Society for New Testament Study - Theophilus discussion

Steven Avery

Society for New Testament Study - March, 2020
Craig Harmon
Is there any support for taking Θεόϕιλε (Luke 1:3) not as a name of an individual but as a description of Luke's intended audience?

Ben Witherington

Symbolic elucidations of the name are attested since Origen (e.g., Hom. in Lucam 1.10–11), who has no difficulty including “most excellent” in his interpretation.


“Theophilus means ‘lover of God’ or ‘loved by God.’ All lovers of God may therefore believe that [Acts] was written to them, because Luke the Physician wrote so that they might find health for the soul here.” - Pervo

Pervo points to these works on the implied reader,
William S. Kurz, “Narrative Approaches to Luke-Acts,” Bib 68 (1987) 195–220, esp. 208–12.
For further observations on the implied reader, see idem,
Reading Luke-Acts: Dynamics of Biblical Narrative (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993) 12–16.
Theophilus is the “overt narratee,” the person to whom the story is ostensibly told.

Barrett states: “its meaning (Dear to God probably rather than Loving God) makes it a possible cypher intended to represent the Christian (or Christian inquirer). . . it is quite impossible to reach a confident conclusion, and Luke would probably not have wished to contradict Bede.”

I favour the "Theophilus as an individual" position for reasons that nothing to do with grammar. (Nick Elder and Rafael Rodriguez's comments below more or less capture why I favour this position).

Jonathan Bernier
Stevan Davies The general supposition among NT scholars is that Theophilus was Luke's patron, which is why it is addressed to him, but that Luke-Acts were written for a wider audience. I don't think anyone anywhere thinks that it was written for one person alone.

Michael Theophilos
and for some actual evidence in support of the currency and history of the name... see the entry in the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names
Also, look at who else has the title κράτιστε in Acts

The Preface to Luke's Gospel (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series)by Alexander (Author)
I believe she reads Theophilus as an actual person, but not as the intended audience. Theophilus would be Luke’s patron, then, with a broader community/church as the intended audience.

Loveday’s study is *the* comparative analysis of prefaces in Ancient Greek writing. She concludes, somewhat controversially but I think persuasively, that Luke-Acts aren’t ancient historiography but rather ancient scientific writing. Historiography is one kind of scientific literature, but there are other kinds. This literature presumes a certain kind of epistemology and handling of knowledge and tradition, as well as certain relationships between writers and readers/students. It really is a great book and well worth consulting for those who don’t know it.
Last edited: