There is significant debate about the nature of Theophilus in Luke's writings. Some say that the name is a symbolic term applied to all believers. This is because Theophilus (Θεόφιλος), can be translated to "lover of God," "friend of God," and even "God's beloved." This idea was made popular by the early church father Origen. This generic use of Theophilus is often compared to the tendency for early gentile Christians to be seen as "God-fearers." Though this thought can be dismissed as Luke employs the words φοβούμενοι (Acts 13:26) and σεβομένων (Acts 13:43) to refer to such individuals who fear God.

Others posit that Theophilus was the given name of an actual person. This is because scholars, like Craig Keener, state that it would be unlikely to dedicate the text to an individual and leave out their real name. Though I agree that Theophilus was an actual person, I remain unconvinced that Θεόφιλος was his given name. The name Θεόφιλος is well documented from the 3rd century onward, but Θεόφιλος does not seem to appear often before hand. I admit that I cannot find a source to verify this information but all who speak about the use of "Theophilus" as a common name signify its relevance from the 3rd century onward. This presents some doubt in my mind as to "Theophilus" being the given name of Luke's recipient. (I welcome any and all suggestions concerning this perspective).

Additionally, the argument can made that Theophilus was of high status and even a government official. Consider that Luke uses the honorific "Most excellent" when addressing Theophilus in his gospel account. This word, κράτιστος, is used in only three other places in the New Testament. All appearances of the word are found in Luke's writings, (Luke 1:3; Acts 23:26, 24:3, 26:25). The three appearances in Acts see κράτιστος attached to a figure of high status and governmental authority. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that Theophilus is at least of high status, if not also a government official. If Theophilus was a government official it would have made sense to be more discrete in matters by using a pseudonym. Though it should be noted that this interpretation demands that a potential shift in relationship between Luke and Theophilus to have occurred due to Luke using as a term of endearment that precedes the name of Theophilus in Acts 1:1.

After researching Luke’s writings compiled for Theophilus, I am compelled to believe that Theophilus is neither a generic term to address all believers nor the recipient’s given name. Instead, I am convinced that it is a pseudonym adopted by an individual who occupies an important governmental office. Are there any robust or concrete examples of people taking on pseudonyms when associating themselves with the early church? Please point me to sources if you have them. (Since this is a tertiary issue, I will not be offended if you disagree with my conclusion. I am willing to be wrong on the identity of Theophilus).

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    Many assume that the name is generic and that the epistle is addressed to all who are 'lovers of God'. Paul uses the word philotheos 'lovers of God' Strong 5377.in 2 Timothy 3:4 and there is no reason to suppose that Luke was not also familiar with the word himself.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 12 at 20:14

2 Answers 2


Is there any external or internal evidence that Theophilus in Luke and Acts is a pseudonym?

It may have been that the name of Theophilus may have been a pseudonym, but the evidence is not strong either way.

A pseudonym or alias is a fictitious name that a person assumes for a particular purpose, which differs from their original or true name (orthonym). This also differs from a new name that entirely or legally replaces an individual's own. Many pseudonym holders use them because they wish to remain anonymous, but anonymity is difficult to achieve and often fraught with legal issues.

Historically we are divided as to whether Theophilus was the real name of this individual or whether St. Luke employed the use of a pseudonym here.

St. Luke could have used a pseudonym here in order to protect the identity of this individual. This is an issue I sense that can not be resolved. We simply do not know.

Theophilus is the name or honorary title of the person to whom the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are addressed (Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1). It is thought that both works were written by the same author, and often argued that the two books were originally a single unified work. Both were written in a refined Koine Greek, and the name θεόφιλος ("Theophilos"), as it appears therein, means friend of God or (be)loved by God or loving God in the Greek language. The true identity of Theophilus is unknown, with several conjectures and traditions around an identity. In English Theophilus is also written "Theophilos", both a common name and an honorary title among the learned (academic) Romans and Jews of the era. The life of Theophilus would coincide with the writing of Luke and the author of the Acts.

Theories about who Theophilus was

Coptic view

Coptic tradition asserts that Theophilus was a person and not an honorary title. The Coptic Church claims that the person was a Jew of Alexandria.[citation needed] Similarly, John Wesley in his Notes on the New Testament recorded that Theophilus was "a person of eminent quality at Alexandria", which he understood to be the tradition 'of the ancients'.

Roman official

Luke addresses Theophilus as "Most excellent", a form also used in Acts to address Roman governors. Some biblical interpreters have concluded that he was a Roman official who had been initiated into the church's teachings, for whom Luke now provided a full narrative. However, since it is not certain whether the κράτιστε was meant as a technically correct form of address for a Roman nobleman or merely as a general honouring statement about Theophilus, it is not possible to prove that he belonged to the upper class.

Honorary title

One tradition maintains that Theophilus was not a person. The word in Greek means "Friend of God" and thus both Luke and Acts were addressed to anyone who fits that description. In this tradition the author's targeted audience, as with all other canonical Gospels, were the learned (academic) but unnamed men and women of the era. Likewise the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, and Gospel of James are not addressed to any particular gender, or any specific person.

Paul's lawyer

Some theologians (e.g., David Pawson) believe that Theophilus could have been Paul's lawyer during his trial period in Rome. To support this claim people appeal to the formal legalese present in the prologue to the Gospel such as "eye witnesses," "account," "carefully investigated," "know the certainty of things which you have been instructed." The conclusion of the Book of Acts ends with Paul still alive and under arrest awaiting trial, suggesting it was the intention of the author to update Theophilus on Paul's history to provide for an explanation of his travels and preaching and serve as evidence in support of his innocence under Roman law. Some also point to the parallel between the account of Jesus' trial before Pontius Pilate narrated in Luke's Gospel with the account of Paul's trials before Roman judges in the Book of Acts. In total, Jesus was declared innocent three times by Pontius Pilate as was Paul before various judges.

Jewish priest

Some scholars point to Theophilus ben Ananus, High Priest from 37 to 41. In this tradition Theophilus would have been both a kohen and a Sadducee. That would make him the son of Annas and brother-in-law of Caiaphas, raised in the Second Temple period. Adherents claim that Luke's Gospel was targeted at Sadducee readers. This might explain some features of Luke's text. He begins the story with an account of Zacharias the righteous priest who had a Temple vision of an angel (1:5–25). Luke quickly moves to account Mary's purification (niddah), Jesus' Temple redemption (pidyon ha-ben) rituals (2:21–39), and then to Jesus' pilgrimage to the Temple when he was twelve (2:46). Some have suggested that this implied Jesus' bar mitzvah, though the modern method of celebrating bar mitzvah did not exist in that period and is not mentioned in sources until the Middle Ages. Luke makes no mention of Caiaphas' role in Jesus' crucifixion and emphasizes Jesus' literal resurrection (24:39), including an ascension into heaven as a realm of spiritual existence (24:52; Acts 1:1). Luke also seems to stress Jesus' arguments with the Sadducees on points like legal grounds for divorce, the existence of angels, spirits, and an afterlife (Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead). If this was the case then Luke is trying to use Jesus' rebuttals and teachings to break down Theophilus' Sadducean philosophy, maybe with the hope that Theophilus would use his influence to persuade the Sadducees to cease their persecution of the Christians. Some have suggested that Luke's Gospel could be seen as an allegorical (רֶמֶז remez) reference to Jesus as "the man called the Branch" prophesied in Zechariah 3:8; 6:12–13, who is the ultimate high priest foreshadowed by the Levitical priesthood.

Most, if not all, of the commentaries on the Gospel of Luke consider that the "Question about the Resurrection" pericope presented in Lk. 20:27-40 is the only account in Luke of Jesus confronting the Sadducees. It is true that Luke only mentions the Sadducees by name once but it is not true that this pericope is the only one concerning the Sadducees. The Parables about the Good Samaritan, the Unjust Steward, the Rich Man and Lazarus and the Wicked Tenants are directed to the Sadducees who controlled the temple establishment. These parables are about unfaithful priests. They are the wicked sons of Eli.

All of the New Testament passages concerning alms and almsgiving, except one in Matthew, are in Luke-Acts. Therefore, these parables may be about alms, almsgiving and the proper use of the wealth controlled by the temple authorities. Luke's criticism focuses on the use of these temple resources by the religious aristocracy for their own selfish purposes. This means that the religious authorities controlled tremendous wealth that had been in times past properly distributed to the people as part of the institutional form of almsgiving. The priests in these parables are unfaithful, dishonest and disobedient because, inter alia, they have not invited the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind to the banquet table. Once the office of the High Priest became non-hereditary, and available to the highest bidder, the institutional role of almsgiving was abandoned or reduced as the purchaser had to recoup his purchase price.

A minority view identifies Theophilus as a later high priest: Mattathias ben Theophilus , who served from 65 to 66. Note that Luke refers to high priest Joseph ben Caiaphas simply as "Caiaphas". Thus, the reasoning goes, Luke used this pattern when addressing Theophilus.

Theophilus (biblical)

While each of these theories holds possibilities, it seems most likely that Theophilus was a high-ranking or influential Gentile for whom Luke wanted to provide a detailed, historical account of Christ and the spread of the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire and the world.

Just a very small note to add here. As many know Catholicism venerates many saints, the of this individual Theophilus is not mentioned in the Roman Martyrology, leaning towards the idea that Catholicism treats this as a pseudonym.

It is not impossible that St. Luke was also trying to protect this Theophilus from persecution. Bravo to St. Luke for adding some mystery to Biblical personages!


We may never know the given names of some characters of New Testament. Evangelist John speaks of Thomas who was also called Didymus. The name Thomas comes from the Hebrew word “ta'om,” meaning “twin.” The Hebrew word תָּאוֹם (ta'om) led to the Aramaic name Taoma. This name was rendered in New Testament Greek as Θωμάς (Thomas). Didymus could be the Latin counterpart of the word Thomas. Apostle Thomas sure had a twin brother,who was least likely to have shared the same name. That implies that the given name of Thomas was something else, and he continued to be known by the nickname. Similarly, Bar Abbas was a nick name literally meaning Son of the Father. Some versions of NT suggest that his given name was Jesus. Similar is the case of Theophilus. The word could be an attribute on the lines of what John the Evangelist referred to himself as: ' The One whom Jesus Loved.'

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