1. Was Barnabas really its author?
This book professes to be a Gospel and alleges that its author was the Apostle Barnabas. We must therefore begin by enquiring who the man Barnabas really was and at the same time must decide whether he is the author of the book we are considering in this booklet. To do this we must make some comparisons between the knowledge that we have of the real Apostle Barnabas in the Bible and the professed author of the Gospel of Barnabas. At the beginning and end of this book two comments appear which immediately assist us in our quest. They are these:
The author of this book uses strong language to denounce the teaching of Paul in particular, especially regarding circumcision; the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus; and the Christian belief that Jesus is the Son of God. The whole book abounds in discourses leveled against those things which the author particularly takes Paul to task for, and there can be no doubt that the author of this book is poles apart from Paul and his doctrine and is diametrically opposed to his preaching and teaching.
This is the first of many evidences against the authenticity of this book for whoever wrote it expediently appended the name “Barnabas” to it as its author, whereas only a brief reflection on the actual profile of the real Apostle Barnabas will show that he cannot possibly be the author of this book.
Let us briefly go through the history of Barnabas in the Bible. He only appears among the apostles after the ascension of Jesus to heaven when the early Christian Church was taking root in the land of Palestine. As a gesture of faith and love towards his brethren, he sold a field he owned and gave the proceeds to the apostles for distribution at their discretion to those who were in need among the brethren. This gesture of kindness was a great source of encouragement to the believers and the apostles accordingly named him “Bar-nabas”, which means “Son of encouragement”. Before this he had been known only by his common name Joseph (Acts 4:36).
Here the author of the Gospel of Barnabas makes his first serious blunder for he suggests throughout his book, not only that Barnabas was actually one of the twelve disciples of Jesus during his ministry on earth, but also that he was known by this name “Barnabas” throughout that period of ministry. On more than one occasion in the book we find that Jesus allegedly addressed him by name and the first occasion, which comes particularly early in the book, is this one:
Now we have here a patent anachronism which destroys the possibility that this book was really written by the Apostle Barnabas. The apostles only gave him the name “Barnabas” (Son of encouragement) after the ascension of Jesus because of the generous act he had done which had heartened the spirits of the early Christians. But the Gospel of Barnabas makes Jesus call him by this name some three years before he ascended to heaven. This is a serious - in our view fatal - objection to the claim that this book was written by the Apostle Barnabas.
As we press on in our study of the life of Barnabas, however, we find further proofs that destroy the claim that this book was really written by him. The next time he appears in the early events of the Church was on the occasion of Paul's first visit to all the apostles in Jerusalem. Because the apostles knew that Paul had in previous years been a relentless persecutor of the early Christians (primarily because they believed that Jesus was the Son of God!), the apostles and other Christians in Jerusalem doubted whether he really was now converted to their faith. It is indeed a revelation to discover, in the light of the vehement attacks made on Paul in the Gospel of Barnabas, just who it was who went to great pains to assure the brethren in Jerusalem that Paul was really a disciple:
We are now confronted with a second serious chain of evidence against the suggestion that Barnabas was the author of the “Gospel” attributed to him. Only seven verses earlier we read that when Paul engaged in public preaching in the synagogue of Damascus, “immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’.” (Acts 9:20) When this same Paul came to Jerusalem, it was Barnabas who vigorously defended him as a true disciple of Jesus.
What a contrast we have here with the book we are considering where the author, supposedly Barnabas, takes Paul to task for the very fact that he was proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of God. The true Barnabas was the right-hand man of this very Paul who publicly taught that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. It is this same Barnabas who represented him at Jerusalem and who spared no effort in persuading the disciples there that Paul really was a disciple of Jesus.
Later on in this booklet we shall show that the Gospel of Barnabas was first written not earlier than fourteen centuries after Christ and that the author, whoever he was, simply chose to make Barnabas the alleged author of his obnoxious forgery. The men we referred to earlier, who have made much in-depth study into the origins and sources of the Gospel of Barnabas, have also tried to ascertain why the real author of this book chose to make Barnabas its supposed author. One or two plausible theories have been suggested, but to this day we have not been able to discover why he did this.
But one thing we do know - the actual author of the Gospel of Barnabas could not have made a worse choice for the “authorship” of his book than Barnabas. He has written this book ostensibly as a defense against “Pauline Christianity” (as some put it) and yet he has, probably without serious reflection, chosen as his author the one man we always find at the side of Paul - recommending him at all times as a true disciple of Jesus and endorsing his preaching wherever he went. To put it plainly, the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has chosen as the alleged author of the book he has composed against the teaching of Paul the very man who supported that teaching more actively than anyone else during his ministry. Barnabas was the spiritual blood-brother of Paul. Our real author has, in a second awful manner, made another calamitous blunder by suggesting that the Apostle Barnabas - of all people! - was the author of the fraudulent “Gospel” he has composed.
As we go further into the life of Barnabas this fact comes out even more clearly. When the church in Jerusalem heard that the church in Antioch was growing well, the apostles decided to send Barnabas there to take over the teaching and instruction of the new believers. But Barnabas, of his own volition, decided that he could not handle this by himself, and decided to obtain the assistance of another fellow-believer well-grounded in the faith for this work. Without hesitation Barnabas went all the way to Tarsus in Asia Minor to find Paul and immediately he brought him to Antioch to assist him in the instruction of the church in the city. We read the following of their ministry:
Under the joint ministry of Paul and Barnabas, the disciples were first called Christians - because Barnabas was a true champion of the very “Pauline Christianity” that the Gospel of Barnabas sets out to refute. After this Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem with aid for the brethren because of a famine that was taking place in the days of the Roman emperor Claudius (Acts 11:28-30). After this Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch (Acts 12:25). They continued to lead the church there and were subsequently sent out by the church to preach the Gospel in the provinces of Galatia (in what is part of Turkey as we know it today).
Wherever they went Paul and Barnabas preached that Jesus was the Son of God and that God had raised him from the dead (cf. Acts 13:33). And yet, the author of the Gospel of Barnabas would have us believe that Barnabas was an archenemy of Paul on these matters! We even find them both proclaiming that the restrictive ordinances of Judaism (e.g. circumcision) should not be forced upon the Gentiles and that they were unnecessary for salvation. A very interesting event in their joint ministry is recorded in these words:
Certain Judaisers had come among the early Christians stating that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Who do we find debating hotly with them on this point? None other than Paul and Barnabas!
And yet, in the Gospel of Barnabas, we read that one of the “impious doctrines” that Paul was holding to was repudiation of circumcision. That he repudiated it as an essential element of salvation we will readily concede (Galatians 5:2-6) - but his chief partner in this repudiation is none other than Barnabas! Once again the author has blundered in making Barnabas the author of his deplorable forgery.
Indeed, according to the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus is alleged to have said to his disciples:
Thus circumcision is an essential element and a prerequisite of salvation in the Gospel of Barnabas and the author obviously assents to this doctrine. But of the real Barnabas we read that he joined with Paul in furiously debating against the doctrine of the Judaisers that circumcision was necessary for salvation. It is quite clear that the real Barnabas was not the author of the book that bears his name and that someone else not only forged this book but misrepresented the name of its author as well.
The current publishers of the Gospel of Barnabas (Begum Aisha Bawany Wakf) are well aware that the major objective of the Gospel of Barnabas is to counteract “Pauline Christianity”. In an appendix entitled “Life and Message of Barnabas” they allege that the passage about the debate on the issue of circumcision reveals a growing rift between Paul and Barnabas. They quote Acts 15:2 (quoted above) and shamelessly comment: “After this rift, there was a parting of the ways” between Paul and Barnabas (The Gospel of Barnabas, page 279). But it is quite obvious that the rift was not between Paul and Barnabas on the issue but between the men from Judea on the one hand who were glorifying circumcision and Paul and Barnabas on the other who were furiously against perverting the freedom of the religion of Jesus with legalistic traditions and restrictions that could save nobody. Because this appendix appears in all editions of the Gospel of Barnabas published today we must say that the whole article is a brazen misrepresentation of the true relationship between Paul and Barnabas. The writer of the article has had to disown conscience in trying to force the theory of the Gospel of Barnabas that Paul and Barnabas disagreed on doctrinal matters.
At no stage is there any evidence that Paul and Barnabas ever disagreed on a matter of doctrine. They once had a minor personal dispute when Paul did not wish to take John Mark on a missionary journey, as he had fallen back on a previous one, to the provinces of Galatia (Acts 15:38-40). This, however, was purely a personal matter which was clearly resolved as we see in other passages of Scripture (Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11). On one other occasion Barnabas was guilty of some religious discrimination with other Jewish Christians in Antioch when they would not eat with the Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:13). Paul censured this strongly but this was also not about a doctrinal matter but one of common fellowship between all Christians no matter what their background. None of these minor disputes had anything to do with the fundamental doctrines Paul and Barnabas so rigidly promoted - the repudiation of circumcision as necessary for salvation, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the basic doctrine that Jesus is the Son of God. Rather we have extensive evidence that Barnabas was the prime vindicator of all these doctrines that Paul taught.
Paul's later letter to the Christians of Galatia helps us even more to perceive the truth of this fact. In the second chapter we read that Paul went up to Jerusalem - with Barnabas of course - taking Titus, an uncircumcised Greek, with him as a test case against the necessity of circumcision (Galatians 2:1). But Titus, however, was not compelled to be circumcised - obviously as a result of the persuasive arguments of Paul and Barnabas against circumcision as an essential element of salvation.
Not only did the apostles at Jerusalem agree with Paul and Barnabas that circumcision was unnecessary but, as Paul said, they “gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.” (Galatians 2:9) Once again the sympathy and unity of Barnabas with Paul is plainly revealed and it is obvious that in the early church, whenever the Christians at Jerusalem thought of Barnabas, they must have immediately associated him with Paul.
In the third chapter of Galatians we have further evidence that Barnabas was a Christian in every way and not one who was opposed to Christianity as the author of the Gospel of Barnabas is. Paul, aggrieved that the Galatians were considering such a trivial matter as circumcision as essential for salvation, openly censured them for losing sight of the wondrous and all-sufficient work of Jesus who alone made salvation a reality for men through his atoning death on the cross. He rebuked them in the following words which show quite plainly what the heart of his message to them was:
We must ask: by whom was Jesus Christ “publicly portrayed as crucified” before the eyes of the Galatians? Who first preached to them the Gospel of Jesus? No one else but Paul and Barnabas! So from this letter we have further concrete evidence that Barnabas was a champion of the Gospel which Paul preached. Certainly he was not only an apostle of true Christian persuasion, but in his quest for Christian fellowship chose Paul as his closest companion. Of all people the Apostle Barnabas could not be the author of the Gospel attributed to him!
The transparent unity in the mission and purpose of Paul and Barnabas is finally made even yet clearer by this brief summary of their activities together:
There is such a contrast between the real Barnabas who through all these events chooses Paul as his companion, and the pseudo-author of the Gospel of Barnabas, who has a positive antagonism to Paul and his teaching, that we cannot help but conclude that the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery. It was not written by Barnabas but by someone else who made a major tactical blunder in choosing a close companion of Paul as the author of this book.
Two points from within the Gospel of Barnabas also show that the author could not be the real Apostle Barnabas. Firstly, this book makes Jesus constantly deny that he is the Messiah (further treatment of this subject follows later in this booklet) and yet the same book calls Jesus himself the “Christ” (The Gospel of Barnabas, page 2). Now any man with a basic knowledge of Greek knows that “Christos” is the Greek translation of Messiah (a Hebrew word) and that “Jesus Christ” is an anglicized form of the Greek “Iesous Christos”, meaning “Jesus the Messiah”. The very real contradiction that exists here in the Gospel of Barnabas is further evidence that the author was not Barnabas himself. He came from Cyprus, an island where Greek was the common tongue, and Greek would have been his home language. The real Barnabas would never have made such a mistake as to call Jesus the Christ and deny that he was the Messiah!
Secondly, the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has chosen to know nothing of the ministry of John the Baptist in his book but has deviously taken the testimony of John to Jesus in the Bible and changed it into a supposed testimony of Jesus to Muhammad. Whether Jesus ever predicted the coming of Muhammad or not is not at issue here (see: Is Muhammad Foretold in the Bible?, booklet number 5 in this series, for a treatment of that subject). What is obvious, however, to anyone who has read the life of Jesus in the Bible, is that the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has tried to make Jesus a herald of the coming of Muhammad in the very mould of John the Baptist who was a herald of the coming of Jesus, and to achieve this he has put Jesus in the shoes of John and has made him say of Muhammad what John really said of him!
Accordingly the author of the Gospel of Barnabas has had to omit the person and ministry of John from his book altogether. But the clear and consistent account of John's ministry in the Bible (see particularly Matthew chapter 3, John chapters 1 and 3) and the plain endorsement in the Qur'an of the ministry of John the Baptist as a herald of Jesus (Surah Al 'Imran 3:39) both expose the deceitfulness of the author of the Gospel of Barnabas. It is certain that the real Barnabas, who was a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24), would never have resorted to such falsehood in the cause of truth to which he was so dedicated throughout his life.
We conclude that there is overwhelming evidence that the real Barnabas was most certainly not the author of the book being circulated today in the Muslim world which purports to be written by him. But now let us press on to a brief examination of the internal evidence of the Gospel of Barnabas to see whether it has any credibility at all, or whether it is not really a “bare-faced forgery”, as George Sale put it, that has been unwittingly distributed throughout the Islamic world in the service of Satan and his causes alone.