Theophilus - Who Was He And Why It Matters?
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Luke 1:1-4 “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.”
Acts 1:1-2 “The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after that he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit unto the apostles whom he had chosen:”
It has long been established that the physician Luke wrote the gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts in the Re-Newd Testament. One can assume that the book of Luke was written first seeing that Acts 1:1 refers to a “former treatise” that Luke had made to Theophilus, and now in the book of Acts he picks up where he left off in Luke, with the Ascension of Messiah Yeshua.
It also seems reasonable to assume that whoever this Theophilus person was that he must be interested in knowing about who Yeshua (Jesus) was and about His life and the lives of His disciples. One could even assume that perhaps he was a convert to “The Way” or in the least he was very interested in becoming a convert. Why? Because Luke 1:4 states that he was being instructed, or taught, “concerning these things”. Even Bible commentators agree in this regard. Below are comments on these scriptures from Gill:
"That thou mightest know the certainty,.... The end the evangelist had in writing this Gospel, and sending it to Theophilus, was, that he might be more strongly assured of and more firmly established in the truths of the Gospel. The Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions render it, "that thou mightest know the truth"; that is, the certain truth of things: the truth he did in some measure know before, but Luke's view was, that he might have a more certain knowledge of it; both truth, and the certainty of it may be intended: so the Hebrew word, אמונה, signifies both truth and firmness; and the word here used signifies such a certain evidence of things, as may be safely depended on; even
of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed; or catechised, signifying, that he had been hitherto taught, as a catechumen, the rudiments, and first principles of the Christian religion, by word of mouth; and he had taken them in upon the evidence they came with, and the authority of those that instructed him in them; and now he sent him in writing this account, to increase his knowledge, strengthen his faith, and to give him such a sure proof of things, as might preserve him safe in the belief of them, from all doubting and defection. Having finished his preface, he proceeds to the narrative itself, which begins as follows."
Keeping all of this in mind Christian commentators have wondered for a couple thousand years as to who this Theophilus person was. All commentators agree that he was someone very important hence Luke addresses him as “Most Excellent”. Many Bible commentators say that he was most likely a “Roman Government official”, or at the least a nobleman, civil magistrate, prince or senator. However, they also agree that there is no mention of a Roman official by this name in any literature. So, who is this man?
I would now like to give you an answer to this perplexing question. The answer should change the way that you read and relate to the books of Luke and Acts.
Multiple Jewish records, including Josephus, record that Theophilus was High Priest of Israel
from 37-41 AD. He was the son of Annas the High Priest of whom we read about in the Re-Newed Testament, and the brother-in-law of High Priest Caiaphas. Historical records also tell us that one of the first things that King Herod Agrippa I did when assuming his position over Judea was to depose Theophilus as High Priest and place there Simon. Records outside of the Bible tell us that Herod Agrippa I came to power in 41 AD. All of this corresponds. Herod Agrippa was over Judea from 41-44 AD. In addition, since Theophilus was a High Priest, or had been a prior High Priest, it would explain why Luke addressed him honorably.
Why is this information relevant for the serious Bible student? Historically, as well as in modern times, Christian scholars believe and teach that Theophilus was a gentile and as such they claim that Luke and Acts were clearly written to gentile believers (In fact, many commentators state that Luke and Acts are clearly the most "gentile" books of the Bible). They also teach and believe that Luke himself was a gentile convert to Christianity or at best a gentile covert to Judaism and then to Christianity. Most believe that Luke was the only gentile author in the Re-Newed Testament. However, I contradict all of these assumptions (I will discuss Luke shortly) and this should change the entire way that these two books are viewed through our eyes.
It should not be shocking that a High Priest of Israel was curious about "The Way" or that one would even convert to that sect, for we are told in the Scriptures:
Acts 6:7 “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
Could it be that Theophilus converted to Christianity (The Way)? Well, this would certainly explain why Herod Agrippa had such a problem with him and would want to depose him very quickly in his reign, for Agrippa had problems with the followers of “The Way”:
Acts 12:1-3 “Now about that time Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the church (assembly). And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. And those were the days of unleavened bread.”
A little bit of historical study and one will find that King Herod Agrippa had issues with the followers of The Way because they did not recognize him as “king of the Jews”, a title given him by Caesar. Even though Agrippa was indeed about ¼ Jewish, his grandmother was Jewish, he was not the rightful heir to the throne, Yeshua was. Agrippa was not a descendant of Judah and he most certainly was not their king, regardless of the title (neither was King Herod the Great – his grandfather). As many of the common people, and priests, of Israel cried out “the voice of a god and not of a man”, (Acts 12:22) and Josephus tells us that they also told him repeatedly, “you are our brother, you are our brother”, King Agrippa most certainly would have had issues with those who did not agree, and the followers of The Way would have been amongst that group.
Knowing this would also explain why Luke felt it necessary to reassure Theophilus of the truth in all things that he had been taught.
Now concerning Luke. I would place before you here that Luke was the same as Lucius in the New Testament. This would be no different that Mark being called Marcus, also, in the New Testament. The scriptures record of Lucius:
Acts 13:1 “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers, Barnabas, and Symeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen the foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.”
Romans 16:21 “Timothy my fellow-worker saluteth you; and Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen (Strongs G4773 – blood relative, a fellow countryman)
Anyone who studies the Bible knows that it is not uncommon for people and places to be called by different names and/or have different spellings of their name.
If we view the books of Luke and Acts from this perspective then we will arrive at only one conclusion:
Luke was totally a Jewish person who was a follower of The Way and he was writing to a purely Jewish High Priest of Israel. This would make the books of Luke and Acts purely Jewish in nature and not gentile orientated. This changes EVERYTHING. The whole scope of both books are Jewish in nature: Jewish culture, Jewish customs and filled with the commands and statues of the Torah of Yahweh. In Acts we read about the inclusion of the gentiles into the sect of The Way. They were grafted “into” the natural olive tree (which was Israel). The apostle Paul explains this in Romans quite well. Note that they are grafted “into” the natural tree and not the other way around, and yet the modern church tries to take everything Jewish out of the equation. Paul explains that it is the “natural root” that gives the tree its life. In addition, we find all throughout the book of Acts that the early disciples were keeping all of the Festivals of Yahweh, as well as meeting in synagogues (Jew and gentile). In addition, the early disciples were still going up to the temple every day.
It is very important for every believer to study ancient Jewish records and history. The Bible cannot be understood accurately if this information is excluded.
I hope that this lesson has shed light on the Jewishness of Jesus, His early disciples, and the writings of the New Testament.
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All scriptures are from the ASV – some brackets, and bold text were added by me for clarity and emphasis.