A Question I Was Asked:

Who Was Theophilus?

The Questions:

Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1 show that these writings were addressed to someone named Theophilus. [I have some questions on this].

1. Who was Theophilus? I have heard that one of the high priests appointed by the Romans, who was related to Annas and Caiaphas, was also named Theophilus.
2. Could Luke have been addressing him in defense of Paul?

UK Apologetics Reply:

No, this matter is not usually thought to be about Paul the Apostle. While - date-wise - Luke could have been partly writing as a defence of Paul, his purposes are much broader. Let us take a closer look :

First of all, the 'Theophilus' who was a Jewish high priest and who was the son of Annas is not meant here. In fact, this man is unmentioned in the Bible.

The 'Theophilus' whom we are concerned about here was apparently a friend of Luke. The Books of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (also written by Luke, of course) are addressed to him. His name means, 'lover of God.' A few have suggested that this name was a sort of title but most commentators have been against that opinion.

It is interesting that Luke addresses this man as "most excellent," this would usually suggest a person of importance. Paul refers to Festus as "most excellent" within the Book of Acts (Acts 23:26). So although this Theophilus may well have been a man of some standing, it is impossible to unravel exactly who he was, but it is generally believed that he had become a Christian and now wanted more background information from Luke; we must remember that Luke himself was an educated man, he uses some of the finest Greek in the New Testament, often close to Classical Greek. It would not be surprising that a friend of his was also a highly educated man. Theophilus was possibly a Roman and might even have been of high military rank.

Without question, the Holy Spirit inspired Luke's responses to Theophilus in the Gospel of Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles. Christians of all ages have greatly benefitted from these books; without Acts, for example, we would know little of the work of the early Church. The books furnish an authentic and full narrative of events concerning which there would surely be many imperfect and exaggerated accounts. Luke, a real historian in his approach, wants to keep the record straight. See Luke 1:1-4.

Since the events which Luke described pertained to the descent of the Spirit, to the spreading of the gospel, the organization of the church, to the kind of preaching by which the church was to be collected and organized, and as the facts in the case constituted a full proof of the truth of the Christian religion, and the conduct of the apostles would be a model for ministers and the church in all future times, it was of great importance that a fair and full narrative of these things should be preserved.

Sir William Ramsay is regarded as one of the greatest archaeologists ever to have lived. Like many sceptics of his age (19th century/ early 20th century), he had believed that the Book of Acts was a product of the mid-second century A.D. (around 150 A.D.). Ramsay set out to prove his ideas and to denigrate Luke, however, after thorough research, he changed his mind and became a firm defender for the mid-first century authorship of Acts. Bible critics had said that Acts was unreliable because Luke wrote that Lystra and Derbe were in Lycaonia and Iconium was not (Acts 14:6). The opposite was believed to be the case at the time. However, in 1910, Sir William Ramsay found a monument that showed Iconium was a Phrygran city. Later discoveries confirmed that. In fact, all the evidence which Ramsay discovered backed up the accuracy of Luke. Ramsay later wrote of Luke, "Luke is a historian of the first rank ... this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians."

Robin A. Brace. May 1st, 2012.