Who is Luke’s Theophilus

22 Mar

The identity of Luke’s Theophilus[1] (Acts 1:1; Luke 1:3) could be a very important matter. For example, if I were to address a letter to “Mr. President,” the weight of its content and some of its meaning would be determined by who my addressee happens to be. If I were to write: “Mr. President, pertaining to the affairs of which you have been informed, I have decided that it would be in your interest to know how these things developed from the beginning…” Wouldn’t the contents of my narrative be weighted by the identity of the person to whom I am writing? Wouldn’t analogies or indistinct parallels therein also take on a meaning according to the identity of my addressee? If my addressee were the president of the Elks Club or the CEO of a large business or the President of the United States, knowing his identity would determine how the letter should be read. Isn’t this so?

Who is Theophilus? Some believe the name is simply a title for all Christians. The name, “Theophilus” means lover or friend of God. I don’t know of any real reason to believe this, except that the meaning of the name implies that all Christians are friends of God. While this is so for a true Christian, why aren’t the other Gospel narratives addressed as such? Why aren’t any of the Epistles addressed so? Why don’t we see any of the letters of the early church fathers addressed in this manner? This conclusion is apparently based solely upon supposition and not related to anything within the text itself or anything outside the text that could be tied to either Luke or Acts.

Some have thought Theophilus refers to Paul’s lawyer and Luke and Acts represent his defense. However, in every case listed in the NT where Paul stood before heads of state, he defended himself. The fact is that the Scriptures tell us therein God would use us to testify for him (Mark 13:9-11) against our accusers and judges. If Paul didn’t consider his life dear to him (Acts 20:24), why would he entrust his testimony before Nero to an unconverted lawyer who had to be informed about Paul’s faith? Even if his lawyer were a gentile Christian, why would Paul choose to let another testify of God and Paul’s own innocence? Paul knew the Jewish traditions and the reason for the unwarranted accusations brought against him better than any gentile lawyer in Rome—Christian or not. Theophilus “the lawyer” doesn’t make sense.

Others have concluded that Theophilus was a Roman official to whom Luke writes in order to familiarize him with the Christian origin and beliefs. This arises out of the fact that both Felix and Festus, two Roman governors of Judea, are addressed as “most excellent” in the book of Acts (Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25). While this is so, does this mean that only Roman officials were addressed in this manner or were the high officials of other nations addressed similarly? Moreover, why does Luke address Theophilus as “most excellent” only in the Gospel narrative? He doesn’t address him so in Acts 1:1. Additionally, why would Luke simply state Jewish matters without any explanation? For example, it is clear that Luke refers to the twelve Apostles in Luke 1:2, but the indefinite pronoun “they” is used. Why would a Roman official be expected to know Luke is referring to the Twelve? This is inside knowledge. Another example is found in Luke 1:5 where Luke refers to the course of Abia and that Elizabeth was of the daughters of Aaron. Why would this be important to a Roman official, and how could he possibly understand its significance to Luke’s narrative without an explanation? A final example is “the time of incense” in the same verse. Why would a Roman official be expected to understand that this refers to the time of prayer in the Temple at Jerusalem?

There is absolutely no evidence that Luke’s Theophilus should refer to a Roman official. Luke expects his reader to know what he is talking about. There are too many things left unsaid, too many Jewish matters written without explanation etc. for Theophilus to be a Roman official or even a gentile believer. Luke’s object in writing to Theophilus was to clarify matters, concerning which he had been informed (Luke 1:4). How can Luke clarify anything for someone who is unfamiliar with Jewish traditions, when Luke offers no explanation when mentioning Jewish matters? Therefore, Luke’s addressee must be Jewish. This is the only explanation that fits.

Who, then, is Theophilus? If Theophilus is a Jew and “most excellent” is an indication that he is a high official, then he could be none other than Theophilus, the son of Ananus, the high priest. Josephus mentions no other high official named Theophilus who governed in the 1st century CE. Theophilus held the office of high priest from 36 to 41 CE, during a time when the Hellenist Messianic Jews were persecuted by the Jerusalem Jewish government. If Luke addresses him as “most excellent,” it probably means he was holding the office of high priest at the time of Luke’s writing. Acts was written much later when Paul was in prison at Rome, long after Theophilus held that office, and this may be the reason why he is addressed there merely as “Oh Theophilus.” One reason why Luke would address his Gospel to Theophilus, an unconverted and antagonistic unbeliever, is because prophets under the Old Testament had often addressed the king or sent letters to the king in the name of the Lord to testify against them in order for them to consider what they are doing and repent.

If the above is the case with Luke and Theophilus, Luke may have been warning the officiating high priest, that if he doesn’t repent, God would judge Jerusalem prematurely in the 30s. It was during Theophilus’ tenure that Caligula became mad and attempted to place a statue of himself in the Temple at Jerusalem. Rome and Jerusalem were on the brink of war. Should this occur, Jerusalem and the Temple would have been destroyed about 30 years prior to when they actually were. Luke is the only Synoptic Gospel that specifically states that armies would surround Jerusalem (Luke 21:21), implying it may have been written in the 30s and for the specific purpose of warning Theophilus of impending judgment upon his deeds. Acts 9:31 may indicate that Theophilus relaxed his position with regard to persecuting the Hellenist Messianic believers. There are many similar reasons why Theophilus should be this Jewish high priest, but I offer the above for the reader’s consideration.

[1] Awhile back I became acquainted with the blogs of Lee T. Dahn (found HERE) and Richard Anderson (found HERE). Although they do address other subjects, their blogs seem to be dedicated to the works of Luke with the identification of Theophilus, Luke’s addressee, as a key concern. It was through their blogs that I began to consider the idea presented in this blog, and I am now convinced that Theophilus is the Jewish high priest whose was the governor of the Jews from 36 CE to 41 CE.


Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Acts of the Apostles, Theophilus


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57 responses to “Who is Luke’s Theophilus

  1. Theophilus Carlos

    June 1, 2017 at 23:39

    Hi Ed,

    Greetings from New Zealand! As you can see, my name’s Theophilus. I’m 20 years old.

    This a good read. I’ve always been curious of what my name really means and whom it represented in the Bible. Thank you so much for taking the time to write about it. It’s still very unclear who or what he really was but I do agree on the points you made. It just goes so far back and there isn’t much evidence. I hope to learn more! :)


    • Eddie

      June 2, 2017 at 20:15

      Greetings Theophilus, I envy you for your interesting name. Thank you for reading. By the way, in my main blog I have two other studies on Luke’s addressee. There are actually three, but I reworked this one to fit in my study of the Gospel of Luke. If you are interested in reading them, you may find them HERE (#’s 9, 10 & 11). Lord bless you, and have a great day ‘down under’! :-)

    • Theophilus Carlos

      June 4, 2017 at 09:50

      Hello again Eddie. That’s too kind :) Thank you for sharing those as well. I’m definitely interested. I will have a read through them. God bless!

  2. Emma Burrell

    December 11, 2016 at 00:33

    I am a Sunday school teacher, and your information was quite useful to me for the lesson. I had so much concern who this theophilus was in this scripture. Your research was excellent and quite easy to understand why the name was mentioned in the context of the verse.
    Great Job.

    • Eddie

      December 11, 2016 at 07:20

      Greetings Emma, and thank you for reading and for your kind and encouraging remarks. I am glad to have been of assistance to you.

      Lord bless you in all you do.

  3. Richard Anderson

    June 14, 2015 at 08:06

    for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

    The rich man who died is Eleazar, son of Annas, who served as HP and is dead at the time Jesus tells this story. Eleazar is referring to his brothers.

    • Eddie

      June 14, 2015 at 18:10

      Greetings Mr. Anderson, and thank you for reading and for your comment. I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog. You are very thorough in your studies. I hadn’t thought of it being Annas’ eldest son. I agree your version fits better, especially if Eleazar is dead. Do you have information that this is so? Josephus doesn’t speak of him at all except to show when he served as high priest, which, of course, was before Jesus’ public ministry.

    • Richard Anderson

      June 14, 2015 at 19:00

      I suspected that Eleazar served a short period of time, perhaps due to illness, 16-17 CE, Ant. 18:34; Josephus does not tell us he was removed or that he died in office.

      Lazarus is the abbreviated form of the name, “Eleazar” which in Hebrew means “God helps.” Eleazar is the name of the brother of the Theophilus, the High Priest to whom Luke addressed his gospel. Eleazar had previously served as High Priest and I believed he had died which would make the parable a particularly pointed attack.

      The real irony of the parable has not been fully appreciated. The unnamed rich man clothed in purple, now identified as Eleazar the High Priest, goes to Hades while the poor man named Lazarus goes to heaven fulfilling the promise to “raise up for myself a faithful priest (2:35)” where the High Priest asks that Lazarus be the faithful priest that will show him mercy. This Lazarus bears the abbreviated name, not as might be suspected, of second High Priest, but the name of the brother of the Theophilus, the High Priest to whom Luke addressed his gospel.

    • Eddie

      June 15, 2015 at 06:31

      Mr. Anderson, thank you for your swift response. I like your explanation better than the one I posted. If memory serves, the whole idea about the meaning of the story surrounding “a” high priest — particularly the house of Annas — I got from reading your blog. If you noted Eleazar in your posting then, I don’t know how I missed it. The word play on the name ‘Lazarus’, although not proof in itself, makes a lot of sense to me. Thanks again for your comment.

  4. kevin prouix

    June 12, 2015 at 12:04

    Ok, I agree that Theo is the high priest . Now for my next question: Who is teaching him ?? (So that you will know the things you have been taught are true). Could it be Nicodemus who was in touch with Paul and told Paul about Theo and Paul went to Luke and said write Theo ? Paul would know Theo but Luke wouldn’t hence the formal title Most excellent. Once he established a relationship Luke drops the formal. Also Luke doesn’t have the Magi or the slaughter of the innocence’s why?
    Well if Theo was good friends with Herod A why stir up trouble, why not just drop it??
    Awaiting your responce.

    • Eddie

      June 12, 2015 at 18:52

      Greetings Kevin. Thank you for reading my blog and for taking the time to comment.

      I have over 60 translations of the Bible, either on my computer or on my bookshelf, and most of them translate G2727 in Luke 1:4 as either ‘taught’ or ‘instructed’. A few translate the Greek word as ‘heard’ or ‘informed’. Both Thayer and Strong allow for ‘informed’ as a possible translation, and the KJV does translate G2727 as ‘informed’ in two of its eight occurrences in the New Testament at Acts 21:21 & 24.

      ‘Taught’ or ‘instructed’ would be a better translation of G2727 if Theophilus were a believer. Therefore, because most commentaries on Luke 1:4 believe Theophilus is either a high ranking believer or perhaps Paul’s lawyer, it is translated ‘instructed’ or ‘taught.’ Nevertheless, if Theophilus is, as I argue, the current high priest (current when Luke wrote his Gospel), then ‘informed’ would be a better translation. Just as our President has many departments or personal advisors who “inform” him about certain groups or about what might be behind certain current events, so the high priest, the Jewish head of state in the first century AD, had those who ‘informed’ him about the Messianic movement in Judea and throughout the Empire.

      All information, from whatever source, contains the biases of that source. Luke wanted to ‘inform’ Theophilus from a “Christian” perspective about what Theophilus had already heard and/or knew from personal experience. The title” Most Excellent” served then like “Your Excellency” or “Your Honor” does for us today. Luke didn’t merely drop the title in Acts because he had a more intimate relationship with Theophilus. Rather, by the time Acts was written, Theophilus’ son was the high priest. Theophilus no longer formally held that office.

      Concerning Luke’s infancy account v/s Matthew’s, Luke’s account is different, because he and Matthew wrote from different perspectives. Matthew liked to offer things that “fulfilled” matters in the Old Testament, because he wrote to believers. Luke’s account is more apologetic; i.e. to prove something to a non-believer.

      Concerning Theophilus’ friendship with Herod Agrippa, I’m uncertain what you mean. I never claimed Theophilus and Agrippa (Acts 12, the father, or Acts 25 & 26, the son) had a relationship of any kind. Concerning ‘stirring up trouble’, the high priests, especially of the family of Annas, stirred up trouble in the first century for their own interests.

    • kevin prouix

      June 13, 2015 at 12:17

      What i mean is very simple. Theo knew Harrod A and Luke left out the slaughter of the innocents on purpose so as not to offend Theo since they (Paul, Nicodemus) were trying to convert Theo . Luke was just the go between.

    • Eddie

      June 13, 2015 at 21:23

      Greetings Kevin. I agree with you that the high priests were fond of Herod Agrippa, probably because he had Hasmonean blood in him. However, it was Herod the Great who slaughtered the innocents, Agrippa’s (Acts 12) grandfather or Agrippa’s (Acts 25 & 26) great grandfather. I doubt Theophilus would have been upset with something derogatory said about Herod the Great. He, no doubt, would have been more upset over what Luke wrote about Theophilus’ family in Luke 16:19-31. The “rich man” is probably Theophilus’ father, Annas, who had five sons–all of them high priests. The purple garments is the color of the high priests ceremonial robes. Luke wasn’t pulling any punches. He was seeking to convict Theophilus of sin, just as the Old Testament prophets had done to Judah’s and Israel’s kings. During Theophilus’ reign the great persecution that had begun with Stephen was taking place. It stopped (Acts 9:31), and I believe it was the result of Luke’s warning of judgment (Luke 21:20). It was during his reign that Gaius Caesar had commanded that a statue of himself be placed in the Temple at Jerusalem. Rome and Jerusalem were very close to war 30 years before schedule. The Jews stopped the persecution, repented and the Roman armies returned to Syria.

  5. Nteboheng

    February 14, 2015 at 13:00

    If Theophilus was a high Priest whe the Gospel of Luke was addressed to him. Then why did Luke write to him the former high Priest a letter of Acts?

    • Eddie

      February 14, 2015 at 15:03

      Hi, thanks for reading and for your question. I believe Luke wrote to Theophilus as a warning from God to stop the persecution against believers, especially believing Jews. During the first persecution which begun with Stephen, Luke seems to be successful and the persecution stopped for a time (cp. Acts 9:31). During the final persecution (begun by the Annas family of high priests), which started with the killing of James (the Lord’s brother) in 62 CE, escalated when Matthias, Theophilus’ son, was appointed the high priest. Paul was in prison at this time, and the only reason he was in chains was due to accusations by the Annas family of high priests. I suppose Luke thought he might have some influence with Theophilus, not only because his son was holding that office at the time of Luke’s thesis, but Luke was able to influence Theophilus 30 years prior to his submission of Acts.

  6. Joel

    August 8, 2014 at 21:57

    There is evidence that Joanna was grand daughter of Theophilus as an ossuary was found with an inscription to this fact. She was an eyewitness of he resurrection and in the court of Herod. Luk 8:3

    and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance. This might have been one of the eyewitnesses that Theophilus heard from

    • Eddie

      August 9, 2014 at 00:19

      Greetings Joel, and thank you for reading my blog, and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      I know a number of folks believe that the ‘Joanna’ mentioned on the ossuary is the same ‘Joanna’ mentioned in Luke, but I have trouble believing this is true. My reasoning is the probable age of Annas, the father of Theophilus. He was high priest in 6 AD and was killed in 66 AD just after the Jew’s war with Rome began. If Annas was 30 years old at the time he was appointed high priest, this would make him 90 years old in the year 66 AD. His living until 90 years of age is believable, but not much longer. So, if he were 30 years old in 6 AD, all of his sons (if all were born by this time) would be under the age of 20 years old, and more likely under the age of 15, if Annas sired his firstborn at that age. If Theophilus was 10 years old in 6 AD he would have been 40 years old in 36/37 when he took office. While this is old enough for him to be a grandfather, Joanna couldn’t be much more than a child, under the age of 5. While it may be true that a young girl’s marriage could have been ‘arranged’ by her father at a very young age, Joanna appears to be an adult in Luke. I, therefore, believe Luke’s Joanna is not Theophilus’ granddaughter.

    • Joel

      August 9, 2014 at 10:50

      Another point I would like to make is that Luke mentions in the Gospel and Acts many Roman dignitaries that can be verified historically. It would seem out of place to address a supposed Roman dignitary who is not verifiable historically. Considering the fact that Luke spent much effort in writing nearly half the New testament for him!

    • Eddie

      August 9, 2014 at 12:48

      I agree, and this is what turned me on to the idea that Theophilus was the high priest appointed by Rome in 36-37 CE and replaced when Herod Agrippa took office in 41 CE. I believe I got the idea first L.T Dahn’s blog (HERE), but I was also reading Richard Anderson’s, blog (HERE) at that time as well, but I cannot find an early mention in his blog identifying Luke with Theophilus, but I may be overlooking it. Nevertheless, that conclusion made sense to me.

    • Joel

      August 9, 2014 at 13:14

      I find Richard Anderson’s commentary compelling. Where do you disagree? Also it is interesting that my Pastor this week, teaching on Luke’s genealogy, mentions how important a genealogy is to the Jews. Furthermore, Luke is careful to show deference by not mentioning any woman according to the custom of the Jews. This now makes perfect sense since Theophilus is a Jew. I appreciate your blog and your responses.

    • Eddie

      August 9, 2014 at 19:50

      I respect Mr. Anderson a great deal. I have spent quite some time reading his blog, and hope to peruse it again soon. I just completed a blog-post showing how I understand Luke’s Joanna. You can find it HERE. For me it is a math issue concerning presumed ages of Annas and Theophilus. I am very willing to consider Luke’s Joanna to be Theophilus’ granddaughter, but I simply cannot get beyond the age issue.

  7. Paul Ross

    June 4, 2014 at 15:54

    I am agreed with your analysis of Theophilus. Clearly a jew.

    Thank you so much for your loving diligence in the scripture, and polite corrections of those who have mistaken facts, and mistaken understandings of the scripture. Your teaching is already of major use in my own teachings now, to bring the Word before those who need it , and avoiding offense.

    • Eddie

      June 4, 2014 at 17:40

      Greetings Paul, and thank you for your kind words. I praise God if I have helped you as others have helped me. May our Lord and Savior guide you in your teaching ministry and in all you say and do.

  8. Richard H. Anderson

    May 1, 2014 at 11:42

    Theophilus is a high ranking Roman official because he was appointed by a Roman official; thus it is appropriate to address him as “most excellent.”

    • Eddie

      May 1, 2014 at 12:09

      Greetings, Mr. Anderson, I would just like to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading many of the posts on your blog. That said, I wonder how one would address a high priest in Jerusalem. If Theophilus is the high priest who was replaced by King Herod Agrippa when he assumed office, no doubt he would have a similar title. Your Honor and your Excellency fits many high offices today, but how was it done in the first century? We know that Felix was addressed as Most Excellent (or Noble), but if Luke was originally written to the Jewish authorities during the Jewish persecution of the Grecian Jewish believers in the 30s, how would one address the high priest? Do we have evidence that only Roman officials were addressed this way? Why wouldn’t the same person be so addressed in Acts, especially if Luke and Acts were written as traditionally supposed—late and not that far apart?

  9. Mike New

    September 24, 2013 at 06:47

    I happen to read the first five verses of Acts and I was curious to know who Theophilus was. Since it means friend of God or Love of God I thought the term was directed towards the reader (you and me)

    • Eddie

      September 24, 2013 at 10:12

      Greetings, Mike, and welcome.

      If that is what you believe, you would be in good company. Many people believe ‘Theophilus’ is directed toward the reader, meaning ‘beloved of God.’ The problem is: that is all it is–a belief. Nowhere else in the Bible is such a thing done. This ‘belief’ is not supported with evidence. If you are content with that, then God bless you, believe as you wish.

      The **only** Theophilus of note in Jewish history at that particular time is Theophilus, the high priest, and it is supported in God’s word that his prophets do preach, send letters etc. to their leaders to warn them of God’s judgment. While there is no ‘thus saith the Lord’ concerning his name, this is the best supported understanding of the name in the word of God.

  10. Anita Woolard

    May 7, 2013 at 21:41

    I must admit that before this morning in my Bible study group I had never really wondered about who Theophilus was. The question was brought up and no one in the group knew who this mystery person was. I decided to research and that is how I can across your blog. Thank you for the information. I will pass it along.

    • Eddie

      May 8, 2013 at 08:24

      Greetings Anita, and thank you for reading and for your comment. Please remember that this is my opinion only. It cannot be proved, but it fits Luke’s narrative better than anything I’ve ever seen elsewhere. While I believe Theophilus is the high priest, son of Annas, I cannot prove it beyond doubt.

      Lord bless you,


  11. CW

    March 26, 2013 at 01:52

    This is not related to Theophilus as the letter in Acts is addressed to. But like (Abie) who commented recently addressed, can anyone explain why John was called Theophilus? Was this a pen name of sorts as he was , in a sense, hiding out while writing revelations? This is driving me crazy, I hope somebody can explain this. This also came from the same movie. And perhaps we should take it with a grain of salt, as I have not compared it closely with revelations. Thanks in advance for any insight. :)

    • Eddie

      March 26, 2013 at 07:47

      I am unaware of John ever being called Theophilus. If you got it from a ‘movie’ they are wrong. Hollywood has never been a good interpreter of Scripture. It’s all about what sells to them. Think about it; why would John need to be “informed” to a greater degree concerning anything in Jesus’ life, especially from Luke who admits he received his information from people like — John!!! If you are not getting your information from a movie, tell me where you heard this. One thing is certain. It is not in the Scriptures, so in my opinion is is suspect from the start.

    • abel

      January 4, 2014 at 03:01

      In my opinion, when they said Theophilus they referred to john( the disciple that Jesus loved the most) Probably It was because John was persecuted at that time. Tryng to kill him to stop Christianity from spreading. And thats why they didn refere to him as john. And most excellent will be more because he was the closest to Jesus. Remember that Peter was jealous because he was beside Jesus. An old movie make a similar suggestion too. But this movie was really attach to the scriptures.

  12. Andrade

    December 19, 2012 at 22:42

    The writer of this article states:Theophilus held the office of high priest from 36 to 41 CE quoting from a non-biblical source. He also opens his article by making the point that the weight of the writing and some of its contents can be determined by whom it is addressed to. Whilst this may hold true in some sense I do not believe that it is so in the case of St. Luke’s writings. Whilst Luke may have addressed his writings to this mysterious ‘Theophilus’, I believe God intended it for a much wider audience and would have clearly or otherwise make known ‘Theophilus’ identity.

    Further more, would not an High Priest be already privy to all this information? I also take note of the fact that the book of Acts did not identify its author (just an observation).

    • Eddie

      December 19, 2012 at 23:30

      There are recorded in the Old Testament letters written to individuals. Some are letters written to kings by prophets; others by kings to scribes, and some by enemy rulers to their king in an effort to subvert the plans of God’s people; yet God saw fit to record the letters in his Scriptures.

      Whether or not Theophilus is the Jewish high priest, Luke claims to write both Luke and Acts to an individual. Of course God planned for the documents to be for a wider audience, otherwise they wouldn’t be Scripture would they? Nevertheless, how does your argument refute the fact that Luke wrote to a specific individual? Wasn’t Theophilus Luke’s addressee?

      Luke already admits that Theophilus was ‘informed’ of certain matters concerning Jesus and the Jesus Movement, but Theophilus didn’t have a ‘perfect’ understanding, for most of his information came by rumor or enemies of the Gospel (if, indeed, Theophilus is the high priest).

      It is true that neither the Gospel of Luke nor Acts identify the author, but they are tied together by the addressee, Theophilus and the author saying he wrote both documents to him. The ‘we’ passages of Acts identify the author as also a ‘witness’ of some of the events that took place in Paul’s ministry. We know from Paul’s letters that Luke was often his companion, and Lucius was with Paul in Corinth when he wrote his epistle to the Romans, and as Paul leaves Corinth for his last visit to Jerusalem the ‘we’ passages show the author is with Paul. Luke is with Paul in Rome and the ‘we’ passages show the author of Acts went to Rome with Paul. We have the witness of 2nd century fathers saying that Luke wrote the third Gospel and Acts.

  13. Aletheia

    September 29, 2012 at 04:38

    Hi Ed:

    Greetings from Spain and excuse me if my English is not very good.

    I’ve written an paper in which I defend that Theophilus was located in Ephesus. You can see a summary in English in the blog of my cyber-friend Richard Fellows. One example, in Acts, Luke mentiones the School of Tyrannus and the jew Alexander without a introduction. Why? Because the readers know them.

    If Theophilus was in Ephesus, he can’t be Theophilus ben Annas.

    Was Theophilus a jew? I think it’s likely, but not the high priest.


    • Ed Bromfield

      September 29, 2012 at 14:20

      Greetings Xabier, and thank you for reading my blog and taking the interest to leave a comment.

      I have read several of Richard Fellows’ blogs and have found his point of view extremely interesting and often compelling. Nevertheless, I do not see Luke’s Theophilus as an Ephesian. The title that Luke uses for Theophilus in Luke 1:3 is used by him for Felix in Acts 23:26 in a letter to him from the centurion at Jerusalem and in Acts 24:3 in an address before him by Tertullus, presumably a Jewish orator/lawyer. Luke also uses the same title coming from Paul in his address before Festus in Acts 26:5. If we assume that “most noble/excellent…” refers to someone important such as a ruler, we are still in the dark as to who Theophilus is. Who is most excellent Theophilus and where do we find him in history, if indeed, he is an Ephesian.

      Richard Fellows makes it quite clear in his list of names which he claims “needs no introduction” that Luke’s audience must be Jewish (Luke 1:5, 16, 17, 27, 33, 55; 2:22; 11:29, 31, 51; 17:26, 28), for what gentile would know these people without at least a brief introduction? However, by Luke mentioning Theudas and Judas the Galilean in Acts 5:36, 37 without an introduction he seems to narrow down his audience a bit. Would Theophilus (the Jewish Ephesian) know these people? Certainly Gamaliel’s audience, the Jewish Sanhedrin, knew them, but unless Theophilus is a local Jew, chances are he would not know who these two men were.

      The question may now be, if Theophilus is a local Jewish ruler (I argue he is the high priest who reigned cir. 36/37 to 41 CE), why would he be familiar with Ephesus (the names of local magistrates there and the school of Tyrannus)? The problem is that many things seem to be hidden or in code; for example Richard Fellows rightly argues for multiple names for certain key Christians of Europe and Asia. Why would Luke and Paul do this? One reason might be, if Luke was handing over a Christian document (his Gospel) to a powerful enemy as a warning from God to cease his illegal and ungodly persecution of Messianic believers—something the prophets had done in the past for disobedient rulers—then the multiple names or coded identities become clear. Luke also delivered the official Christian history (Acts) of the nascent church to this same enemy in an effort to show the innocuous nature of the Gospel, for Paul was in Rome in chains by the accusation of the local Jerusalem authorities that his activities were seditious. Although this argument fits what occurred Christian history, how does Theophilus, a local Jew, presumably know so much about Ephesus?

      I have argued in two other blogs, here and here (from information I received from Lee T. Dahn’s blog—found here), that the sons of Sceva, the Jewish high priest, were the sons of Annas, the high priest so instrumental in killing Jesus. The name, Sceva, seems to be another code. There simply was no Jewish high priest by this name. The word is Latin and means left handed. Hence, the word has some sinister implications. If all this is true and if it does, indeed, refer to Annas, the high priest of Jerusalem, then we see that his family was active in Ephesus either to spread Jewish influence there or to combat the success of Paul. Therefore, Theophilus’ knowledge of Ephesus becomes a moot point, even if he is a local ruler at Jerusalem. While I don’t expect this argument to sway you from your understanding, I hope you can see that I have legitimate reasons for not being swayed to yours.

      Lord bless you,


    • Aletheia

      October 17, 2012 at 05:53

      Greetings Ed and thank your for your interesting response:

      About Theudas and Jude the Galilean, I think that it’s very possible that Jews of the Diaspora knew them. The Jude’s revolution was very famous.

      You mention Gamaliel’s adudience but, why Luke make an introduction about Gamaliel: “a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people”

      And, for other hand, I don’t think that Theophilus is a enemy of the church. The prologue to Luke’s Gospel said that he has some instruction about Christians.

      Finally, you said that “Paul was in Rome in chains by the accusation of the local Jerusalem authorities that his activities were seditious” This is partly right, but the riot against Paul was initiated by “Jews from Asia” because they saw in the city to Throphimus the Ephesian. And in Acts 24 Paul says “But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me”

      If Trophimus was from Ephesus and the “Jews from Asia” recognised him, that implies that those Jews were from Ephesus. That explain why Luke avoid to identify them as Ephesians: because he wanted to avoid acts of revenge

      God bless you

    • Ed Bromfield

      October 17, 2012 at 10:19

      Greetings Xabier and thank you for your reply. I know we both have an interest in how Theophilus should be understood, so I try to submit myself to what I honestly consider is true whenever disagreement occurs.

      Concerning Judas the Galilean, I am not so sure that his little war was so famous. If we believe that Luke wrote Acts before the Roman/Jewish war, then his revolt occurred some 60 years prior to the publication of Acts. They had no news paper archives to look through, no TV or radio etc. like we moderns have. It was a minor excursion that was quickly squashed by the Roman armies. Why would folks in Ephesus remember that–and what about Theudas? People in other countries–Jew or not–would not know who they were unless they were told. Theophilus would know. He was a little boy when it occurred and grew up listening to adults speak of it while it was still in recent memory. One cannot expect someone born and raised in Ephesus to know who these men were.

      By mentioning Gamaliel, I presume you take issue with the idea that he would be knowm to an Ephesian without Luke’s introduction. Whenever we mention famous folks, it is customary to state something about them and what kind of influence they are making in the world. We do that all the time today when we introduce a speaker regardless of whether or not the audience knows who he or she is. A Jewish Ephesian would have been more likely to have known Gamaliel, who no doubt spoke often during the Jewish Festivals to great audiences, than that same Ephesian would have been likely to have known Judas the Galilean.

      Concerning Luke’s prologue in his Gospel narrative, the Greek word translated “taught” or “instructed” in some Bibles is also translated “informed” in Acts 21:21, 24. There James says Jews in Jerusalem were “informed” about Paul’s presumed activity of teaching Jews of the Diaspora against the customs of Moses. The word “informed” is the same Greek word found in Luke 1:4 and it is used against another Greek word translated “teach”, which is the usual Greek word used to mean “teach” or “instruct”. I believe the translator of Luke 1:4 may have read his understanding into the verse. Although most translations I have do render the word in Luke 1:4 either “taught” or “instructed” some do translate it “informed”, “told” or “heard” (by way of mouth).

      Concerning the reason for Paul’s chains, Paul was accused of three things: 1) sacrilege [bringing unclean gentiles into the Temple]; 2) being a ringleader of a heretical sect; 3) causing civil trouble [sedition] all over the Empire. These charges were leveled against him in Acts 24 before Felix and again in Acts 25 before Festus–there the charges are abbreviated, but we know they were the same by how Paul replied to them. The charges of sacrilege and heresy were Jewish matters over which Rome refused to rule, but the charge of sedition was another matter. It seems the Jewish authorities overstepped their bounds in their zeal to get the Roman governor to rule in their favor. By accusing Paul of sedition, he could appeal to Caesar, which he did rather than be judged by his countrymen who made it very clear they wanted to kill him. Theophilus had it in his power to withdraw any or all of those accusations against Paul and set him free. He didn’t.

      Concerning Trophimus, Luke identifies him as an Ephesian in Acts 21:29. If you are implying that he didn’t identify the Jews from Asia (Paul’s accusers) as Ephesians, I don’t understand why that would bring reprisals, unless you have in mind acts of revenge by Christians. If this is the case, I cannot support such a thought, because those men Paul brought with him were of the highest character. They were chosen by their respective churches as the most favorable to represent them before the Jerusalem elders. In any event, they wouldn’t have to have been from Ephesus to have known Trophimus. If Trophimus was Paul’s helper there, he may have been known throughout Asia as an evangelist.

      Lord bless you.

    • Aletheia

      October 17, 2012 at 05:54

      P.S Of course, I see that your reasons are legitimate

  14. Carl Vogt

    September 5, 2012 at 14:45

    Great article. In researching for a high school Sunday lesson plan, I stumbled acrossed your blog and found it quite interesting. I have always thought of Theophilus as a Greek rather than a Hebraic name, though admittedly it could used by a Jewish parent to make some accommodation for Roman authority over his culture.

    As a modified alternative, however, could not Theophilus have been a pseudonym for a specific Greco-Roman wealthy/influential leader and Jewish convert similar to that of Cornelius? A pseudonym would protect the identity from persecution while a well versed Jewish convert would be familiar with Jewish references and Temple proceedings including perhaps some recent Messianic scuttlebutt about a Galilean named Jesus. This would explain the respectful title “most excellent” (Theophilus’ pre-conversion to Christianity) in Luke’s Gospel and its lack of use in opening of the Book of Acts (as a brother in Christ – post-conversion due to Luke’s “instruction”). From the NIV Stuby Bible opening remarks on Luke, the authors point out that Luke gives “detailed designations of places in Palestine” as though the recepient was unfamiliar which would not be neccessary for a Temple priest and thus, perhaps a clue that Theophilus was a foreigner. It would seem reasonable that the difficulty and expense of writing his lengthy “instruction” to Theophilus was intended to be for others as well, i.e. a circuit letter. Circulating such a letter by the High Priest among the Sudduceian sect would most assuredly bring herretical and blaspheme charges by his associates. Finally, by your conclusion: Theophilus bar Ananus, Luke’s letter would have been written at some point prior to 41 BC. Such a dating predates the Gospel of Mark, which many scholars agree was the first Gospel, by more than a decade… while the Gospel of Luke shows a remarkable Marken influence. To authenticate his letter, Luke uses the terms “autopai,” eyewitnesses such as Zacharias, Mary, Peter, John or others; and “huperetes,” under-rowers, perhaps implying such as Mark, Peter’s apprentice, Paul, and other non-eyewitnesses.

    Although knowing the specific intended recepient would be of interest, I suspect the Spirit 1) had a broader perspective in mind, and 2) left it purposely undisclosed. After all, we are both better informed having it caused us study to His Word more diligently.

    Blessings brother,

    • Ed Bromfield

      September 5, 2012 at 21:55

      Hi Carl; thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I always enjoy seeing how others see the Scriptures, whether or not I agree with their point of view.

      Concerning the name, Theophilus, it is a Greek name, but the Greek influence was great in Jerusalem. This was what the war against Antiochus Epiphanes by the Maccebees was all about. Even afterward, many of the reigning high priests had Grecian names. Even the relatives of Annas, the high priest, had Greek names – viz. Alexander in Acts 4:6. Theophilus is the name of a Jewish high priest who held that office for approximately five years. Moreover, it is the name of the father of another high priest, Matthias, who was appointed by Herod the Great, shortly before Jesus’ birth. Of course, this does not mean Theophilus **must** be that high priest who officiated in the latter half of the 30s AD, but there is nothing compelling to say it was not.

      Could **Theophilus** be a “pseudonym for a specific Greco-Roman wealthy/influential leader and Jewish convert similar to that of Cornelius?” Well, of course, many things are possible, including your proposal, since Luke is not straightforward about the identity of his addressee. The point, as far as I am concerned, is this: since many things are possible, what would be the most probable of these possibilities? Concerning your proposal, there is nothing in Scripture to support this idea; that is, nowhere else in the Bible do we find an addressee having a mysterious name. Philemon is a man by that name, as are Timothy and Titus. Ruth is a story about a woman by that name, as is Esther and the books concern very important events concerning Jesus genealogy and the trouble the Jews had about the time the second Temple was rebuilt. **Theophilus** as a pseudonym, though a possibility has no support in the Bible and, therefore, lacks probable status.

      Nevertheless, the idea that Luke wrote to a high Jewish official does have support in Scripture. The prophets wrote and at times their writings were given to reigning high officials, such as Jehoiakim, the king, in Jeremiah 36. Indeed, most of the prophets preached to the leaders of the people, and they were persecuted for doing so. Does this make Luke’s addressee the high priest of the 30s AD? No, but knowing that Luke may have been acting in the tradition of the prophets, lends credence to this possibility. Another reason for believing that Luke’s addressee was this high priest is that writing down what occurred both in the context of what was predicted about the Messiah and in the context of what was occurring in the late 30s AD lends more credence to this possibility. Rome and Jerusalem were on the brink of war, and Luke told of armies that would surround Jerusalem and destroy both the city and the Temple (Luke 21:20). Is it mere coincidence that believers experienced peace during the days of Theophilus’ reign as high priest at Jerusalem? It may very well be that Theophilus left off the persecution after receiving Luke’s warning, and because he had done so, Luke addressed “Acts” to him as well, because at that writing Paul awaited a hearing before Nero, Jerusalem was probably at war with Rome, and Matthias, Theophilus’ son was reigning as high priest. Moreover, with Annas and Jonathan dead, Theophilus was the patriarch of the Annas family of priests. He had the influence both to stop the war (in the beginning) and to have Paul released from Rome, because it was over the accusation of the Annas family that Paul was in chains.

      Every imaginable eventuality seems to support the idea that **Theophilus** — Luke’s addressee is, indeed, the high priest of the later part of the 30s AD and son of Annas who had Jesus crucified. There are passages of Luke that seem to imply that Theophilus is this high priest. For example, the “rich man” in Luke 16:20-31 was clothed in the colors of the high priest’s garments. Theophilus, the high priest, had five brethren (Luke 16:28), not including Caiaphas, his brother-in-law. The account of Jesus at age 12 was probably witnessed by Theophilus, son of Annas, who was the high priest when Jesus astonished everyone in the Temple with his understanding of the Scriptures. Theophilus was only a few years older than Jesus and probably would have remembered the incident.

      Could Luke’s Gospel have been written before Mark, especially since it contains so much of “Mark” words and phrases? We are told by second century writers that Mark wrote down Peter’s Gospel at the request of the Roman citizens and brethren who heard Peter preach there. It seems evident that Mark wrote down in Greek from a Hebrew/Aramaic hard copy. How is this known? Many presume Mark was uneducated and used poor Greek syntax. However, this is only partially true. Mark does use poor Greek syntax, but if his Gospel is translated back into the Hebrew or Aramaic language, it is excellent Semitic syntax in those languages. It appears that Mark had so much respect for Peter’s Gospel that he kept the Hebraic/Aramaic word order in his translation. Albeit, he did change some words to accommodate his immediate readers. There are Latinisms in Mark that are not found in either Matthew or Luke even though these writers record the same events. What am I saying? Luke tells us that his record was derived from certain eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2). The most obvious and available witness at Jerusalem in the 30s was Peter. Many scholars today have a difficult time believing that Jews knew how to write back then and depended upon an oral culture, but this is a gross misunderstanding of the times, and I have a terrible time believing that this misunderstanding is sincere. Mark may have written his Gospel in the 60s AD, but Peter’s Gospel existed long before that, and we have nothing compelling in hand to show that Luke, who uses much of Mark/Peter’s Gospel, couldn’t have had access to Peter’s Aramaic hard copy or to Peter’s oral testimony decades before Mark wrote down Peter’s words in Greek!

      Lord bless you, Carl,


    • Carl Vogt

      September 7, 2012 at 09:16

      Excellent considerations; thanks for the reply. I had not thought of Mark’s Gospel, as we know it today, was possibly translated from Peter’s Semitic oral/written preaching, but that would be conguent with Peter’s anointing to preach to the Jews, Greek syntax and a later date. I agree with your analysis that believing Gospel “authors” were illiterate is contradictory. There are several passages that allude to Jesus and/or the disiples reading passages of Scripture or by implication having such a capacity… let alone the Spirit’s gift of “tongues” could likewise be written as well as spoken languages.Your points build a very plausiable case.

      Thanks again,

    • Ed Bromfield

      September 7, 2012 at 10:50

      Your welcome; Lord bless you.


    • Carl

      October 16, 2012 at 10:20

      I stumbled across another passage in Luke that seemingly conflicts with the assessment that the intended recepient of Luke’s book is the High Priest, Theophilus bar Annas. In verse 22:1, Luke explains to his reader that the Festival of Unleaven Bread is the Passover. He further expalins the plot developed by the Temple “chief” priests in verse 2. Neither of these explanations should be required to enlighten the High Priest who would know the Festival and Passover are linked together, and most likely was himself engaged in or at least knowledgeable of the Judas plot (and previous attempts) to discredit/eliiminate Jesus.

      Blessed regards,

    • Ed Bromfield

      October 16, 2012 at 22:33

      Greetings Carl, and thank you for your study and for thinking of me and my study concerning to whom Luke addressed his letter.

      You are quite correct in saying that Theophilus, son of Annas and himself a high priest, would not need to be reminded that the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover are related. It is also true he wouldn’t need to be told the Jewish authorities were involved in Judas’ plot to seize Jesus (or any previous such plot), but it might cause the reigning high priest to wonder how Luke and others know about all those attempts. Who was informing Luke what the high priest was doing? Did he receive his information from one of the Jerusalem authorities or was Luke informed supernaturally by God? Luke doesn’t tell him, but as a reader and a Christian we can tell who the informers may have been. As for knowing the Passover is related to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it is the manner in which he wrote, just as Ezekiel didn’t need to tell the Jews that the Passover was a seven day feast in which unleavened bread was eaten (Ezekiel 45:21). What Jew wouldn’t know this? Again, we are told in 2Chronicles 8:13 that Solomon offered sacrifices: “Even after a certain rate every day, offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts, three times in the year, even in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles. Why would Jews have to be reminded that the writer when referring to “three times a year” he was speaking of the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles? All Jews know this. It is a manner in which one writes.

      What I find intriguing is not what is said, but what is not said. For example, what do the colors of the rich man’s clothing signify in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16)? What does the fact he had five brethren mean? Why doesn’t Luke explain the priesthood courses and the fact that Zechariah belonged to the 8th one of 24 in Luke chapter 1? Only a Jew would be expected to know this, and perhaps not all Jews since it is a bit technical. In Luke 4:17-21 Jesus offered himself as the Messiah to his people, but how would anyone but a Jew know this by the scripture he read? A Jew would know, but not all, Theophilus would definitely understand the implication of that scripture that Jesus claimed was fulfilled in their ears. It is not so much what **is** said in Luke and Acts that points to Theophilus ben Annus as Luke’s recipient; it is more about what Luke does **not** say that tells us who Theophilus really is.

      If Luke’s Theophilus is not the high priest who officiated in the 30s CE, who is he? We have absolutely no clue, unless it is this high priest.

      Lord bless you.


  15. Abie

    August 3, 2012 at 03:31

    Hi I thought Theophilus was the pen name for John the beloved when he was in Patmos…Theophilus means the lover of God, and it was John the apostle who is whom Jesus loved. I saw a movie from youtube wherein John aka Theophilus where he was in Patmos, he was writing the book of Revelation at that time. just my thought…

    • Ed Bromfield

      August 3, 2012 at 09:44

      Greetings Abie, and thank you for reading and especially for taking the time to comment. Most people merely agree with what they have heard said about this illusive Biblical figure, but you show some very good insight by comparing the meaning of the names–John and Theophilus. I like that, but I do disagree with your conclusion. The reason for my disagreement is the opening lines of Luke’s Gospel. Luke tells (in your case, John) that he writes this Gospel to him so he can more perfectly understand what he was taught or heard. This would be pretty arrogant of Luke, a non-apostle, to address an apostle of Jesus in such a manner, especially one of the inner three.

      Lord bless you Abie,


    • abel

      January 4, 2014 at 03:17

      Luke focus to much on explaining that the porpuse of the letter was to inform what really happend. Tryng to make the readers think that Theophilu wasnt one of the disciples. But he would not focus so much unless he want to make sure he didnt want to compromise somebody.

  16. Bob

    April 18, 2012 at 10:57

    I think Theophilus was a gentile and a god-fearer that received instruction in the synagogue by rabbis. This would explain the numerous citations and allusions to the OT plus the Septuagint style Greek with semitisms in the early chapters of Luke/Acts. The preface shows Theophilus needed assurance; what might that be? My guess is that both Luke and Theophilus had been god-fearers prior to becoming Christians. On the outside chance Theophilus was a Roman official, his interest was theological, not political. If he were a Roman official, and I had to guess, I would say he was a centurion—a god-fearer like Cornelius—based on the numerous favorable references to centurions in Luke/Acts. Theophilus did not become a full proselyte due to the Greek repugnance of circumcision and the social step down becoming a proselyte would imply. The gospel of salvation by grace through trust apart from the law of Moses brought Theophilus into the church. Later, erring Christian Jews (like Acts 15:5) came to the church where Theophilus was and upset him and others by saying Paul’s gospel was insufficient. This is what upset Theophilus and the other former god-fearers and gentiles; this prompted him to ask Luke for assurance. Luke’s assurance was a vigorous defense of Paul and his gospel set within the broad framework of salvation history directed and empowered by God, the incarnate and later risen Jesus as Lord, and the Spirit. As for the title, ‘most excellent,’ good friends addressed each other this way (after all, Theophilus knew and contacted Luke for assurance). Apologize for the length, this skims the surface. It is speculative, but it does have some explanatory scope.

    • Ed Bromfield

      April 18, 2012 at 13:03

      Hi Bob, and thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Obviously we disagree on who Theophilus and Luke are, but I see no reason not to let your commentary stand. If you wish to debate the issue let me know, but this is a good alternative pov. Lord bless.

    • Bob

      April 18, 2012 at 14:09

      I’ll pass on the differences of views; I am doing some writing that requires a lot of time. I just stumbled across your site. I agree with your rebuttal of 1) Theophilus as a Christian ‘everyman,’ 2) the legal brief theory, and 3) Theophilus as a Greco-Roman administrator. On the latter two, Luke wrote many things that would NOT have gone over with the Romans, e.g., the God of the Hebrews calls on all men everywhere to repent based on the resurrection (Acts 17:30-31). A Lord other than Caesar? Sedition. That confession got some Christians killed. Grace and peace.

  17. Nancy

    April 10, 2012 at 10:53

    I was studying Luke 1 this morning and for some reason I had always skipped over the Theophilus part and just kept on going. Today I stopped and wondered who this person was and why they were important enough for Paul to write a letter to. After some research I came across this blog and must say it is VERY well written. Thank you for the information!

    • Ed Bromfield

      April 10, 2012 at 17:46

      Hi Nancy, and you are very welcome, and thank you so much for your encouraging remark.

      Lord bless you,


  18. Suffi

    April 3, 2012 at 23:06

    Thanks for your insight and detailed explanation!! Much appreciated.

  19. Matt

    March 8, 2012 at 13:32

    I have read that in writing to Theophilus, Luke specifically mentions the temple as being in Jerusalem more than other writers. In other words, if Theophilus were a Jew, he would have known what Luke meant by the ‘temple’ without the location.

    • Ed Bromfield

      March 8, 2012 at 15:43

      Matt, thank you for stopping by and reading my blog and for taking the time to comment. Here is the breakdown according to the KJV; if you wish a breakdown according to another translation, let me know and, if I have it in my possession, I’ll give it to you as well:

      Matthew mentions the Temple 18 times and never connects it with Jerusalem in the same verse.
      Mark mentions the Temple 12 times and connects it with Jerusalem 3 times in the same verse.
      John mentions the Temple 15 times and never connects it with Jerusalem in the same verse.
      Luke, in his Gospel, mentions the Temple 20 times and connects it 1 time in the same verse.
      Luke, in Acts mentions the Jewish Temple 24 times and connects it with Jerusalem 1 time in the same verse. He also mentions the Temple of Diana one time. Luke mentions the Temple more than any other Gospel writer, but never once uses the phrase “the Temple at Jerusalem.” Both times in his Gospel and in Acts, when he connects the Temple with Jerusalem in the same verse, he mentions someone being in Jerusalem who went into the Temple.

      Whoever gave you the information that Luke specifically mentions the Temple as being in Jerusalem or that he connects Jerusalem with the Temple more than any other writer is mistaken. Luke mentions the Temple more than any other NT writer, yet Mark, who mentions the Temple less than any other Gospel writer, connects the Temple with Jerusalem more than Luke does.


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