Theophilus and the Herod Family

05 Apr
High Priest - 2

from Google Images

Luke’s preface to his Gospel shows that he intended his Gospel narrative to be an apologetic (Luke 1:4) for Most Excellent Theophilus (Luke 1:3). Thus, Luke identifies him as an official of some rank, for he quotes several people addressing the Roman governors, Felix and Festus, in very same manner (see Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25). While most scholars conclude that Theophilus must have been an official of some kind, they conclude he was a new gentile convert to Christianity, but this doesn’t seem plausible when one considers the context of Luke’s uncluttered narrative.

In his introduction that concerns the birth of John the Baptist, Luke begins by mentioning the days of King Herod (Luke 1:5). The problem is that Luke mentions three by the name Herod in Luke and Acts and two of them are called kings, while the other is called a tetrarch. In all actuality Herod was a name or title borne by everyone in Herod’s family who ruled, just as the name / title Caesar was borne by all the emperors of Rome who followed Julius Caesar in office. Why would the gentile, Theophilus, be expected to know all the members of the royal family of an obscure eastern country, and well enough to differentiate between them when they are mentioned in imprecise language? Moreover, there are several other members of Herod’s family that are mentioned by name, but are not called Herod. Luke seems to expect Theophilus to know the identity of each of them, because Luke offers very little in the way of clear descriptions.

The fact that Luke mentions Herod, King of Judea, in Luke 1:5 suggests that the other king by that name had yet to rise to that office. This would place Luke’s Gospel narrative sometime after Pentecost, cir. 31 AD, but before Herod Agrippa (Acts 12), the grandson of Herod the Great, who held that office (41 – 44 AD). If Theophilus was a Jew, he would be expected to know the identities of both Herod the Great and his grandson, Herod Agrippa, and have no problem differentiating between the two kings in Luke’s theses.

Later in his Gospel narrative Luke mentions Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip (Herod’s brother) was tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis (Luke 3:1). In the same chapter at verse-19 Luke mentions that Herod the tetrarch was reproved by John the Baptist for marrying Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. The problem is that this Philip (Luke 3:19) is not the same Philip Luke mentioned in Luke 3:1. Herod the Great named two of his sons Philip. Herod Philip I was the son of Mariamne daughter of Simon, while Herod Philip II was the son of Cleopatra. It was Philip II who was the tetrarch (Luke 3:1), but Philip I (Luke 3:19) married his niece, Herodias, who later divorced him to marry her other uncle, Herod Antipas. Why would a gentile be expected to keep up with the gossip about a Judean royal family, but, if Theophilus was a Jew living in Judea or Galilee, such matters would be common knowledge.

If Luke were writing to Theophilus, a gentile, he would have to clutter his narrative with a great many details describing the political figures, which he needs to mention to date Jesus’ birth record, and that he needs to use to describe certain events surrounding Jesus’ ministry.

Later, in the book of Acts, Luke mentions two kings of the Herod family. The one he simply refers to as Herod or Herod, the king (Acts 12), while the other he calls Agrippa or King Agrippa (Acts 25 & 26). The Herod in Acts 12 is the father of King Agrippa of Acts 25 & 26, but the Herod in Acts 12 is known in history as King Agrippa and is the greater of the two kings mentioned in Acts. If the Herod of Acts 12 is the greater of the two called Agrippa and was probably more widely known of the two as King Agrippa, how would a gentile be expected to differentiate between the two when Luke doesn’t clutter his account with unnecessary descriptions? On the other hand, if Theophilus were a Jew, he would have had no problem understanding Luke’s regularly vague language when mentioning the members of the Herod family. And, if this logic is sound, then Most Excellent Theophilus could be none other than the high priest and son of Annas (Luke 3:2; Acts 4:6), who reigned cir. 37 to 41 AD. If such is true, Luke’s vague language is understood in the fact that, he should have to describe the high priest’s back yard to the high priest who owns the yard!


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Posted by on April 5, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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