When the information most outsiders have on a topic is so poor, the church having an official statement on the matter becomes much more important. –  Caleb Jul 11 '12 at 12:32
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@Caleb Where I live, you can turn on any TV and they will tell you that black is white, right is left, and up is down. I no more expect my Church to officially correct these as than I expect the Church to tell me that the world is round or that the year is not 76 BC. If someone's standards can be described at, "The Church allows everything which it does not deny" then that person is a fool. –  Ignatius Theophorus Jul 11 '12 at 13:46
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This is an English translation of the Decretum Gelasianum de Libris Recipendis et Non Recipiendts. The Decretum Gelasianum was issued by Pope Gelasius [Pope of Rome 492-96].

One of the apocryphum mentioned is "the Gospel in the name of Barnabas".

Now, the document floating around in the present day is probably a 16th century writing, just based on content analysis. However, a version that existed in the 5th century was rejected by the Roman Catholic church as apocryphum.

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The Gospel of Barnabas (original referred to in the Gelacian Decree) is a complete mystery, but the extant copy held in the National Library of Vienna is hardly a mystery. The novel A Deceit To Die For makes a very compelling case that it is connected with the Lead Books of Sacromonte, the Morisco conspiracy in Spain after the Muslims were defeated by the Christians but before they were kicked out of the country. If the novel is close, then the Gospel of Barnabas was an incredible forgery. Today, Muslims around the world believe the Gospel of Barnabas was suppressed by the Church and contains the closest representation of what Jesus taught.

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