Epistle of Barnabas (2): The Problem of 15.3-9

BarnabasPerhaps the most confusing and contested passage in all of Barnabas is 15.3-9. In his refutation of the Jewish practice of keeping the Sabbath, Ps.-Barnabas writes this with reference to the six days of creation (Gen 1):

He speaks of the sabbath at the beginning of the creation: “And God made the works of his hands in six days, and finished on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.” Observe, children, what “he finished in six days” means. It means this: that in six thousand years the Lord will bring everything to an end, for with him a day signifies a thousand years. And he himself bears me witness when he says, “Behold, the day of the Lord will be as a thousand years.” Therefore, children, in six days–that is, in six thousand years–everything will be brought to an end. “And he rested on the seventh day.” This means: when his son comes, he will destroy the time of the lawless one and will judge the ungodly and will change the sun and the moon and the stars, and then he will truly rest on the seventh day. [...]

Finally, he says to them: “I cannot bear your new moons and sabbaths.” You see what he means: it is not the present sabbaths that are acceptable to me, but the one that I have made; on that sabbath, after I have set everything at rest, I will create the beginning of another world. This is why we spend the eighth day in celebration, the day on which Jesus both arose from the dead and, after appearing again, ascended into heaven.

Got all that? Me neither. What’s going on here is this: many Jewish and early Christian writers divided human history into seven millennia, with the seventh day as the Sabbath rest. For a chiliastic writer like Irenaeus (that is, he believed in a literal earthly millennium before the creation of the new heaven and new earth), the seventh day was the millennial period. But for Ps.-Barnabas, both the seventh and the eighth days appear to be Sabbaths. Are these days identical? Or are they sequential? Or is Ps.-Barnabas merely a clumsy redactor who has mixed up his sources? All of these views are well represented in the literature.

Pretty much all of the discussion surrounding the eschatology of Barnabas has focused exclusively on this passage. Following the insight of Jonathan A. Draper (“Barnabas and the Riddle of the Didache Revisited,” JSNT 58: 89-113) that the “epistolary frame” of Barnabas (that is, the “letter-like” chapters 1 and 21) can function as in interpretive key to the whole, I’m analyzing the eschatology of these chapters to see if it can shed light on the problem of chapter 15. It remains to be seen whether or not I’ll be able to produce a convincing argument, but at the least any chance to work in the Apostolic Fathers (and particularly Barnabas) is a welcome opportunity.

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About krhughes14

Charlottesville, Virginia
This entry was posted in Church Fathers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Epistle of Barnabas (2): The Problem of 15.3-9

  1. Tim Reichmuth says:

    Looking forward to your insights!

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