Satanology of the Apostolic Fathers: Epistle of Barnabas

Written between 70 CE and 135 CE,1 with an early second century date typically preferred,2 the Epistle of Barnabas presents clear evidence of strong mythological belief, drawing on an earlier Jewish textual source.3

Though diabolos is never used and satanas is used only once, it is used explicitly of a supernatural evil referent accompanied by his own angels and presented as God’s opponent (18:1);4 the satan’s angels are also used as part of the explanatory recourse for hamartiology (18:1-2),5 though neither demons or exorcism are mentioned. Barnabas also refers to this satanic figure as ‘the Worker [of evil]’ (2:3),6 ‘the evil one’ (2:10; 19:11; 21:3), ‘evil ruler’ or ‘prince of evil’ (4:13), ‘the lawless one’ (15.5),7 and ‘the black one’ (20:1), describing him as currently in power (2:1;8 15:5;9 18:210), and as an eschatological enemy of Christ, who will destroy him at his return (15:5).11

This satan is the primary explanatory recourse for Barnabas’ hamartiology (4:9),12 theodicy (2:1),13 martyrology,14 and eschatology (15:5).15 The strong mythological character of Barnabas provides a useful point of comparison with contemporary texts.

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  1. ‘It appears to have been written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (16.3–5) but before the city was rebuilt by Hadrian following the revolt of A.D. 132–135.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 272. []
  2. ‘For different reasons, many scholars hold the time of Hadrian to be the time of the writing of Barnabas.’, Reidar Hvalvik, The Struggle for Scripture and Covenant: The Purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas and Jewish-Christian Competition in the Second Century, vol. 82, (Mohr Siebeck, 1996); ‘The pre-Christian material in “The Two Ways” is also found in the Epistle of Barnabas (chapters 18-20), composed in the first half of the second century C.E.’, David Flusser, Judaism of the Second Temple Period: The Jewish Sages and Their Literature (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2009), 233; ‘the Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 120–130)’, W. Harold Mare, New Testament Background Commentary: A New Dictionary of Words, Phrases and Situations in Bible Order (Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2004), 116; ‘the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, an anonymous document of the late first or early second century,’, James N. Rhodes, The Epistle of Barnabas and the Deuteronomic Tradition: Polemics, Paraenesis, and the Legacy of the Golden-Calf Incident, vol. 188, Wissenschaftliche Unteersuchungen zum NeunTestament 2. Reihe (Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 1. []
  3. ‘Most scholars believe that the Jewish work entitled “The Two Ways” and Barnabas have a shared source, and some argue that the Barnabas material is the more original since it is supposedly more inchoate and poorly organized. However, there is no doubt that in its original form, the Epistle of Barnabas was essentially identical with “The Two Ways” – save perhaps minor differences in particular words. This is evident not only because “The Two Ways” has a relatively clear and intentional structure, but also because the author of the Barnabas Epistle drew from his source and never claimed to be citing it literally.’, David Flusser, Judaism of the Second Temple Period: The Jewish Sages and Their Literature (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2009), 233. []
  4. ‘But let us move on to another lesson and teaching. There are two ways of teaching and power, one of light and one of darkness, and there is a great difference between these two ways. For over the one are stationed light-giving angels of God, but over the other are angels of Satan.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 321. []
  5. ‘But they disobeyed, because an evil angel “enlightened” them.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 291. []
  6. Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 277. []
  7. the lawless one: or possibly lawlessness.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 315. []
  8. ‘the Worker [of evil] himself is in power’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 277. []
  9. ‘the time of this lawless one’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 315. []
  10. ‘ruler of this present era’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 321. []
  11. ‘when his Son comes, he will destroy the time of the lawless one’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 315. []
  12. ‘Consequently, let us be on guard in the last days, for the whole time of our faith will do us no good unless now, in the age of lawlessness, we resist as well the coming stumbling blocks, as befits God’s children, lest the black one find an opportunity to sneak in.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 283. []
  13. ‘Inasmuch as the days are evil and the Worker himself is in power, we ought to be on our guard and seek out the righteous requirements of the Lord.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 277. []
  14. ‘It [the way of the satan] is the way of persecutors of the good, of those hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not adhering to what is good or to righteous judgment, ignoring the widow and the orphan, being on the alert not because of fear of God but for what is evil, from whom gentleness and patience are far away and distant, loving worthless things, pursuing reward, having no mercy for the poor, not working on behalf of the oppressed, reckless with slander, not knowing him who made them, murderers of children, corrupters of God’s creation, turning away from someone in need, oppressing the afflicted, advocates of the wealthy, lawless judges of the poor, utterly sinful.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 325. []
  15. ‘when his Son comes, he will destroy the time of the lawless one’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 315. []

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