The General Epistle of Barnabas


Preface to the Epistle

1. All happiness in peace to you my sons and daughters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who loved us.
2. Having perceived abundance of knowledge of the great and excellent laws of God to be in you, I exceedingly rejoice in your blessed and admirable souls, because you have so worthily received the grace which was grafted in you.

Early Christians were fond of the horticultural or agricultural analogy of grafting one living thing permanently into another. Compare with: "...receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21)

3. For which cause I am full of joy, hoping with more reason to be saved; inasmuch as I truly see a spirit infused into you from the pure fountain of God:
4. Having this persuasion, and being fully convinced of it, because that since I began to speak unto you, I have had a more than ordinary good success in the way of the law of the Lord which is in Christ.

"And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation), a Levite, [and] of the country of Cyprus" (Acts 4:36) is highly spoken of in the New Testament. He is characterized as sympathetic and generous (Acts 4:37), broadminded, for he brought to the Apostles the newly-converted Paul, still dazzled by his vision on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:26, 27). Barnabas was filled with the Spirit, had the gift of exhortation, and was an inspiring influence (Acts 11:23-26); he was trustworthy, suited for missionary work and suffered persecution with Paul (Acts 11:29, 30, 13:2, 50).

He and Paul worked harmoniously until they disagreed over a co-worker, but they resolved their differences when Paul chose Silas and Barnabas chose Mark, and each went to preach in different areas (Acts 15:36-41)

They again collaborated (Galatians 2:1), but when Peter, for fear of being reproached by Jewish Christians, separated himself from James for eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:19-13), Paul rebuked Peter to his face "because he was to be blamed" and complained that even "Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation." (In Colossians 4:10, Paul mentions he was imprisoned with Barnabas' nephew, and in 1 Corinthians 9:6 he affirms that neither he nor Barnabas lived off donations, but were self- supporting.)

Because he and Paul had "hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:26), Barnabas indeed had the credentials to command respect and the authority to write this Epistle.

5. For which cause, brethren, I also truly think that I love you above my own soul; because in that dwells the greatness of faith and charity, as also the hope of that life which is to come.
6. Considering that if I shall take care to communicate to you a part of what I have received, it will turn to my reward, that I have served such good souls; I gave diligence to write in a few words to you, that together with your faith, knowledge also may be perfect.
7. There are therefore three things ordained by the Lord; the hope of life; the beginning and the completion of it.
8. For the Lord has both declared to us by the prophets those things that are past, and opened to us the beginnings of those that are to come.
9. Wherefore, it will be incumbent on us, as he has spoken, to come more holily, and nearer to his altar.

Although a heavenly altar is mentioned in Revelation 6:9, 8:3, 9:13, and 14:18, it is clear from the context and other citations that Barnabas refers to the church altar where the Eucharist is celebrated. Christ's teaching on that is recorded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-34.

Compare with: "We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." (Hebrews 13:10)

In the Old Testament, priests were given part of most sacrifices for food, but lay people had no right to eat this food. Under the New Covenant, all Christians may eat the food of the altar.

10. I therefore, not as a teacher, but as one of you, will endeavor to lay before you a few things by which you may, on many accounts, become more joyful.


That God has abolished the legal sacrifices to introduce the spiritual righteousness of the Gospel.

1. Seeing then the days are exceeding evil, and the adversary has got the power of this present world, we ought to give all the more diligence to inquire into the righteous judgments of the Lord.
2. Now the assistants of our faith are fear and patience; our fellow-combatants are long-suffering and continence.
3. While these remain pure in what relates to the Lord, wisdom, and understanding, and science, and knowledge, rejoice together with them.
4. For God has manifested to us by all the prophets, that he has no occasion for our sacrifices, or burnt-offerings, or oblations, saying thus: To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me, says the Lord.
5. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of he- goats.

The "fed beasts" refer to lambs.

6. When you come to appear before me, who has required this at your hands? You will no more tread my courts.
7. Bring no more vain oblations, incense is an abomination to me; your new moons and sabbaths and the calling of assemblies I cannot put up with, it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting; your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.

See Isaiah 1:11-14. Note that without modern Bible concordances and other study aids, by allusion and verbatim quotations these early Christian writers show their comprehensive knowledge of the Scriptures.

8. These things therefore God has abolished, that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of any such necessity, might have the spiritual offering of men themselves.
9. For so the Lord again said to these before: Did I at all command your fathers when they came out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt-offerings of sacrifices?

See Jeremiah 7:22, 23.

10. But this I commanded them, saying, Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor, and love no false oath.

See Zechariah 8:17.

11. Because then as we are not without understanding, we ought to apprehend the design of our merciful Father. For he speaks to us, being willing that we who have been in the same error about the sacrifices should seek and find how to approach to him.
12. And therefore he speaks to us, The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart God will not despise.

See Psalm 51:17.

13. Therefore, brethren, we ought all the more diligently to inquire after those things that belong to our salvation, so the adversary may not have any entrance into us and deprive us of our spiritual life.
14. Therefore he again speaks to them concerning these things: You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
15. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
16. But to us he says in this manner, Is not this the fast that I have chosen, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
17. Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? When you see the naked that you cover him, and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh.
18. Then will your light break forth as the morning, and your health will spring forth speedily; your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your reward.
19. Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry and he will say, Here I am. If you put away from the midst of you the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul.

For verses 14-19, see Isaiah 58:4-10.

20. In this therefore, brethren, God has evidenced his foreknowledge and love for us, because the people which he has purchased to his beloved Son were to believe in sincerity; and therefore he has shown these things to all of us, that we should not run as proselytes to the Jewish law.


The prophecies of Daniel concerning the ten kings, and the coming of Christ.

1. So it is necessary that searching diligently into those things which are near to come to pass, we should write to you what may serve to keep you whole.
2. For which purpose let us flee from every evil work and hate the errors of the present time, that we may be happy in that which is to come:
3. Let us not give ourselves the liberty of disputing with the wicked and sinners, for fear that in time we possibly should become like them.
4. For the consummation of sin is to come, as the prophet Daniel says. And for this end the Lord has shortened the times and the days, that his beloved might hasten his coming to his inheritance.

See Matthew 24:15-23.

5. For so the prophet speaks, There will ten kings reign in the heart, and there will rise last of all another little one, and he will humble three kings.

See Daniel 7:24. Apocalyptic passages such as these in Daniel, like those in Revelation, defy definitive interpretation. Whether they foretell near or distant future events, whether those are historical or spiritual, whether a historical reference is symbolic of another historical event or a spiritual one, etc., foments endless debates. Barnabas may interpret all apocalyptic prophecies as spiritual analogies, for he says the ten kings will "reign in the heart," misquoting Daniel.

6. And again Daniel speaks in a similar manner concerning the kingdoms: And I saw the fourth beast dreadful and terrible, and exceedingly strong; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and behold there came up among them another little horn, before which were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots.

See Daniel 7:7, 8. Some commentators think the "little horn" was Antiochus Epiphanes, who destroyed the Temple in A.D. 70. Others believe it may have a dual meaning, a future spiritual as well as a past historical fulfillment.

7. We ought therefore to understand this also, so I beseech you as one of your own brethren, loving you all beyond my own life, that you look well to yourselves and not be like those who add sin to sin, and say that their covenant is ours also. No, but it is ours only, for they have forever lost that which Moses received.
8. For thus says the Scripture: And Moses continued fasting forty days and forty nights in the mount; and he received the covenant from the Lord, even the two tables of stone, written by the hand of God.
9. But having turned themselves to idols, they lost it; as the Lord also said to Moses, Moses, go down quickly, for your people, whom you have brought forth out of Egypt have corrupted themselves, and turned aside from the way which I commanded them. And Moses cast the two tables out of his hands, and their covenant was broken so the love of Jesus might be sealed in your hearts, to the hope of his faith.

For the story of Moses breaking the two stone tablets, see Exodus 32:19 and Deuteronomy 9:11-17.

10. Therefore let us give heed to the last times. For all the time past of our life, and our faith, will profit us nothing unless we continue to hate what is evil and to withstand the future temptations. So the Son of God tells us, Let us resist all iniquity and hate it.
11. Consider the works of the evil way. Do not withdraw yourselves from others as if you were already justified, but coming all together into one place, inquire what is agreeable to and profitable for the beloved of God. For the Scripture says, Woe to them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight.

The first reference is paraphrased, the second verbatim. Compare with: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25); "Woe unto [them that are] wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!" (Isaiah 5:21)

12. Let us become spiritual, a perfect temple to God. As much as we can, let us meditate upon the fear of God and strive to the utmost of our power to keep his commandments, so that we may rejoice in his righteous judgments.

Compare with: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16)

13. For God will judge the world without respect of persons, and every one will receive according to his works.

Compare with: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book of] life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works." (Revelation 20:12, 13)

14. If a man will be good, his righteousness will go before him; if wicked, the reward of his wickedness will follow him.

Compare the following: "Behold, the Lord God will come with strong [hand], and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward [is] with him, and his work before him." (Isaiah 40:10); "Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward [is] with him, and his work before him." (Isaiah 62:11); "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward [is] with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." (Revelation 22:12)

"Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew 5:12; see also Luke 6:23); "But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and [to] the evil." (Luke 6:35); Hypocrites now have their reward (Matthew 6:1-5)

"He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold [water] only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward." (Matthew 10:41, 42); "For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward." (Mark 9:41)

And regarding the ministry: "... every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour." (1 Corinthians 3:8)

15. Take heed therefore for fear that sitting still, now that we are called, we fall asleep in our sins and the wicked one get dominion over us, stir us up, and shut us out of the kingdom of the Lord.

This is probably a reference to the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:7-13, specifically verse 10.

16. Consider this also: although you have seen such great signs and wonders done among the people of the Jews, yet despite this the Lord has forsaken them.
17. Beware therefore, for fear that it happen to us as it is written, There may be many called, but few chosen.

See Matthew 22:14.


That Christ was to suffer is proved from the prophecies concerning him.

1. For this cause did our Lord condescend to give up his body to destruction, that through the forgiveness of our sins we might be sanctified; that is, by the sprinkling of his blood.

Ritual blood sprinkling of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament prefigured the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Compare with: "And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than [that of] Abel." (Hebrews 12:24; see also Hebrews 10:19, 22); "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ..." (1 Peter 1:2)

2. Now for what concerns the things that are written about him, some belong to the people of the Jews, and some to us.
3. For the Scripture says: He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and by his blood we are healed. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is mute, so he opened not his mouth.

See Isaiah 53:5, 7.

4. Considering this, we ought to give thanks to God even more, because he has both declared to us what is passed, and not allowed us to be without understanding of those things that are to come.
5. But to them he says, The nets are not unjustly spread for the birds.

Compare with: "Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird." (Proverbs 1:17); "Deliver thyself... as a bird from the hand of the fowler." (Proverbs 6:5); "Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler..." (Psalm 91:3); "Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped." (Psalm 124:7)

6. This he spoke, because a man will justly perish if, having the knowledge of the way of truth, he will nevertheless not refrain himself from the way of darkness.
7. Because of this the Lord was content to suffer for our souls, although he is the Lord of the whole earth, to whom God said before the beginning of the world, Let us make man after our own image and likeness.

See Genesis 1:26.

8. Now how he suffered for us, seeing it was by men that he underwent it, I will show you.
9. The prophets, having received from him the gift of prophecy, spoke before concerning him:

Compare with: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets." (Hebrews 1:1); "Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." (1 Peter 1:11); "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1:21)

10. But he, that he might abolish death and make known the resurrection from the dead, was content, as was necessary, to appear in the flesh, that he might make good the promise given before to our fathers, and preparing himself a new people, might demonstrate to them while he was upon earth, that after the resurrection he would judge the world.
11. And finally teaching the people of Israel and doing many wonders and signs among them, he preached to them and showed the exceeding great love which he had toward them.
12. And when he chose his Apostles who were afterwards to publish his Gospel, he took men who had been very great sinners; that he might plainly show that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

See Matthew 9:13.

13. Then he clearly demonstrated himself to be the Son of God. For had he not come in the flesh, how could men have been able to look upon him so that they might be saved?
14. Seeing if they beheld only the sun, which was the work of his hands, and will hereafter cease to be, they are not able to endure steadfastly to look against the rays of it.
15. Therefore the Son of God came in the flesh for this cause, that he might fill up the measure of their iniquity, who have persecuted his prophets to death. And for the same reason also he suffered.
16. For God has said of the lash-marks on his flesh, that they were from them [namely, from the Jews]. And, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.

See Zechariah 13:7.

17. Thus he would suffer, because it was incumbent on him to suffer upon the cross.
18. For thus one says, prophesying concerning him: Spare my soul from the sword. And again, Pierce my flesh from your fear.

The source of the first quote is Psalm 22:20; the second is unknown.

19. And again, the congregation of wicked doers rose up against me, (They have pierced my hands and my feet).

These words in parentheses are from Psalm 22:16 (see also Zechariah 12:10) and were doubtless cited thus by Barnabas, because without them, those foregoing do not prove the crucifixion of Christ. But through the repetition of the same proposition, this latter part was so early omitted that it was not in the Latin interpreter's copy.

20. And again he says, I gave my back to the smiters, and my face I set as a hard rock.

Compare with: "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." (Isaiah 50:6)


The subject continued.

1. And what did he say when he had fulfilled the commandment of God? Who will contend with me? Let him stand against me, or who is he that will implore me? Let him draw near to the servant of the Lord. Woe be to you! Because you will all become old as a garment, the moth will eat you up.

See Isaiah 50:8, 9.

2. And again the prophet adds, He is put for a stone for stumbling. Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a precious stone, a choice cornerstone; an honorable stone. And what follows? And he that hopes in him will live forever.

Compare with: "And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel..." (Isaiah 8:14);

"... Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner [stone], a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." (Isaiah 28:19); the Septuagint version of this verse reads: "Behold, I lay for the foundations of Sion a costly stone, a choice, a corner-stone, a precious [stone] for its foundations; and he that believes [on him] shall by no means be ashamed."

"But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because [they sought it] not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." (Romans 9:31-33);

"Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe [he is] precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, [even to them] which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." (I Peter 2:6-8)

3. What then? Is our hope built upon a stone? God forbid. But because the Lord has strengthened his flesh against sufferings, he says, I have put me as a firm rock.

Isaiah 50:7 reads "I have set my face like a flint..."

4. And again the prophet adds, The stone which the builders refused has become the head of the corner. And again he says, This is the great and wonderful day which the Lord has made. I write these things the more plainly to you that you may understand; for indeed I could be content even to die for your sakes.

Compare with: "The stone [which] the builders refused is become the head [stone] of the corner. This is the Lord's doing; it [is] marvelous in our eyes. This [is] the day [which] the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:22-24)

5. But what says the prophet again? The counsel of the wicked surrounded me. They came about me, as bees about the honey-comb. And, Upon my vesture they cast lots.

See Psalm 22:16, Psalm 118:12, and Psalm 22:18. (The scriptures originally were not divided into chapters and verses, so obviously early Christians like Barnabas could not cite chapter-and-verse but relied on memory and sometimes quoted sources out of order.)

6. Because our Savior was to appear in the flesh and suffer, his passion was foretold by this.
7. For thus says the prophet against Israel: Woe be to their soul, because they have taken wicked counsel against themselves, saying, let us lay snares for the righteous, because he is unprofitable to us.

This quote is Isaiah 3:10 as it appears in the Septuagint: "Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, Let us bind the just, for he is burdensome to us..."

8. Moses likewise speaks to them: Behold, the Lord God says, Enter into the good land that the Lord promised to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, that he would give it you and possess it; a land flowing with milk and honey.

See Exodus 33:1-3.

9. Now learn what the spiritual meaning of this is: It is as if it had been said, Put your trust in Jesus, who will be manifested to you in the flesh. Man is the suffering earth, for out of the substance of the earth Adam was formed.

Barnabas is devout and thoughtful, and although sometimes his interpretations may seem a stretch, his attitude toward the Old Testament is typical also of the early Church Fathers, whose acceptance of the divine inspiration of the Hebrew canon was approached mystically in a firm faith that the ancient records held hidden hints of the new covenant, for the new fulfilled the old. Everything in God's old covenant with Israel was an allegory or an analogy of what was manifested in the new covenant of God with the Church.

They took seriously the words attributed to Solomon: "The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun. Is there [any] thing whereof it may be said, See, this [is] new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us." (Ecclesiastes 1:9, 10)

10. What therefore does he mean when he says, Into a good land flowing with milk and honey? Blessed be our Lord, who has given us wisdom, and a heart to understand his secrets. For so says the prophet, Who will understand the difficult sayings of the Lord? He that is wise, and intelligent, and loves his Lord.

Compare with: "Who [is] wise, and he shall understand these [things]? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord [are] right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein." (Hosea 14:9); "A wise [man] will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings." (Proverbs 1:5, 6)

11. Seeing that he has renewed us by the remission of our sins, he has made us another form so that we should have souls like those of children, forming us again himself by the Spirit.
12. For thus the Scripture says concerning us, where it introduces the Father speaking to the Son; Let us make man after our likeness and similitude; and let them have dominion over the beasts of the earth, and over the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea.
13. And when the Lord saw the man he had formed, and that he was very good, he said, Increase and multiply, and replenish the earth. And this he spoke to his son.

See Genesis 1:26-28. Compare with: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:1, 2, 14)

14. I will now show you how he made us a new creature in the latter days.

Both the Church and the individual Christian are called a new man or a new creature (or a second formation); compare with: "Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17); for Jew and Gentile alike: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." (Galatians 6:15); "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace." (Ephesians 2:15); "And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." (Colossians 3:10)

15. The Lord says, Behold I will make the last as the first. Wherefore the prophet thus spoke, Enter the land flowing with milk and honey, and have dominion over it.
16. So you see how we are again formed anew. He also speaks by another prophet, Behold says the Lord, I will take from them, that is, from those whom the spirit of the Lord foresaw, their hearts of stone, and I will put into them hearts of flesh.

Compare with: "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you: and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 11:19)

17. Because he was going to be made manifest in the flesh and to dwell in us.
18. For, my brethren, the habitation of our heart is a holy temple to the Lord. For the Lord says again, In what place shall I appear before the Lord my God, and be glorified?

Compare with: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16); the source for "In what place..." is unclear.

19. He answers, I will acknowledge you in the congregation in the midst of my brethren and sing to you in the church of the saints.

Compare with the following: "I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.... I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.... Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, [and] his praise in the congregation of saints." (Psalms 22:22; 35:18; 149:1)

20. So we are they whom he has brought into that good land.
21. But what does the milk and honey signify? Because as the child is nourished first with milk, and then with honey; so we being kept alive by the belief of his promises, and his word, shall live and have dominion over the land.
22. For he foretold above, saying, Increase and multiply, and have dominion over the fishes, and so forth.
23. But who is there that is now able to have this dominion over the wild beasts, or fishes, or fowls of the air? For you know that to rule is to have power, for a man should be set over what he rules.
24. But because we have not this now, he tells us when we shall have it; namely, when we shall become perfect, that we may be made the inheritors of the covenant of the Lord.


The scape-goat an evident type of this.

1. Understand then, my beloved children, that the good God has before made clear all things to us, that we might know to whom we ought always to give thanks and praise.
2. If therefore the Son of God, who is the Lord of all and will come to judge both the living and the dead, has suffered so that by the lash-marks he received we might live, let us believe that except for us, the Son of God would not have suffered. But while being crucified, they gave him vinegar and gall to drink.
3. Hear therefore how the priests of the temple foreshowed this also: the Lord declared by his written command that whoever did not fast the appointed fast should die the death, because he also was himself one day to offer up his body for our sins; so that the type of what was done in Isaac, who was offered upon the altar, might be fulfilled.

Hebrews 9 deals with how the Jewish priests and temple foreshadowed (Barnabas says foreshowed) the deeds of Christ. The penalty of death for those who did not keep the fast on the Day of Atonement is found in Leviticus 23:39. The story of Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice is in Genesis 22.

Barnabas calls this latter example a "type," which differs from allegory. "Typology" is an integral part of Christian interpretation of the Old Testament.

St. Augustine, who wrote extensively on allegory as a method of interpretation, said: "There are several species of this kind of trope that is called allegory, and one of them is that which is called enigma. Now the definition of the generic term must necessarily embrace also all its species; and hence, as every horse is an animal, but not every animal is a horse, so every enigma is an allegory, but every allegory is not an enigma. What then is an allegory, but a trope wherein one thing is understood from another."

An allegorical interpretation hunts for "the hidden meaning" of Scripture behind the actual words. Typology, however, is not an interpretation of the words but of the events. Thus, types are historical in nature (particular words are not examined at all) and the types depend upon correlation or correspondence. Not all Old Testament occurrences can be said to be types, for not all have parallels in the New. However, in the New Testament writings themselves we are given certain Old Testament incidents which are "types" of the key events in the New.

Although St. Paul says "to speak allegorically" in Galatians 4:24-5:1, he is really speaking of types. St. John Chrysostom wrote: "Contrary to usage he calls a type an allegory. His meaning, however, is as follows: this history not only declares that which appears on the face of it but tells of something to happen later. Therefore, it is called an allegory. And what is foretold? No less than all the things now present."

After taking Paul's examples as a "type," Chrysostom explained: "Thus the type of Jerusalem below was Hagar, as is plain from the mountain being so called -- but that which is above is the Church. Nevertheless he is not content with these types, but adds the testimony of Isaiah to what he has spoken. Having said that Jerusalem which is above 'is our mother,' and having given that name to the Church, he cites the words of the prophet in his favor."

This is not the only use of "types" (called "figures") by St. Paul. In Romans 5:14 he writes: "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come." We can recognize, in a passage in which foreshadowings of the Eucharist are also connected with Israel in the wilderness (I Corinthians 10:1-6), the use of typology in his seeing baptism in the crossing of the Red Sea by Israel.

Christ himself pointed to Jonah as a symbol (type) of his Resurrection (Matthew 12:39-41). Also, the writer of Hebrews (chapter 7) points to Melchizadek as a foreshadowing of Christ.

All this means that the Church is not assigning a new meaning to the prophetic texts, for the meaning was always there, even though it could not be discerned. For when the Church saw Moses, as the giver of the Law foreshadowing Christ, or recognized the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 42 as a prefiguring of Christ crucified, she was not simply making an application of an Old Testament vision to a New Testament event. What she saw was the meaning of the Old Testament passage, a meaning which could only have been discerned after the coming of Christ. Isaiah's vision of the Servant of the Lord is now seen as a historical fact, for Christ has come and fulfilled the vision.

This does not imply that the typology used by writers and teachers in the Church has always perfectly represented these truths. Even anciently there was some slippage from typology into allegory and allegory found its way into homilies and devotional teachings. But in the catechetical teachings, dogma, the creeds, and the writings of the Fathers, a clearer typology was maintained.

The point is that such interpretations have an ancient, honorable, and legitimate place in Christian history and theology.

4. What therefore is it that he says by the prophet? And let them eat of the goat offered for all their sins in the day of the fast. Hearken diligently (my brethren): all the priests will eat only the inwards not washed with vinegar.

Exodus 29:13, 17, 22 and Leviticus chapters 1-7 give instructions for various kinds of sacrifices, but no mention of washing with vinegar. Leviticus 14:4 mentions the use of scarlet and hyssop, but only in the sacrifice of birds. Regarding the two goats, one a scapegoat, see Leviticus 16:5-10, 21-26. The details mentioned by Barnabas are not found in the canonical scriptures, so either we can assume them to have been practiced, or else he strayed from the facts.

5. Why so? Because I know that when I shall hereafter offer my flesh for the sins of a new people, you will give me vinegar to drink mixed with gall; therefore do you only eat, the people fasting meanwhile and lamenting in sackcloth and ashes.
6. And that he might foreshow that he was to suffer for them, hear then how he appointed it.
7. Take, says he, two goats, fair and alike, and offer them, and let the high priest take one of them for a burned offering. And what must be done with the other? Let it, says he, be accursed.
8. Consider how exactly this appears to have been a type of Jesus: And let all the congregation spit upon it, and prick it, and put the scarlet wool about its head, and thus let it be carried forth into the wilderness.
9. And this being done, he that was appointed to convey the goat, led it into the wilderness, and took away the scarlet wool, and put it upon a thorn bush, whose young sprouts when we find them in the field we are accustomed to eat, because only the fruit of that thorn is sweet.
10. And to what end was this ceremony? Consider: one was offered upon the altar, the other was accursed.
11. And why was that which was accursed crowned? Because they will see Christ in that day having a scarlet garment about his body, and will say, Is not this he whom we crucified after we had despised him, pierced him, mocked him? Certainly this is he who said that he was the Son of God.
12. So he then will be similar to what he was on earth, the Jews were commanded to take two fair and equal goats so that when they hereafter will see our Savior coming in the clouds of heaven, they may be amazed at the analogy of the goats.
13. So again here you see a type of Jesus who was to suffer for us.
14. But what then signifies this, that the wool was to be put into the midst of the thorns?
15. This also is a figure of Jesus, sent out to the church. For as he who would take away the scarlet wool must undergo many difficulties, because that thorn was very sharp, and only with difficulty could he get it, Christ says, They that will see me and come to my kingdom, must attain to me through many afflictions and troubles.

It may well be that these are unrecorded words of Christ, but they appear as Paul's exhortation to the disciples after his stoning at Lystra, at which apparently Barnabas was a witness. See Acts 14:14, 22.


The red heifer, another type of Christ.

1. But what type do you suppose it to have been, where it is commanded to the people of Israel, that grown persons in whom sins are come to perfection, should offer an heifer, and after they had killed it should burn it?

This sacrifice is mentioned in Numbers 19:2-10, but as before, without all the details mentioned here.

2. Then young men should take up the ashes and put them in vessels, and tie a piece of scarlet wool and hyssop upon a stick, and so the young men should sprinkle every one of the people, and they would be clear from their sins.
3. Consider how all these are delivered in a figure to us.
4. This heifer is Jesus Christ, the wicked men that were to offer it are those sinners who brought him to death, who afterwards have no more to do with it; the sinners have no more the honor of handling it.
5. The young men who performed the sprinkling signified those who preach to us the forgiveness of sins and the purification of the heart. The Lord gave authority to preach his Gospel at the beginning to twelve, to signify the tribes, because there were twelve tribes of Israel.
6. But why were there three young men appointed to sprinkle? To denote Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, because they were great before God.
7. And why was the wool put upon a stick? Because the kingdom of Jesus was founded upon the cross; therefore they that put their trust in him will live for ever.
8. But why was the wool and hyssop put together? To signify that in the kingdom of Christ there will be evil and filthy days, in which however we shall be saved; and because he who has any disease in the flesh caused by some filthy fluids is cured by hyssop.

A branch of hyssop (a fragrant, blue-flowered plant of the mint family) was used routinely in ceremonial sprinklings of water or blood (Exodus 12:22; Leviticus 14:4, 6, 49, 51, 52; Numbers 19:6, 18; Hebrews 9:19). Its supposed physical curative power, however, is not mentioned in Scripture, unless one wishes to depart from the usual spiritual interpretation of "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean..." (Psalm 51:7). (John 19:29 mentions that hyssop soaked in vinegar was given to Jesus.)

9. These things done this way are to us indeed evident, but to the Jews they are obscure, because they hearkened not to the voice of the Lord.

Compare with: "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption [for us]. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:12-14)

Click here to continue to Chapters 8 to 15

Click here to return to Index