Luke 1:3

It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus.

The etomology of theophilus means "friend of God". Luke uses this title a second time in his treatise of the book of "Acts of the Apostles". Could this name not be just a single friend of Luke but a title given to present and future Christians who will be recipients of the words of the two God breathed books penned by Luke?

  • In fact many people think Theophilus just refers to the Church
    – jaredad7
    Dec 20, 2023 at 17:03
  • @jaredad7 Since the Church is made up of Christians I agree. Kind of like singular and plural. Thanks for your response.
    – RHPclass79
    Dec 20, 2023 at 17:09

3 Answers 3


The text of Luke 1:3 is

ἔδοξε κἀμοὶ παρηκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πᾶσιν ἀκριβῶς καθεξῆς σοι γράψαι, κράτιστε Θεόφιλε

Notice that the last word, "Theophilus" is in the vocative case, Θεόφιλε, ie, directed at a specific person.

This does not deny the distinct probability that this Theophilus was a type of all subsequent Christians; however, Luke writes to a specific person.

  • 2
    +1 -- I'd add that it was probably not an uncommon name. There was even a high priest named Theophilus mentioned by Josephus. He would have served when Luke was still a young man... So I would not put him forth as the addressee here. Dec 21, 2023 at 15:48
  • @DanFefferman - good point. Thanks.
    – Dottard
    Dec 21, 2023 at 19:56
  • this article presents arguments that the high priest Theophilis is indeed the one addressed by Luke. Although he served as high priest for only about 4 years, he remained very influential... including having a son who served as high priest. I should create an answer to this effect, even though I'm not personally convinced it is right. Dec 23, 2023 at 22:21

Could be? This type of question engages in speculation, however possible it may be. Fact is, we know from history, this was a legitimate name of that era. There was a ruler in the area of Syro-palestine by that name. The educated physician (Luke) and now historian, could have had access to men of dignity and high-standing.

The Apostles are more direct in their introductions to their other epistles and writings, mentioning the names of real people, or often addressing churches specifically. Sometimes they mention districts at large (1 Peter).

So it is highly speculative that Luke is using an address metaphorically, or symbolic. (P.S. Other questions like this that do not lend to a factual answer have been deleted.)

Insight from the NIV Study Bible:

The Gospel is specifically directed to Theophilus whose name means "one who loves God" and almost certainly refers to a particular person rather than to lovers of God in general. The use of "most excellent" with the name further indicates an individual, and supports the idea that he was a Roman official or at least of high position and wealth. He was possibly Luke's patron, responsible for seeing that the writings were copied and distributed. Such a dedication was common at that time." (p. 1532)
..."The fact that the Gospel [and Acts] was initially directed to Theophilus does not narrow or limit its purpose. It was written to strengthen the faith of all believers and to answer the attacks of unbelievers." (Ibid)

  • @ Ray Grant . Luke refers to this person or persons as "most excellent Theophilis". These are VERY tall words for just an individual that is only mentioned in one other place, but nothing else is told about him except his name. On the other hand to refer to Christians as excellent would be similar to Paul's use of the word "perfect".
    – RHPclass79
    Dec 21, 2023 at 2:50
  • @ RHPclass79 - Possibly! There are so many details we wish were not left out of the Bible that pique our curiosity. But there is sufficient knowledge for salvation here, and the rest we can inquire into in Eternity. Wow! Keep studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Dec 21, 2023 at 21:52
  • Thank you for your time spent. Merry Christmas if I don't cross messages with you for a while.
    – RHPclass79
    Dec 21, 2023 at 22:23

Although I am not personally convinced of it, the possibility exists that Theophilus was a specific person known to history: the high priest Theophilus. This particular man was the son of the high priest Annas - called Ananus by Josephus. He was also the brother-in-law of the infamous Caiaphas, and the father of yet another high priest, Mattathias.

This Theophilus reigned too early (37-40) to be the high priest when Luke may have addressed him. However, if he still lived, he would have remained influential as part of the Sadducean dynasty that continued through the reign of of his son Mattathias. The Jewish Encyclopedia says of Mattathias that:

He was in office in 65 C.E., when the war against the Romans broke out (Josephus, "Ant." xx. 9, § 7). During the troubles in Jerusalem which preceded the siege by Titus ("B. J." iv. 3, § 7) he was deposed, since he, like the other aristocrats, belonged to the peace party, one of his sons having even sought refuge with the Romans.

If the priestly aristocrats of this time indeed supported the peace party, they were potential political allies of the Christians, who likewise opposed violence against Rome. This makes Luke's correspondence with either Theophilus or Mattathias more plausible. It is also Luke who tells us that:

Acts 6:7

And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Conclusion: although the evidence is not conclusive, given the circumstances of the time, the idea is plausible that Theophilus was a specific former-high-priest who was still influential when Luke did his work. Even a late date for Luke does not completely rule this out.

  • @ Dan Fefferman. Dan it seems odd to me that Luke would address a gospel and Acts to the same person ( most excellent Theophilus) unless he was a believer. I may be prejudice in my opinion against high priests given Jesus' history with Jewish hiarchy. Since all the gospels were penned well after Pentecost I suppose Luke was writing to a Jewish priest, but my instinct says there maybe more to this. There are many that have the name " Jesus " in the Hispanic race today but that is just a common first name. So the question based on Luke's day would be why Theophilus was deserving of such recogn.!
    – RHPclass79
    Dec 23, 2023 at 23:23
  • The ending word above was recognition. Dan abiding in my personal doctrine as well as many others is the Bible proves the Bible. If Theophilus was as you suggest I would think he would have been mentioned elsewhere in the scriptures and associated in an "excellent" manner by something he said or did.
    – RHPclass79
    Dec 23, 2023 at 23:44
  • The hypothesis I suggested works if the Sadducees were interested in allying with the Christians (against the Zealots and the pro-revolt faction of the Pharisees) at the time. This scenario does not require Theophilus to be a believer, only a person doing his due diligence to determine if an alliance would be in his priestly dynasty's interests. I am not convinced of the hypothesis but I do think it's important to be aware of. Jan 13 at 16:01

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