Who was Theophilus?

It is written:

it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus (Luke 1:3)


The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach (Acts 1:1)

Who was this man named Theophilus?

One possibility is that Theophilus may have been the Jewish high priest Theophilus Ben Ananus.

Cooper writes:

“The man was Theophilus Ben Ananus, an erstwhile Sadducee and priest of the Temple. 9 He was the son of Annas and brother-in-law of the High Priest Caiaphas at whose instigation our Lord was tried and crucified. Theophilus was himself to serve as High Priest from the years 37-41, and it is during his time as High Priest that Luke wrote his Gospel and addressed it to him. We know this by the honorific title by which he addresses Theophilus: Most Excellent (Gr. kratistos). The Greek word means ‘noble’, and is used on just one other occasion in the New Testament, namely in Acts 23: 26, when it is applied to the Governor Felix. Tellingly, Luke also addresses his Book of Acts to Theophilus, but when he does so it is simply to Theophilus. The honorific title is no longer used, because when Luke wrote his Book of Acts in AD 64, Theophilus’ service as High Priest was long since past. And that is how we are able to date Luke’s Gospel to having been written at some time within the period of AD 37-41. At any other time, Luke would have addressed his friend merely as Theophilus.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity of the New Testament Part 1: The Gospels, 1763-1772 (Kindle Edition))

Another possibility is that Theophilus was the name of a lawyer that was appointed to defend the Apostle Paul-and that the Books of Luke and Acts were filled with verifiable evidence that would be used to stand up in a court of Roman law!

“Luke’s prologue is unusual in containing a high proportion of legal language. Why is this? The answer has to do with the person Luke was writing to, evidenced by the title Luke gives him-‘Most Excellent’-a title Luke uses three times in Acts for different legal figures in Paul’s various trials and legal hearings before Roman authorities. It is therefore highly likely that Theophilus was a legal counselor appointed to Paul’s defense at his trial for his life before Caesar’s court in Rome. This would explain the particular emphasis Luke gives in Acts to Paul’s activities at the expense of the equally important apostolic ministry of Peter, and why the account of the growth of the church in Acts ends in something of a cliff-hanger-Paul under house-arrest in Rome. Luke is bringing Theophilus completely up-to-date with Paul’s legal history. The Jews who sought Paul’s execution had gone to the trouble of bringing a Roman lawyer named Tertullus with them from Jerusalem to Paul’s trial under Felix (Acts 24: 1-2). The Roman authorities treated Paul very well upon his arrival in Rome (‘ When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him’-Acts 28: 16) and he would certainly have had access to legal representation at his trial in Rome. But he needed someone to document his involvement in the new faith to show that it was part of existing Judaism and so ‘religia licita’ (officially permitted) under the Empire’s religious laws, and that he had not been contravening Roman law. He turned to his friend Luke. But Luke was at something of a disadvantage. He was a later convert to the new faith that was ‘turning the world upside down’ (Acts 17: 6) (or indeed, the right way up!). As a Gentile (Paul list him with the other Gentiles in Colossians 3: 11 and 14) who was not from the immediate region in which the Gospels are set (Eusebius states that Luke was born in Antioch in Syria) [1] he was somewhat of an outsider to the predominantly Judean and Jewish messianic community that comprised the early first century spiritual and cultural information-pool so central to the faith in general and Paul’s legal defense in particular. Luke needed local knowledge. So to whom did Luke turn as a primary source? The information found in chapters 1 and 2 point to one person and one person only-Mary, the mother of Jesus. All of the other players in the grand scenario that ushered the arrival of the Messiah onto the world stage were by that time long since dead. Only Mary had the knowledge of those sacred events, and only Luke’s Gospel provides them. The Roman physician must therefore have gone to the mother of Jesus. But there is another hitherto largely unnoted reason for supposing that Mary was Luke’s primary source. Luke’s Gospel is a female Gospel. Of the four Gospel biographies of Jesus, Luke’s stands head and shoulders above the others in terms of feminine references. While all of the Gospels are, for the time period concerned, culturally unusual in emphasizing the role of women in Jesus’ ministry, Luke’s account leaves the other three far behind in its prevalence of female content. Whereas the Gospel of Mark has a feminine word content totaling 116, Luke has more than double that at 247 (see appendix). Matthew and John fall between at 153 and 130 respectively; hence Luke has around two-thirds more than them. What does that tell us? Simply that Luke was being informed by women; in all likelihood by one woman in particular, and, given the preponderance of ‘widow’ references (nine as compared to Mark’s three, Matthew’s one and John’s none), most likely a woman who had been widowed. Luke’s opening content points to one widow in particular-Mary, the wife of Joseph and mother of Jesus. Mary has perhaps been somewhat unfairly treated by the predominantly Gentile scholarship that has shaped Christian understanding. Highly venerated by large sections of the Church, in some cases almost to approaching Jesus’ own status, she has also been widely painted with the brush of a ‘simple uneducated peasant girl.’ This book will provide biblical textual evidence to the contrary-that Mary was, unusually, a highly educated person in the study that her society held in the greatest regard, the study of Scripture (see chapter 1). This book is also written from the well-recognised view that Luke was a (‘ beloved’) physician (Colossians 4: 14). As a man of medicine myself, I much appreciate Luke’s perspectives and his use of Greek medical and surgical terminology to illustrate Jesus’ biography. Luke must have found Jesus’ healing ministry fascinating. Here was a Roman clinician confronted by accounts of a Jewish teacher who punctuated his instructions about living with miraculous gifts of health and wholeness, acts that Luke knew to be humanly impossible but which he had personally witnessed in the life of his friend Paul (Acts 28: 8-9). Luke’s use of medical Greek terms mirrors that of Hippocrates (460-370 BC) and also other ancient Greek speaking physicians, as shall be evidenced. Finally, this commentary is informed by the understanding that our English Bibles are two languages removed from the words Jesus and his contemporaries spoke (Aramaic and Hebrew to Greek, then to English). To fully grasp the meaning it is necessary to go beyond the English translation and tackle the Greek as used by first century Jews in Judea, in addition to considering the historic socio-cultural context. Because the Gospels contain so many transcriptions of conversations and descriptions of human interaction, one may also deploy an understanding of behavioural psychology. In my own case as a (medically and psychologically trained) Jewish believer in Jesus, a human behavioural analysis that has a particularly Jewish perspective, as well as an understanding of Jesus’ Jewish humour.” (Dr. A.T. Bradford, The Medical Gospel of Luke: As told to him by Mary – the Mother of Jesus, 46-89 (Kindle Edition); London, England; Templehouse Publishing)

Regardless of the identity of Theophilus, we may be certain that Luke was the author of this Book and that it provides remarkably detailed proof of Jesus Christ and of His church. The former skeptic, William Ramsay, is a powerful example of this evidence.

“First, let me share with you the story of Sir William M. Ramsay (1851-1939), famed as the once-skeptical New Testament scholar and archaeologist who became a staunch believer in the historical accuracy of the New Testament. He was educated in Scotland (University of Aberdeen) erdeen) and England (Oxford University), during which time he became enamored with the extremely critical scholarship of the F. C. Baur school of Tubingen, Germany. As a result of this, in 1890, he embarked on a journey through the biblical lands in order to confirm the historical errors rors of the New Testament writers. To his great surprise, he found that, at point after point, archeological data and sound historical scholarship confirmed the accuracy of the New Testament authors, and he wrote several important volumes that are still used to this day.95 Subsequent scholarship over the last century has brought further confirmation to Ramsay’s writings.” (Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections To Jesus: Volume Four-New Testament Objections, 41 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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