Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Theophilus seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. -Luke 1:3-4

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. -Acts 1:1-2

Thus begins the Gospel of Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles (which was also written by Luke). Both are addressed to this person named Theophilus. But who was this Theophilus guy anyway? His only appearance seems to be in this reference to him as the intended recipient of Luke's two-part treatise on the life of Christ and the early Christian community. Was he some sort of teacher, or a new convert? Or the leader of a group of new Christians? Various traditions maintain different views of him.

We simply don't have any hard evidence to go off from, only mostly internal evidence found in the scriptures themselves. Therefore, many theories and much speculation abounds, and frankly, they all remain just that - theories. The question may or may not ever be settled. But there is one theory that I found rather intriguing. And as solid a story as any other out there.

The theory holds that Theophilus was a member of Caesar's court in Rome, and that Luke was writing the documents as part of a legal brief to defend Paul when he was on trial in Rome.

Consider the following:
-Theophilus is given the prefix "most excellent", which could correspond with his position in the Roman court.
-The book of Acts deals generally with the early Church, but more specifically with the missionary endeavors of Paul.
-The book of Acts ends, rather abruptly, with Paul being in Rome for two years. There's no real "conclusion" to the book, to speak of.
-Imperial Rome didn't know what to make of Christianity. Was it a threat? It came out of Judaism, which had long had a tumultuous relationship with the Roman empire. In light of this, the Gospel of Luke in many ways reads like a defense of Christianity as coming from God, and Acts reads like a defense of Paul in his mission from God. It is crafted in such a way as to almost whisper "Let Paul go. He is no threat to the empire."

So, whether Theophilus was or was not a member of Caesar's court, we will likely never know (unless someday an inscription is found in Rome that would corroborate the scenario). If he was, though, one thing is certain: Luke's treatise did not accomplish its intended purpose. Paul was eventually martyred in Rome. But that's okay, because as John Paul II told us, the martyrs were the seed of the Church.


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