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“The Most Excellent Theophilus” in Luke 1:3

The Gospel of Luke opens with a greeting to “Most Excellent Theophilus”. But just who was this Theophilus, and why does his identity matter?

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,

Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus.

Luke 1: 1-3

Scholars have debated the meaning behind this cryptic opening. Some posit that Theophilus was a real person – Luke’s patron who sponsored the writing of the gospel. Others propose it was a symbolic name meaning “lover of God”, implying Luke was writing generally to all Christian readers. Still others say Theophilus was shorthand for a community of believers.

From “A Harmony of the Four Gospels” 1809

“The title of “the most excellent” was commonly given to persons in the highest stations of life. Accordingly Paul speaking to the governors Felix and Festus uses it in his addresses to them. Wherefore their opinion seems to be groundless, who, attending to the signification of the Greek word Theophilus imagine that the evangelist does not mean any particular person but all true Christians and lovers of God. Theophilus seems to have been a Greek and a person of high rank. Luke, probably while in Greece with Paul, had received great civilities from him and in testimony of his respect inscribed his two books to him bestowing on him thereby a fame that will last while Christianity subsists རྩ

Macknight, James. A Harmony of the Four Gospels: in which the Natural Order of Each is Preserved. United Kingdom: Longman, Hurst, 1809.

While his precise identity remains ambiguous, Theophilus may represent the inclusive nature of the gospel. Luke wrote not just for Jewish audiences but for Gentile God-lovers everywhere. His gospel is universal in scope.

So while we cannot say definitively who Theophilus was, his symbolism speaks profoundly. For many, he represents the seekers of truth who find purpose and meaning in Christ’s teachings, Christian or not, – then and now.

The Workes of John Boys: 1622

“It is likely that Luke dedicated this present and that former history to the noble Theophilus, not so much out of any private consideration, but as for the public good and the whole of the church.”

Boys, John. The Workes of John Boys. United Kingdom: Imprinted for William Ashley, 1622.