How NOT to Interpret the Old Testament

Rick Brannan

Barnabas is the only name associated with The Epistle of Barnabas, and only in some manuscripts. Other than this name, the identity of the author is unknown. We do know that the author is not Paul’s colleague—the Barnabas of the New Testament. The Epistle of Barnabas was probably written between AD 70–135.

When reading Genesis 17, we don’t see Jesus in the circumcision of all 318 men in Abraham’s household; but Barnabas did. Barnabas—the church father, not the apostle—offers an unusual numerical interpretation of this passage, concluding that it foreshadows Christ. For Barnabas, 18 (represented by the Greek letters ΙΗ) is a reference to Christ by the first two letters of the name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (IESOUS, meaning Jesus). And 300 (represented by the Greek letter Τ) is a reference to the cross on which Christ was to be crucified. This was a valid biblical interpretation method in the first century.

Therefore, children of love, learn abundantly about everything, that Abraham, who first gave circumcision, circumcised in the spirit. He looked forward to Jesus, having received the doctrines of the three letters. For it says, “And Abraham circumcised 318 from his house” (Gen 17:23; 14:14). Therefore what is the knowledge which was given to him? Learn that first he mentions the 18 and after an interval he mentions the 300. The 18 equals I (ten) and H (eight); here you have Jesus. And because the cross was destined to have grace in the T, he says “and the 300.” Therefore he reveals Jesus in the two letters and the cross in the one. He knows the one who placed the implanted gift of His teaching in us. No one has learned a more genuine word from me, but I know that you are worthy. 1

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 1

1. Barnabas 9.7–9, Rick Brannan’s translation.