I've always wondered if there's any persuasive evidence either way for Theophilus whom Luke addresses in Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1 being an actual person or an allegorical personification? I mean my command of Greek isn't great but doesn't Theophilus mean "Friend of God"? However I'm sure it could also be a given name in Luke's time. So is there any strong evidence of an actual human being named Theophilus?
The name “Theophilus” may indicate a primarily Gentile audience, perhaps in Rome, given its decidedly Greek nature and that Luke’s account ends with Paul’s arrival in Rome. However, Theophilus could have just as easily been a diaspora Jew living in Rome. Heinz Joachim Held takes this perspective further by hypothesizing that Luke’s intent was to reach the wealthy lost, and not to berate wealthy Christians.
Against this, Theophilus could also have been the wealthy patron who funded Luke’s work and was probably a Christian. Luke would have, in turn, perceived Theophilus as a representative of his intended readers which is why he has such an interest in developing the theme of appropriate use of wealth, especially in the face of poverty. As a (relatively new) Christian, Theophilus would have been interested in aligning his values with those of God and the Christian community. This, in turn, would mean that Luke’s intended audience included wealthy Gentile Christians who had some familiarity with Christian beliefs, rooted in Old Testament understanding. Once again, this may serve to explain the author’s preoccupation with highlighting those Gentiles who acted in accordance with Old Testament principles as “God-fearers.” Regardless of the identity of Theophilus, the presence of his name in both prologues is a key, unifying factor for Luke and Acts.
Esler believes that Luke writes to “legitimate” the decision to convert to this belief system and that the lifestyle change associated with it was correct. Esler notes that legitimation necessarily occurs after the institution’s establishment, in the cycle of group dynamics, as a means of justifying itself to its members. This perspective would include both the wealthy and the poor since both classes were included in the earliest Christian community, which would have needed encouragement as to the legitimacy of their allegiance in the face of mounting opposition. Esler also eliminates the probability of an audience consisting of “outright pagans” based on the almost immediate presence of Old Testament Judaism (in Luke’s Gospel) that persists until the end of Acts. This comports well with the perspective that Theophilus could have been not only the sponsor of the work, but also the representative of the audience that Luke envisions.
Dibelius understands the purview of Luke's writing to include Christian audiences, and the libraries of those who specialized in literary education. He follows the argument that Theophilus, as patron, would be responsible for distribution of the volumes to their intended outlets. These outlets, Dibelius argues, would be different than those of most historians given Luke’s divergence from the practice of his contemporaries, whose rhetorical style drew attention to themselves. It is because of this that Dibelius can claim that Luke never really fully engaged the historiographical process, but remained an evangelist.
Dibelius chooses to differentiate the intended audience along a line of social sophistication rather than finances. Instead of the more traditional poor and wealthy divisions, Dibelius sees the audience falling into either the category of “humble circumstances” or those of “higher social understanding.” It should be noted, however, that Dibelius only holds this distinction for Acts, since Luke’s Gospel doesn’t fit his understanding of what constitutes a literary piece.
Though there are many suggested purposes for Luke’s writings, God’s role in salvation and the ongoing impact that he has on the community of believers is the most overarching description of Luke’s intent. Because of this, any minor themes should be read through the lens of this primary agenda that Luke has. Within this agenda, though, there may be room for Luke addressing any person feeling the tension of interacting with a largely Jewish belief system (for Gentile God-fearers), or the lack of Jewish response to the gospel (for Jews and Jewish Christians).
Schottroff and Stegemann view Luke’s perspectives as reflections on an ideal from a past era. As such, they serve as motivators for a primarily wealthy audience to follow suit with the characters and divest themselves of wealth and possessions in some regard. To this end, they see Luke as a critic of the wealthy, but one who still holds out hope for their salvation. Pilgrim also sees Luke as a critic of the wealthy. However, he views Luke as relatively unconcerned with presenting a moral framework within which his audience should operate, preferring to challenge the wealthy to come to grips with appropriate use of their possessions, especially since the rich in the Roman Empire did not hold charity to the poor as a high value.
Metzger’s analysis of the history of interpretation of Luke finds two general positions. The first finds no imperative for the wealthy to “completely divest” themselves as either a means or expression of salvation. This would essentially allow for the wealthy to retain their possessions as long as they act in accordance with the behavioral norms of the group. Though the second perspective still sees no mandate to the wealthy to completely give away their wealth, it does sees “encouragement” to generously practice almsgiving in some capacity. Almsgiving is further divided into the dual categories of either an extension of the Jewish custom of almsgiving, or a more extravagant form of charity specifically designed to upset the contemporary patron-client system. Within this second perspective there is also another subdivision with regards to the purpose of almsgiving. One perspective focuses on Luke’s intent to portray Jesus’ particular concern for the poor and dispossessed. This is achieved either by meeting their immediate practical needs or through redistribution of resources and wealth. The other perspective has the spiritual health of the wealthy in view and sees Luke’s concern primarily focused on their eternal destiny by encouraging them to secure eternal riches through almsgiving, demonstrating an acute sense of trust in God. Metzger wisely notes that these perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive, finding concern for the poor as a primary motivation, yet recognizing the transformational benefit for the wealthy’s newfound trust and reliance upon God.
Metzger is critical of the methods used by many of the authors whom he cites in his overview of past works. Though he finds worthy and beneficial contributions from them, he also sees ways in which they have used texts out of context in order to create conceptual links throughout the text. The overall focus of his study is to evaluate four parables which he views as the core of Jesus’ teaching throughout Luke’s “Travel Narrative” (Luke 12:13-21; 15:11-32; 16:1-13; 16:19-31) concluding that Jesus was particularly critical of overconsumption. His criticisms and research fertilize the ground for a study in Luke’s specific intent for including the strong theme of wealth and possessions in both Luke’s Gospel and Acts.
A mediating view of Luke’s intent can be derived from his wealth ethics. Instead of seeking an explicit, overarching response from his readers, Luke is more likely contextualizing his wealth ethics to provide an application across socio-economic statuses. In Luke, instead of explicitly demanding divestment from the wealthy alone, disciples from each class were expected to divest themselves according to their means and ongoing vocation. As we will see, this perspective nicely complements the texts in question, as well as the historical context of the emerging Christian community.
Community in Luke’s Gospel is also colored by the introduction in which Theophilus (“loved by God”) was called “most excellent” (κράτιστε). This term was commonly used to refer to the Roman equestrian class who were members of the wealthy aristocracy below the patricians, but above the populace. Perkins argues that Luke’s intention is to counter any negative reports that Theophilus has heard. Luke, then, is appealing to the upper middle class to demonstrate that Christianity is not as subversive as it may appear, and perhaps gaining an influential ear in the social elite. This is a different (and older) perspective than the one that sees Theophilus as a wealthy publisher of Luke’s content for the spread of the gospel. That Luke never mentions his own name is the basis for Perkins’ rejection of the benefactor/publisher hypothesis as it indicates that he wasn’t close enough to Theophilus to request such a service.
If Theophilus is a member of a wealthy, upper-middle class who has heard negative reports of Christians, Luke’s purpose would be both apologetic and corrective. This helps explain what appear to be idealized presentations of the community, as well as the ethic enjoined upon its members by Jesus.
note: These are excerpts from the first chapter of my thesis. Some of it may flow and some of it may not; I copied and pasted what appeared to be significant portions related to Theophilus. This represents significant research compiled over many months with many sources. I'd be happy to get a list for anyone interested.
Thank you for that excellent and thorough response. I had always wondered about "most excellent". I assumed it had some special meaning and wasn't just flattery. Jan 31, 2013 at 1:24
Theophilus was certainly used as a given name by people in the right era: there was a High Priest in the early first century named Theophilus and a bishop of Antioch in the late 2nd century named Theophilus. Unfortunately, neither of these Theophilus's (nor any other known Theophilus) lived during the time frame that most scholars think that Luke was written in (80s AD). As far as I know, there's no known examples of people in the 1st or 2nd century using Theophilus as an honorary title, but everyone seems to grant that it's a reasonable possibility. So, sadly, there's just not much conclusive evidence either way. We really don't know whether Theophilus was a title or a name.
In the book "New Testament in its world", by Michael Bird and N.T. Wright, one can read that ‘Theophilus’, whose name means ‘friend of God’, could be symbolic for everyone who seeks such friendship. But this is the hypothesis that they point as more likely
Yet it is more likely that Theophilus is actually Luke’s patron, sponsoring his literary enterprise, or maybe even a disciple of Luke to whom the teacher writes.
"Acts of the Apostles" (AYBC), by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, also points towards that last hypothesis. There, one reads
though he is otherwise unknown, there is no reason to doubt his real existence. In the Gospel, he is hailed kratiste Theophile, “Your Excellency, Theophilus.” The adj. kratistos was the Greek equivalent of Latin egregius, a title often used for the ordo equester, the “knights” of Roman society. It is used of the governor Felix in 23:26. It at least implies that Theophilus was socially respected and probably well off (L. Alexander [The Preface, 191–98] calls him the head of a house-church). He might have been Luke’s patronus, one who would have financed the copying and publication of the Lucan work, even if dedication in ancient writings did not always imply that. Dedication to him hardly means that the work was intended solely for private reading. Theophilus may have been a catechumen or Christian neophyte and undoubtedly represents the kind of reader for whom Luke was writing.
A lot can be inferred it seems from just two words that appear in Luke 1:3-4: κατηχέω and κράτιστος .
The word in Luke 1:4 translated as "taught" (ESV,NIV) or "informed" (RSV) is κατηχέω (katēcheō), which could also be translated "instructed". It is not a common word, appearing only eight times in the New Testament and not at all in the Septuagint.
Though possibly not used in that sense in Luke's time, the related term catechumen was one who was being instructed in the faith, and referred to Christians who had not yet been baptized. The process of instructing new Christians eventually came to be referred to as catechesis. These terms are used in this sense to this day in the Greek Orthodox Church.
It seems, then, that Theophilus was either a new Christian or someone who was on their way to becoming a Christian.
It is also possible that Theophilus was some sort of official, perhaps high ranking. This is implied by the word κράτιστος (kratistos), and may imply that Theophilus might have even been some sort of governor. The term is only used in three other places in the New Testament, always as a kind of honorific for a state official:
Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent (τῷ κρατίστῳ) governor Felix, sendeth greeting (Acts 23:26, KJV).
We accept it always, and in all places, most noble (κράτιστε) Felix, with all thankfulness (Acts 24:3)
But he said, I am not mad, most noble (κράτιστε) Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness (Acts 26:5)
Similar usages can be found in the Septuagint (e.g. Amos 6:2 LXX, Psalm 15:6 LXX).
From these things, Lawrence Farley pieces together the following profile of Theophilus:
I would suggest that Theophilus was not yet a Christian, and that the "instruction" he had received was of an informal kind. Certainly a man in the process of preparing for Christian baptism would have known the basic outline of the life of Jesus, and the apologetic note of assuring him about the Christian movement (one of Luke's aims in writing) would have been unnecessary. I suggest that Theophilus was a highly placed friend of Luke's, possibly holding some state position, who had heard many reports about the new Faith, from Christian and pagan alike. Christians had perhaps spoken to him, as well as the foes of the Church. Luke dedicates the work to him, and hopes thereby not just to secure Theophilus's support for the Christian Faith, but also to commend it to pagan society at large.
The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor (Conciliar Press, 2010), p.25
I have been doing research in theological history and philosophy of the first century and stumbled across another strong theory as to whom Luke may have been addressing as Theophilus. I believe it could have been the full name of Philo Judaeus of Alexandria also known as Jedidiah HaCohen. Jedidiah was Philo's Hebrew name ... meaning friend or beloved of God ... and this hints at the possibility that Philo was a shortened version of Theophilus ... having the same meaning. Combine this with the fact that Philo was the greatest religious philosopher of the first century ... perhaps the Great Teacher mentioned in the writings of the Essenes ... for it was clearly the eclectic teaching and exegesis of Philo and his "Logos" that laid the spiritual foundation upon which Christianity, Gnosticism, Rabbinical Judaism, Islam, Theosophy and Hermeticism are outgrowths. Philo's teachings created the various streams of religious philosophy that have rained down upon civilization with such force as to replace pagan polytheism with Abraham's monotheism all across the world. Jesus taught the Logos ... the Word of God ... and declared it to be "The First Begotten Son of God" ... an idea originating with Philo and stated with such eloquent force that the Roman Emperors had to quit fighting it and embrace it in order to get their grip on it and change it from within ... so as to make it more conducive to Roman Imperial designs.
I have also discovered hundreds of allegorical clues hidden in the works of Philo that suggest he had a very close relationship with Jesus or Yeshua of the Nazarenes ... who very likely grew up in Alexandria during his flight from Herod. Because Philo was a Roman magistrate ... he was not able to come forward with what he knew about the early life of the historical Jesus without drawing Imperial attention to himself ... but the Life of Jesus is mirrored and traced throughout Philo's writings ... especially in his theology and focus on the Essenes. It appears to me very likely that both Jesus and Philo were descended from the last Hasmonean Princess of Judea ... King Herod's captive bride ... Queen Mary or Mariamne I.
It appears that Philo and his brother Alexander the Alabarch were not only high ranking Princes of the Hasmonean/Herodian dynasty ... but Roman magistrates working as Alexandrian customs agents and ambassadors to the Judeo/Claudian Imperial Family of Rome ... and intermarried with the family of King Herod Agrippa ... also a descendent of Queen Mary/Mariamne I ... the captive bride murdered by Herod.
We can see Philo's teachings in the Book of Hebrews ... in the writings of Luke, in the first paragraph of John's Gospel and in Macabbees IV.
If Luke was addressing Philo Judaeus as Theophilus ... or perhaps Jedidiah ... then it means that Luke was writing prior to the time of Philo's death ... possibly around 50 A.D.
The works of Philo Judaeus and Flavius Josephus are important supplements to the New Testament ... which cannot otherwise be fully understood ... having been adulterated, mistranslated, censored, taken out of context and contorted for religious and political motives until canonized by Imperial Rome ... just prior to the Dark Ages that soon followed. Combine this knowledge with the archeological discoveries of the past 300 years ... and artifacts such as the shroud of Turin ... it leaves no doubt that Jesus ... Yeshua the Nazarene ... was and is a historical figure who impacted the world in many ways beyond what the New Testament describes ... a spiritual/intellectual/philosophical tour de force with the One God of Abraham at the summit. Exactly what Philo intended.
1While this answer is interesting, and seems like the start of a very good answer, we typically like answers that cite the references references. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it and note that "showing your work" is required. Feb 24, 2016 at 6:18
Dugan King commented: My references on Philo are secretive and based on my original research for a book I am writing about the plausibility that Philo was the secret identity of Jesus ... who changed his name from Theophilus to Jesus when he was baptized in the Jordan. Jun 10, 2016 at 18:53
I think in order to support your theory you would have to demonstrate convincingly that Luke could have written his Gospel and Acts during Philo's lifetime. My understanding is that Philo died around 50 AD and that Luke wrote his works sometime after 60 AD. Also, I don't think that Philo held any kind of office within the Roman Empire that would merit the title of κράτιστος. My understanding is that he wasn't actually any kind of ruler, but was elected as a representative of the Alexandrian Jews for one specific delegation to Caligula. I am happy to be corrected on any of these points. Dec 3, 2017 at 18:49
I have since listed some sources of my research on a Facebook page: The Secret Identity of Jesus.
Good question about the dating. How certain is any first century dating. Is it possible that Luke was writing in the mid 40s of the first century during the reign of Claudius? I need to research the dating of Paul’s ministry because I feel certain that the brunt of his preaching occurred during the reign of Claudius. Do we really know the birth or death dates of Jesus or Philo ... or the date of the crucifixion?
If Philo was a brother to Alexander the Alabarch ... then there are several elementary deductions we can make ... aka no brainer assumptions ... that they were royal descendants of the Hasmonean/Herodian dynasty ... descended from Herod 1 and Queen Mariamne 1 ....raised in the Imperial Palace of Rome under the influence of Caesar Augustus, his wife Livia, his sister, Octavia and his niece, Antonia Minor.
As foster children of the Imperial family, they were trained to be Roman Citizens and future “Client Kings” of their home provinces.
Philo’s Aramaic name appears to be Jedidiah ha Cohen ... translating into Friend of God the Priest. My suspicion is that Philo was a priest or likely the Roman appointed Chief Rabbi of the Great Basilica Synagogue of Alexandria as described in the Talmud and Philo’s own works.
Philo’s brother, Alexander (or possibly a nephew) was close to Emperor Claudius and managed the Egyptian estates of Antonia Minor ... besides his important appointment as the Alabarch of Egypt.
Alexander had two sons ... Marcus Alexander was married to Princess Berenice, daughter of Herod Agrippa 1 of the Hasmonean/Herodian Dynasty ... a family where marriages were often arranged between cousins in order to keep the royal bloodline intact.
Based on my research I believe Alexander the Alabarch and Herod Agrippa 1 were first cousins and Philo’s nephews.
Alexander’s apostate son, Tiberius Alexander, is recorded as a high ranking Roman equestrian ... holding positions such as Prefect of Egypt, Procurator of Judea and 2nd in Command to Titus during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
I believe this recorded evidence is heavy in supporting the contention that Philo was of Jewish Nobility ... Roman Citizenship and holding high rank if not the highest as a Roman appointed High Priest of the Great Synagogue in Alexandria.
It also appears that the allegorical works of Philo are regarded by a number of scholars as the root theology of Gnosticism and Christianity.
Paul’s ministry as a self proclaimed Apostle to the Greeks and Romans ... eliminating the laws of the Hebrew Torah ... caused quite a disturbance among the Judeo Christians of the Diaspora who were loyal to the Torah and expecting a Messiah Jesus to save them from Roman persecution and establish God’s Kingdom ... a ministry that appears to be the reason Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome.
Perhaps Theophilos had inquired of Luke to discover what exactly it was that Paul was teaching to attract so many Gentiles and cause an uprising by the Judeo-Christians of the Diaspora.
Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your answer. Do not forget to take the tour. Please also take the time to add some references to support your claims.– user25930Jan 15, 2019 at 6:56