LUKE AND THEOPHILUS
IN THIS STUDY WE LEARN:
- Luke was a Gentile doctor.
- Theophilus understood no Aramaic.
- Neither Acts nor Luke could have been written in Hebrew or Aramaic.
H. M. Stanley set out in 1871 to find David Livingston, the English missionary and explorer of Africa. His journey took him to many places. He was among many people of many languages. From March till November he searched, finally finding Livingston in the town of Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika. Stanley was the consummate Englishman. It is said his first words to Livingston were, "Dr. Livingston, I presume?"
In 1872 he wrote a small book about the adventures of his search. The book is called "How I Found Livingston". He wrote about events in foreign lands, among people of strange customs, practices, and languages.
Since his book is written for Englishmen, it is not at all surprising that he wrote it in English. With this in mind, let's look at Luke's books, Acts and the Gospel.
Luke was unique among New Testament writers. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Colossians (chapter 4 verses 10-14) that Luke was not Jewish. Neither was he a witness to the ministry of Jesus. He was a physician who accompanied Paul on some of his journeys into Gentile lands. Eventually he came with Paul to Rome.
Since Luke was a Gentile doctor in an empire of Greek speakers, there can be no doubt at all of his fluency in the Greek language. He was very likely a Greek by birth. He most certainly was Greek by language and education. He wrote his books, which he dedicated to Theophilus, in the Greek style and in the Greek language.
The introduction in both Luke and Acts is a form long used among Greek writers. If this book were originally pinned in Hebrew it would be strange indeed for it to have such an obvious Greek introduction. A Hebrew book would not have such an introduction.
The Gospel and Acts are both addressed to Theophilus. The way Luke addressed him, "most excellent Theophilus," is formal and perhaps indicate he was a man of some official position. At least this is how Luke used the same form of address in other places in Acts.1 His name is Greek. It means beloved of God.
Look clearly at the situation of the writing of Luke and Acts. A doctor who is fluent in Greek is writing to a Greek man. How can it even be imagined that these books were written in any language but Greek? It cannot be imagined. Simply because both of them were written in Greek. But then, the whole New Testament was written in Greek.
Here are some points of Scripture, which continue to illustrate how we know Theophilus was a Greek rather than a Jew.
Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh,
which is called the Passover.
Before this point in Luke's Gospel, he has not mentioned the feast of unleavened bread, per se to Theophilus. He mentions it a few verses later; but this is the first time. Therefore, he explains to his friend what the Jews call the feast. It is called "the Passover."
Every Jewish person already knew that the feast of unleavened bread was called the Passover. However, Theophilus did not know it. He needed to have it explained to him. Luke knew he was not Jewish. By this, we are also able to know he was not Jewish. This shows any unbiased person that the book of Acts was not, could not have been, written to a Jewish person. In this way Luke demonstrates to us that his friend was not Jewish.
When Luke tells Theophilus about the burial of Jesus, he includes the city of Joseph. Joseph was the wealthy member of the Jewish council who had not wanted to condemn Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus and buried it in his own tomb. He was from Arimathea. Luke, ever a stickler for details, gave Theophilus a bit more information about the city.
This is what he told him.
He was of Arimathea, a city of the Jews.
Luke would not have said, "the Jews" to a Jewish person. Nor would he have needed to tell a Jew that Arimathea was a city of the Jews. He told it to Theophilus, proving forever that Theophilus was not a Jew.
Luke has shown us Theophilus was not Jewish. He proceeds to show us Theophilus did not know the language of the Jews. Luke tells us this each time he translates a simple Aramaic name into Greek for him.
If Theophilus could have spoken Aramaic, Luke would not have insulted him by doing this. Let's consider two names.
And Joses, who by the Apostles was surnamed
Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, the son of
The first example is the word "Barnabas," which of course, is an Aramaic name. This was almost certain that this was the native language spoken by Jesus, the Apostles, and most other Jews who lived in the area around Jerusalem.
In Aramaic,2 Bar indicates son and son of. Any one who understood even the rudiments of Aramaic, would have known this. Luke sees a necessity to translate Bar-nabas into Greek. In this way, he makes it obvious to us that Theophilus understood no Aramaic.
The man to whom the book was written understood not even a small amount of this language. Such is the down falling of any and every theory based on The Acts of the Apostles being written in Aramaic.
To translate is to bring the meaning of a word or words from one language into another. Luke is doing just that. He uses the word interpreted (translated) to describe what he is doing. He translated the Aramaic word "Barnabas" into Greek. Then his friend Theophilus could understand what it means.
Here is another Aramaic word Luke translated.
Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named
Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcus...
Luke gives Theophilus the same courtesy again. He translates the simple Aramaic name "Tabitha" into the Greek language as "Dorcus." I will also do you a courtesy by further translating Dorcus into English. Being translated, it is Gazelle. Dorcus is a Greek word. I translated it into English. Tabitha is an Aramaic word. Luke translated it into Greek. Because of this, we can know without any doubt, Greek is the language of Theophilus. Just as we know English is your language. Greek is the language in which Luke wrote his two books.
We are compelled to conclude that Luke wrote in Greek. Otherwise we are left with no solution to the problem of why Luke translated these names for his friend. Translation is possible only when two languages are involved. A word cannot be translated into the language of which it is a part. Within a language a word is merely explained, not translated. When Luke used the word "translated" to describe what he was doing, he forever doomed the theory that the New Testament was written in Hebrew or Aramaic.
Of course, if we had rather not let God's Word speak to us, there is another solution to this problem. We could follow the example of those who claim the New Testament was written in Aramaic or Hebrew. After realizing that these examples from the Scriptures destroy the Hebrew New Testament theory, they just deny that Luke wrote these parts.
It is a simple solution and it gets get rid of the problem. But only those who can countenance denying the Bible are equipped to take this course. I, for one, am not so equipped.
Are you ready with scissors to cut out the parts of the Bible you don't like? Are we allowed to cut and paste our own Bible?
Some of us are compelled to simply take what is written in the New Testament. We find this a more prudent course than explaining it away or denying it should be there.
The book plainly declares itself to have been written in Greek.
Footnotes1. Acts 23:26 "...most excellent governor Felix..." Acts 24:3 "...most noble Felix..." Acts 26:25 "...most noble Festus..." Luke 1:3 "...most excellent Theophilus..." Each is KRATISTOS in Greek. [back]
2. In Hebrew the usual word for son is "Ben", as used in Ben-hadad, Ben-ammi, and others. See Young's "Analytical Concordance to the Bible", entry: Son [back]