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  • Writer's pictureTroy Spradlin

"Most Excellent Theophilus"

Updated: Nov 19, 2022

by Troy Spradlin

The Lord's disciple, Luke, and the beloved Physician (Col 4:14), wrote TheGospel According to Luke and TheBook of the Acts of the Apostles. His hand and thoughts were guided by divine inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21). The words he penned, now preserved in the New Testament, have served to expand the kingdom of God for nearly two millennia! Yet, there's one peculiar mystery found at the beginning of each volume. In his Gospel account, he wrote, "... to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus," (1:3). Then, in the Book of Acts, he wrote, "The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach," (1:1). For nearly as long as we have had these texts, diligent Bible students and scholars have asked the question, "Who is this Theophilus?"

There are, basically, three possible answers to that question.

The first answer is simply, "We do not know!" The Bible does not identify who he is anywhere else within the text. Since we are so far removed from the original account, we may never truly know. Unless we find some archaeological evidence concerning his identity, anything more at this point, is pure conjecture.

Secondly, we do know that "Theophilus" is a compound Greek word. It is made up of the words, theos, meaning "God," and, philus, which means friend." Thus, it literally means, “loved by God,” but also carries the idea of being a “friend of God.” This definition of the word has led many to believe that Luke was only making a general reference to Christians, since we are loved by God and are God's friends (Rom 8:28,39). This theory postulates that Theophilus is nothing more than a generic title used to identify those of the Lord's church, who would read the letters.

A third answer is that Theophilus was a specific individual. Of course, this generates multiple theories as to who this individual might be. Some postulate that since Luke used the words, "most excellent" before his name, that it must imply someone of great honor or rank, such as a Roman official. The apostle Paul addressed both Felix and Festus (Acts 24:2, 26:25), who were Roman governors, by using the same words applied to Theophilus' name. Another theory follows that Theophilus was some wealthy and influential man in the city of Antioch. This is based on a few historical accounts of a man by that name who was quite prominent in that city. Thus, Bible scholars have claimed that Theophilus could have been someone who supported Paul and Luke in their ministries, which would account for why Luke would address him in such a manner when writing to him. There are further attempts to identify Theophilus with other historical figures such as: Theophilus ben Ananus, a Jewish high priest; or even a Roman lawyer who defended Paul during his trial in Rome; and also a later high priest named Mattathias ben Theophilus.

In any case, each of these are just theories that have no substantial, Biblical proof as to his true identity. In the end, there are two things that matter most about who Theophilus is for us. One, is that Luke took the time to write to someone so “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4). Because of this, we have a detailed account of Jesus life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension that are immeasurably priceless to our Christian faith. His inspired letter helps us to know more about Jesus and God's love for us. In addition, and because of Luke's desire to write to Theophilus, we also have a detailed account of how the church started and grew. It is an account that explains how one becomes a Christian (a name found in Acts 11:26) and added to the church (Acts 2:38-47). A second reason that matters is Theophilus' name is one that could be applied to all of us who truly love God. We are loved by God and we love God! (cf. John 3:16, 13:34-35; Romans 5:8; 1 John 2:4-6, 3:1) We should all strive to be one who may be called or addressed as a Theophilus.

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