Skip to main content


When Laura and Lonsdale Ragg published the Italian text of  The Gospel of Barnabas with marginal notes in Arabic and with an English translation and critical introduction, Temple Gairdner was working in Cairo as a missionary of the Anglican Church Missionary Society.  As soon as an Arabic translation of The Gospel of Barnabas with a new introduction had been published in Cairo, Temple Gairdner and Selim 'Abdul-Ahad wrote a refutation of it in Arabic.  In her beautiful biography of our author, Temple Gairdner of Cairo (London: S.P.C.K., 1930).  Constance E. Padwick mentions that this refutation was published in 1907.  In 1908 the Christian Literature Society, Madras, published an English translation of this work.

The C.L.S. has kindly given the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies, Hyderabad, India, permission to prepare a new edition of this refutation.  This new edition includes the present preface, some editing of Gairdner's original test that doers not affect the original argument, and the addition of the footnotes, prepared by the author of the Preface, to the original text.

While the need for a new edition may be obvious to some readers who live in the Muslim world, others may find it helpful to learn the reasons for this new edition.  A brief delineation of these reasons is the burden of this Preface.

In 1916 two Urdu editions of The Gospel of Barnabas were published, one in Lahore and one in Okarah.  The Urdu editions were based on the Arabic.  Meanwhile several Arabic editions have appeared, the latest, to my knowledge, in 1964.  Persian and Indonesian editions also have been brought out.  In 1973 a pirated edition of the English translation of the Raggs' book, without the critical introduction, was published in Karachi.  Soon reprints were needed because the Urdu and English press, including The Pakistan Times and Muslim News International, strongly promoted these editions. In July 1974 a new Urdu edition was published by the Jama'at-I Islami in Lahore.  An introductions was written by the Jama'at's founder, Maulana A.A.Maududi, one of the most prolific writers on Islamic themes in Pakistan.

In the West the Raggs' publication was soon forgotten for reasons which will soon be evident to the reader.  Writers about the New Testament Apocrypha hardly noticed it. But in view of these highly controversial publications in the Muslim world, Fr. Dr. J. Jomier published a scholarly study about in the MIDEO (Melanges Institute Dominican Holy Spirit'Etuders Orientales du Caire, Vol. VI, 1959-1961).  Jomier's "Paul'Evangile selon Barnabe" ("The Gospel According to Barnabas) covers 90 pages.  Once and for all it demonstrated the spurious character of this so-called gospel.

Since Jomier's work was written in French, it did not reach all those who should have benefited from it.  Jomier's study also left some questions unanswered and thus stimulated further research.  On the popular level a Greek Orthodox priest in Damascus, Elias Zahlawi, wrote a small but penetrating essay Hawl ul-injil wa Inji Barnabas which was published by the Paulist Press in 1971 in Lebanon.  Propagandistic use of this pseudo-gospel in Indonesia led a Dutch missionary, H. Bergema, to write an essay about it, which leans heavily on Jomier's research.  So far no Indonesian edition of Bergema's essay has been published.  Dr. Michel Fremaux prepared a French edition of "Barnabas".  Its publication was expected in 1974, but I have not yet seen a copy.

The writer of this Preface got involved in an argument in The Pakistan Times.  His studies resulted in an article which was first published in June 1974 in Al-Mushir, the theological journal of the Christian Study Centre in Rawalpindi.  Prof. Yusuf Jalil developed an Urdu article in the same journal into a brochure, which was published in the spring of 1975.  Unfortunately, most of these publications were either ignored or strongly attacked by Muslim apologetic writers.  So far, only two or three Muslim authors have publicly acknowledged that they consider this so-called gospel to be a forgery.  In an Urdu review of the Urdu work A Study of the Gospel of Barnabas prepared by Bashir Mahmud (Baffa Zilla Hazarah, Pakistan: Dar ul-'Ulum) Dr. Ghulam Jilani Barq writes:


In the light of the Christian rejection (of the Gospel of Barnabas as a genuine Gospel) the contention that this work is genuine can be validated only when a copy of it that antedates the mission of the Prophet has been discovered and brought to light - which thus far has not been possible. (Al-Furqan, Lucknow, August, 1975, prophet,. 48).


New Insights Since Temple Gairdner's Work


Gairdner wrote his work before the "Barnabas" debate.  This debate has focused on a few important points which should be briefly mentioned in order to read Gairdner's essay in the right light today.  I mention five points:


1.The identification of the Italian "Barnabas" with a Gospel of Barnabas that ismentioned in the so-called Gelasian Decrees.  These decrees were wrongly attributed to Pope Gelasius (A.D. 492-495).  They are a compilation of documents which probably originated in different periods.  Many scholars think they were put together privately by a cleric of southern Gaul or northern Italy at the beginning of the 6th century.


2.The assumed perversion of, and conspiracy against, original Christianity by St. Paul and his party.


3.The claim made by "Barnabas" that Muhammad, not Jesus, is the real Messiah.


4.The background of "Barnabas" in the circles of the persecuted Muslims/Moriscos and Jews/Matranos after the reconquest of Spain.


5.The present day emphasis on dialogue and better understanding rather than apologetics or polemics in the relationships between Muslims and Christians.


A more detailed study of these five points will be presented, I hope, in a forthcoming second work by the present writer in Al-Mushir.  However, for those readers who will read only this present edition of Gairdner's work, I must summarize briefly the present state of research on these issues.  I do this also at the special request of Fr. Jomier in Cairo with whom I corresponded about the republishing of Gairdner's work.


1.Every effort to prove that the Italian "Barnabas" is wholly or partly the same as the apocryphal gospel mentioned in the so-called Gelasian Decrees has failed.  These efforts were bound to fail, because it is very likely that the gospel mentioned in the Gelasian Decrees never existed at all.  In the apocryphal Acts of Barnabas , written before 478 A.D., we come across a reference to the gospel used by Barnabas in his home country, Cyprus:

Barnabas, having unrolled the Gospel, which he had received from  Matthew his fellow-labourer, began to teach the Jews.

By leaving out the sentence in italics, the impression is created that Barnabas used his own gospel!  In 478 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Zeno, church leaders in Cyprus are said to have found the remains of Barnabas.  They could identify these remains by only a dream which one of the bishops is said to have had.  The event was exploited in order to increase the prestige of Cyprus as an apostolic church.  A legend was built on the above-quoted sentence from the Acts of Barnabas, which mentions his use of the Gospel of  printed in 1698 A.D. by the Bollandists in Antwerp, Belgium. I give a translation of the Latin and Greek texts:


The body of Barnabas had been found in Cyprus in 478 A.D. during the reign of Zeno (or in another reading: 'in the fourth year of Zeno') with a gospel on his breast, having on his breast the Gospel according to Matthew, copied by Barnabas himself.


If we again omit the words in italics, we have discovered or invented, by mistake or on purpose, the Gospel of Barnabas!  This may have been done by the opponents of the Cyprian claim to show that the claim was based on deceit which attributed to give a Gospel account.  The interesting thing is, however, that publishers of the English pirated edition of "Barnabas" in Karachi in 1973 did omit the words "according to Matthew" from the above quotation, in order to prove, presumably, the existence of a gospel of Barnabas in the early church.  In other words, it seems that they corrupted a text in order to prove that their forgery is authentic.




  1. Roberts and J. Donaldson, The ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1951) Vol. VIII, pp. 355, 493-496.
  1. Laura and Lonsdale Ragg, The Gospel of Barnabas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907) Introductions, p. lxxiv. Greek and Latin quotations are from Acta Sanctorum.


2. Several books have been attributed to Barnabas in the early church.  A Gospel which was non-existent, as we have just proved: Acts, of a fairly late date but probably containing some true local Cyprian traditions; an Epistle which is of a very early date. This Epistle has even been preserved in some Bible manuscripts (Sinaiticus; Vaticanus). It enjoys a high authority but most probably was not written by Barnabas himself.  At present it is counted among the works of the apostolic fathers, authors who lived after Jesus" Apostles in the beginning of the second century A.D.


Defenders of the authenticity of The Gospel of Barnabas point out that in it "Barnabas" defends the true and original Christianity in accordance with Jesus' teaching against the corruptions introduced by Paul.  This portrait of "Barnabas", however, does not agree with the image of Barnabas held by Christians in the early church.  They certainly would not have attributed to him the above mentioned Acts of Barnabas andEpistle of Barnabas, if the man who speaks through these books  had not somehow fitted the description they had received of him in the New Testament, especially in theActs of the Apostles.  There is no trace of a conflict between Paul and Barnabas in the books attributed to him.  On the contrary, the Barnabas of the Epistle attacks the Judaisers among the Christians just as the New Testament records that Paul and Barnabas attacked them.  Barnabas' school of thought in the early church was not identified with anti-Paulinism.  The minor conflict they had about a co-worker, according to The Acts of the Apostles 15:39, had no real theological basis.  Barnabas agreed with Paul that the new Christians need not be circumcised, etc.  According to the Acts of the Apostles 15:39, Barnabas returned to his home country, Cyprus, after he left Paul. There he preached the Gospel, using probably the Gospel according to St. Matthew (see above).


In the circles of Muslim polemical writers the anti-Pauline trend in "Barnabas" has revived the claim that Paul perverted the original message of Jesus and Hellenized it by preaching that Jesus was the Son of God.  This theme we find already in the works of the Hazm (d. 1064 A.D.), al-Qarafi (d. 1285 A.D.) and Abu Talib (d. 1321 A.D.).  These claims, no doubt, originated in Jewish circles and were introduced into Islamic thought with other Jewish material, namely the so-called Israi-liyyat. Modern Muslim thinkers reject these Israiliyyat, considering them to be anti-Islamic.  It follows that the insinuations about a Pauline conspiracy against original Christianity should also be rejected along with these other Israiliyyat!


Nineteenth century Christian "liberalism" has revived this presumed antithesis between the original and simple gospel of Jesus and Paul's speculative Hellenistic theology.  This school of thought, however, has completely disappeared, because it was the result of prejudiced and superficial reading of the New Testament sources.  The prejudice consisted in explaining the New Testament in purely Hellenistic terms and in forgetting about its Hebrew and Aramaic heritage.  Even Jewish theologians agree with this point of view.




  1. A.M. Hunter, Interpreting The New Testament (London, S.C.M. Press, 1951) Chapter VI, "St. Paul in the Twentieth Century".
  1. Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Jewish Christianity Factional Disputes in the Early Church(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), from a Jewish perspective.
  1. W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (London S.P.C.K., 1970).
  1. H.N. Ridderbos, Paul and Jesus  (Philadelphia: Reformed and Presbyterian Publ., 1958).


3.In many places "Barnabas" makes Jesus declare that He is not the Messiah, but that Muhammad will be the Messiah.  It is, of course, impossible for a Muslim to accept that Jesus is not al-Masih.  This name is given to Him in many places in the Holy Qur'an (G. Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur'an (London: Faber and Faber, 1965) Chapter 4).


The Arabic and first Urdu translations tried to hide this obvious contradiction between "Barnabas" and the Qur'an.  They tried to solve the problem, a problem of their own making, by writing Masiya instead of al-Masih.  The Italian has Il Messia which can only mean the Messiah, the Christal-Masih. In order to arrive at their wrong translation, they first had to change the text.  The forgery was not yet good enough for their polemical purpose.  In this way, however, they obscured a very important point which "Barnabas", no doubt, was to prove the superiority of Muhammad over Jesus.  He does this by stressing, through words which he put in Jesus' mouth, that Muhammad deserves the title "Messiah" more than Jesus Himself.


In the new English and Urdu editions the words Messiah and Masih have been maintained.  But by stressing that Jesus meant, while using the word "Messiah" for Muhammad, that Muhammad was "filled by God".  Maulana Maududi obscures the fact that "Barnabas" draws a contrast between Jesus and Muhammad.  "Barnabas" does not mean that Jesus was not filled by God (Maulana Maududi implies that He was not) but that Muhammad was filled by God.  "Barnabas" stresses that the term Messiah, in its Jewish and New Testament meaning of bringing God's plan to fulfillment, better applies to Muhammad than to Jesus.  In my opinion this is one of the  main objects of "Barnabas".


4.There are many indications that "Barnabas" has a Spanish background.  mention only eight of them without elaboration:


a.       The presence of Spanish fragments (printed in the Raggs' edition).

b.      The orthographical mistakes in the Italian text are typical of a Spaniard using Italian as a second language, as de Epalza has demonstrated.

c.       The Spanish Muslim name of the "translator" Mustafa de Aranda.  Aranda is a city in northern Spain.

d.      The fact that the Italian gospel was found in Amsterdam in circles which had close contacts with refugees from Spain.

e.       The discovery of Gospel forgeries in Arabic after March 1588 in Granada.  The forgers were two Moriscos, Alonso de Castillo and Miguel de Luna.

f.        The persecution of Moriscos between 1575 and 1610.  (Barnabas was discovered during the reign of Pope Sixtus David, A.D. 1585-1590).  This persecution of the Spanish Moriscos by the Inquisition presented sufficient motive to produce such a forgery in order to take revenge on the oppressors.

g.       The remaining Moriscos, who were expelled from Spain during the reign of Philip II (A.D. 1556-1598), were not able to maintain a good knowledge of Arabic. This may explain the poor Arabic on the margin of the Italian manuscript.

h.       The coins mentioned in "Barnabas" (chapter 54 of the Italian version mentions a golden denarius divided into 60 minuti) were found in Spain in the Visigothic period.  Dr. Garcia Gomez, a well-known Spanish orientalist, agreed with my hypothesis which was presented to him by Fr. Jomier in Cairo.




  1. T.D. Kendrick, St. James in Spain (London: Methuen. 1960). In this book see especially Chapter V. The Lead Books: 1595-1610.
  1. Peter Dressendoerfer, Islam untere der Inquisition: Die Morisco Prozessse in Toledo1575-1610 (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1971).
  1. M. de Epalza, "Sobre un Posible Autor Espanol Del Evangelio de Barnabe" in Andalus (Madrid, 1963) Vol. 28, pp. 479-491.
  1. A letter dated June 7th, 1974 from Prof. Dr. David W. MacDowell, Secretary of the British Numismatic Society, University Collete, Durham contains a detailed description of the denominations current in pre-Islamic Spain.  I want to express my appreciation to Prof. MacDowell for taking the trouble to confirm through his research my hypothesis of a Spanish origin of the coins mentioned in "Barnabas".
  1. J. Slomp, Pseudo-Barnabas in the Context of Muslim-Christian Apologetics Christian Study Centre, Series No. 9, Rawalpindi, 1974.
  1. Norman Cohn, "Three Forgeries", Encounter, Vol. XLIV, No. 1, 1975, pp. 11-26.  Cohn describes other forgeries regarding the Inquisition and the Pseudo-Batolean Consilia published in Venice in 1590.


5."Barnabas" is a hindrance and no help for dialogue.  I have demonstrated this in a rather detailed way in the above-mentioned publication.  In support of this contention it is sufficient to quote Prof. E.R.. Hambye in Delhi who wrote in the May 1975 issue ofIslam and the Modern Age:


………….a spurious publication of this kind cannot indeed contribute towards a genuine dialogue with Islam…….Pseudo-Barnabas falls in the same category as the mythical, though time and again written about Jesus' grave in Kashmir.


I hope and pray that this new edition of Temple Gairdner's essay will open the eyes of many to the truth of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament and the spurious nature of this so-called Gospel of Barnabas.



  • Hits: 6021