Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach. Acts 1:1
“The phrase “most excellent Theophilus” can be translated “your Excellency” and refer to a high official of some kind. It has this meaning in Acts in the tribune Claudius Lysius’ letter to the governor Felix (Acts 23:26), in Tertullus’ address to the governor (Acts 24:3), and in Paul’s address to the governor Festus (Acts 26:25). Some infer from these instances that Theophilus is also a Roman official and that Luke writes a defense of the Christian movement to appeal for help.
While Theophilus may be an official and certainly has high status, it is improbable that Luke writes an official defense of Christianity or of Paul. Though the opening paragraph is directed to Theophilus, the rest of the gospel is directed to the general reader. Luke explicitly states that his purpose is not to provide “definite information about a story” but to convey “the certainty or trustworthiness of a story” that Theophilus has been taught. Why would a disinterested Roman official want to wade through two volumes to find out about Christians unless he already was one himself?
It is more likely that this phrase is a polite form of address that means “most excellent.” Josephus uses the same term in his preface to Against Apion to salute his patron who enabled him to write and publicly distribute the work… In my view, Theophilus is the patron who provided funds to publish and distribute Luke-Acts. I assume, then, that he is a Christian, and the Gospel and Acts will convince him (and others) of the reliability of what he has been taught and believed… It may [also] explain the warnings in Luke about the dangers of wealth that is not used rightly.”
David E. Garland in Luke (ZECNT; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 55-56.
Our weekend is going well at this CBMC gathering. We appreciate your prayers. Thanks for your positive feedback via emails saying you want to hear about all ten characters we will highlight. Here’s number three on the list of less known New Testament supporters of God’s work.
Ancient sources link Theophilus to a person of status in Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians. As Luke the author of Luke-Acts came from Antioch, this view seems probable. However, others link this character to Theophilus ben Ananus, the high priest in Jerusalem from A.D. 37-41.
As Theophilus was common in antiquity, with the limited evidence we have, we cannot locate Him with certainty. But what we can say is that he likely commissioned and underwrote the publication of the trustworthy two-volume account of Jesus and the early church, known to us as Luke-Acts.
Are you Theophilus? Has God has resourced you to tell the story of Jesus and His followers. This might take the form of supporting a modern day worker like Luke to pour time and energy into a gospel effort that touches an unreached people group or that helps a specific audience grow in the faith.
Are you a person of “most excellent” status? People of high rank can use that status to be served or they can follow the subversive example of Jesus and serve instead. What might it look like for you to use your power or privilege to promote the Name that is above all names?
Everyone is a part of God’s story. The reason that Jenni and I like to recount these New Testament characters is so people will consider what they will do with the time and resources they have in the moment they find themselves in God’s unfolding story. We aim to inspire them toward generosity. What will be said of you?Read more