THEOPHILUS (thē-ŏf'ĭ-lŭs, Gr. Theophilos). It is reasonable to suppose that Theophilus, to whom Luke dedicated both his gospel (1:3) and the Book of Acts (1:1), was a real person. The title “most excellent” demands this, while the name and title together suggest a person of equestrian rank who became a Christian convert. Theophilus is most probably a baptismal name (see W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, pp. 388-89). Nothing is known of the man. He was certainly not Seneca, as one rash conjecture would have it. It is impossible to decide whether he was pure Roman, Greek, or Jew, or whether the omission in Acts of the honorable title used in the Gospel indicates a deepening friendship when the second book was dedicated, the abandonment of office, or dismissal from office for professing the Christian faith.——EMB

LATE SECOND CENTURY. Christian apologist and bishop of Antioch. Of his works only his Apology, addressed to a pagan friend Autolycus, has survived. This work is in three books and seeks to show the superiority of the Christian revelation over pagan mythology. Although Eusebius called this apology “elementary,” it cannot be denied that Theophilus's doctrine of the Godhead marks an important advance on his Christian predecessors. Proceeding from a theology influenced by Middle Platonism, he distinguished between two phases of the Logos: the logos endiathetos is the Logos innate in God, and the logos prophorikos is the Logos expressed from God for the purpose of creation. Theophilus is reticent concerning the person of Christ, but he clearly regarded him as the second Adam. However, there is no special emphasis on the redemptive work of Christ. The stress instead is upon the disobedience of the first Adam and the obedience of the second Adam by following whose example we may be saved. Theophilus was the first theologian to use the word Triad (trias) of the Godhead.

THEOPHILUS the ŏf’ ə ləs (Θεόφιλος, G2541, friend of God or lover of God). The one to whom Luke addressed his gospel (1:3) and the Acts of the Apostles (1:1). His identity is uncertain; it may be only conjectured from the literary conventions of the time and the purposes for which Luke-Acts was written. It has been suggested that Luke wrote to a Christian audience and that a name with this meaning is a generic term for all of Luke’s Christian readers. Appropriately, the book would then be addressed to any “friend of God” who wanted more detailed and accurate information concerning the origin and meaning of his faith.

On the other hand, books intended for the general public were sometimes dedicated to a friend and patron who might be able to contribute to the cost of disseminating an otherwise unknown work, or who had suggested its composition. Furthermore, in the gospel Theophilus is called kratiste, “most excellent,” a title of conspicuous rank or office as used of Felix the governor of Judaea (Acts 23:26; 24:3) and of Festus his successor (Acts 26:25). This points to the view that Luke had a definite person in mind, prob. a respected Rom. official who had been informed (or catechized as a convert) of Christianity and the life of Christ. If he was a questioning catechumen in preparation for christian baptism, Luke writes “in order that you may have certainty concerning the doctrines in which you have been instructed” (1:4). However, kratiste also can be used in a friendly way as a form of polite or flattering address with no official connotation. If it is regarded here as official, it is unlikely that Theophilus was a Christian at this time “since there is no instance in the Christian literature of the first two centuries where a Christian uses a secular title in addressing another Christian, to say nothing of a title of this character, which may be said to correspond in a general way to ‘Your Excellency’” (Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament III, 42). In the Acts (1:1) this title is omitted. Uncertainty can only speculate that friendship had deepened by the time the second book was dedicated, or that Theophilus had become a Christian in the interim and the title was too honorific for a brother Christian, or that Theophilus had either given up his office or been dismissed under persecution for his Christian profession.

Theophilus is found as a proper name as early as the 3rd cent. b.c. both in the papyri and inscrs. (J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, 288) and as a Jewish name in the Flinders Petrie Papyri (II, 28 ii 9), also 3rd cent. b.c. Theophilus may well have been a baptismal name used among Christians, since a Rom. official in the 1st cent. could hardly be expected to be known in public by such a name. If this is the case, it is the only instance of such in the Acts and may be the same as a pseudonym to conceal his real identity, due to the need for secrecy under tense conditions between church and state (W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, 388). According to Eusebius and Jerome, Luke was a Syrian of Antioch. A Theophilus who held some high distinction at Antioch is mentioned in the Clementine Recognitions. This may be the person for whom Luke wrote.

There remains the possibility that Theophilus was a pagan and not a Christian at all. This depends on the significance of katēchēthēs, “You have been informed” (Luke 1:4), and Luke’s purpose for writing. In a general sense Luke may want to set forth “the reliability of the stories which have been reported to you,” or it could mean that he had received vague or hostile reports of Christianity as a subversive and troublesome movement, which reports Luke sets out to correct. Luke-Acts, therefore, would be an apologetic for the peaceableness of Christianity and the loyalty of its adherents to the imperial government. These themes occur repeatedly, esp. in the Acts.


W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul The Traveler and Roman Citizen, 3rd ed. (1898), 388, 389; T. Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, III (1909), 42; F. H. Colson, “Notes on St. Luke’s Preface,” JTS, XXIV (1923), 300-309; J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (1930), 288, 358; R. B. Rackham, The Acts of the Apostles, 14th ed. (1951), xxxvii; E. W. Beyer, “κατηχέω, G2994,” TDNT, edit. by G. Kittel and tr. by G. W. Bromiley, III (1965), 638-640; J. Munck, Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, rev. by W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann in The Anchor Bible (1967), xvi.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The one to whom Luke addressed his Gospel and the Ac of the Apostles (compare Lu 1:3; Ac 1:1). It has been suggested that Theophilus is merely a generic term for all Christians, but the epithet "most excellent" implies it was applied by Luke to a definite person, probably a Roman official, whom he held in high respect. Theophilus may have been the presbyter who took part in sending the letter from the Corinthians to Paul, given in the "Acta Pauli" (compare Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, 378). There is also a magistrate Theophilus mentioned in the "Ac of James" as being converted by James on his way to India (compare Budge, The Contendings of the Apostles, II, 299), but these and other identifications, together with other attempts to trace out the further history of the original Theophilus, are without sufficient evidence for their establishment (compare also Knowling in The Expositor Greek Testament, II, 49-51).