Reflection - May 13, 2018

“In the first book, Theophilus,
I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit
to the apostles whom he had chosen.”

The author of the Acts of the Apostles addresses his writing to Theophilus, but just who is this? The word itself can mean “loved by God” or “loving God,” but it was both a name and an honorary title in Luke’s time meaning “lover of God” or “friend of God” from theos (god) and philos (friend), originally in Greek.

It was popular, for a while, to consider this a generic address to any reader of Luke’s writings, both his Gospel and Acts which are addressed to Theophilus, who is a friend of God, even you and I. Scholarship has settled, however, on the likelihood that Theophilus was an actual person. The above quote is from today’s first reading and is the beginning of Acts and below is the beginning of Luke’s Gospel:

“Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative 
of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 
just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning 
and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, 
I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, 
to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, 
so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”

So, who was Theophilus? Here are, briefly, the leading contenders:

    • A prominent well educated Jew from Alexandria (Luke’s writings are in very high quality, almost academic, Greek, indicating a possibly highly educated Greek speaking audience) 
    • Paul’s lawyer while on trial in Rome (this is where Acts ends, notice the legal language in the introduction to the Gospel above, and “most excellent” was a common Roman address indicating honor and power)
    • Theophilus ben Ananus, High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem from 37-41 AD (son of Annas and brother-in-law of Caiaphas: Luke emphasizes the priesthood-think of Zachariah, and the temple-Jesus when he was twelve, and, interestingly, leaves out any specific role for Caiaphas in the crucifixion of Jesus, among other indications)
    • Mattathias ben Theophilus, High Priest from 65-66 AD (less likely than the preceding)
    • Titus Flavius Sabinus, former Prefect of Rome (convert to Christianity and having possible family ties to Roman officials who protected Paul during various imprisonments-again, “most excellent” would be appropriate)

Whoever it was historically, he was a person, like us, whom Luke wanted to tell about Jesus. And, so, we do come back to the beginning. An actual person, who is a friend of God, responds to the good news of Jesus, believing and trusting in the risen Christ. We cannot just be generic statistics. Each of us, actual people, are invited personally to believe and trust in the risen and ascended Christ. Luke, it turns out, is writing to you, friend of God.