Luke addressed both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts to Theophilus.
Luke [Luke 1:3] and Acts [Acts 1:1] were both written to a man named Theophilus. It was a common name among both Romans and Jews at that time, so there’s little we can know about him for certain. He would have lived at the time Luke wrote, which was somewhere between AD 40 and AD 64.
- Possible identities:
- Coptic (Egyptian) tradition says that he was a Jew, from Alexandria.
- Titus Flavius Sabinus, a Roman prefect who had become a Christian.
- He may have been Paul’s lawyer in Rome.
- Because “Theophilus” means “lover of God”, some have suggested that Luke didn’t write to an individual at all.
- Theophilus ben Ananus, high priest of the temple at Jerusalem between AD 37 and AD 42. He was a kohen (descended from Aaron, Moses’ brother) and a Sadducee. He was the son of Annas and the brother-in-law of Caiaphas and, as a result, grew up in the Jewish Temple.
If Luke wrote to Theophilus ben Ananus, it would explain parts of the Gospel of Luke. The evidence seems to fit. Luke begins with Zacharias, the righteous priest (a kohen), who had a vision at the Temple. He tells of Mary’s purification and Jesus’ redemption rituals at the Temple. He tells of Jesus teaching at the Temple at the age of twelve. Theophilus may have known this story, as Annas (his father) was likely high priest at that time. Note how prominently the Temple figures. While Matthew and John both mention Caiaphas’ role in Jesus trial, Luke makes no mention at all, which might suggest that he was looking to avoid conflict. He also emphasizes Jesus’ physical resurrection, which may have been written to specifically counter the Sadducees’ teaching that there is no resurrection of the dead.
In the end, we really don’t know who Luke’s Theophilus was.