Why don’t the Christians include the gospel of Barnabas?
We need to first understand how the Bible came to be, what the Gospel of Barnabas is, and how it relates to both the Bible and the Qur’an.
First off, the Bible was codified in stages. The Hebrew scriptures were differentiated by Jewish leaders around the 2nd AD century. There was a lot of Christian writings and people were getting confused as to what was Christian and what was Jewish. So Jewish leaders got together and agreed what books would be included in the Cannon.
Not long after, Christians accepted those books as the Old Testament – as apposed to the new testament Christ started at the Last Supper.
Now there was still a lot of popular writing going around and Christian leaders (called Bishops) started to make lists as to the books and letters they thought should be in the cannon. Basically the criteria was it should be written by an apostle or have a long history of being held in esteem by the church, and agreed with an orthodox understanding of theology. It took a little while, but eventually Bishops agreed on the books we have in the New Testament. It was formalized in the Second Council of Trullan of 692 but was generally accepted by the mid-300’s.
Why is this important?
Well, it’s important because we don’t add books to the Bible.
The Gospel of Barnabas
Now let’s understand what the Gospel of Barnabas is. It’s not the Epistle of Barnabas. The Epistle of Barnabas is an ancient Christian book that teaches about the lordship, death and resurrection of Jesus. It was very popular in the early church but didn’t make it into the Bible because it was written later than the first century – when the apostles were still alive.
There is some interesting passages in the Gospel of Barnabas that suggests an even later date of it’s writing. I got a lot this information from here.
The author seems to be missing information about first century Palestine:
- 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, throughout the book Jesus denies being the Messiah: [Jesus confessed and said the truth, “I am not the Messiah” (chap. 42).] How can Jesus be 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.
- In chapter 3 we are told that Herod and Pilate both ruled in Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth: [There reigned at that time in Judaea Herod, by decree of Caesar Augustus, and Pilate was governor.] This is historically wrong for Herod and Pilate never ruled Judea at the same time.
- In chapters 20-21 of this book we are told 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).] There is a major error in this account. 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
So it doesn’t seem the writer had the access to the knowledge we have of first century palestine.
So when could it have been written?
The author of the Gospel of Barnabas describes nine heavens before paradise:
[Paradise is so great that no man can measure it. Verily I say unto thee that the heavens are nine, among which are set the planets, that are distant one from another five hundred years journey for a man … and Verily I say unto thee that paradise is greater than all the earth and heavens together (chap. 178).]
This is the same way Dante describes it in his Divine Comedy. Dante wrote in the 14th century. We don’t have any other description of nine heavens before Dante. That’s really not proof maybe Dante got his description from the Gospel of Barnabas.
The Gospel of Barnabas has Jesus saying “(I)nsomuch that the year of Jubilee, which now comes every 100 years, shall by the Messiah be reduced to every year in every place (chap. 82).”
There is only one time in history that the jubilee was 100 years, not 50 years. In the year 1300 A.D. Pope Boniface VIII falsely proclaimed that the Jubilee should be celebrated by Christians every 100 years instead of 50 years. However the next Pope, Clement VI, changed it back to every 50 years, and so it was celebrated in 1350 A.D.
This suggests a reasonable time for it to be written. If it was was written when other people say think, it should be included with the Dead Sea Scrolls. There was no Gospel of Barnabas in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I know there are claims that the Gospel of Barnabas was considered Canonical in the Churches of Alexandria up until till 325 A.D…but there is no proof for it. Also (Rahim, p. 41) says Iranaeus quoted extensively from Gospel of Barnabas to refute the Apostle Paul…but he’s wrong on two accounts. First, I’ve read all the writings of Iranaeus and he never quotes the Gospel of Barnabas. Second, Iranaeus endorses Paul and uses Paul’s writings as scriptural. Muhammad `Ata ur-Rahim throws baseless argument after unsubstantiated fact after un-evidenced claims all in an attempt to prove the antiquity of the Gospel of Barnabas. At best it’s unscholarly.
Tension with the Qur’an
But really, that’s not the important part of the discussion. It’s more important to know how the Gospel of Barnabas relate to the Qur’an.
I know as Christians we wrestle with the tension of apparent contradictions in Scripture. Things like the trinity and if God is always good means that at times we need to hold to conflicting ideas.
There is tension in Islam as well.
- Marriage in the Qur’an binds a woman to one man but it does not bind a man to one woman. Muslim men are free to have several wives (Qur’an 4:3) and an unlimited number of female servants (Qur’an 70:30). However, the Gospel of Barnabas teaches the Biblical idea of marriage, that marriage binds a man and a woman equally together: [Let a man content himself therefore with the wife whom his creator has given him, and let him forget every other woman (chap. 115).]
- The Qur’an clearly teaches that Mary had pain when she gave birth to Jesus:[(A)nd she withdrew with him to a far place. And the pangs of childbirth drove her unto the trunk of the palm tree. (Qur’an 19:22-23, Pickthall)] However, the Gospel of Barnabas teaches the opposite: The virgin was surrounded by a light exceeding bright, and brought forth her son without pain (chap. 3).
- The Qur’an teaches that there are seven heavens: [The seven heavens and the earth praise Him (Qur’an 17:44, Pickthall).] However the Gospel of Barnabas teaches that there are nine heavens: [Verily I say unto thee that the heavens are nine, among which are set the planets, that are distant one from another five hundred years journey for a man (chap. 178).]
- The Qur’an teaches that Jesus is the Messiah, and it never teaches that Muhammad is the Messiah: [Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary (Qur’an 3:45, Pickthall).] However, the Gospel of Barnabas denies that Jesus is the Messiah, and instead says Muhammad is the Messiah: [Jesus confessed and said the truth, “I am not the Messiah”. (chap. 42). Then said the priest: “How shall the Messiah be called?” … (Jesus answered) “Muhammed is his blessed name” (chap. 97).] Both these ideas apparently contradict the Qur’an.
Why Isn’t the Gospel of Barnabas Part of the Christian Cannon?
So to me it’s clear why the Gospel of Barnabas isn’t accepted by Christians as part of our Cannon – It’s not written by an apostle. It’s contrary to orthodox thought. It’s likely written over 1400 years after the fact.
The question for me is “How do Muslims handle the tension between the Qur’an and the Gospel of Barnabas?”
Thanks for your question. I learned a lot. I hope I haven’t offended you with my response. I would very much like to hear your response to this article.