Muslims often cite The Gospel of Barnabas in defense of Islamic teaching. In fact, it is a best seller in Muslim countries. Yusuf Ali refers to it in his commentary on the Qur’an.1 Suzanne Haneef, in her annotated bibliography on Islam, highly recommends it, saying, “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.” It is called “essential reading for any seeker of the truth.”2 Typical of Muslim claims is that of Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim, who insisted that “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.”3 Another Muslim author, M. A. Yusseff, argues confidently that “in antiquity and authenticity, no other gospel can come close to The Gospel of Barnabas.”4
These quotes above are strange statements in view of the fact that reputable scholars have carefully examined The Gospel of Barnabas and find absolutely no basis for its authenticity. After reviewing the evidence in an article in Islamochristiana, J. Slomp concluded: “in my opinion scholarly research has proved absolutely that this ‘gospel’ is a fake. This opinion is also held by a number of Muslim scholars.”5 In their introduction to the Oxford edition of The Gospel of Barnabas, Longsdale and Ragg conclude that “the true date lies … nearer to the sixteenth century than to the first.”6 Likewise, in his classic work “Jomier proved his point by showing beyond any doubt that the G.B.V. contains an islamicised late medieval gospel forgery.”7
A central idea in this work is in accord with a basic Muslim claim, namely, that Jesus did not die on the cross. Instead, this book contends that Judas Iscariot was substituted for Jesus (sect. 217). This view has been adopted by many Muslims, since the vast majority of them believe that someone else was substituted on the cross for Jesus.
EVIDENCE FOR AUTHENTICITY LACKING
Our concern here is about the authenticity of this alleged gospel. That is, is it a first-century gospel, written by a disciple of Christ? The evidence is overwhelmingly negative.
First of all, the earliest reference to it comes from a fifth-century work, Decretum Gelasianum (Gelasian Decree, by Pope Gelasius, A.D. 492-95). But even this reference is in doubt.8 However there is no original language manuscript evidence for its existence! Slomp says flatly, “There is no text tradition whatsoever of the G.B.V.” [Gospel of Barnabas Vienna ins.].9 By contrast, the New Testament books are verified by over 5,300 Greek manuscripts that begin in the second and third centuries A.D.
Second, L. Bevan Jones notes that “the earliest form of it known to us is in an Italian manuscript. This has been closely analyzed by scholars and is judged to belong to the fifteenth or sixteenth century, i.e., 1400 years after the time of Barnabas.”10 Even Muslim defenders of it like Muhammad ur-Rahim, admit that they have no manuscripts of it before the 1500s.
Third, this gospel is widely used by Muslim apologists today, yet there is no reference to it by any Muslim writer before the fifteenth or sixteenth century. But surely they would have used it if it had been in existence. As Ragg observes, “Against the supposition that the Gospel of Barnabas ever existed in Arabic we must set the argument from the total silence about such a Gospel in the polemical literature of the Moslems. This has been admirably catalogued by Steinschneider in his monograph on the subject.”11
Ragg goes on to note the many Muslim writers who wrote books who would no doubt have referred to such a work – had it been in existence – such as Ibn Hasin (d. 456 A.H.), Ibn Taimiyyah (d. 728 A.H.), Abu’l-Fadl al-Su’udi (wrote 942 A.H.), and Hajji Khalifah (d. 1067 A.H.). But not one of them, or anyone else, ever refers to it between the seventh and fifteenth centuries when Muslims and Christians were in heated debate.
Fourth, no father or teacher of the Christian church ever quoted it from the first to the fifteenth century. If The Gospel of Barnabas had been considered authentic, it more surely would have been cited many times by some Christian teacher during this long period of time, as were all the other canonical books of Scripture. What is more, had this gospel even been in existence, authentic or not, certainly it would have been cited by someone. But no father cited it during its supposed existence for over 1,500 years!
Fifth, sometimes it is confused with the first-century Epistle of [Pseudo] Barnabas (c. A.D. 70-90), which is an entirely different book.12 In this way Muslim scholars falsely allege there is support for an early date. Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim confuses the two books, thus wrongly claiming that it was in circulation in the second and third centuries A.D. This is a strange error since he admits that they are listed as different books in the “Sixty Books” as “Serial No. 18 Epistle of Barnabas….Serial No. 24. Gospel of Barnabas.”13 In one place Rahim even cites by name the “Epistle of Barnabas” as evidence of the existence of the Gospel of Barnabas!14
Some have mistakenly assumed that the reference to a gospel used by Barnabas referred to in the apocryphal Acts of Barnabas (before c. A.D. 478) was The Gospel of Barnabas. However, this is clearly false, as the quotation reveals: “Barnabas, having unrolled the Gospel, which we have received from Matthew his fellow-labourer, began to teach the Jews.”15 By deliberately omitting this emphasized phrase, the impression is given that there is a Gospel of Barnabas!
Sixth, the message of the apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas is completely refuted by eyewitness first-century documents that possess over five thousand manuscripts to support their authenticity, namely, the New Testament. For example, its teaching that Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah and that he did not die on the cross are thoroughly refuted by eyewitness, first-century documents. In the prologue of The Gospel of Barnabas, its author says: “…by reason whereof many, being deceived of Satan, under pretense of piety, are preaching most impious doctrine, calling Jesus son of God, repudiating the circumcision ordained of God forever, and permitting every unclean meat: among whom also Paul hath been deceived.” And in the last chapter the author writes: “Others preached that he really died, but rose again. Others preached, and yet preach, that Jesus is the Son of God, among whom Paul is deceived” (Barnabas, 222).
These statements plainly show that the main emphasis of the author from beginning to end is to denounce the teachings of Paul in the New Testament concerning circumcision, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the belief that He is the Son of God. But the Bible records that it was Barnabas himself who brought Paul to the apostles risking his own reputation in order to assure them that Paul was now a true Christian and disciple of Jesus (Acts 9:27). In fact, what persuaded him of that was when he himself heard Paul preaching in the synagogue of Damascus that Jesus is the Son of God, which is the exact opposite of what the author of this false gospel is warning against (Acts 9:20)! Rather than turning Barnabas off, the proclamation of Paul was the proof that He had become a true Christian. From then on, Paul and Barnabas were in perfect unity in matters of doctrine. They taught together for one year at Antioch (Acts 11:26), then visited Jerusalem together (Acts 11:28-30), after which they returned to Antioch together (Acts 12:25). Wherever their missionaryjourneys took them, they preached that Jesus is the Son of God and that God had raised Him from the dead (Acts 13:33). In fact, according to the Bible, it was both Paul and Barnabas who stood united against the teachings of some Judaizers who were teaching Christians that circumcision was necessary for salvation: “And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue” (Acts 15:1-2). While, on the contrary, according to this false “gospel” of Barnabas, Jesus is alleged to have said to his disciples: “Leave fear to him that hath not circumcised his foreskin for he is deprived of paradise” (Barnabas, 23). The only two times that Paul and Barnabas disagreed were on the matter of fellowship among Christians when Barnabas was swayed by some Jewish Christians so as not to eat with Gentile Christians, something that Paul alone opposed (Gal. 2:13). They also disagreed on whether or not to take John Mark with them after he forsook them and turned back on a previous journey (Acts 15:38-40). None of these, however, are matters of doctrine concerning circumcision, the death and resurrection of Jesus, or His being the Son of God!
Seventh, no Muslim should accept the authenticity of The Gospel of Barnabas since it clearly contradicts the Qur’an’s claim that Jesus was the Messiah. It claims, “Jesus confessed, and said the truth; ‘I am not the Messiah…. I am indeed sent to the house of Israel as a prophet of salvation; but after me shall come the Messiah” (sects. 42, 48). This is flatly contradictory to the Qur’an, which repeatedly calls Jesus the “Messiah” [the “Christ”] (cf. 5:19, 75).
Eighth, even Muslim scholars like Suzanne Haneef, who highly recommends it, have to admit that “the authenticity of this book has not been unquestionably established” and that “it is believed to be an apocryphal account of the life of Jesus.”16 Other Muslim scholars doubt its authenticity too.17 For the book contains anachronisms and descriptions of medieval life in western Europe that reveal that it was not written before the fourteenth century.
For example, it refers to the year of Jubilee (“Year of Release” – every 7th Sabbatical year. “To proclaim liberty throughout the land with the primary purpose of getting family property and the family back together again.” – The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 210) coming every one hundred years, instead of fifty as it was practiced before this time (Barnabas, 82). The papal declaration to change it to every one hundred years was made by the church in A.D. 1343. John Gilchrist, in his work, titled Origins and Sources of the Gospel of Barnabas, concludes that “only one solution can account for this remarkable coincidence. The author of The Gospel of Barnabas only quoted Jesus as speaking of the jubilee year as coming ‘every hundred years’ because he knew of the decree of Pope Boniface.” He added, “but how could he know of this decree unless he lived at the same time as the Pope or sometime afterwards? This is a clear anachronism that compels us to conclude that The Gospel of Barnabas could not have been written earlier than the fourteenth century after Christ.”18 One significant anachronism is the fact that The Gospel of Barnabas uses the text from the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible (fourth century A.D.), even though Barnabas supposedly wrote it in the first century A.D. Other examples of anachronisms include a vassal who owes a share of his crop to his lord (Barnabas, 122), an illustration of medieval feudalism; a reference to wooden wine casks (ibid., 152), rather than wine skins as were used in Palestine; and a medieval court procedure (ibid., 121).
Another example of its medieval origins comes from quotes used from Dante’s Divine Comedy which was written in the 14th century. Two expressions borrowed from Dante are: “false and lying gods” (dei falsi e lugiardi), and “raging hunger” (rabbiosa fame). The first expression is used in the gospel of Barnabas 78 and 217. It is no where to be found in either the Bible or the Qur’an, but is rather a direct quote from the Inferno 1.72. The second expression is from the first canto of Dante’s inferno. Also, The Gospel of Barnabas describes “the circles of hell” in strikingly similar words to those we find in the fifth and sixth cantos of the Inferno. Sometimes the author of this false gospel gets so entangled in Dante to where he even contradicts the Qur’an. For example, the Qur’an tells us that there are seven heavens: “It is He who hath created for you all things that are on earth; moreover His design comprehended the heavens, for He gave order and perfection to the seven firmaments; and of all things He hath perfect knowledge” (Surah 2:29). But in The Gospel of Barnabas, as in Dante’s Empyrean, we read that there are nine heavens with Paradise being the tenth heaven above the nine. All this the author takes from Dante and puts it right into the mouth of Jesus who allegedly said: “Paradise is so great that no man can measure it. Verily I say unto thee that the heavens are nine…I say to thee that Paradise is greater than all the earth and all the heavens together” (Barnabas, 178).
Ninth, Jomier provides a list of many mistakes and exaggerations in The Gospel of Barnabas. There are historical mistakes, such as, “Jesus was born when Pilate was governor, though he did not become governor until 26 or 27 A.D.”19 There are also geographical mistakes. For example, Chapter 20 “stated that Jesus sailed to Nazareth,” even though it is not on the seashore.20 Likewise, The Gospel of Barnabas contains exaggerations, such as Chapter 17’s mention of 144,000 prophets and 10,000 prophets being slain by Jizebel (Chapter 18).21
Tenth, according to Slomp, “Jomier’s study showed many Islamic elements throughout the text that prove beyond any doubt that a Muslim author, probably a convert, worked on the book.” Fourteen such influences are noted. For example, Jomier notes that the word “pinnacle” of the temple, where Jesus is said to have preached – hardly a good place! – was translated into Arabic by dikka, a platform used in mosques.22 Also, Jesus is represented as coming only for Israel but Muhammad “for the salvation of the whole world” (Chapter 11). Finally, the denial of Jesus to be the Son of God is Qur’anic, as is the fact that Jesus’ sermon is modeled after a Muslim hutba that begins with praising God and his holy Prophet (Chapter 12).23
Eleventh, there are many errors and contradictions in The Gospel of Barnabas which will be documented here. Some are repetitions, but will still be included. First, let’s look at a couple of contradictions with the Bible. Chapter 142 states that the Messiah is not of the son of David or Isaac. And in chapter 221, Jesus is quoted as denying His death. Second, we see some contradictions with the Qur’an. Chapter 3 mentions that Mary bore Jesus without any pain. The Qur’an, however, tells of how the pains of childbirth drove Mary to the trunk of a palm tree (Surah 19:23). Chapter 105 mentions the existence of nine heavens, while the Qur’an speaks of only seven (Surah 2:29). In chapter 106, Hell is described as the place of intolerable snow and ice, while the Qur’an speaks of hell as a place of boiling water, blazing fire and everlasting burning (Surah 14:16-17, 49-50; 22:19-22; 25:11-12). In chapter 97, Muhammad is claimed to be the Messiah, which clearly contradicts the Qur’an as that title is uniquely reserved for Jesus alone in the Qur’an. Third, we see contradictions with both the Bible and the Qur’an (or Islamic Tradition). In chapter 96, it states that Jesus says He is not the Messiah. Both the Bible and the Qur’an emphatically call only Jesus by that title. In chapter 23, it claims circumcision started with Adam. Jewish, Christian, & Muslim sources all agree it started with Abraham. And in chapter 112, Jesus supposedly says that He will not be taken into heaven until the Day of Judgment. Both the Bible and the Qur’an declare that Jesus was received into heaven (Surah 3:55, 4:158). Fourth, we see contradictions with itself. For example, look at the identity of Jesus in the introduction. It contradicts itself by referring to Jesus as “Jesus Christ,” while denying He is the Christ in chapter 96. There are also incidents throughout, other than the introduction, where it calls Jesus “Christ.” Also, we see, in reference to the writings of the Prophets in chapter 79, Jesus encourages people to study the writings of the prophets, while in chapter 44, the author claims that the Torah is corrupted. Fifth, there are historical, geographical, and general errorsin The Gospel of Barnabas. In chapter 145 it mentions the existence of 17,000 Pharisees in the time of the prophet Elijah. The truth is there were almost 700 years difference between the time of Elijah and the earliest appearance of the Pharisees in Palestine around the year 200 B.C. In chapter 103, it uses the words “ship” and “mariner” which were not common during the times of Jesus. They are more typical of the Medieval period in Europe. In chapter 12, the word “ascend” describing Jesus approaching the pulpit to speak, is not typical of Jewish synagogues during the first century. It reflects more the balcony pulpits of Medieval Europe and thereafter. In chapter 20, Nazareth is presented as a seaport on the Sea of Galilee, when in actuality it is an inland village, not a seaport. Chapter 92 states that Jesus went to Mt. Sinai then drew nigh to the Jordan River. These two locations are on the borders of Israel with Egypt and Jordan respectively, extremely far from one another. In chapter 169, the statement “how beautiful is the world in summertime, when all things bear fruit,” might be true of Europe, but not of Palestinian summers where the land dries up under the scorching heat of the sun. The marked deletion of any mention of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Messiah, in his attempt to make Muhammad the Messiah, the author of this forgery presents Jesus as his forerunner who announces his coming after him, thus eliminating the need for John the Baptist altogether. But John is also prominent in the Qur’an where he is known as prophet “Yahya”. Based on this evidence, it becomes clear that any Muslim who accepts the so-called gospel of Barnabas, accepts a document that not only contradicts itself but his Qur’an as well.
In summation, the Muslim use of The Gospel of Barnabas to support their teaching is devoid of evidence to support it. Indeed, its teachings even contradict the Qur’an. This work, far from being an authentic first-century account of the facts about Jesus, is actually a late medieval fabrication. The only authentic first-century records we have of the life of Christ are found in the New Testament, and it categorically contradicts the teaching of The Gospel of Barnabas. The majority of this article is taken from Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross, Norman L. Geisler & Abdul Saleeb, 1993, Appendix 3, “The Gospel of Barnabas,” pp. 295-299.
- Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary, 3rd ed. (Cairo: Dar Al-Kitab Al-Masri, 1938), 2 vols., p. 230.
- Suzanne Haneef, What everyone Should Know about Islam and Muslims (Chicago: Kazi Publications, 1979), p. 186.
- Muhammed Ata ur-Rahim, Jesus, A Prophet of Islam (Karrachi, Pakistan: Begum Aisha Bawany Waqf, 1981), p. 41.
- M. A. Yusseff, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Gospel of Barnabas, and the New Testament (Indianapolis: American Trust Publication, 1985), p. 5.
- J. Slomp, “The Gospel in Dispute,” in Islamochristiana (Rome: Pontificio Instituto di Studi Arabi, 1978), vol. 4, p.68.
- Longsdale and Laura Ragg, The Gospel of Barnabas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), xxxvii.
- J. Jomier, Egypte: Reflexions sur la Recontre al-Azhar (Vatican au Caire, avil 1978), cited by Slomp, p. 104.
- Slomp, p. 74.
- L. Bevan Jones, Christianity Explained to Muslims, rev. ed. (Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1964), p. 79.
- Ragg, xlviii. Steinschneider’s monograph is listed as Abhandlungen fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 1877.
- Slomp, pp. 37-38.
- Muhammed ur-Rahim, pp. 42-43.
- Ibid., p. 42.
- Slomp, p. 110.
- Haneef claims it was “lost to the world for centuries due to its suppression as a heretical document,” but there is not a shred of documented evidence for this.
- Slomp, p. 68.
- John Gilchrist, Origins and Sources of the Gospel of Barnabas (Durban, Republic of South Africa: Jesus to the Muslims, 1980), pp. 16-17.
- Slomp, p. 9.
- Ibid., p. 7.