Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Protective Anonymity

Richard Fellows, Names changes and aliases in the New Testament, “has proposed that prominent first century Christians were often honored with new names. He has recently suggested that new names were sometimes used to hide the identity of the individuals from potential persecutors. He cites ‘Theophilus’ as an example of this. He believes that the author of Luke would have endangered if he had identified him with his real name. He supports his case by pointing out that ‘Theophilus’ means something like ‘lover of God’, and is therefore an appropriate alias for a believer.” I disagree.

Initially, it should noted that Theophilus has a prefix of κράτιστε which is an honorific title applied to high ranking appointed Roman officials. Luke correctly applies the title to Felix and Festus but not to King Agrippa. In the second century and later, the title could be applied to any Roman official or person of high status. Interestingly, Theophilus does not have the honorific title at the beginning of Acts. This probably is an indication he no longer holds his high ranking Roman appointment. It is hard to believe that a high ranking Roman official could become a Christians and the Romans not know the person and his new identity. Furthermore, the Christian missionaries would have been citing the conversion example of “Theophilus” to all their potential converts.

Secondly, there is no evidence that Theophilus is a Christian apart from the translation of the Greek word,κατηχήθης as instructed. In Acts, this same Greek word is translated as informed in Acts 21:21 and 24.

Thirdly, there are no examples prior to the third century of a Christian bearing an honorific title. See generally the dissertation of Lucilla Dinneen, Titles of address in Christian Greek epistolography to 527 A.D. (1929).

Fourthly, Christians sought to become martyrs so much so that steps had to be taken to discourage it. A number of books have examined through pagan, Jewish and Christian sources the fascination of first and second century society with the noble death phenomenon. Thus protective anonymity must be explained against this cultural background.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, Luke has a two witness theme wherein a particularly obscure woman is a witness to the resurrection but placed in a “position of prominence” in a chiastic structure suggesting that she is someone important to most excellent Theophilus. There is only one other example of the name of a person being placed in the “position of prominence” in a chiastic structure. Her name and that of Theophilus also appear on an ossuary owned by the Israeli government whose inscription has been cited by both Richard Bauckham and James Vanderkam. If the ossuary is authentic, then Johanna may be the granddaughter of the High Priest Theophlus.

Copyrighted 2007


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