Food laws allegory in Barnabus

The one thing I always find most memorable about the Epistle of Barnabus is (for better or for worse) the allegory applied to the Mosaic Dietary Laws.  Rather than simple typology, he actually argues that the literal meanings were not Moses’ intentions at all; only the allegory is what Moses intended to communicate (see Barnabus chapter 10).  I am as suspicious of this claim as I am of the Zwinglian assertion that the Bread of Life discourse (in John 6) is purely allegory.  In both cases, the simple literal meaning was a serious challenge to the audience.  Thus I still firmly believe in the simple literal readings of both instances.

Typological additions to the simple reading, are, however, not unwelcome.  Last night I was struck by how well Barnabus cross-references his interpretation of the dietary laws with Psalm 1.  First of all he correctly sets these laws in the context of teaching about holiness.  Here’s a table summarizing how Barnabus interprets the main three categories of prohibited food (in Deut. 14 and Lev. 11) to be ethical instructions to avoid certain types of people, and how the opening verse of Psalm 1 matches up with them.



Fish without scales

People who forget God when rich, but squeal for His help when hungry

People who don’t work, but “innocently” swoop down to steal from others

People who are already so dead in their sin that they can’t repent, like bottom-feeders

Blessed is he who has… not stood in the path of sinners

Blessed is he who has… not sat in the seat of predators

Blessed is he who has… not followed the counsel of the godless

Barnabus uses this to argue that David correctly understood the Law of Moses, and thus set out the good & true meaning in that Psalm.  Although I disagree with Barnabus‘ allegory-only belief regarding the food laws, I am open to consider it a valid typology.  The allegorical teachings do match with godly teaching, and his connection to Psalm 1 is remarkably appropriate.

So, even though virtually everyone today (and even most Christians of earlier ages) would scoff at Barnabus’ allegorical approach, we still can receive some useful instruction from him.  And hey, since we’re not bound by the dietary laws anymore, we might as well benefit from an applicable typology!

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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