It is quite unusual for me to get three questions on the same topic within a week.  This means to me that there is a lot of interest in the question.  When I got three questions on the Gospel of Barnabas within a week, I decided to compile them into an article.

The Turkish government announced recently the recovery of an ancient manuscript in gold lettering on vellum (see the links mentioned below).  For reasons that are not clear, they have chosen to not release pictures of the manuscript or to make the actual manuscript available to scholars.  This lack of information has given a number of Muslim apologists an opportunity to abuse the information vacuum, bringing back to life a totally unfounded claim that there existed a truly ancient alternative gospel called the Gospel of Barnabas which supports the view of Jesus found in the Q’uran.

Add to this the fact that the Vatican has requested to see the manuscript.  One cannot blame them for asking to see the evidence, as we can be confident the manuscript will not support the Muslim position.  Muslim apologists have manipulated this natural request by the Vatican into support for a conspiracy theory–claiming that the Pope is trying to cover up the evidence, which is in fact the exact opposite of the truth, as the Catholic Church is asking to bring the evidence into the light.  Is the Turkish government withholding the document for cynical religious purposes, or is it out of legitimate scholarly concern?  Time will tell.   I am copying and pasting the three articles below and will add a couple of final comments at the end.

Question:

Wondering what you think about this?  http://www.the-open-mind.com/500-year-old-bible-claims-jesus-christ-was-not-crucified-vatican-in-awe/   I know this is somewhat old news that has resurfaced and I’ve read what you had to say about Barnabus’ letter and his gospel and how it is clearly written after Jesus’ time. Can you go a bit more in depth into how you know that it was written later?

Answer:

All we can go on is evidence. Here is the evidence: A letter called the Gospel of Barnabas showed up as a manuscript in the late 1600s. There is absolutely no evidence of this document before this date. Zero. None.  This fact alone suggests that the Gospel of Barnabas was written at a late date.  Besides, the document clearly was written in order to create a case for Islam.   It is a compilation of the four canonical gospels, with the principle difference being interpolations rather obviously placed there in an attempt to reverse engineer the gospel to make room for statements about Jesus in the Qu’ran.  This proves beyond a doubt that it was created after the spread of Islam (7th century) Add to that the fact that this “gospel” showed up in Tunis (in Tunisia–a Muslim country) in the seventeenth century.

In all questions where we do not have “proof” we should ask what is the most reasonable conclusion. In this case, the most reasonable conclusion is that there was definitely no “Gospel of Barnabas” before Islam existed (7th century AD), and very likely the document was produced closer to the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, when we have record of its existence. Might Muslims have created this bogus “gospel” earlier–for example in the tenth to fifteenth centuries? Yes, that is possible, but we have no evidence to support this. What we can say with 100% certainty is that this is not a genuine alternative version of the Christian gospel.

My conclusion based on the evidence: The supposed “Gospel of Barnabas” is a Muslim-inspired document which was written after AD 650 for sure and most likely was written closer to the 17th century.

Please bear in mind that the only reason this even came up is that some rather obviously biased people used total speculation about a document in Turkey which they have not even seen to create interest in a document which almost certainly has nothing to do with the manuscript discovery in Turkey. This is a NON-story, and the best thing we can do is refuse to be dragged into a foolish discussion with biased people who have no interest in the actual truth about the document found in Turkey. When people get into foolish, sinful gossip at work, the best thing you can do is refuse to participate. I suggest you have the same policy about this completely contrived Gospel of Barnabas issue.

John Oakes

Comment:

Saw this pop up today on Facebook. Not sure how old the whole thing is but it often cracks me up even though I find it sad at the same time that people throw this around social media to discredit Christianity and in their eyes it’s always that one “smoking gun”. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3ALspOA4xo4GAJ%3Amoorishharem.com%2FCulture-detail%2F1500-year-old-bible-confirms-that-jesus-christ-was-not-crucified-vatican-in-awe%2F+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a

Response:

I will have to say that this kind of nonsense really makes my blood boil.   The tragedy is that some people actually give credence to this kind of utter nonsense.   Here are the facts, at least the best I can tell from a quick bit of looking around.   We should look at the actual facts before we even begin to discuss speculations.   Apparently, there was an ancient manuscript found in the hands of antiquities smugglers in Turkey.   The other apparent fact is that this manuscript is on what appears to be vellum or parchment (leather made from lamb or other skin), and that it is in gold-colored lettering, making it an unusual find.   Also, the manuscript appears to be in Syriac. Unfortunately, the article you sent me says that it is in Aramaic, which is not true. It is in Syriac which is similar to Aramaic like Spanish is similar to French.   This Syriac document is probably a translation of an earlier Greek document, but if that is the case, we will have to wait for legitimate scholars to get their hands on this manuscript.

I will have to do some more research, but what was presented (and I cannot confirm yet) is that the Turkish government is in possession of this manuscript and has not yet released it to the general public for some reason. It is possible that certain Muslims are holding back the document in order to fuel speculation for cynical purposes, but we will see about that as well.

Now, let me get to the article you found, which is one of many out there.   Someone somewhere speculated that this new manuscript might be related to the long-lost supposed “Gospel of Barnabas.”   There you have it. This is sheer speculation without even the slightest shred of evidence to support the speculation!

The supposed Gospel of Barnabas was referred to in a list of Gnostic texts in the seventh century. To date, no actual manuscripts of this document have been found.   In fact, we do not even have supposed quotes from what has been called the Gospel of Barnabas.   The evidence for this Gnostic gospel is so thin that it is entirely possible that it literally never even existed.

In any case, someone somewhere speculated that this new manuscript found in Turkey might be of this long-lost letter (which may in fact not even exist at all). There is not even the slightest evidence that it has anything to do with the Gnostic Gospel of Barnabas, yet certain people declare that this is the case, despite the fact that this is sheer, utter, absolute speculation.   It is vastly more likely that this document will be something entirely different. In fact, Turkish authorities who have been privy to seeing the document have cautioned us to not speculate and that Muslims ought to not get their hopes up.

This is a non-story.   Opponents of Christianity are using what is literally zero information as a pretext to criticize biblical Christianity. I am afraid that Muslim apologists, as a whole, are very susceptible to such conspiracy-theory-like factless speculations.   They are an embarrassment to any thinking person, including any thinking Muslim person.   Obviously, not all Muslim apologists stoop to such tactics.   I urge legitimate Muslim apologists to publicly condemn such bogus attempts to undermine Christian belief.

Here are the facts about the Gospel of Barnabas.   There is no evidence that this is an ancient document. The first mention of the document with the title the Gospel of Barnabas comes from a Muslim writer from present-day Tunisia, written about 1634. The manuscript was discovered in Madrid.   There is no evidence whatsoever that this “gospel” was ever written in Greek.   The evidence is that what is called the Gospel of Barnabas is a rewriting of the four gospels whose purpose was to create a version of the story of Jesus friendly to Islamic thinking.   In other words, the Gospel of Barnabas is a revision, from well over a thousand years after the events, which was produced as a sort of Muslim apologetic.   For example, it supports the false claim of Muslims that the prophecy of Jesus about the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 14 and John 16 is actually a prophecy of the coming of Mohammed.   Clearly, any difference between the Gospel of Barnabas and the true biblical gospels was put there for the very purpose of supporting Islam.   This document is of historical interest to understand how Muslims tried to fit the sayings in the Qu’ran into a biblical framework, but we cannot take it seriously as a Christian document, given that it was created in an attempt to convert people from Christianity or to prevent Muslims from converting to Christianity.

Thanks for sending me the article.

John Oakes

QUESTION:

Hello.  I was wondering about the information on the Gospel of Barnabas. I’d like to know who wrote this document and from which point of view was the gospel taken. I couldn’t find about the writer or the author.   Another question please, how can the author judge the language of the Bible.  I heard that even the Pope wasn’t able to read it because Turkey didn’t show it for him. Thanks.

Answer:

First of all, I need to be sure we are talking about the correct document.  There are two literary pieces which have been attributed to Barnabas.  There is the Epistle of Barnabas and there is the Gospel of Barnabas.  These two are extremely different.  The have almost nothing in common.  About the only thing they have in common is that neither was written by the biblical person named Barnabas. The Epistle of Barnabas is a very late first-century (or perhaps very early second century) document written by an orthodox Christian (in other words, its teaching is generally in line with New Testament teaching).  It is not inspired and has never been accepted as inspired, although there were some in the second and third century who recommended it to be read.   

I cover the Epistle of Barnabas in my book on Church History.  I highly recommend you get a copy of this book.  (The Christian Story, available at www.ipibooks.com)   I will copy and paste the little section on the Epistle of Barnabas below.    Skip below for my comments on the Gospel of Barnabas.

The Epistle of Barnabas  The Epistle of Barnabas was considered by many in the early church an inspired letter.  We do not know the date when this letter was composed, but we can be assured that it was not written by Barnabas the companion of Paul on his first missionary journey.  The content of the book narrows the date of composition down somewhat, but not to our satisfaction.  Scholars seem to agree that it was written some time between the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the Bar Kochba rebellion in AD 132, after which any hope of a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem was almost certainly lost.   Most likely it was written after AD 100.  The book takes a strongly allegorical view of Old Testament, which is why scholars tend to think the author may have been from Alexandria, where allegorical interpretation became dominant at a very early date.  The author cites Matthew and Mark and quotes extensively and rather freely from the Old Testament, along with IV Esdras and Enoch—apocryphal books which many in the early church took to be part of the inspired OT canon.  

Along with The Shepherd of Hermas (see below), the Epistle of Barnabas was included at the end of the manuscript known as Codex Sinaiticus.  Sinaiticus is, arguably, the most reliable manuscript we have, being an entire Greek copy of the Old and the New Testaments from about AD 350.  This fact shows the importance given to the Epistle of Barnabas by the early church. The theme of the book is that Jewish forms of religion have never been what God had in mind.  The purpose of the author seems to be to oppose any tendency for the church to maintain a Jewish identity. 

Two rather strong trends in the second century are easily detected in this book.  The first is the tendency of the church fathers, especially those in the school of Alexandria, toward free allegorical interpretation of scripture.  Allegorical interpretation allows one to read between the lines of the obvious literal historical meaning of texts to find hidden symbolic meanings.  The problem with this spiritualizing of the scripture is that it allows the imaginative interpreter to read just about anything desired into the biblical text. There is a second tendency in the second and third century church which is represented in the Epistle of Barnabas.  The writer of Barnabas wanted the church to almost completely repudiate its Jewish roots.  This tendency only increased after the second Jewish rebellion, also known as the bar Kochba Rebellion in AD 132.  After this tragedy all hope for a revitalized Jewish state in Palestine seemed to have disappeared.  Eventually we will be able to extrapolate this trend to an embarrassing anti-Semitism within the church.  This distinctly unchristian behavior included church leaders laying the blame for the death of Jesus on the Jews.  The writer of the Epistle of Barnabas did not go this far. 

The lack of strong and clear reasoning, as well as the unfounded allegorizing of the Old Testament text make one wonder that many in the early church considered the possibility of including this book in the canon of the New Testament.

The writing called the Gospel of Barnabas is something completely different.   Unlike the Epistle of Barnabas, there is no evidence that this is an ancient document.  The first mention of the document with the title the Gospel of Barnabas comes from a Muslim writer from present-day Tunisia, written about 1634.  The manuscript was discovered in Madrid.   There is no evidence whatsoever that this “gospel” was ever written in Greek.   The evidence is that what is called the Gospel of Barnabas is a rewriting of the four gospels whose purpose was to create a version of the story of Jesus friendly to Islamic thinking.   In other words, the Gospel of Barnabas is a revision, from well over a thousand years after the events, which was produced as a sort of Muslim apologetic.  

For example, it supports the false claim of Muslims that the prophecy of Jesus about the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 14 and John 16 is actually a prophecy of the coming of Mohammed.   Clearly, any difference between the Gospel of Barnabas and the true biblical gospels was put there for the very purpose of supporting Islam.   This document is of historical interest to understand how Muslims tried to fit the sayings in the Qu’ran into a biblical framework, but we cannot take it seriously as a Christian document, given that it was created in an attempt to convert people from Christianity or to prevent Muslims from converting to Christianity.

By the way, there was mention in the sixth century of an apocryphal “Gospel of Barnabas” but no copy or even quote from this document has ever been found and there is not the slightest indication that the Muslim-inspired Gospel of Barnabas is even related to this apocryphal book.

About your second question, I am afraid I may need you to explain your question further.   I have a feeling you have been reading material at an Islamic anti-Christian web site.  I suggest you take such material with a giant grain of salt.  Unfortunately, most (but not all) supposed Muslim “apologists” do an incredibly bad job of giving unbiased sources about Christianity in order to defend Islam.   I cannot imagine how it is relevant whether a pope was given access to documents in Turkey.   The fact is that we have Greek manuscripts of the entire New Testament from the early fourth century and dozens of partial manuscripts of the New Testament from the second and third centuries.  For this reason, whether any particular pope was able to see any particular manuscript in Turkey is completely irrelevant to our knowledge of the Greek New Testament.   There was not anything like a modern pope before the fifth century or later and we have much older manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.  We have entire Greek New Testaments from three hundred years before Muhammad wrote the Qu’ran, so any claims by Muhammad or by Muslims that it was changed are really quite ridiculous.   We have thousands of Greek manuscripts and our access to the genuine original Greek of the New Testament documents is essentially perfect, despite false claims to the contrary by certain Islamic scholars who want to confuse the facts in order to push a particular agenda.

Please, if you will, can you send me details of this claim that some pope was not given access to some part of the Bible by someone in Turkey?  Turkey did not even exist until about the 13th century, so it is hard to be sure what you are referring to.  I want to respond to the particular allegation, so please go to the original web site where you found this or send me the web address so that I can respond.

John Oakes

PS  Since posting this answer I learned that there is a fairly recent discovery of an ancient manuscript which was found in the hands of an illegal antiquities smuggler in Turkey.  Apparently, the Turkish government has not made the document publicly available for some unknown reason.  The lack of information on this document has given space to unscrupulous Muslims to speculate that this is because the so-far mysterious document is a copy of the long-lost supposed Gospel of Barnabas.  The problem with this speculation is that there is absolutely NO EVIDENCE that it is true.  It is sheer speculation, being made to push an anti-Christian agenda by unscrupulous people.  This is shameful behavior which should be condemned by all good-hearted Muslims. J. O. –

See more at: http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/can-you-explain-the-nature-of-the-gospel-of-barnabas-and-its-author/#sthash.hBSWKu69.dpuf

John Oakes

Final comments:

Those of us who want to represent Christ to the world through using Christian evidence should take a clue from the acts of these Muslim apologists on how NOT to pursue convincing people of the truth of Christianity.  We should never use a lack of information as a reason or cause of rank speculation and we should never create the false impression that speculation is in any way a valid argument for the truth of the thing speculated.  Let us commit to an honest discussion of the evidence for or against Christian belief in a way that does not manipulate people.  Let us only present arguments which can hold up to scrutiny from those with whom we do not agree.

John Oakes

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