O Theophilus

The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, – Acts 1:1

What do you do with mail with the clear plastic window?

Before the Internet and online billing, this type of envelope usually meant it was a bill. Today, it usually means junk mail! The look of the envelope and what is written on the outside gives us an idea about what we will find inside. The postmark, return address, and even the penmanship of the writing provide useful information on what to expect in our correspondence.

We should examine this type of information when we read scripture as well. We do not have envelopes or the handwriting of the author to examine, but we do have valuable background information available that we can use to help us better understand the scripture. Good hermeneutical studies always include an examination of the available historical information regarding the authorship, initial audience, and original setting.

There is little or no dispute that Luke, the beloved physician, is the author of the book which we call the Acts of the Apostles. The opening dedication to Theophilus is identical to the gospel which bears Luke’s name. It is evident from texts within the book that Luke was with Paul, who was imprisoned at Rome for the preaching of the gospel (Acts 16:1-17; 20:5-21). Paul refers to the medical background of Luke in his epistle to the Colossians (Col. 4:14) and in a letter to Philemon (Phm. 24). Luke uses several medical terms in the book of Acts which reveal his identity as the author (Acts 1:3; 3:7; 9:18,33; 13:11; 28:1-10). There is no debate about author or authenticity among legitimate Bible students.

Luke wrote the book of Acts in approximately A.D. 61. This date is probably accurate to within a few years based upon historical facts in evidence. The events which initiate the book occur shortly after Christ’s resurrection. Luke gives account of several years of travel and preaching. By the end of the letter, the destruction of Jerusalem has yet to occur. This dates the book before A.D. 70. Similarly, Luke does not mention the burning of Rome which occurred in A.D. 64. Paul was imprisoned in Rome for approximately two years. So the history was probably penned sometime between A.D. 61 and 63.

Vain scientists have sought for years to discredit any portion of scripture so that its authenticity as the word of God could be questioned. One of these efforts focused on the book of Acts. The claim made by archaeologists was that Luke used titles of Roman leaders that could not be verified by any other source or that did not fit the dating of the writing. Despite these efforts, the Lord’s promise to preserve His word has prevailed, and these futile attempts have been proven wrong by archaeologists themselves. Luke also includes the struggles, hardships, and mistakes made by the disciples in the early churches. These facts add tremendous credibility to the reliable account Luke gives. If he had reported only the good things, we would be left to wonder if it really was that “perfect” back then. As there is no true debate about Luke being the author, neither is there any doubt that what we have today are the English translations of the words that God inspired Luke to write more than 1900 years ago.

Luke’s original audience is more difficult to ascertain. Certainly, there is evidence within the name Theophilus means “lover of God.” This could refer to almost any Christian living in Luke’s time. However, Luke does address him in a noble manner. Perhaps he was a man in a high position of government or social influence? Some speculate that this book, along with his gospel account, are Luke’s documents to be used in Paul’s defense in Rome. Whoever Theophilus was, we have preserved for us a most excellent history of the early churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can examine their doctrine, practice, and interaction with one another. Most importantly, we have an inspired record of how the Lord Himself establishes churches and works with them.

The time frame encompassed by the Book of Acts begins just before Pentecost in A.D. 30 and stretches until just before Paul is martyred in Rome in A.D. 67. Given this time frame, there is some healthy speculation that the purpose of this record, as well as Luke’s Gospel account, were actually written as documents of defense for the Apostle Paul. The Roman Empire allowed religions already in existence to continue, but no new religions were sanctioned. The content of these two books clearly shows that Christianity is the natural offspring of true Judaism. Luke’s purpose seems to be to show the root and origin of Christianity to Gentiles. Perhaps that is why Luke stops when Paul is taken to Rome. The progress of the gospel needed to be shown how it got to Rome.

My posts for a while will attempt to examine this wonderful book that takes a look at true, first-century evangelical Christians in the earliest days of the faith as it explores the growth of Christianity from its planting in Jerusalem, to its spread throughout the region, and its eventual progress throughout the world.

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