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Meeting with the Early Church – Barnabas

Posted by on Mar 17, 2008 in church history, gathering | 2 comments

The Epistle of Barnabas is a very early Christian document. It was probably written sometime between 70 AD and 132 AD, but it was probably not written by the Barnabas who was a friend and fellow-traveller of Paul. The epistle was included in Codex Sinaiticus, one of the earliest complete manuscripts of the New Testament.

In at least one passage, the author writes about the the gathering of the church:

Now, because I want to write many things to you, not as a teacher, but as suitable for one who loves you, I have taken care not to fail to write to you from what I myself possess, with a view to your purification. For this reason, we should be attentive in these last days; for the whole past time of your life and faith will be of no benefit to us, unless now in this wicked time we should stand against coming temptation, as is suitable for children of God. Therefore, in order that the Black One may find no means of entrance, we should flee from every futility (frustration?), and we should completely hate the works of the way of evil. Do not live separate lives, by each going his own way, as those who have already been justified; but by coming together in harmony, you must discuss what leads to the benefit of all. For Scripture says, “Woe to those who are wise to themselves, and have understanding in their own sight!” We should be spiritual; a complete temple to God. As much as depends on us, we should meditate on the fear of God, and we should strive to observe His commandments, in order that we may rejoice in His requirements. (Epistle of Barnabas 4:9-11)

Once again, we see the important of gathering together in unity with other believers. This has been a very important common theme to many of the early Christian writers.

Furthermore, according to the Epistle of Barnabas, there is a danger to every believers going their separate ways without gathering together with other believers. That danger is described as the entrance of the Black One, and – according to the Scripture quoted – pride in assuming that each believer has enough wisdom and understanding on their own.

The remedy is to come together in order to discuss things that lead to the benefit of the entire group. The phrase that I translated “that leads to the benefit of all” is very similar to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians:

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV)

While Paul seems to focus on each person speaking and serving for the benefit of others, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas has a different focus – the individual. The individual benefits when he or she comes together with other believers to discuss mutually beneficial things. Thus Paul and this author are talking about the same type of meeting, but from different perspectives.

Given the close proximity, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas may also be connecting the gathering of believers with meditating on the fear of God and striving to keep God’s commandments. If so, then a meeting of believers should aid all present in thinking about God and in obeying him.

One final note, the verb that I translated “discuss” in the phrase “you must discuss what leads to the benefit of all” is a Greek verb that means “discuss”, “carry on a discussion”, “dispute”, “debate”, or “argue”. It is a compound verb combining the verb “to seek” with the preposition “together with”. You can find it in many passages in the gospels and twice in Acts (6:9, 9:29). This verb is stronger than the verb that is usually used to describe “discussion” in the church such as in Acts 19:9 where Paul “spoke to” or “dialogued with” Christian disciples in the school or Tyrannus or in Acts 20:7 when Paul “spoke to” or “dialogued with” the church in Troas.

At the time of the writing of the Epistle of Barnabas, the church meeting had not turned into a time for one teacher to present a monologue type sermon.

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Meeting with the Early Church Series
1. Introduction
2. Pliny’s Letter
3. The Didache
4. Ignatius’ Letters
5. Clement of Rome
6. Epistle of Barnabas
7. Justin Martyr
8. Conclusion


2 Comments

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  1. 3-31-2008

    Just curious. Do you think there is a way to interpret the phrase “as those who have already been justified” in a way that does not contradict evangelical soteriology?

  2. 4-1-2008

    David,

    That’s a good question. I suppose it could be translated “those who have already been judged” or “those who have already been demonstrated as righteous”. It is the verb that is usually translated “justified” or “made righteous”, although I think James may use it more in the sense of “demonstrate righteousness”.

    -Alan