Dear Father Christopher,
I hope you can help me with the next question which I received after I
told my clients, that the Apostle Barnabas was stoned to death in the
year 57, after he came to Cyprus with his nephew Mark. The question was
as followed, where was this written? I thought it was in the apocrypha.
Is this correct and if so, where exactly?
Looking forward to your answer.
Answer to Question 82.
Christ is Born!
I can only assume that the person who asked the question must be from a
protestant background brought up to believe in the doctrine of "Bible
Only". Protestants reject tradition handed down through the Church
because they say these traditions are not written in the Bible. For most
Protestants everything necessary for salvation is only contained within
the Bible. They accept the Bible as God-inspired but never ask where the
Bible came from and how the many books it comprises came together to
form one book. Some, I think, actually believe that it dropped out of
heaven. What they don't allow themselves to consider is that the very
Bible they claim to be the SOLE infallible rule of Faith was put
together by Holy Tradition and the Church. The same Holy Tradition they
totally reject gave us the Bible as we have it today, so if they are
truly faithful to their belief and reject tradition then they should
really reject the Bible as well.
Up until the fourth century the books of the Bible were separate books.
St. Athanasius in the Fourth Century proposed a list of the books for
canonization where he separated the books into categories of “divinely
inspired” and those “approved for reading by newcomers to the faith”.
His proposal or canon was one of six canons that the Church acknowledged
when finalizing the canon of the Bible during the Quinisext Ecumenical
Council in 691. The Church therefore, which Protestants reject, gave us
the Holy Bible as we have it today. At the same time the Church
proclaimed many other books (the apocryphal) as not God-inspired like
the “Gospel of Thomas”. We know the Bible has the correct canon, (or
list of inspired books) because the Church was infallible in this
decision, just as the Holy Bible tells us it is. The same Holy Spirit
that protects the Bible from error protects Christ's Holy Church from
error. This is a concept not taught in the modern Christian churches.
Christ said he would send: “the spirit of truth to guide you into all
the truth.” (John 16:13) Either He did or He didn't? Either we believe
Scripture or we don't? Of course Christ did this and that is why
Christ's Church is infallible on such matters pertaining to faith.
I mentioned these things first because much of what we believe in the
Church has been handed down to us by Holy Tradition. Until the Bible and
especially the New Testament was put together, the Christian faith was
taught by word of mouth. The Apostles didn't have the New Testament to
teach and even when the Books that make up the New Testament were
eventually written, they didn't have printing machines to make copies
available for everyone. Thus by mouth alone were the Christian teachings
transmitted by the Apostles to their successors, who in turn transmitted
them to their successors and thus they have come down to us. St. Paul
clearly writes this to the Christians of his time when he says: “stand
fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word,
or our epistle” [that is whether oral or written] (2 Thessalonians 2:
For us Orthodox, Holy Tradition is an authoritative source equal to Holy
Scripture and both together form the basis and foundation of the
Orthodox faith. For example, what we know about the parents of the
Mother of God, her birth, her entry into the temple at three years old,
her death and Assumption are not written in the Bible. These details
have been handed down to us by Holy Tradition. Of course they are also
found in the apocryphal Book of James known as the "Protevagelion", but
let s not assume that the written text came first and that the Church
used these texts to formulate the feasts of the Mother of God? This is a
very Protestant approach which only accepts the written Testament
without regards to Holy Tradition. These teachings were alive within the
Church and remained alive through Holy Tradition and were later recorded
in the liturgical hymns of the Church. The fact that the apocryphal
Gospels also contain these stories only confirms that they were well
known and accepted within the Church at the time of them being written.
Likewise the martyrdoms of many saints were not immediately written down
by eyewitnesses, but their heroic lives were recorded in Holy Tradition
and passed down to us. St. Barnabas is an example. Through tradition we
are told that the Jews at Salamis of Cyprus took him and stoned him to
death and then set about burning his body which remained unharmed. His
disciples and nephew Mark (John) took his body and buried him with the
Gospel of St. Matthew on his chest. According to the Church of Cyprus
the date was 57AD, but other sources give the date as 61 or 62 AD. Some
of these details are also found in the apocryphal book "Acts of
Barnabas" supposedly written by Mark". The details are not identical
e.g. the apocryphal text does not mention the stoning but says that the
Jews burned his body until it became dust. As with the Mother of God, we
should not assume that the written details found in the apocryphal book
came first. Tradition kept alive the details of Barnabas' martyrdom, and
the fact that similar details are recorded in another source like the
apocryphal book "The Acts of Barnabas" only verifies that the event was
Hope this has covered the question posed by your client, but if as I
suspect he/she is a "Bible Only" protestant he/she will not accept the
account as handed down by Holy Tradition because simply it is not
written in the Bible.
So that you can compare the two sources which refer to Barnabas'
martyrdom, below I have copied the appropriate text from the apocryphal
book "The acts of Barnabas".
With love in Christ
P.S. We didn't see you at our Christmas Liturgy. Merry Christmas and may
God grant you and your family a wonderful New Year 2013
From the Acts of Barnabas
And Barjesus, having arrived after two days, after not a few Jews had
been instructed, was enraged, and brought together all the multitude of
the Jews; and they having laid hold of Barnabas, wished to hand him over
to Hypatius, the governor of Salamis. And having bound him to take him
away to the governor, and a pious Jebusite, a kinsman of Nero, having
come to Cyprus, the Jews, learning this, took Barnabas by night, and
bound him with a rope by the neck; and having dragged him to the
hippodrome from the synagogue, and having gone out of the city, standing
round him, they burned him with fire, so that even his bones became
dust. And straightway that night, having taken his dust, they cast it
into a cloth; and having secured it with lead, they intended to throw it
into the sea. But I, finding an opportunity in the night, and being able
along with Timon and Rhodon to carry it. we came to a certain place, and
having found a cave, put it down there, where the nation of the
Jebusites formerly dwelt. And having found a secret place in it, we put
it away, with the documents which he had received from Matthew. And it
was the fourth hour of the night of the second of the week.
And when we were hid in the place, the Jews made no little search after
us; and having almost found us, they pursued us as far as the village of
the Ledrians; and we, having found there also a cave near the village,
took refuge in it, and thus escaped them. And we were hid in the cave
three days; and the Jews having gone away, we came forth and left the
place by night. And taking with us Ariston and Rhodon, we came to the
village of Limnes.