Luke is the only Gospel writer to have explicitly identified his audience, viz. Theophilus (1:3) to whom the sequel is also addressed (Acts 1:1). The name Theophilus means "lover of God" in Greek, and some have suggested that it may be employed in a fictitious sense, applying to all who love God. However, this is unlikely in view of the appendage kratistos ("most excellent") in Luke 1:3, indicative of one who is an important administrative official, like a magistrate. Luke uses this title on three other occasions (Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25), each in reference to someone governing a Roman province.The late F. F. Bruce has noted the uncertainty as to whether the title is meant in a technical sense with reference to rank (representing the Roman equestrian order egregious), or simply by way of courtesy (corresponding to the Latin optimus). Bruce has theorized that Theophilus "was a representative member of the intelligent middle-class public at Rome whom Luke wished to win over to a less prejudiced and more favorable opinion of Christianity than that which was current among them" (The Book of Acts 29). It seems implausible, however, that such a large volume of material (25% of the New Testament!) would have been written for a non-Christian official with a realistic expectation of him actually reading it and thereby being influenced by it. The fact that in Luke 1:4 reference is made to peri hōn katēchēthēs logōn ("things concerning which you were taught") is suggestive of someone already informed about the Christian faith.1
It is not without significance that Luke had close connections with Philippi, having worked with the church there for up to seven years (note the "we" references in Acts 16:10–20:6). Philippi was a Roman military colony whose magistrates were stratēgoi (generals or controllers of police and marshals) (cf. Acts 16:20-22, 35-38).2 Perhaps Theophilus was one of these high-ranking officials who had been converted during Luke’s extended ministry. It is even within the realm of possibility that he was the keeper of the prison who, along with his family, had been taught and baptized by Paul and Silas (Acts 16:27-40) and had since (twelve years later) been appointed to the "most excellent" position of stratēgos. Having reasonably affluent members like this, including Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40), would explain how the Philippi church could afford to be so financially generous (Philippians 4:15; cf. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 11:9).
Aramaic expressions and place-names in the other Gospels are generally omitted in Luke (except Luke 16:9, 11, 13), suggesting a readership with a non-Jewish background. Further, the Aramaic designation Akel Dama in Acts 1:19 (alluded to as "their own language") is translated into Greek. Irenaeus affirms that Luke "published" his Gospel (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.24.5-7), employing the standard Greek term ekdosis that denotes the public dissemination of a literary work. Since Luke-Acts was almost certainly meant to be read by a larger audience, the opening address may then serve as a dedication, a convention not uncommon in ancient literary works. Accordingly, Theophilus could have been the patron who provided financial support for Luke’s travels, research, and writing projects.3
While the Gospel of Luke has been variously classified, it readily fits into the category of ancient Greco-Roman biographies that often included characteristics of other genres.4 Its second volume (Acts) seems to fit best within the genre of Greek historiography. Luke would have been out of place among the Roman historians, who tended to focus on events surrounding a single city or Empire (Rome), or the Jewish historians, who were primarily concerned about the history of one ethno-political group (Israel). Rather, Luke shares much in common with the Greek historians, who often traveled to the places they wrote about, observed the events they recorded, and presented a neutral account of the acts and persons they described (see B. Witherington, Acts of the Apostles 25-36).
Seeing that the last half of Acts focuses on the ministry of Paul, this might indicate that the intended audience was somehow connected with Paul’s ministry. Acts concludes with a pronouncement that the future of the gospel rests with Gentiles rather than Jews (28:25-28). The account of Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke being sent into the province of Macedonia by way of divine prompting (Acts 16:9-10), coupled with Luke’s apparent extensive stay in Macedonia, particularly in the city of Philippi (Acts 16:10–20:6), and the close relationship these Macedonian Christians had with Paul (cf. Acts 16:9–17:14; 20:4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; Philippians 1:1-11; 4:10-20), may suggest something about the original destination of Luke-Acts.
When read from a first-century Greek perspective within a Greco-Roman environment, the writings of Luke are more clearly apprehended. See also Authorship of Luke-Acts and Dating of Luke-Acts.
–Kevin L. Moore
1 Scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation. Gregory E. Sterling acknowledges the apologetic nature of Luke-Acts but reasonably contends that it was meant for a Christian audience ("Luke-Acts and Apologetic Historiography," SBL/SP 28 : 341-42).
2 Luke’s employment of the titles of magistrates in various Greek cities is always historically accurate: stratēgoi in Philippi (Acts 16:20-38), politarchai in Thessalonica (Acts 17:6), and asiarchai in Ephesus (Acts 19:31).
3 "Publication in this sense means that the work was intentionally produced for wider distribution and adhered to certain literary conventions. In this regard the address to Theophilus again becomes important, since it was normal to dedicate such works to the patron who paid for the publication, meaning the costs of papyrus, ink, secretaries, and copyists and in many cases support for the author" (L. M. White, From Jesus to Christianity 249).
4 See R. A. Burridge, What are the Gospels? and C. H. Talbert, What is a Gospel? Although scholars like R. K. Bultmann (History of the Synoptic Tradition ) object to this classification, the arguments are principally based on modern concepts of biography.
Related Posts: Matthew's Audience, Mark's Audience, John's Audience
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