Only one time in my life have I met a man with the title of “His Excellency”.
My wife and I were traveling in Cambodia when an adoption agency we met with must have mistaken us for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie because they arranged a private meeting for us with Cambodia’s Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Welfare, a man called His Excellency Nim Thoth.
Men like this are rare and if you’ve ever met one, you remember it. In Scripture we meet only three and the one most overlooked is the one who left the greatest legacy.
His name is mentioned in the opening verses of Luke and Acts and we promptly skim past it like it’s a footnote. But it’s not a footnote; it’s a dedication. And as any reader knows, a dedication is an author’s way of honoring the person who significantly influenced their life and their book.
Below are Luke's dedications:
It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. Luke 1: 3-4
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up… Acts 1: 1-2
This type of direct address was common among ancient writers and it shows that Luke not only honored Theophilus, but also he expected Theophilus to read what he had written. So who was this man?
Who Was He?
His name is a Greek name meaning “beloved of God” and his title “most excellent Theophilus” leads us to believe Theophilus was a man of wealth and social standing. Only two other men in Scripture are addressed in this way: the Roman governor of Judea, “most excellent Felix,” and his successor, “most excellent Festus,” who was known to entertain kings and other prominent men (Acts 24:2; 26:25).
It is very likely Theophilus was also a man in a high position, perhaps even a governor himself. But unlike the others, Theophilus was a new follower of Jesus, who needed reassurance about his faith.
Men of his class were rare in church. A historian named Alan Krieder has written that the church in the first century reached every kind and class of people except one: men of wealth and rank.
Several leading women had been saved, Acts 17:4 tells us, but they were in other cities and Theophilus wouldn't have known them. So for a man in his position to publically confess Christ, Theophilus would have faced significant social ramifications. He wanted to be absolutely sure.
What he needed was a word he could trust, a reliable record about what Jesus really did and said. Was Christianity really true? What did the claims of Jesus mean for a man like him? And that’s where Luke came in.
Luke was a competent physician, a man of intellect and adventure, and most importantly, a mature Christian. Perhaps Luke was Theophilus’ doctor. We don’t know for sure, but somehow these men met and Theophilus learned that Luke would be able to carefully investigate and write about the life and ministry of Jesus. And so their partnership began.
Luke interviewed eyewitnesses. He studied the other written accounts about Jesus. He even traveled with the apostle Paul. His writings give the sense that Luke took pains to get names, stories, and details correct. He was a first rate historian.
But this was more than a history project. Luke was writing so that his friend Theophilus would, “have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).
Luke and Acts were meant to be faith-building books. Luke wanted his prominent friend to have confidence in Jesus and the ability to overcome the temptations that accompanied his influence and affluence.
Throughout his gospel, Luke includes story after story about money, possessions, and stewardship. It’s as if Luke wanted Theophilus to see how God changes people to live lives of generosity instead of loving money. Indeed, this is one of Luke’s unique angles compared to Matthew, Mark and John.
Without Luke we wouldn’t hear John the Baptist explain that true repentance includes handling our finances in a godly way. Luke 3:7-14
Without Luke we wouldn’t hear Jesus promote an abundance mentality with our giving when he said, “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” Luke 6:38
Without Luke we wouldn’t know the names of Jesus’ Gospel Patrons and see the glorious role these three women played by providing for his preaching ministry. Luke 8:1-3
Without Luke we wouldn’t have the story of the Good Samaritan and learn that love for our neighbors looks like radical generosity. Luke 10:33-35
Without Luke we wouldn’t see the trap of accumulation in the parable of the rich fool who built bigger barns. Luke 12:13-21
Without Luke we wouldn’t have the story of the Prodigal Son, who famously loved his father’s money more than his father, only to find out he was tragically wrong and his father was more lavishly generous than he could have ever imagined. Luke 15:11-32
Without Luke we wouldn’t have the parable of the dishonest manager, who instructs us to use our wealth to make friends for eternity. Luke 16:1-9
Without Luke we wouldn’t have the terrifying story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus to remind us that the comforts of our riches will ultimately fail. Luke 16:19-31
Without Luke we wouldn’t have Zaccheaus’ example to show us that a mark of true conversion is a changed relationship with money. Luke 19:8-10
Without Luke we wouldn’t know that Jesus’ Gospel Patrons did not just write checks and go away, but traveled with him all the way from Galilee to the cross and the tomb. Even in his death they were still giving to him! Luke 23:49,55-56
And without Luke we wouldn’t know that when Jesus rose from death and could have chosen to appear to anyone, the first people he wanted to see were his Gospel Patrons. Luke 24:10
Jesus had a lot to say about money and Luke made sure to record it for Theophilus, and for us as well.
But Luke and Acts are owing as much to Theophilus as they are to Luke.
The opening dedications and the internal evidence of Luke’s gospel lead us to believe that Theophilus was Luke’s patron who underwrote the costs of writing and publishing Luke and Acts.
Luke gave his time and his intellect and in return Theophilus gave his financial support and friendship to help Luke complete the work.
And so it seems without Theophilus we would have three gospels, instead of four. We would have Paul’s letters, but not his conversion story. We would know that the church spread beyond the Jews, but we wouldn’t know how. Without Theophilus we would have missed out on many of the Bible’s best stories.
Most excellent Theophilus could not have known it at the time, but his patronage was responsible for giving us twenty-seven percent of the New Testament!