🔼The name Theophilus: Summary
- Friend Of God, Loving God, Loved By God
- From (1) θεος (theos), and (2) φιλος (philos), friend or beloved.
🔼The name Theophilus in the Bible
The name Theophilus (that's Latin; Theophilos is Greek) occurs two times in the Bible, both times as addressee of the works of Luke. The evangelist dedicated his gospel to the "most excellent" Theofilus (Luke 1:3), and again his Acts of the Apostles (1:1). Whoever Theofilus was isn't known, and beyond these two dedications, he's heard from no more.
Theophilus was a relatively common personal name, endowed to several prominent members of the high priestly family in the 30s (during Jesus' ministry), and the late 60s, at the start of the Jewish Revolt. It was also a common honorary title for learned men. That makes it perfectly possible that Luke's Theophilus isn't one specific person, but rather a collective name for a group of people, namely non-Jewish enthusiasts who studied Jewish Scripture at or near synagogues, with the implied objective of becoming true converts (see our articles on Carpus or Onesimus for more word-play using names).
🔼Etymology of the name Theophilus
The name Theophilus consists of two obvious elements. The first part comes from θεος (theos), meaning God:
The difficult word θεος (theos) means god, and it's difficult because it's commonly assessed from the Roman pagan legacy that dominates modern thinking. The ancients were not religious like we moderns are. The ancients were mostly interested in survival — surviving nature, wild animals, disease and attacking neighbors — and for that they needed an unbiased, accurate, verifiable and shared worldview. In those days, false prophets were executed (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
We moderns may be tempted to think that religious nonsense was the old standard and science the new, but the fact of the matter is that science was always the standard until politicians began to muddy the waters with religious demagoguery. The information technology we celebrate today began when prehistoric people began to share symbols. A book is a far greater miracle than a hard drive, and the narrative technology in which the Bible was written far exceeds any sort of data compression, storage and retrieval that came after that.
The word θεος (theos) probably comes from the noun θετης (thetes), setter, from the verb τιθημι (tithemi), to set or place. It derives from the idea that the universe runs on a set of fixed laws, which ultimately are one. Modern science calls this the Theory Of Everything, and assumes it's a mere set of detached mathematical statements. The ancients, however, understood that this unified set, or Word, describes a universe that is alive in essence, and as one as the Word that governs it. In that sense it's like the DNA that could be confused with a mere inanimate code, but which in fact is the very source of life. The Word contains everything, including DNA.
The second part of our name comes from the adjective φιλος (philos), meaning friend or one who loves:
The verb φιλεω (phileo) means to love, and the adjective φιλος (philos) means beloved or friend. To be more exact: these words describe a deliberately pursued synchronicity mostly between specific persons. This pursued synchronicity has not so much to do with feelings but with a state of alignment, co-existence, or even symbiosis.
The noun φιλημα (philema) may mean kiss or hug or any such expression of affection.
The same two elements occur, albeit in reversed order, in the adjective φιλοθεος (philotheos), meaning god-friendly or god-loving (2 Timothy 3:4 only).
The name Theophilus may mean Friend Of God or Loving God or even Loved By God, which was a very common idea in the classical world. In Latin, this same idea is expressed in the familiar name Amadeus.