THE GOSPEL OF BARNABAS
Muslims like to challenge Christians again and again with the
so-called "Gospel of Barnabas". Mr. Adam Peerbhai of South Africa
has published a booklet in which he considers the "discovery" of
the "gospel" to be one of the greatest finds of mankind. In a very
eloquent way he states that the "Gospel of Barnabas" is the greatest
of all truths (as though there is more than one Truth about God and
Jesus), and that it was history's greatest tragedy that it was
suppressed for nearly 2,000 years. To Mr. Peerbhai it appears
fantastic that though Saint Barnabas was one of the disciples of
Christ (which he actually was not!), yet his Gospel does not appear
in the New Testament, whilst less important ones like Mark, Luke
and St. Paul (!?) do.
"The Gospel of Barnabas" is described as a document that the Church
rejected and destroyed, because it did not agree with the rest of
the body of Christian teaching on Jesus. According to this Gospel
the coming of Mohammed was clearly foretold. One of the copies of
this Gospel was rediscovered in a unique way and thus bears witness,
so it is claimed, to the falsification of the Bible. We shall now
investigate these claims objectively:
The "Gospel of Barnabas" (G.o.B.) first appeared in Holland in 1709.
This manuscript was written in Italian and supplied with footnotes
in poor Arabic. The sources of the "Gospel" are unknown. This document
is now preserved in the Imperial Museum in Vienna.
George Sale translated the Qur'an from Arabic into English in 1734.
In his preface, he mentions another copy of the same "Gospel" in
Spanish. This document is lost and all we know about it is what
Sale wrote down. It says in a statement on the title page that it
was a translation from the Italian by a Spanish Muslim named
Mostafa de Aranda (Aranda is a town in Spain). It further mentions
that the Italian text had been stolen by a monk, Fra Marino, from
the papal library, while Pope Sixtus V was having a little nap.
After reading it Fra Marino became a Muslim. Since that time,
Muslims have claimed that the "Gospel of Barnabas" is an authentic
Gospel, perhaps even the "original" one. In 1907 the G.o.B. was
translated into English by Laura and Lonsdale Ragg. In the
introduction, they provide internal and external evidence to the
effect that the G.o.B. was a Medieval forgery.
Since then Arabic and Urdu translations have been produced, all,
however, without the introduction by the Raggs. Lt.-Col. M.A. Rahim
(Pakistan) reprinted the G.o.B. in English in 1973, again omitting
the introduction, but substituting another one written from the
Islamic point of view. This has been extensively used to demonstrate
that the Bible has been corrupted, when measured against a Gospel
that was hidden away for nearly two millennia. Needless to say, the
G.o.B. largely confirms the teaching of Islam concerning Jesus.
2. THE CONTENT
Of the G.o.B. presents another Gospel narrative, i.e. another
record of the life and ministry of Christ. On most doctrinal
points it differs widely from the accepted Gospel account and in
such a way that the Islamic version of Jesus is emphasized:
Jesus Christ is neither the Son of God, nor divine. He is rather:
"the voice crying in the wilderness" to prepare the way for the
coming Messiah, Mohammed. In the G.o.B. Christ is not the Messiah,
but assumes instead a role similar to that of John the Baptist
in our Gospel account. John the Baptist is not mentioned in the
G.o.B. Consequently, the emphasis in the G.o.B. is on the coming
of Mohammed, the saviour of the world (Chapter 96b and 97b, etc.).
As might be expected, Christ was not crucified (in agreement with
Sura 4:156), but instead Judas was killed in His place. During
the period of His supposed arrest, Christ was hiding in a house
in the garden of Gethsemane from where He was taken out by four (!)
archangels (a much later tradition or legend) through the window
and ascended into the third of seven heavens.
The entire G.o.B. endeavours to show the superiority of Mohammed
THE ISLAMIC CHALLENGE
- It is alleged that the existence of the "Gospel of Barnabas"
before the Middle Ages is confirmed by the "Gelasian Decree"
(Pope Gelasius A.D. 492-495). In this decree the G.o.B. is
rejected by the Church as apocryphal with ten other writings
under the names of Thaddaeus, Matthias, Peter, James
(the younger), Thomas, Bartholomew, Andrew etc. This G.o.B.
was written in Greek. The date of the decree, which is
attributed to Gelasius, is; however, much disputed. It
could well be a hundred years later.
- Muslims claim that the Decree of Pope Sixtus I A.D. 465
also mentions the above apocryphal writings. He was Pope from
A.D. 402-417 There is, however, no mention of the G.o.B. in
- Muslims also claim that the "Decree of the Western Church"
likewise mentions the G.o.B. in A.D. 382. This obviously
refers to the "Council of Rome". All that we know of this
Council comes from the Gelasian Decree, and this is the same
source as (i).
We acknowledge that a G.o.B. was mentioned.
There is no trace of it today, but it was certainly not by
Barnabas, else the Church would not have rejected it. The
above-mentioned "Gospels" were banned as heretical books,
because they were forged. Barnabas was held in high esteem
everywhere. Statements to the contrary and about continuing
disputes between Paul and Barnabas, are untrue. Decrees at
Church Councils were not arbitrarily issued by individuals,
but by the leaders of the local churches, who were very much
concerned about the Apostolic origin of any writing proposed
Whatever writing lacked this, was rejected. There is evidence
that the G.o.B. of Fra Marino is definitely not related in
any way to the rejected G.o.B. of the Gelasian Decree.
- A copy of the G.o.B. was found in the arms of
Barnabas when his tomb was discovered in Cyprus A.D. 478.
A legend has it, that Barnabas appeared in a vision to the
Bishop of Salanus (Cyprus) and said: "You will find a cave
and a coffin, because there my whole body has been preserved
and a Gospel written in my own hand."
Unfortunately, the above quotation ends only halfway through the
sentence, which continues in the original:
"Which I received from the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew."
So he was supposed to have held in his arms a Gospel according
to Matthew written by himself. Besides all this we find it
strange that the republishers of the G.o.B. reprinted the book
without the permission of the translators (plagiarism) and
omitted the explanatory notes, which were the outcome of their
research work. Furthermore, we would reply that all Biblical
(New Testament) writings had been accepted in practice and
circulated among the churches everywhere by A.D. 200. Disputed
were the books Hebrews, I and II Peter and James, but all were
accepted before the Council of Rome in A.D. 382. Up to that
time and thereafter, no mention was made by any of the Church
Fathers, of a G.o.B., whereas all other New Testament books
are referred to extensively by name or through quotations.
Historically, it is unacceptable that another Gospel narrative
that existed and was genuine, could have been squashed and lost
This is neither in keeping with the practice of the early church,
nor possible in view of its system of government. Muslims like
to claim that the G.o.B. is the original Gospel. They reason that
if there are four Gospel narratives there must surely be one
original and they happily accept that this has been rediscovered.
THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER
The reply that it is impossible that a Gospel could be left out
without it being carefully scrutinised.
The books of the New Testament were selected by the early church
leaders, only if they met the criterion of being Apostolic, i.e.
corresponding to the teaching of Christ as the Apostles knew
them, and contemporary to them. The G.o.B. does not meet these
may be defined as proof of the existence of a book gathered from
sources outside itself (W.H.T. Gairdner, page 9). The only mention
of a G.o.B. is in the Gelasian Decree which proves that it was
rejected a considerable time after the canonization of the New
Testament, because of its lack of Apostolic evidence and heretical
content. The following facts show that there is no external
evidence for the existence of the G.o.B.:
- Neither from the time of the Apostles to the Gelasian Decree,
nor thereafter was there any mention of a G.o.B.
- The fact that certain Muslim scholars proved dishonest by
removing the evidence in the Raggs' translation that proved the
G.o.B. to be a forgery; that they omitted half of a sentence
supposed to be about Barnabas' tomb and a Gospel in his arms;
and that they promoted the G.o.B. as an anti-Christian argument,
does not constitute external evidence either, but raises instead
suspicion as to their bona fides.
There is, in fact, no acceptable evidence for the existence of a
genuine "Gospel of Barnabas".
Fra Marino's account of his discovery of the G.o.B. in the library of
Pope Sixtus V (A.D. 1585-1589) is not a story likely to be believed:
"... having accidentally met with a writing of Irenaeus
(a Church Father) wherein he speaks against Paul, alleging
for his authority the Gospel of Barnabas, he became exceeding
desirous to find this Gospel"; and that God ... "made him
very intimate with Pope Sixtus V. One day as they were in
that Pope's library, His Holiness fell asleep and he,
reaching down for a book to read, the first he laid his hand
on proved to be the very Gospel he wanted. Overjoyed ... he
scrupled not to hide his prize ... and on the Pope's awakening,
took leave of him, carrying with him that celestial treasure,
by reading of which he became a convert to Mohammedanism."
We note that Irenaeus never mentioned a G.o.B., nor spoke against
Paul. He recognized Paul's writings as inspired and claimed that
our known four Gospel narratives were the only ones ever given
by God (Gairdner, page 12). If we have a trustworthy piece of
literature this would be self-evident. It would not need any lies
to substantiate its trustworthiness. Mr. Adam Peerbhai writes of
Barnabas (in "Islamiscope"):
"His name is omitted from the New Testament for obvious
Mr. Peerbhai has overlooked the fact, that Barnabas' name is
mentioned 28 times in the New Testament, though not in the
Gospels, because he was converted only after Pentecost. Lt.-Col.
Rahim, in the foreword to his edition, reports on Paul and
Barnabas as follows:
"They returned to Jerusalem and from then onwards they
parted company and Barnabas mysteriously disappeared
from the Bible pages." (Kritzinger, page 9).
This is incorrect again, for nine years later he makes mention
very positively of Barnabas in I Corinthians 9:6. Paul also
restored his relationship with Mark (Colossians 4:10 and
II Timothy 4:11), the nephew of Barnabas. He had been the object
of a dispute between Paul and Barnabas, which made them decide
to part as associates on Paul's second missionary journey
is supplied by the content of the book itself. Any writing is sure
to bear the mark of a particular age. The style, language and
subject matter of the book will betray it (Gairdner, page 9).
First we should like to observe that all quotations in the G.o.B.
from Old and New Testament are taken from the Vulgate translation. (Approximately 380 A.D.) This Latin Bible has been used in the
Catholic Church ever since. The above is an example of an
anachronism because the G.o.B. is supposed to date from before
the Vulgate was written.
"If someone brought you a film which he claimed to have
been made in 1905 and started to screen it and it looked
every bit like an old film, with old clothes and fashions,
you might believe him. If, however, in the middle of a
scene ... you saw a Concorde going across the sky, you
would say ... 'This film is a fabrication.'" (John Gilchrist).
Such is an anachronism. How does the G.o.B. measure up to this
and other tests?
- In the G.o.B. (Chapter 1) "Barnabas" is called an Apostle.
This is not correct in its implication. Although Barnabas is
referred to as an Apostle (Acts 14:4,14), the G.o.B. concept
is quite different.
The conversion of Barnabas took place after the Day of
Pentecost and consequently he does not qualify for
apostleship as outlined in Acts 1:21-22 (and bearing in
mind I Corinthians 15:8, 9:1-2, 1:1, Romans 1:1 etc.).
- The surprised reader of the G.o.B. finds Nazareth on the
shore of Lake Galilee (Chapter 20), whereas it is a town miles
away from the Lake, surrounded by mountains.
- In the next chapter, we see Jesus going UP to Capernaum,
whereas Capernaum is situated right on the shore of the Lake.
- In Chapter 151 we are told that Jesus embarked on a ship
(from Nazareth?) and next we read that he arrived in Jerusalem.
We might well ask whether this was also done by boat?
- In Chapter 6 another interesting common error is found. It
speaks here of the three Magi or wise men coming from the East.
The New Testament does not specify the number, but gives a list
of three gifts that were brought by the Magi, namely gold, myrrh
and frankincense. This later led to the assumption that there
were three wise men from the East. But this belief certainly
does not derive or date from the New Testament.
- In Chapters 91-92 we are told that Jesus and His disciples
kept "the 40 days". The context clearly shows that this refers
to the period of Lent before Easter, celebrated by the church,
but from a very much later period than the days of the early
church. (The church meditates at this time on the suffering
of Christ, which was obviously unknown when Christ was still
alive). We find that Lent was celebrated only from the fourth
century A.D. onwards. Jesus and His disciples are said to have
gone for the 40 day fast to Mount Sinai. which is some 450 km
away. There is no report in the New Testament to confirm this.
- We are further informed that a certain dispute would have
ended in war, but the Romans assembled three armies each
numbering 200,000 men at Mizpeh (Chapter 91). The entire Roman
army at that time numbered only 300,000, however. (Encyclopædia
- "Jesus drew near to the Priest (High Priest) with
reverence, but he was wishful to bow himself down and worship
Jesus, when Jesus cried out: 'Beware of that which thou doest,
Priest of the Living God! Sin not against our God!" (Chapter 93).
This statement is so contrary to the New Testament, that it
needs no explanation.
- In Chapter 3 of the G.o.B. the birth of Christ is described
as having been painless. This belief was not current in the
Church before Thomas Aquinas (died 1278) but is mentioned in
- According to the G.o.B. Jesus was born when Pilate was
governor, but in fact he only became governor between A.D. 26 and 27.
- Jesus prayed five times a day according to the G.o.B. and
all the Muslim prayer times are mentioned. (Drs. J. Slomp, page 128).
- Not before the Fourth Century A.D. was the title "Virgin"
given to Mary, yet it appears in the G.o.B.
- Origen A.D. 184-254 was the first scholar to assume
that Mount Tabor was the Mount of Transfiguration. The Bible
does not confirm this. The Christian tradition that it was
Mount Moriah begins only in the Third Century, and yet the
G.o.B. contains this information.
- The G.o.B. mentions four archangels, which is also a
tradition of the church that dated from the early Medieval
- The Islamic concept of "the Book" is found in Chapter 10,
where we read that the angel Gabriel presented to Jesus as it
were a shining mirror, a book, which descended into the heart
of Jesus. This corresponds very well with Suras 5:49 and 2:97.
- In Chapter 54, the Italian text mentions a denarius,
which is made up of 60 minuti. These gold coins were used
only in Spain under Khalif Abdul Malik (in 685 A.D.).
- In Chapter 152 we are informed that soldiers were
"rolled out of the temple as one rolleth casks of wood
when they are washed to refill them with wine."
Wooden barrels were invented in Gaul and were not used in
the East in New Testament times. Wine and other liquids
were stored in skins.
- In Chapter 97 Mohammed is clearly called the Messiah.
The Qur'an, as well as the Bible confers this title on Jesus.
It is somehow strange to realize that in the introduction of
the G.o.B. Jesus is called Christ and in Chapters 42 and 82
"Barnabas" denies that Jesus is the Messiah. Only a
theologically very ignorant person could have made such
statements, because "Christos" is the Greek word for the
- In "the true book of Moses ... (it) is written that
Ishmael is the father of Messiah, and Isaac the father of
the messenger of the Messiah" (Chapter 191).
- In Chapter 222, the last chapter of the G.o.B., we read:
"After Jesus had departed (after having been raised from
his hiding place through the window of the house in the
Garden of Gethsemane) the disciples scattered through the
different parts of Israel and of the world, and the truth,
hated of Satan, was persecuted, as it always is, by
falsehood. 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
The G.o.B. herewith endeavours to correct preceding Gospels
and Paul. We wish to ask the question when and how was the
writer aware that the disciples had scattered throughout
the different parts of the world? This question is left
open, but easily answered by us, for we believe that it is
yet another anachronism.
- The Italian poet Dante lived about the time of the
composition of the G.o.B. (1265-1321) and it is interesting
to notice a number of quotations from Dante's works in the
G.o.B. There are many and they can hardly be regarded as
coincidences. The G.o.B. quotes Jesus as saying to Peter:
"Know ye therefore, that hell is one, yet hath seven
centres one below another. Hence, even as sin is of seven
kinds, for as seven gates of hell has Satan generated it:
So are seven punishments therein." (Chapter 135a).
This is exactly what Dante says in Cantos V, VI, etc. of
his "Inferno". Again "Barnabas" says that God, having
created the human senses, condemned them "to hell and to
intolerable snow and ice" (Chapter 106, which corresponds
with Cantos XXVIII and III of the "Inferno"). The description
of human sins and their returning at the end like a river
to Satan, who is their source, is another indirect
quotation from Dante's description of the rivers of hell.
Similarly, the passages about the believers going to hell,
not to be tortured, but to see the unbelievers in their
torments, recalls to mind Dante's picture of the same.
The differentiation between degrees of glory, and the
absence of all feuds and jealousies in heaven, are taken
entirely from Dante's "Paradise", Canto III. But still
stronger evidence that "Barnabas" quotes directly or
indirectly from Dante is his description of the
"Geography of Heaven". There "Barnabas" agrees with
Dante and contradicts even the Qur'an itself. The Qur'an
(Sura 2:29) says that the heavens are seven in number,
while "Barnabas" gives the number as nine (Chapter 178a)
(Gairdner, pages 19-21).
These few indications are sufficient evidence that the
writer of the G.o.B. must have been acquainted with
the writings of Dante and consequently must have I lived
after Dante, or else been a contemporary of his.
- In Chapter 145 of the G.o.B. Pharisees date back as far
as the time of Elijah and there were supposed to have been
17,000. In fact, history first knows about Pharisees seven
centuries later, in the period between 135-104 B.C.
- In Chapter 82 mention is made of the "Years of the
Jubilee, which now cometh every 100 years." The Year of
Jubilee, according to the Old Testament, was every
50th year (after seven times seven years). The origin
of this faulty information is as follows: In the year
A.D. 1300 Pope Boniface the VIII instituted the Jubilee
as a centenary event. Owing to its financial success,
however, Pope Clement VI reversed Boniface's decision
and celebrated the next Jubilee in 1350. This was thus
the only time that the Year of Jubilee was intended as
a centenary occasion - it never was in practice.
(Gairdner, page 19).
- Eve is said to have eaten an "apple" in Paradise
(Chapters 40 and 41). We are well aware that Eve ate an
unspecified fruit, but the belief that this was an apple
dates from a very much later date.
- Another proof of the G.o.B. being Medieval in origin,
is that we have a report (Chapter 99) of a duel between
two rival lovers. This type of chivalry was a creation
of Medieval society (Gairdner, page 24).
- In Chapter 80 of the G.o.B. we find a story about Daniel,
which has it that he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar
while he was yet two years old. This statement, it will
be observed, is incompatible with what may be inferred
from the Bible narrative. According to the latter, it
was in the second year of his reign that Nebuchadnezzar
had his famous dream, which Daniel interpreted.
"Then the King gave Daniel high honours and many great
gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of
Babylon, and chief prefect over the all-wise men of
Babylon." (Daniel 2:48).
Now if we suppose that Nebuchadnezzar captured Daniel
in the first year of his reign (the earliest possible date,
which could be assigned to Daniel's captivity) and that,
according to "Barnabas", Daniel was then two years old,
it would follow then that in the second year of
Nebuchadnezzar's reign, Daniel was only three years old
(Gairdner, page 26). Daniel was in fact born in 621 B.C.
and the captivity began in 605 B.C., so he was 16 years
old when taken prisoner.
- We read that Ishmael was offered on the altar
by Abraham (Chapter 44). This is clearly an Islamic concept.
- God is said to be the God of Abraham, ISHMAEL and
Isaac in Chapter 212. It should read, according to the
O.T. the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.
- We find it highly suspicious and wrong to read that
the Torah was written by an Ismaelite (Chapter 192).
- Most suspicious of course, is any mentioning of the
name of Mohammed. (In Chapters 44, 54, 112, 97 and 163, etc.)
It is particularly suspicious, since all the other evidence
points to the fact that the whole of the G.o.B is a Medieval
forgery. But other Islamic thought is also reflected in
- In Chapter 39 Adam sees bright writing and the content
is none other than the Kalimah. There is only one God" and
"Mohammed is the Messenger of God."
- Muslims who accept the G.o.B. ought to consider the
fact that in Chapter 115 it very strongly endorses monogamy.
- Likewise we refer to Chapter 38, in which the Islamic
principle of abrogation is rejected.
After examining the text, the external and internal evidence, and
after having discovered its medieval character and the obvious
attempt to islamise this "Gospel", we conclude that the Gospel of
Barnabas was written by a Muslim to convince Christians of "the
truth of Islam". Instead of propagating Islam, he disguised the
message and used the name of Barnabas to make his claims seem
authentic. It is therefore, a forgery and a lie. It aims at
destroying faith in the fundamentals of the Christian faith,
including the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Christians
disapprove for obvious reasons to such methods as forgery and
We are bewildered that serious Muslims can devise such a book and
promote it on such flimsy grounds, knowing it is a lie. Even when
it is tempting to be used and expedient, this approach must be
rejected. We regard it as a feeble effort to disguise the truth.
We conclude that only when at a loss for better arguments could
a dishonest man resort to such methods.
The Bible teaches us to:
"Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness,
but instead, expose them!" (Ephesians 5:11).
"We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways;
we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's Word,
but by the open statement of the truth we could commend
ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God!"
(II Corinthians 4:2).
- "The Gospel of Barnabas" edited and translated by
Lonsdale and Laura Ragg (1907), published by
Begum Aisha Bawany Wakf
Bank House No. 1
M.A. Sinnah Road
Karachi - Pakistan
- "The Gospel of Barnabas, an Essay and Inquiry"
by Selim 'Abdul-Ahad and W.H.T. Gairdner. (1975)
Publishers: "Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies".
P.O. Box 153, Hyderabad, India.
- "Pseudo-Barnabas in the context of Muslim-Christian Apologetics"
by Dr. Jan Slomp. (1974)
Published by: "Christian Study Centre"
126-B Murree Road, Rawalpindi,
- A paper by J.N.J. Kritzinger entitled "The Gospel of
Barnabas Carefully Examined"
- "Origins and Sources of the Gospel of Barnabas" by John Gilchrist
- "Missing Documents from the Gospel of Barnabas"
by Adam Peerbhai
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