The evangelist Luke begins his Gospel with a reference to a person named Theophilus, “I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus. …” (Lk 1:3-4). A few weeks ago on the feast of the Ascension, we hear this name again as our reading was taken from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up” (Acts 1:1-2). So who is this Theophilus and what being does he have on the Truth & Love blog?
St. Jerome in his On Illustrious Men (De Viris Illustribus), tells us that Luke was a non-Jewish physician from Antioch (Col 4:10-14) and a companion to St. Paul (Acts 9, 11, 13-28). Elsewhere we learn that he also served as a scribe to Peter (Acts 1-6, 9-12) and Philip the Evangelist (Acts 8). At the beginning of his gospel, he notes that his account comes from eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Luke 1:1-3). Given the detail of the Annunciation, the Infancy Narrative, and information about the Hidden Life of Christ one of his eyewitnesses would have included the Mother of God Mary (Luke 2). Was Theophilus a disciple who had been an eyewitness from the beginning? A newcomer that Luke was trying to convince? Or merely a creative everyman to convince all of us who stand in need of the Gospel’s message?
The Greek name Theophilus [theo-God & philia-love] may be translated as a lover of God or friend of God. So the name could refer to Christ calling us his friend friends (Jn 15:15). This would fit with the Old Testament types of Christ who were also called friends of God: David “a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14), Moses who spoke to God “face to face, as one man speaks to another” (Ex 33:11), Or Abraham who is called a friend of God by James (Ja 2:23). Then again, Theophilus was also a common name at the time, as well as an honorary title among the learned Romans and Jews of the era. While there are a number of prime candidates, the fact is we will never know for sure until we stand before God and ask Him.
“We cannot know for sure who Theophilus was, but we can know what Luke’s intentions for writing were. His stated reason for writing to Theophilus was “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4). Luke wrote a historical account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and detailed the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. His intention was to give Theophilus certainty that the “things he had been taught” were indeed true and trustworthy. Whoever Theophilus is, or in whatever generation he lives, Luke uses history to show him the Lord of History.” (In Search of Theophilus, 2013)
The pseudonym — Theophilus — allows for a contributor to share his or her personal experience — give a personal historical account of Christ’s work in his or her life as regards a particular topic — without the social and emotional risk of being identified or persecuted with past actions and present realities. At Truth & Love, we have members and contributors in many different walks of life who are comfortable with different levels of public knowledge about who they are, where they work, and what they believe. As we go forward you will note that the second post each month will often come from Theophilus. This post will usually respond or reflect upon earlier posts and will be a contribution from a member of Courage or EnCourage.
A good example of the use of a pseudonym would be J. Budsiszewski’s, Professor Theophilus. Although he is identified as the author, the original intent was to interact with students without either party feeling pressure within the academic world for their dialogue. I have enjoyed reading his Theophilos Unbound, which is a collection of some three hundred letters and questions posed to professor Theophilos by students of the decades.
As a side note: Michael O’Brien wrote a wonderful fictional narrative titled Theophilos, “in which Theophilus, Luke’s adoptive father — a Greek physician and an agnostic — embarks on a journey across ancient civilizations and through the heart of the Gospel for his adoptive son Luke. His journey will take him into the tension between good and evil, truth and myth, and the unexplored dimensions of his very self. It is a story about the mysterious interaction of faith and reason, the psychology of perception, and the power of love over death.” (Ignatius Press, Theophilos) I highly recommend Theophilos and Michael O’Brien’s other books, all of which are allegorical novels of the spiritual life and the end times.