Episode 37 - Gospel of Barnabas
A main piece of evidence used for the "imposter on the cross" argument is the Gospel of Barnabas. Some think this text is even better than the four canonical Gospels. The text teaches that God made Judas look like Jesus so he could get crucified instead. With those things in mind, some argue that there really was an imposter on the cross, and there's been a massive cover up by Christians to hide this fact. In this episode we dive into the facts regarding the usefulness of the text, the dating of it, and the different problems found within it.
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Hello and welcome to the Ultimate Questions podcast. This episode is going to be a bit different, which you’ve probably already noticed, given the length of the episode. Last episode we started to evaluate the “imposter on the cross” argument, which is a counter argument against the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that tries to say Jesus never rose from the dead, because He never died on the cross in the first place! Instead, someone else was crucified in Jesus’ place. This argument is very popular in Muslim circles, so it’s good to understand where they’re coming from, and how to respond. We dealt with all the other points last time, but we didn’t touch on the most common argument Muslims use, which is the Gospel of Barnabas. This episode will be going into a good bit of depth regarding the Gospel of Barnabas, which normally I would split into multiple episodes, but I knew that it was a very specific topic that would be very useful to a handful of people, but most of the other listeners wouldn’t want to have a month or so of episodes on the Gospel of Barnabas, so I figured I’d make one long episode for those interested, and for those who aren’t, don’t worry, the podcast will go back to normal next episode. That said, I’ve run into the “imposter on the cross” argument in quite a few discussions with Muslims, and found researching this topic to be very interesting, and will be quite helpful in my future conversations. We’re going to look at what the Gospel of Barnabas is, what sorts of claims are made within the text, the pro-Muslim aspect, the anti-Christian aspect, how we date it, and then we’ll go into the problems related to the text. So, let’s dive into it.
Importance of the Gospel of Barnabas
There are different versions of the “imposter on the cross” argument, but mostly the argument is put forth by Muslims who think Allah switched Jesus with someone else. The reason they think this is because the Quran says that it only “appeared” to everyone that Jesus was crucified. They then make the inference that Allah must have switched appearances, so that everyone thought it was Jesus, but it wasn’t. While there are problems with this, like the fact that it makes Allah a liar, and that it disagrees with literally all the historical data we have access to, we dealt with those issues in the last episode. Right now, we want to look at the Gospel of Barnabas. The reason Muslims and their apologists are so excited about the Gospel of Barnabas is because it’s a very old text, which says exactly what they already believe. It states that God took Jesus away, and made Judas look like Jesus, so Judas got crucified, but everyone thought it was Jesus. If this really is an ancient Christian text, or even a first century document, as some Muslims claim, then this would absolutely give a lot of credibility to the “imposter on the cross” argument. Additionally, the Gospel of Barnabas actually supports a great deal of other Islamic claims as well, to the point that it looks like the author was deliberately trying to hit on all the ways Islam and Christianity are different, and to give support to the Islamic view. If this document predates Islam, then it would definitely be a great piece of evidence for the Muslim position, so that they can discredit every way that Christianity is different from Islam. They typically argue that, once Christianity rose to prominence, the Christians in power silenced all the “true” texts, and advocated for the texts that validated their own positions. They then say that there were prophecies of a coming prophet, Muhammad, who would set all the theology straight. To these sorts of Muslims, the Gospel of Barnabas is an early source that they claim was censored because it taught the truth.
As I’ve said, some Muslim apologists love the Gospel of Barnabas. For example, Abdullah Yusuf Ali wrote a commentary on the Quran, and refers to the Gospel of Barnabas favorably, as if it were an ancient position among early Christians, as evidence for there being an imposter on the cross. Suzanne Haneef wrote a book titled, What Everyone Should Know about Islam and Muslims, where she says of the Gospel of Barnabas, “Within it one finds the living Jesus portrayed far more vividly and in character with the mission with which he was entrusted than any other of the four New Testament Gospels has been able to portray him.” She also calls the Gospel of Barnabas “essential reading for any seeker of the truth.” Then we have Muhammed Ata ur-Rahim, who wrote the book, Jesus, A Prophet of Islam, where he writes, “The Gospel of Barnabas is the only known surviving Gospel written by a disciple of Jesus…. [It] was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the churches of Alexandria up until 325 A.D.” Then lastly we have M.A. Yusseff, who wrote the book The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Gospel of Barnabas, and the New Testament, where he says that “in antiquity and authenticity, no other gospel can come close to The Gospel of Barnabas.” While some Muslims will recognize that the Gospel of Barnabas is actually a forgery, you can see that many other Muslims, even academics, regard it very highly. I should also stress that it’s basically only Muslims who are favorable towards it, where everyone else does recognize that it’s a very late forgery, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Content of the Gospel of Barnabas
To begin evaluating the text, we should first get an understanding of what exactly we find within this text, which claims to be a Gospel of Jesus Christ, written by Barnabas, who, in this text takes the position of the twelfth apostle after Judas’ death, rather than Matthias as the Bible claims. The text is very large, being roughly the size of all four canonical Gospels put together. While it has a lot of content, the important part right now is the ending. In the Gospel of Barnabas, Judas betrays Jesus, leading the soldiers to where He was praying. Jesus hears the soldiers coming, is terrified, and runs away. Then we read in chapters 215-216,
“Then God, seeing the danger of his servant, commanded Gabriel, Michael, Rafael, and Uriel, his ministers, to take Jesus out of the world. The holy angels came and took Jesus out by the window that looketh toward the South. They bare him and placed him in the third heaven in the company of angels blessing God for evermore… Whereupon the wonderful God acted wonderfully, insomuch that Judas was so changed in speech and in face to be like Jesus that we believed him to be Jesus.”
At this point everyone was fooled, even the disciples, and even Jesus’ mother Mary. Then in the trial scene, we have Judas ranting and raving, claiming he’s not Jesus, and everyone thinks that he is Jesus, and that he’s gone insane. Interestingly, the text says that John and Peter were witnesses of this scene, where Judas was on trial, looking like Jesus, and raving like a madman. With that in mind, it’s a drastically different account than what we find in the canonical Gospels, one of which was written by John, and another which was written by Mark, who used material he got from Peter. So it’s quite interesting that the Gospel of Barnabas explicitly says John and Peter were present to see the “apparent” Jesus acting insane in the trial, when their Gospels give a very different story.
At this point in the Gospel of Barnabas, it says something else quite interesting. We read in chapter 217 that the disciples had forgotten what Jesus had taught, which was that “he (Jesus) should be taken up from the world, and that he should suffer in a third person, and that he should not die until near the end of the world.” This idea that Jesus should suffer in a third person, and not die Himself until the end of the world, is treated as though it was a prophecy Jesus had given, which we find nowhere else in recorded history, not even earlier in the Gospel of Barnabas. Then after Judas is crucified, Jesus comes back to all His disciples, and corrects everyone, telling them all that He didn’t die, and instead, it was actually Judas made to appear like Him. Once again, this is interesting, because all the disciples are corrected in this regard, according to the Gospel of Barnabas, and yet, we don’t find any accounts of this at all, and find plenty of accounts that contradict this story. If Jesus really did tell all His disciples that it was Judas who died in His place, then why do we have zero historical record of any of the disciples making this claim, and why do we have so many very early, even eyewitness accounts, all saying the opposite of this?
After Jesus corrects all His disciples, He then instructs Barnabas to go out and correct everyone regarding these events, helping people to become “undeceived” by the deception God had brought about, which is apparently the reason for the Gospel of Barnabas. When asked why God would deceive everyone like this, Jesus tells them that it’s because God is allowing Jesus’ disciples to be punished for loving Jesus too much, so that they wouldn’t have to go to hell. This idea seems linked to the notion that the disciples had believed that Jesus was God, which is blasphemous, so God was allowing them to be deceived for a time to save them from hell. It also states that, in a sense, Jesus had failed in His mission, because so many people thought He was God. Because of this, God would allow Jesus to be mocked for all human history, by having the whole world think He was shamefully crucified. It then says that, at a later time, God would send another prophet, named Muhammad, who would correct this bad theology regarding Jesus’ death. And if you’re thinking, really? It actually says Muhammad would be a prophet in the future, and gives his name? Yes, it does, quite a few times actually.
In the very end of the book in chapter 222, we read, “For certain evil men, pretending to be disciples, preached that Jesus died and rose not again. Others preached that he really died, but rose again. Others preached, and yet preach, that Jesus is the Son of God, among whom is Paul deceived.” In other words, we see evidence that the writer of this document fully recognizes that there is historical record of people being understood as disciples of Jesus who were claiming Jesus had died, risen again, and was the Son of God. He even condemns Paul by name, saying that Paul himself was deceived. We also find this same sentiment in a lot of Muslims, where they really hate Paul, because Paul’s theology is so obviously praising Jesus as God, teaching that Jesus died and rose, and that salvation is found in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Basically, the entire premise of Christianity is so explicit in Paul’s writing, that the Muslim is forced to condemn it, and what we find in the Gospel of Barnabas is blatantly criticizing Paul, and what he wrote. It’s just incredibly odd since, apparently Jesus corrected all of His disciples, and yet historically we find that Paul knew all the disciples, and agreed with them on theological matters. Was Paul simply lying about knowing the disciples, and working closely with them? Was Luke just lying in the book of Acts about everything he wrote regarding the Early Church? If so, why are these false historical accounts so incredibly early, and why do we not find anyone contradicting them? Also, why do we find the disciples of the disciples confirming everything we read in Luke and Paul’s books? We also know the students of Jesus’ disciples, and they all teach that Jesus was God, died on the cross, and was resurrected. Really, the entirety of our historical data disagrees with the story we read in the Gospel of Barnabas.
Arabic and Anti-Christian Aspects
With the content of the Gospel of Barnabas in mind now, it’s interesting to notice the amount of Arab and Islamic influence on this story. This text is so helpful for the Muslim position, bringing correction to basically every way Christianity and Islam differs, that it just seems far too convenient to be true. We also find a lot of references within the Gospel of Barnabas where it seems to be heavily biased towards an Arab worldview. For example, we find Jesus in the garden bowing a hundred times while praying. We see a similar attitude towards prayer in Islam, where it’s more about the obligation to pray a certain way, than it is about a real connection with the divine. This looks far more like the duty-based prayer traditions of Arabs within Islam than it does the passionate and heartfelt prayer we read about in the canonical Gospels. We also find the obviously Islamic point where it affirms that Jesus only “appeared” to be crucified, which is what the Quran states. The Gospel of Barnabas also condemns the belief in Jesus as God, which is another big theological difference between Christianity and Islam. We even see in chapter 39, where it gives the story of Adam being created by God, and immediately afterwards says that Adam saw bright letters in the sky which read, “There is only one God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because this is the Shahada, which in Islam is a statement you must recite if you wish to become a Muslim. Adam is obviously confused, because this statement infers a person named Muhammad, so he asks God if God had created other humans before him. God respond that he created Muhammad’s soul 60 thousand years before he created anything else, and that Muhammad will come into the world as a human in the future. This is so obviously trying to advocate for Islam that it’s really hard to see it any other way. Not only do you have Muhammad being explicitly named many times within the Gospel of Barnabas, but you even have the Shahada being stated, thousands of years before Muhammad was even considered a prophet. The text also says in chapters 191-192 that the Old Testament was written by Moses and Joshua, and it says that they were “Ishmaelites”, and that the Messiah would be an Ishmaelite. For those listening that don’t know, Ishmael was Abraham’s other son, where Isaac is the father of the Hebrews, Ishmael is considered the father of the Arabs. This is very interesting, because it’s trying to say that all the important people like Moses, Joshua, and the messiah, were Ishmaelites, meaning Arabs, rather than from Isaac, being Hebrews. We find something similar in chapter 212 where it says, the “Lord our God, God of Abraham, God of Ishmael and Isaac.” Again, this is interesting, because it’s clearly trying to do the same thing we find throughout the Bible, where it refers to “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”, but it has switched the names so that it includes Ishmael, who is the father of the Arabs. In these cases it seems obvious that the writer of the Gospel of Barnabas is deliberately trying to justify Islam, and bring more respect to the Arab race. It also seems clear that the writer of the text was fairly ignorant, because no Muslims or Arabs have ever thought of Moses or the messiah as being Arabs. In this way, it seems we have clear evidence that the author had an agenda to “Islamify” Christianity, and bring respect to the Arab people, even though he was clearly ignorant about certain details pertaining to both Christianity, and Islam. We’ll see more examples of this as we continue.
We also see within the Gospel of Barnabas a lot of anti-Christian concepts, where it really does seem like the general purpose of the text is to contradict many aspects of Christianity. As I mentioned earlier, in the text itself it says that Jesus told Barnabas to write this text, so as to correct everyone, and fix the deceptions. One example of this is that Christianity brought about the “new covenant”. While we won’t go into great depth of the doctrine of this, basically, we read in the New Testament that God brought His people out of all the Old Testament obligations like eating kosher, and circumcision, where these things were no longer necessary to serve the Lord God. However, we find in the Gospel of Barnabas a very direct statement that, if you are not circumcised, you cannot go to heaven, and that the anti-kosher beliefs are actually doctrines from Satan. This further shows the author’s attempt to attack and discredit Paul, basically saying that what Paul taught is from Satan, rather than God. We also find many times in the Gospel of Barnabas it condemns the idea of Jesus being the Son of God, and even says that this is a doctrine of Satan. This alone shows that this text was not written by anyone in the Early Christian Church, because universally the earliest Christian writings all affirm Jesus as the resurrected Son of God. We even find in the book of Acts that the real Barnabas himself affirmed Jesus as the resurrected Son of God. Again, I find this very strange, considering the earliest writings we have by Christians teach that Jesus is the Son of God, so the entirety of Christianity would have all been Satan worshipping idolators, meaning Jesus did far more damage than He did good. Further, it’s interesting that the Gospel of Barnabas actually does teach that Jesus did a lot of damage, and that God punished Jesus for leading people astray, even though it was by accident. All in all, the whole point of this text appears to bring correction to the false Christians doctrines, and help them align with the truth, which just happens to be what Islam teaches. We even find in the preface to the book where Barnabas explicitly says that the purpose of the book is to correct the ideas of Jesus being the Son of God, that circumcision isn’t necessary for salvation, and the permitting of eating unclean meat. It even states that these ideas are from Satan, and then names Paul as being one who is deceived.
Problems in the Content of the Text
While all of those aspects I’ve mentioned might seem strange to a Christian, a Muslim could quite easily agree with all of it, and still believe the Gospel of Barnabas to be correct. However, there are other things in the text that make it look like the writer was quite ignorant of the facts, and just got a lot of things wrong, regardless of whether you’re a Christian or a Muslim. For example, the Gospel of Barnabas in chapter 214 says Judas was paid 30 gold, rather than 30 silver. It also says in chapter 3 that Jesus was born when Pilate was governor, which is impossible, because Pilate wasn’t the governor until about 26-27 ad. The text also says in chapter 20 that Jesus sailed to Nazareth, which is impossible, because Nazareth isn’t on the shore. It also says in chapter 92 that Jesus spent 40 days on Mount Sinai, and then came by the river Jordan to go to Jerusalem. This is impossible because Sinai is incredibly far away from the river Jordan, and from Jerusalem. It would take more than a week to get there, but the Gospel of Barnabas treats it like it’s an afternoon walk. Then we also have chapter 145 which says that, during Elijah’s time, there were over 17 thousand Pharisees. This is quite literally impossible, since the faction of the Pharisees didn’t exist during the time of Elijah, with there being roughly 700 years in-between Elijah and the first Pharisees. In chapter 6 we find an interesting problem, because it affirms Jesus as the “Christ”, however, in chapter 42 Jesus denies being the messiah. In case you aren’t aware, the title “Christ” just is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for messiah, so for Jesus to be the Christ, but not be the messiah, is nonsensical. Another interesting theological point is that in chapter 79 Jesus says that people should read the Old Testament prophets, and that if you despise them, then you are actually despising God Himself. However, in chapter 44, Jesus had already mocked the writings of Moses, by saying that it was corrupted, that Moses didn’t write it, and that it was written by rabbis who didn’t fear God. So in this sense, Jesus was mocking the writings of the prophets, so by His own admission, He would be mocking God. All these details show that the author was familiar with the content of the Bible, like Judas accepting a bribe, or Pilate being governor, or the concept of Pharisees, but they also show that he was quite ignorant of the specifics and details, constantly making errors. These sorts of errors don’t make any sense if this text was actually written by the real Barnabas, and make far more sense if we have someone removed from the biblical culture, and who was familiar with the Bible, but didn’t actually have it on hand.
In addition to the factual errors found in the Gospel of Barnabas, we also find many places where it disagrees with Islam. Considering Muslims are typically the ones trying to use the Gospel of Barnabas to prove their point, the fact that the text disagrees with the Quran in many places should cause Muslims to not rely so heavily on the text, or to even respect it at all. In the Gospel of Barnabas chapter 178 it says there are nine heavens, when Islam says there are seven. In chapter 23 it says that circumcision started with Adam, rather than Abraham, which is not only contrary to the Quran, but also has no justification, and again just shows the ignorance of the author. In chapter 112 it says that Jesus won’t get to heaven until the judgment, where Islam teaches Jesus was raised to heaven and is there now. The Gospel of Barnabas also says that the messiah will come from the lineage of Ishmael, which means he would be an Arab, and further, as previously mentioned, the Gospel of Barnabas says that Jesus isn’t the messiah, when in Islam, He is. There seems to be a big mix up in this regard in the text, where it looks like the writer of the text seems to have misunderstood the purpose of Muhammad in Islam. The writer says that Jesus is the Christ, who is the one announcing the coming of the actual messiah, who is Muhammad. In fact, in chapter 42, the Gospel of Barnabas has Jesus saying that He is a “voice that cries”, announcing the way of the messenger of God, and that He isn’t even worthy of untying the shoes of the messiah. If you’re familiar with the canonical Gospels, that should sound incredibly familiar, because that is what is said of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the messiah, who is Jesus. In this way, it seems as though the author of the Gospel of Barnabas either deliberately, or accidentally, got mixed up between John the Baptist, Jesus, and Muhammad, getting confused and calling Muhammad the messiah. It even says in chapter 97 that there was coming another prophet, who is the messiah, and would be the final prophet, and that his name is Muhammad. All of these points are false in both Christianity, and Islam, and show that the author was incredibly ignorant and confused.
Argument for an Early Dating
At this point we have a good grasp of the content of the book, how it is heavily supportive of Islamic concepts and Arabs in general, how it speaks against Christianity, and even how it contradicts Islam. With all that in mind, we can already see that this text shouldn’t be respected, regardless of religious affiliation. However, what if it really is an early text, and it’s true, and everything else that came later is false? To evaluate that, we can now look to the dating of the book, to see if it really is an ancient text that could possibly have been written by the real Barnabas. To begin discerning the date of the text, we’ll first look at the argument for an early dating. The Gospel of Barnabas as we know it is from two translations of the original text, which come from the 1500s and the 1600s. The text of the book claims it was written by the Barnabas of the first century that we find in the New Testament book of Acts. These translations we have are very late, but they are the only manuscripts we have of the Gospel of Barnabas. However, we do have two ancient references to a text titled “The Gospel of Barnabas” within other documents, and these two references do indeed place the original text before Islam! Even if the text isn’t first century, if it predates Islam, that would be a huge win for Islam, since it predicts Muhammad, and confirms Islamic teachings, before they came about. So what are these two references to the Gospel of Barnabas that predate Islam? What we find are two ancient lists of books, each of which gives a list of both biblical and non-biblical books. The first is the Decretum Gelasianum, which is from roughly 550ad. This work is mostly just lists of books, declaring what books are to be considered part of the Bible, what books are from well respected authors, and then what books are written by heretics or considered apocrypha, and thus are not to be respected or read by Christians. The Gospel of Barnabas is found among this final list, meaning, even by 550ad, Christians already recognized that the Gospel of Barnabas was not to be respected. That said, the Muslim position would say that, by this time, Christianity had already been defiled by false teaching, and the great conspiracy and coverup to shut down anything against Paul’s teachings had already happened, so we should actually expect to find the Gospel of Barnabas being disrespected by the Roman Catholic Church.
The second reference to the Gospel of Barnabas is found in a work called the “Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books”, which is from the 600s ad. It contains a list of Old Testament books, then New Testament books, and then good books that are not considered Scripture, and then lastly, a list of apocryphal books. Once again, we find the Gospel of Barnabas in the final list, showing it was not considered Scripture, or even respected.
To summarize, the Gospel of Barnabas is found within two ancient lists, and the dates of these lists would show that this Gospel of Barnabas would predate the Quran and Islam. If this is true, then the Gospel of Barnabas couldn’t possibly have been influenced by Islam. In fact, the more outrageously Islamic something looks within the Gospel of Barnabas, for example the explicit mentions of Muhammad and the Shahada, the more it would make it seem like a legitimate prophecy found within the text, which would legitimize Islam! Many Muslims and their apologists will show this evidence as if it’s a complete slam dunk. We have mentions of the text that predate Islam, therefore the text can’t possibly be influenced by Islam. However, there’s a big question in the middle of those two points; is the Gospel of Barnabas found in the translations from the 15 and 1600s the same text as the Gospel of Barnabas in those two ancient lists? That might seem like a strange question to ask, as though the Christian is grasping at any reason to be skeptical, but as we look at the data, it seems like this question is actually an incredibly justified question to ask.
Argument for a Late Dating
The basic issue to deal with here is whether there are actually two works with the title “The Gospel of Barnabas”. To begin our evaluation of whether the Gospel of Barnabas we have is the same as the one the ancient world had, let’s consider a few points. To start, we have no surviving copies of the Gospel of Barnabas that predate the 1500s ad. To be honest, that’s not really too uncommon, since there are many ancient works we know existed, because they’re referenced by others, and yet we don’t have any copies of them. That said, it gets worse, because we don’t even have any scraps of copies of the text, nor do we have any quotes from the text. Usually, if there’s some ancient text we no longer have copies of, we can at least find quotes from the text within other people’s works, or at the very least, a mention of some of the content from the text. To convey this point, you know the two lists that contain mention of the Gospel of Barnabas? All of the other documents listed as apocrypha have scraps of manuscripts, quotes found in other works, or even whole copies, where the Gospel of Barnabas is the only one that we literally have absolutely no reference to anything within the document, until the 1500s. No one ever writes about it, positively or negatively, except for the two mentions of it, merely including it in those two lists. To compare, other works that were considered heretical or apocryphal get dealt with, sometimes at great length, by other Christian writers. Even though it’s for the purpose of refuting them, Christian writers would quote many passages from apocryphal works, which has helped us get a better grasp as to what other ancient writers wrote about in these documents we no longer have access to. With the Gospel of Barnabas, there’s a very puzzling silence. If this really was an ancient document, written by Barnabas himself, trying to correct all the problems in Christianity, you would think someone, somewhere, at some point, would at least briefly comment on it, especially since Early Church writers did this very often. And yet, we find absolutely nothing. Even if the Muslim view is correct, that the Christians tried to silence anything that disagreed with what they taught, you would expect to find a lot more censorship, but instead, we find many of the writers actually quoting their enemies. Or, on the other hand, we would expect to find some reference to the content of the Gospel of Barnabas, and we just don’t. In all honesty, it seems as though the ancient Gospel of Barnabas just wasn’t popular or interesting enough to even warrant refutation. If the Gospel of Barnabas we have in our hands today is the same as the ancient one, then it’s very strange that no one ever commented on it. The point here is that there is a very surprising complete lack of reference to the content of the Gospel of Barnabas, so we have no way at all to compare it to the present day Gospel of Barnabas, to see if it is in fact the same text. That said, simply not having a way to confirm that our Gospel of Barnabas is the same as the ancient one doesn’t then mean they must not be the same. So in order to continue our argument for a late dating, we need to look at the manuscripts that we have for the Gospel of Barnabas that we’re familiar with.
As I mentioned, we have two manuscripts of a “Gospel of Barnabas”, which is where we get the text that we’re familiar with, and have been evaluating in this episode of the podcast so far. The one manuscript is a Spanish translation from roughly 1600ad, and is missing 80 chapters, and the other manuscript is an Italian translation that was written roughly between the 1560s and the 1620s. The Italian manuscript has different marks of Islamic style, and even contains Arabic and Turkish within it, showing it was almost certainly created by Muslims. There were different scholars who claimed that these texts very obviously seemed to be forgeries made by Muslims for the purpose of promoting their own theology. One scholar who made this claim was George Sale, who was at one point in possession of the Spanish copy. Sale also made mention of the Gospel of Barnabas as being a “Gospel in Arabic”, which led people to believe that possibly the Gospel of Barnabas was originally in Arabic, although it’s also possible he was merely saying this was the Gospel that the Arab people wrote. Regardless, there’s no way that the first century person known as Barnabas in the book of Acts could have even possibly written in Arabic, Spanish, or Italian, so we know that, at the very least, we do not have the document in its original language, unless the text we have was written very late, while claiming to be very early, which we’ll show evidence of soon.
When evaluating the date of the content of the Gospel of Barnabas, all the quotations of the Old and New Testaments found within the text are taken from the Latin translation of the Bible called the “Vulgate”, which was made in approximately 380 ad. This would mean that, since it quotes from a Bible translation created in about 380, the text itself must be older than 380, and could not possibly be written by the real Barnabas, nor could it be an eyewitness account. This is because you cannot quote from something that doesn’t exist yet, and no one lives for four hundred years! Additionally, we find many details within the text that very strongly infer that the text is no earlier than the 1300s, and quite probably the 1400s or later. To start, there are many places that use medieval language, showing it was written in the 1300s or later. There’s also a reference in the Gospel of Barnabas that says the Year of Jubilee is every 100 years. The problem is that, biblically, the Year of Jubilee is every 50 years, however, in 1300 the pope made a declaration that they would do the Year of Jubilee every 100 years. This was later changed again by the succeeding pope just a few decades later. This means that, whoever wrote the text “The Gospel of Barnabas” that we currently have, wrote it with the influence of thinking the Year of Jubilee was every 100 years. Since the only time where that has ever been the case was the first half of the 1300s, that would place the writing of the text to roughly that time period, and no earlier. Also, the text refers to a vassal and lord relationship in chapter 68, which is a medieval concept, and wouldn’t have been known prior to the medieval times. We also see in chapter 99 a reference to duels between rival lovers, which, again, is a medieval concept, as a part of the culture regarding chivalry. There’s also chapter 152, which talks about casks of wood being filled with wine, which, once again, was a medieval way of storing wine, as opposed to the Palestinian method of using wine skins. There’s also a part in the Italian text in chapter 54 that mentions the denarius being made of 60 minuti. These gold coins were used only in Spain under Khalif Abdul Malik, which was in 685ad, which means it would be impossible for the real Barnabas to know that.
We also find quotes within the Gospel of Barnabas from Dante’s Inferno, which was written in 1320ad. There is the idea of “false and lying gods”, which is found in the Gospel of Barnabas in chapters 23, 78, 128, and 217, and which we find in the Inferno in section 1.72. We also have a reference to “raging hunger” which is in chapter 60 of the Gospel of Barnabas, and is in the Inferno’s first canto. There’s also the idea of “circles of hell” which is described in the Inferno in places like the 5th and 6th cantos, which we find a very similar description of in the Gospel of Barnabas’ depiction of hell, with chapters 58-59 being good examples. Also, both Dante and the Gospel of Barnabas say there are nine heavens, which is unique. There’s also a place in the Gospel of Barnabas chapter 106 that says the wicked soul will be cast to hell with ice and snow, which seems incredibly odd, however, we find in the Inferno’s 9th and final hell there is ice and snow. Considering the Inferno had just come out, and was popular, it would make sense for it to be on the mind of an author during this time period. The fact that we see quotes and references from the Inferno within the Gospel of Barnabas gives strong evidence that this time period was when the Gospel of Barnabas was written.
Probably the most damning problem to the Gospel of Barnabas, which shows it can’t be first century, shows the ignorance of the author, and even undermines its own theological point, is found in chapters 91 to 92. Here it states that Jesus and His disciples kept “the 40 days”, which, given the context, is obviously a reference to the keeping of Lent. This is a really interesting point regarding not only the dating, but also the ignorance of the original author. Leaving behind the fact that Lent probably began in the 300s ad, and thus would be impossible for Barnabas and Jesus to know about, there’s the far more important aspect that the purpose of Lent is to prepare the Christian for the time of Easter, which is obviously a celebration regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. Considering Lent is regarding Easter, how in the world could Jesus and His disciples be celebrating Lent, if Easter hadn’t happened yet? Furthermore, part of the entire purpose of the Gospel of Barnabas is to condemn the idea that Jesus died and rose again, and here we find Jesus and His disciples celebrating Easter by observing Lent.
In some places the person in favor of an early dating of the text could try and say that the problems are merely cases of being a bad translation. For example, when the text refers to vassals and lords, perhaps the translator simply used a bad translation of those words. They could also make that claim for the moments that the text has quotes from the Vulgate, because it could be that when Scriptural quotes came up, they used the version of the Bible they were familiar with, rather than giving a real translation of the text. These cases would be lazy and bad interpretations, but wouldn’t necessarily show a late writing of the Gospel of Barnabas. However, the other cases, like the Year of Jubilee being 100 years, the concept of duels between rival lovers, wine being stored in casks of wood, quotes from Dante’s Inferno, and then Jesus celebrating Lent, are all obvious cases of the writing of the text being during the 1300s at the earliest. These are very clear pieces of evidence that show the Gospel of Barnabas we have access to could not possibly be from the first century, or written by the real Barnabas, or even written by an eyewitness. Instead, we have undeniable evidence, with a few different examples, showing that the Gospel of Barnabas we have was actually written no earlier than the 1300s ad.
Now, that said, there is still a little debate as to whether there is some reference to an actual early work of the Gospel of Barnabas found within the text, that was merely polluted later by Muslims. If this is true, there actually is an early text of the Gospel of Barnabas, and this text was added to and changed much later, with the changes coming about in the 1300s or later. If we take the best-case scenario for the Muslim position, this would mean that the “real” Gospel of Barnabas might have possibly been early, but it’s lost, and what we have in our hands now is an error-ridden document that was drastically changed, in many different ways, all throughout the document, to the point that even the greatest scholars in the field can’t discern what the original text said. Realistically, there’s no way to tell the origins of its creation, whether there’s early content in the text, or how early that content might be. It’s indisputable, at the very least, that the text has been very severely altered during the 13 or 1400s, and that it was a deliberate attempt on the part of Muslims to lie, with the agenda of discrediting Christianity, and promoting Islam. As I said near the beginning of the podcast, the whole purpose behind the text seems to be to focus on the ways that Christianity and Islam differ, and to give credibility to the Islamic position.
Origin of the Text
After realizing that the text has, at the very least, been heavily altered to suit an agenda, the question then comes up, where did this text come from then? As I mentioned earlier, we have two manuscripts of this text. One is Italian, and the other Spanish. Again, the Italian document has marks of Islamic style, and contains Arabic and Turkish, showing it came from a Muslim source. As for the Spanish text, it actually contains prefaces to the text, and in the one preface it says that the manuscript itself was obtained by someone called “Fra (or friar) Marino”, which is probably a fake name, used to protect the person’s identity, since he’s advocating for something counter to Christianity. The preface continues to say that this “Marino” person was a part of the Inquisition Court, which is actually somewhat ironic, if it’s true. Marino tells his readers that he found the Bible very confusing. He then says that he was introduced, because of his job during the inquisitions, to various ancient texts that made him think that the Bible had actually been polluted (which is a common Islamic argument against Christianity). He also began to believe that there must be other true texts that had been excluded from the New Testament. Some of his reasoning for this was that, since Paul and Barnabas had an argument at one point, it would make sense that many disciples of Jesus would be writing their own versions of the Gospel. Then, as luck would have it, he just happened to stumble across the Gospel of Barnabas within the library of pope Sixtus the fifth, and after reading it, he converted to Islam. Lastly, Marino also writes about how the Early Church writer Irenaeus disliked Paul’s writings and theology.
Now, already this story should be raising some red flags. Firstly, the conflict between Paul and Barnabas was very minor, only being a disagreement over who to bring with them on their journey. Not only that, but they made up later, with Paul admitting he had been too harsh. This does not at all sound like justification for new Gospels springing up from various disciples. Also, while there have been many other texts claiming to be written by popular figures from Jesus’ ministry, you can find ancient lists, like the ones mentioned earlier in this episode of the podcast, which point out which works were legitimate, and which were false. Another major point to consider is that, if you actually read Irenaeus, he was not against Paul’s writing or theology at all, in fact, he quite clearly considered the writings of Paul to literally be Scripture. While there could be some truth to Marino actually being a part of the inquisition court and going through a crisis of faith when he found the Gospel of Barnabas in the pope’s library, we have a lot of reason to think he was both highly ignorant of the facts, and also deliberately lying about things like Irenaeus disliking Paul. This should cause us to begin to doubt the story he gives us in his preface.
We also find something else that’s very interesting in the Spanish version’s preface, which is that it says the document was translated by an Aragonian Morisco by the name of Mustafa de Aranda, while he was based in Istanbul. The Moriscos were originally Muslims who were forced to convert to Christianity, and were then kicked out of Spain. Additionally, Istanbul was a Morisco refuge. In other words, the Spanish text itself links its origins to a group of Muslims who had a grudge against Christianity. While the preface by Marino tells an interesting story, which might have true elements, it seems quite obvious, given the link to the Moriscos, along with all the errors mentioned, and all the elements of a late dating, that this Gospel of Barnabas was actually a forgery by Morisco Muslims who had been abused by Christians.
We’ve already caught Marino in a couple of lies here, and we know the text did come (by its own admission) from a group of Muslims who had reason to hate Christianity. While Marino says the Gospel of Barnabas caused him to convert, that seems quite unlikely. Given the fact that we’ve caught Marino in lies already, that the document was forged in the 1300s or later, and that it’s tied to Muslim translators, it seems more plausible that Marino himself likely had ties to the Moriscos, and that he made up the whole story in the preface to attempt to legitimize the Gospel of Barnabas to a Christian audience. It seems very unlikely that the pope would have this random obscure document in his library, which was clearly a modern forgery by Muslims. Again, it seems like Marino invented this part of the story, to try and convince people of how valuable the text was, so that Islamic doctrines could be promoted in Christian circles. If nothing else, given that the document was forged in the 1300s, that it seems obvious to have been the work of Muslims, and the fact that the preface says the Spanish text was translated by Moriscos, really helps us see that the forgery was committed after 1300ad by Morisco Muslims to advance Islamic doctrine.
How do Muslims View it?
At this point, it should be obvious that the text we currently have called “the Gospel of Barnabas”, is not worth any respect at all, and it definitely doesn’t support the “imposter on the cross” argument. But there’s still a few issues to wrap up. There’s been many Muslims and Islamic apologists that have very strongly advocated for the Gospel of Barnabas, and consider it far more trustworthy than any of the canonical Gospels. Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim, who wrote Jesus, a Prophet of Islam in 1981, very strongly affirmed the Gospel of Barnabas in a section of his work that has come to be titled “How the Gospel of Barnabas Survived”. It appears as though this was incredibly influential, because many of the points he wrote have been reiterated by many Muslims. In this part of his work, he says that it was silenced by Christians, and that “The Gospel of Barnabas was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the Churches of Alexandria up until till 325 A.D.” He also says that it was circulated very early, and that it was banned because of the Council of Nicaea, where they chose from about 300 books, and picked which ones they liked best. I cannot stress this enough; there is absolutely zero evidence that any of this is true, which is why it’s not surprising that he lacks any citations to prove his points. Firstly, we see absolutely no references to it even being respected in any Christian circles, nonetheless considered part of the Bible. Also, how in the world could he know that the text was circulated widely, considering we have literally no copies of the text, and not even a quotation, or even a reference to the content of the book has survived. Further, the Council of Nicaea had nothing to do with the choosing of the books for the New Testament. You can read what happened in the council for yourself; it had nothing to do with choosing books. The books of the New Testament were basically assumed by everyone at that point, and had been decided for a long time. It’s quite a common remark by Muslims that this is where the books of the New Testament were decided, but there is no evidence of this, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.
We also see Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim arguing for the Gospel of Barnabas by saying that Irenaeus opposed Paul because Paul was bringing Roman religion and Platonic philosophy into Christianity, and that Irenaeus quoted a great deal from the Gospel of Barnabas. Again, there is absolutely no evidence of this at all. Irenaeus was quite in favor of Paul’s writings. He quoted him quite extensively, and even considered Paul’s writings to be Scripture. There’s also no evidence that Irenaeus ever quoted from the Gospel of Barnabas. You can even read Irenaeus’ work for yourself, and see that these are just blatant lies. Next, Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim argues that the Gospel of Barnabas was found on Barnabas’ corpse when the Church found his burial site. However, what he seems to be talking about is a reference to the Acta Sanctorum, or, the Acts of the Saints, which says that, when Barnabas’ burial place was found, he had a copy of the Gospel of Matthew on his chest. Again, this document has been used widely by Muslims as a way of defending the Gospel of Barnabas, so as to argue that there really was an imposter on the cross. This has been the main way that Muslims have tried to give an argument against the saving message of Jesus Christ, and it’s based on lies. So, in this very influential work, that has aided many Muslims in blindly affirming the Gospel of Barnabas, we find that the author is just flat out lying to us, asserting completely false information, with no evidence to back up his claims. This is dishonest, and regardless of your religious affiliation, it should make your blood boil.
Next up, what about those early records of the Gospel of Barnabas? After all, there are two lists, one from the 500s, and the other from the 600s ad, that refer to a “Gospel of Barnabas”. It seems as though there really was an ancient text with this name, and there are a few possible explanations as to what happened. It’s possible the ancient text referred to in those lists was a real text, and just wasn’t very popular, so there weren’t enough copies around for it to survive all these centuries. Then, in the 14th century, Muslims got their hands on it, and changed it drastically, where we can see many places with evidence of 14th century anachronisms within the text. Another possibility is that the ancient text did exist, but didn’t survive the ages. Then, in the 14th century, a Muslim decided to invent a new text, which just happened to have the same name as another ancient text. This could have been done by accident, or it could have been deliberate, if the writer knew there was an ancient text by this name that had not survived. If the accidental part seems unbelievable, it’s actually more likely than you would think. People writing books and using the names of New Testament characters was actually very common. As an example, there were so many documents with the names “Peter” or “John” attached to them, that it actually took extra time to canonize the New Testament books with those names, because the authorities wanted to make sure they were authentic, and not one of the many forgeries. As another example, we have the Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Barnabas, the Acts of Barnabas, and the Epistle of Barnabas. There were many books floating around, all of which having very similar titles, and grabbing a hold of popular figures from the New Testament. The idea that two of the apocryphal books might have had the same name actually isn’t that unlikely.
Regardless of all the possibilities of how this text could have come about, the obvious truth is, at the very least, the text has been so corrupted by Muslims, with such a plethora of data showing it to be a late forgery, and no signs of it being early, that we really can’t respect it. Everyone agrees with this point, except for some Muslims apologists that refuse to give it up. There is zero evidence that this is an ancient text, and zero evidence that it is a legitimate source. It was written far too late to be used in an argument for there being an imposter on the cross, and is definitely a Muslim forgery. Even if this were an early text, it was never respected as legitimate, or even as good reading. Even if it were respected, there’s so many factual problems that it shows the author was incredibly ignorant. Even if all that weren’t true, it still contradicts Islam, so Muslims shouldn’t want to use it anyways. So why do Muslims still use it? If it were authentic, it would be helpful for the “imposter on the cross” argument. The Muslim apologist is either ignorant of everything I’ve said in this podcast, or, they are hoping that people don’t know anything about the Gospel of Barnabas, which is likely, so that they’ll still eat it up. They want to surprise you by saying that there is an “early Christian source” for the imposter theory. Truthfully, either they do know how bad it is, and are trying to deceive you, hoping you won’t look into it, or, they’re just ignorant of the facts, and are merely passing on what they’ve heard from others. We can see this in cases, as I mentioned in the beginning of the episode, where Muslim scholars have very strongly advocated for the Gospel of Barnabas, for example, M. A. Yusseff who wrote, “in antiquity and authenticity, no other gospel can come close to The Gospel of Barnabas.” Given everything we’ve learned today about the late dating, the factual errors, the forgery, how it contradicts itself, contradicts Christianity, and even contradicts Islam, Yusseff and others like him were either lying through their teeth, or were just ignorant of the facts. Considering he wrote a book on it, I doubt he was ignorant, but I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t lying to the world.
The Gospel of Barnabas is the main piece of evidence that the imposter on the cross argument is based on. All of our data points to it being a 14th century Muslim forgery, filled with errors, and that it was an attempt by Muslims to deliberately lie to Christians, trying to make them believe there was an early source for the imposter theory, when in fact, there is no evidence for that position whatsoever. Once the reader realizes this is a deliberate deception, the whole argument for the “imposter on the cross” falls apart very quickly, and we’re left with the only argument for the position being, “because the Quran says so”.
Hopefully that has definitively solved the matter for you in regards to the Gospel of Barnabas. Next time on the podcast we’ll be diving into another counter against the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is referred to as the “swoon theory”, and is also held by many Muslims. The point behind that being that, Jesus was actually crucified, but that He never actually died, and instead, just passed out on the cross, and later on revived, and everyone thought He had been resurrected. So I hope you’ll join me next time for the swoon theory argument, here on the Ultimate Questions podcast. And if you’re interested in more of my content, please check out jontopping.com.