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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Theophilus is the name of the person to whom the author of the Lucan Gospel and the Acts addressed his treatises. It is not certain whether Theophilus was a real person or a literary figment. The same doubt applies to other books in early Christian literature which seem to have been intended for a general public but are addressed to an individual, e.g. the Epistle to Diognetus . There is, however, no proof that the fiction of an imaginary address was a common literary artifice.

Origen ( Hom, in Luke 1 ), without rejecting the existence of a historical Theophilus, applied the name to all who are loved of God. Jerome ( Anecdota Maredsolana, Maredsous , 1895, iii. 3. 20) equates Theophilus with ‘amicus vel amator Dei,’ and Salvianus ( Ep . ix. 18) says that Luke addressed the two books ‘ad amorem Dei.’

It is also possible that there is a reference to this interpretation in Tatian, Orat. adv. Graecos , xii. 3: τὰς θειοτάτας ἑρμηνείας αΐ κατὰ χρόνον διὰ γραφῆς ἐξεληλεγμέναι πάνυ θεοφιλεῖς τοὺς προσέχοντας αὐταῖς πεποιήκασιν (suggested by E, A. Abbott, Encyclopaedia Biblica ii. 1790), but the point cannot be pressed.

Lightfoot ( Biblical Essays , London, 1893, p. 197) seems to favour the view that Theophilus is a nom de guerre . If this be so, the following remarks as to the interests of Theophilus would need to be interpreted as referring to the class of which this imaginary person was typical. In this case it is interesting to note the parallel between  Acts 1:1, τὸν μὲν πρῶτον λόγον ἐποιησάμην περὶ πάντων, ὦ Θεόφιλε, and Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 445, ὁ μὲν πρότερος λόγος ἦν ἡμῖν, ὦ θεόδοτε, περὶ τοῦ κτλ.

Assuming that Theophilus was a real person, the use of the title ‘excellent’ (κράτιστος) in  Luke 1:3 has been used as a proof that he was a man of high official rank. It appears, however, that this title was often given to persons of good position as a matter of courtesy, and proves nothing. It is used by other writers in their dedicatory addresses (cf. Dion. Hal. de Orat. Antiq . [ὦ κράτιστε Ἀμμαῖε] and the Epistle to Diognetus ). W. M. Ramsay thinks that the title ought to be interpreted in the strictest official manner, though he admits that ‘some Greeks were not so accurate as Luke’ [ St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen , London, 1895, p. 388 n.[Note: . note.]); he endeavours to meet the obvious (and, in most writers’ judgment, fatal) objection that Theophilus cannot be the name of a Roman of equestrian rank, as it is Greek and not Latin, by the suggestion that Theophilus is the baptismal name of an official who would have been compromised if his legal name had been used. Attractive as this theory is, it is faced by the difficulty, stated, but apparently not appreciated, by Ramsay himself, that there is no evidence of the use of baptismal names at any period which can be suggested for Luke’s writings.

The question has often been disputed whether the Lucan writings assume that Theophilus was a Christian, or only an interested heathen inquirer. There seems to be nothing decisive either way, but, although the word κατηχήθης, used in  Luke 1:3, need not be used of Christian catechetical instruction, it is perhaps more likely that it ought to be taken in this sense. The most probable guess is that Theophilus may have been a ‘God-fearer,’ but there is no evidence either for or against this view.

There is no credible tradition as to Theophilus in early literature.

The Clementine Recognitions (x. 71) say that a rich citizen of Antioch named Theophilus founded a great basilica which was established as the See ( cathedra ) of Peter. Pseudo-Hippolytus identified this Theophilus with the one to whom Luke wrote, and in Apost. Const . vii. 46 Theophilus appears as the third bishop of Caesarea, Zacchaeus and Cornelius being his predecessors. This tradition is almost certainly a confusion of the Theophilus of the Recognitions with the Theophilus who was living about 190. It is also to be noted that Seneca addressed his seventh letter to a Theophilus. The notes occasionally appended to Manuscriptsof the Gospels sometimes say that Theophilus was a disciple of Luke (H. von Soden, Die Schriften des NT , Berlin, 1902, i. 319), sometimes that he was a man of senatorial rank (συγκλητικὸν ὄντα καὶ ἄρχοντα ἴσως) because he is addressed as κράτιστος (p. 324), but these statements are important only as showing the absence of any tradition or legend.

Among modern guesses, ingenious but devoid of any foundation, may be mentioned A. Beck’s, who identifies Luke with the unnamed companion of Cleopas on the way to Emmaus and Theophilus with an Antiochene tax-collector, the friend of Chuza and Herod, who had gone to Caesarea with Herod and Berenice ( Prolog des Lk.-Evangeliums , Amberg, 1900).

As ‘tradition’ is thus ignorant of any facts concerning Theophilus, the only source of information which we possess is contained in the implications of the Lucan writings. Using this clue, the interest of Theophilus in Christianity may fairly be regarded as identical with the purpose of Luke in writing. Fully or certainly to discover what this was is doubtless impossible, but a general consideration of the Lucan books, both by themselves and as compared with the other Gospels, gives some important clues.

The most remarkable feature of the Lucan writings is that, unlike Mark and Matthew, they contain a continuation of the history of Jesus. This clearly points to a circle in which Church life, as something distinct from the Synagogue, had become self-conscious. It must be remembered that, so far as Mark goes, there is nothing to show this self-consciousness. The Second Gospel seems to have been written to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, not to support the view that the Christians were the chosen people of God. Similarly in Matthew, though there is a great development beyond the position of Mark, the question is that of the Law, not of the Church, or congregation of God. Matthew’s object is to show Christianity as the New Law, and therefore he added to Mark large sections expounding the teaching of Jesus in this light. He could not be satisfied with Mark, but was not obliged to consider the meaning of the Christian community. Luke, however, and Theophilus by implication, were concerned to give a reasonable account of the community, and to propound the view that the Christians, not the Jews, are the true Ecclesia-using the word which from its associations in the Septuagintimplied that those to whom it was applied were the Ancient People of God. Acts especially seems intended to prove this proposition, and it justifies the conclusion that one of the λόγοι in which Theophilus had been instructed concerned the claim or Christians that they and not the Jews were the true people of God.

It is also possible that this contention had a further apologetic importance. It has often been noticed that Luke is anxious to prove that there was no lawful reason for persecution by the Romans. The right of the religion of Israel to toleration was unquestioned, and it was possibly part of Luke’s apologetic aim that the Christians’ Church, not the Jewish Synagogue, could claim this toleration.

Literature.-J. Moffatt, DOG , article‘Theophilus’; T. Zahn, Einleitung in das NT 3, Leipzig, 1906, § 58, n.[Note: . note.]5.

K. Lake.

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography [2]

Theophilus (13) a Christian who discussed Christianity with Simon a Jew in a treatise published by a Gallic writer named Evagrius in 5th cent. The title as given by Gennadius (de Vir. Ill. c. 51 is Altercatio Simonis Judaei et Theophili Christiani. This work lay hid till Zacagni the Vatican Librarian noticed it in 1698 in his Collect. Mon pp. 51 53 324. It was printed by Migne (Patr. Lat. t. xx. c. 1165) and by Gebhardt and Harnack (Texte u. Untersuch. zur Gesch. der Altchrist. Lit. Bd. i. Hft. 3; Leipz. 1883) with exhaustive notes and dissertations. It has an important bearing on the controversy during patristic times between the church and Judaism. The disputants discuss various arguments against the deity of Christ drawn from O.T. Theophilus making a very liberal use of the mystical method of exposition. The Jew begins by objecting that Christ cannot be God because in Deuteronomy it is said "There is no other God beside Me," and Isaiah says "I am the first and the last and beside Me there is no God." Theophilus then defends his position from the conduct of Abraham towards the angel whom he worshipped at the oak of Mamre and from the Psalms. He quotes Is 7:14 "Behold a virgin shall conceive." Simon replies that the virgin was the daughter of Jerusalem whom Isaiah represents as despising Shalmanezer while the angel who smote the Assyrians is the fulfilment of the prophecy contained in the name Emmanuel since he was for them indeed "Nobiscum Deus." Theophilus retorts that the virgin daughter of Jerusalem had brought forth no son. The difficulties of the Incarnation are then discussed and Christ's descent from David maintained by Theophilus who argues that conception by a virgin was no more difficult to God than bringing water out of a rock. Simon then raises the favourite difficulty of the Jews from 2nd cent. downwards drawn from Deu_21:23 "He that is hanged is accursed of God"


Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

Called "most excellent" or "noble" ( Kratiste ), a magisterial designation ( Luke 1:3; Acts 1; compare  Acts 23:26;  Acts 24:3;  Acts 26:25). Luke addressed both his works, forming one whole in two parts, to him, in order to give a more orderly written narrative, from the very beginning clown to the journey of Paul to Rome, of those truths in which he had been "instructed" orally ( Katechethes ). Tradition connects Theophilus with Antioch. The special adaptation of Luke's Gospel to Gentiles implies Theophilus was a Gentile.

The "epithet" Kratiste implies his rank, as also does the more elegant style of Luke's dedication ( Luke 1:1-4) as compared with that of, the rest of the Gospel which is more derived from existing brief memoirs embodied by the evangelist. The idea of Theophilus being an imaginary person (The Name Meaning "Friend Of God") is at variance with the simplicity of the New Testament writers and especially the evangelists.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [4]

THEOPHILUS (lit. ‘beloved of God’). The person to whom St. Luke’s two works are addressed (  Luke 1:3 ,   Acts 1:1 ). That Theophilus stands for a real person and is not a general name for the Christian reader is made probable by the title ‘most excellent,’ which, when strictly used, implies equestrian rank (Ramsay, St. Paul p. 388). It is used also of Felix (  Acts 23:26;   Acts 24:3 ) and of Festus (  Acts 26:25 ). But some take the title as a mere complimentary address, and therefore as telling us nothing of Theophilus himself. If it is used strictly, we may agree with Ramsay that Theophilus was a Roman official, and the favourable attitude of St. Luke to the institutions of the Empire is in keeping with this idea. If so, Theophilus would be the Christian, not the Roman, name of the person addressed.

A. J. Maclean.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [5]

one to whom St. Luke addresses the books of his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles, which he composed,  Acts 1:1;  Luke 1:3 . It is doubted whether the name Theophilus be here the proper name of a man, or an appellative or common name, which, according to its etymology, may stand for any good man, or a lover of God. Some think this name is generic, and that St. Luke's design here is to address his work to those that love God; but it is much more probable that this Theophilus was a Christian to whom the evangelist has dedicated those two works; and the epithet of "most excellent," which is given to him, shows him to have been a man of great quality. OEcumenius concludes from thence that he was governor or intendant of some province, because such a personage had generally the title of "most excellent" given to him. Grotius conjectures he might be a magistrate of Achaia, converted by St. Luke.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [6]

Theoph'ilus. (Friend Of God). The person to whom St. Luke inscribes his Gospel, and the Acts of the Apostles.  Luke 1:3;  Acts 1:1. From the honorable epithet applied to him in  Luke 1:3, it has been argued, with much probability, that he was a person, in high official position. All that can be conjectured, with any degree of safety, concerning him comes to this, that he was a Gentile of rank and consideration, who came under the influence of St. Luke, or under that of St. Paul at Rome, and was converted to the Christian faith.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]

One, doubtless a Christian, to whom Luke addressed his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The word translated 'most excellent' is κράτιστος, the same that is applied to governors of provinces, as to Felix and Festus as 'most noble.' Nothing further is known of Theophilus.  Luke 1:3;  Acts 1:1; cf.  Acts 23:26;  Acts 24:3;  Acts 26:25 .

People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

Theophilus ( The-Ŏph'I-Lŭs ), Lover Of God. A noted person to whom Luke addressed his gospel and his history of the Acts of the Apostles.  Luke 1:3. The title "most excellent" probably denotes official dignity.  Acts 23:26;  Acts 24:3; and  Acts 26:25.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [9]

Friend of God, an honorable person to whom the evangelist Luke addressed his gospel, and the Acts of the Apostles,  Luke 1:3;  Acts 1:1 . We can only say of him, in general, that most probably he was a man of some note, who lived out of Palestine, and had abjured paganism in order to embrace Christianity.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [10]

The person to whom the Evangelist Luke sent his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. His name is a compound of two Greek words, meaning together, "a lover of God." ( Luke 1:1-80;  Acts 1:1-26)

Easton's Bible Dictionary [11]

 Luke 1:3 Acts 23:26 24:3

Holman Bible Dictionary [12]

 Luke 1:3 Acts 1:1

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [13]

( Θεόφιλος , Friend Of God ) , the name of two men associated with sacred history, one of them being mentioned in the New Test. and the other by Josephus..

1. The person to whom Luke inscribes his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles ( Luke 1:3;  Acts 1:1). A.D. cir; 56. The important part played by Theophilus as having immediately occasioned the composition Of these two books, together with the silence of Scripture concerning him, has at once stimulated conjecture, and left the field clear for it. Accordingly we meet with a considerable number and variety of theories concerning him.

r. Several commentators, especially among the fathers have been disposed to doubt the personality of Theophilus, regarding the name either as that of a fictitious person or as applicable to every Christian reader. Thus Origen (Hom. 1 in Luc.) raises the question, but does not discuss it, his object being merely practical. He says that all who are beloved of God are Theophili, and may therefore appropriate to themselves the gospel which was addressed to Theophilus. Epiphanius (Haeres. 2, 429) speaks doubtfully: Εἴτ᾿ Ουν Τινὶ Θεοφίλῳ Τότε Γράφων Ἔλεγεν , Παντὶ Ἀνθρώπῳ Θεὸν Αγαπῶντι . Salvianus ( Epist. 9 Ad Salonium ) apparently assumes that Theophilus had no historical existence. He justifies the composition of a work addressed Ad Ecclesiam Catholicam, under the name of Timotheus, by the example of the evangelist Luke, who addressed his gospel nominally to a particular man, but really to "the love of God" "Nam. sicut Theophili. vocabulo amor, sic Timothei honor divinitatis exprimitur." Even Theophylact, who believes in the existence of Theophilus, takes the opportunity of moralizing upon his name: Καὶ Πᾶς Δὲ Ἄνθρωπος Θεοφιλής , Καὶ Κράτος Κατὰ Τῶν Παθῶν Ἀναδειξάμενος Θεόφιλός Ἐστι Κράτιστος , Ὃς Καὶ Ἄξιος Τῷ Ὄντι Ἐστὶν Ἀκούειν Τοῦ Εὐαγγελίου ( Argum. In Luc. ) . Among modern commentators, Hammond and Leclerc accept the allegorical view; Erasmlus is doubtful, but, on the whole, believes Theophilus to have had a real existence.

2. From the honorable epithet Κράτιστε applied to Theophilus in  Luke 1:3, compared with the use of the same epithet as applied by Claudius Lysias and Tertullus severally to Felix, and by Paul to Festus ( Acts 23:26;  Acts 24:3;  Acts 26:25), it has been argued with much probability, but not quite conclusively, that he was a person in high official; position. Thus Theophylact (Argum. in Luc.) conjectures that he was a Roman governor, or a person of senatorial rank, grounding his conjecture expressly on the use of Κράτιστε . (Ecumenius ( Ad Act. Apost. 1, 1) tells us that he was a governor, but gives no authority for the assertion. The traditional connection of Luke with Antioch has disposed some to look upon Antioch as the abode of Theophilus, and possibly as the seat of his government. Bengel believes him to have been an inhabitant of Antioch, "ut veteres testantur." The belief may partly have grown out of a story in the so-called Recognitions Of St. Clement (lib. 10), which represents a certain nobleman of Antioch of that name to have been converted by the preaching of Peter, and to have dedicated his own house as a church, in which, as we are told, the apostle fixed his episcopal seat. Bengel thinks that the omission of Κράτιστε in Acts 1, 1 proves that Luke Was on more familiar terms with Theophilus than when he composed his gospel.

3. In the Syriac lexicon, extracted from the Lexicons Heptaglot of Castell, and edited by Michaelis (p. 948), the following description of Theophilus is quoted from Bar-Bahlul, a Syrian lexicographer of the 10th century: "Theophilus, primus credentium et celeberrimus apud Alexandrienses, qui cum alis AEgyptis Lucam rogabat, ut eis evangelium scriberet." In the inscription of the Gospel according to Luke in the Syriac version, we are told that it was published at Alexandria. Hence it is inferred by Hase ( Bibl. Bremensis Class. ch. 4 fasc. 3, diss. 4, quoted by Michaelis, Introd. To The New Test. [ed. Marsh], vol. 3, ch. 6: § 4) and by Bengel ( Ordo Temporum [2nd ed.], p. 196) that Theophilus was, as asserted by Bar-Bahlul, a convert of Alexandria. This writer ventures to advance the startling opinion that Theophilus, if an Alexandrian, was no other than the celebrated Philo, who is said to have borne the Hebrew name of Jedidiah ( יְדַידְיָה , i.e. Θεόφιλος ). It hardly seems necessary to refute this theory, as Michaelis has refuted it, by chronological arguments.

4. Alexander Morus ( Ad Quaedam Loca Nov. Fced. Notae : Ad Luc. I, 1 ) makes the rather hazardous conjecture that the Theophilus of Luke is identical With the person who is recorded by Tacitus ( Annals. 2, 55) to have been condemned for fraud at Athens by the court of the Areopagus. Grotius also conjectures that he was a magistrate of Achaia baptized by Luke. The conjecture of Grotius must rest upon the assertion of Jerome (an assertion which, if it is received, renders that of Morrs possible, though certainly most improbable), namely, that Luke published his gospel in the parts of Achaia and Boeotia (Jerome, Comm. in Matthew Procem.).

5. It is obvious to suppose that Theophilus was a Christian; but a different view has been entertained. In a series of dissertations in the Bibl. Bremensis, of which Michaelis gives a Resume in the section already referred to, the notion that he was not a Christian is maintained by different writers and on different grounds. Heumann, one of the contributors, assuming that he was a Roman governor, argues that he could not be a Christian, because no Christian would be likely to have such a charge entrusted to him. Another writer (Theodore Hase) believes that the Theophilus of Luke was no other than the deposed high-priest Theophilus the son of Ananus (see below). Michaelis himself is inclined to adopt this theory. He thinks that the use of the word Κατηχή Θης in Luke 1, 4 proves that Theophilus had an imperfect acquaintance with the facts of the gospel (an argument of which bishop Marsh very properly disposes in his note upon the passage of Michaelis), and further contends, from the Ἐν Ἡμῖν of  Luke 1:1, that he was not a member of the Christian community. He thinks it probable that the evangelist wrote his gospel during the imprisonment of Paul at Caesarea, and addressed it to Theophilus as one of the heads of the Jewish nation. According to this view, it would be regarded as a sort of historical apology for the Christian faith.

In surveying this series of conjectures, and of traditions which are nothing more than conjectures, we find it easier to determine what is to be rejected than what we are to accept. In the first place, we may safely-reject the patristic notion that Theophilus was either a fictitious person or a mere personification of Christian love. Such a personification is alien from the spirit of the New-Test. writers, and the epithet Κράτιστε is a sufficient evidence of the historical existence of Theophilus. It does not, indeed, prove that he was a governor, but it makes it most probable that he was a person of high rank. His supposed connection with Antioch, Alexandria, or Achaia rests on too slender evidence either to claim acceptance or to need refutation; and the view of Hase, although endorsed by Michaelis, appears to be incontestably negatived by the Gentile complexion of the third gospel. The grounds alleged by Heumann for his hypothesis that Theophilus was not a Christian are not at all trustworthy, as consisting of two very disputable premises; for, in the first place, it is not at all evident that Theophilus was a Roman governor, and, in the second place, even if we assume that at that time no Christian would be appointed to such an office (an assumption which we can scarcely venture to make), it does not at all follow that no person in that position would become a Christian. In fact, we have an example of such a conversion in the case of Sergius Paulus ( Acts 13:12). In the art. (See Gospel According To Luke), reasons are given for believing that Theophilus was not a native of Palestine not a Macedonian, nor an Athenian, nor a Cretan. But that he was a native of Italy, and perhaps an inhabitant of Rome, is probable from similar data." All that can be conjectured with any degree of safety concerning him comes to this, that he was a Gentile of rank and consideration, who came under the influence of Luke, or (not improbably) under that of Paul, at Rome, and was converted to the Christian faith.

It has been observed that the Greek of Luke, which elsewhere approaches more nearly to the classical type than that of the other evangelists, is purer and more elegant in the dedication to Theophiilus than in any other part of his gospel. From all these circumstances, and especially from the fact that both the gospel and the Acts were dedicated to Theophilus-both, therefore, being written, in all probability, about the same time, and that time being Paul's imprisonment at Rome, where the latter ends-we may reasonably infer that Theophilus was one of the apostle's converts in the imperial city during the two years sojourn of Paul there, for a part, if not the most, of which Luke was his companion, and hence likely to be acquainted with, and interested in, the noble convert. (See Luke); (See Paul). Monographs in Latin have been written on Theophilus by Heumann (in the Bibl. Bremensis, 4:483). Osiander (T Ü b. 1659), Stoltze (Viteb. 1693), and Schelvig (Ged. 1711).

2. A Jewish high-priest, the son of Annas or Ananus, brother-in-law to Caiaphas, (See Annas); (See Caiaphas), and brother and immediate successor of Jonathan. The Roman prefect Vitellius came to Jerusalem at the Passover (A.D. 37), and deposed Caiaphas, appointing Jonathan in his place. In the same year, at the feast of Pentecost, he came to Jerusalem, and deprived Jonathan of the high-priesthood, which he gave to Theophilus (Josephus, Ant. 18:4, 3; 5, 3). Theophilus was removed; from his post by Herod Agrippa I after the accession of that prince to the government of Judaea in A.D. 41, so that he must have continued in office about five years (ibid. 19:6, 2). Theophilus is not mentioned in the New Test., as no events occurred during his pontificate in which the apostles were specially involved. (See High-Priest).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [14]

thḗ - of´i - lus ( Θεόφιλος , Theóphilos , "loved of God"): The one to whom Luke addressed his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles (compare   Luke 1:3;  Acts 1:1 ). It has been suggested that Theophilus is merely a generic term for all Christians, but the epithet "most excellent" implies it was applied by Luke to a definite person, probably a Roman official, whom he held in high respect. Theophilus may have been the presbyter who took part in sending the letter from the Corinthians to Paul, given in the "Acta Pauli" (compare Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen , 378). There is also a magistrate Theophilus mentioned in the "Acts of James" as being converted by James on his way to India (compare Budge, The Contendings of the Apostles , II, 299), but these and other identifications, together with other attempts to trace out the further history of the original Theophilus, are without sufficient evidence for their establishment (compare also Knowling in The Expositor Greek Testament , II, 49-51).

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [15]

Theoph´ilus (lover of God), a person of distinction, to whom St. Luke inscribed his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles . The title given him, translated 'most excellent,' is the same which is given to governors of provinces, as Felix and Festus ; whence he is conceived by some to have been a civil magistrate in some high office.