Who is Theophilus in the Bible books of Luke and Acts?
Theophilus was the person for whom Luke originally wrote his two books: the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles. It is interesting to note that around 26% of the New Testament was written to Theophilus in Luke’s writings. Luke’s desire was to prove to Theophilus the truth of Jesus the Messiah’s life, death and resurrection.
The name Theophilus appears in only two places in the Bible, Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-3. Luke wrote these two books around 61-63 AD which is during the time that the Apostle Paul was a prisoner in Rome and Luke was with him. (See 2 Timothy 4:11).
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The meaning of Theophilus
The name Theophilus is from the Greek word “theophilos” and means “friend of God” or “loved by God.” The most common theory is that Theophilus was of high social standing who was a friend of Luke. In his Gospel, Luke addressed Theophilus as “most excellent”, which is a Roman title of respect and possibly of official importance.
Luke writes to Theophilus
Luke’s introduction to Theophilus, in the book of Luke, begins like this: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.”
“With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
Luke’s phrase “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” gives the impression that Theophilus is probably a Gentile (a non-Jewish person) with whom Luke has studied about Christianity. Luke wants to prove to Theophilus that what he has learned about Jesus is in fact true.
In this vein, Luke even includes the account of Jesus explaining the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah to two people as they traveled to Emmaus. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
Theophilus in Acts
In the introduction to the Book of Acts, Luke tells Theophilus that this second volume is a continuation of the history he wrote about in the book of Luke. Luke continues the narrative detailing the growth of the early Christian Church after Jesus returned to heaven.
This is what Luke says in Acts 1:1-4, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
Again, Luke wants to show Theophilus the reality of Jesus, and the truth of His death and resurrection by “many infallible proofs.” In Luke’s two volumes, he sets forth the facts that not only did Jesus die on the cross but He also rose again. Not only did Jesus rise again, but His disciples spread His teachings throughout many parts of the Roman Empire.
We should remember that the books of Luke and Acts were not written for Theophilus only, but also for those in our day, to show the existence and reality of Jesus.
Theories about Theophilus
Beyond what Luke writes, the rest of the Bible says nothing about Theophilus. Here is a sample of some ideas and traditions people have come up with about Theophilus’ identity that are interesting, but almost no evidence exists to back them up.
A Jew from Alexandria in Egypt
A tradition from the Coptic (Ethiopian) church says that Theophilus was a Jewish person of social standing who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, followed this idea in some of his writings.
A Roman official
Some commentators think Theophilus was a Roman official because Luke referred to him as “most excellent”. Later, though, in Acts of the Apostles, Luke just mentions him by name without the title.
An Honorary title
Some people think that Theophilus was not a person at all. According to this view the word “theophilo” (“friend of God”) is just a title Luke uses referring to the people who will read his books. According to this idea, Luke simply meant that they were all “loved by God”.
Theophilus’ name meaning “friend of God” is a name we can all receive from God by following His teachings and recognizing and following Jesus as our personal friend and Savior. Theophilus' name can also mean “loved by God.” How wonderful that you and I can say we are loved by God. The Bible says that God is love (1 John 4:8), and it is a marvelous thing to follow the Lord and know that we are loved by God.