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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Salter Goodwin

Witness in a Letter

Who writes real letters anymore? 


We post family pictures and updates on social media.  We text or email our celebrations and woes.  However, we write fewer long, newsy letters.


Thankfully, Luke had not abandoned this process and painstakingly penned two meticulously researched letters to his friend, Theophilus. We’ll call him Theo for short.


We don’t know for sure how Dr. Luke knew him.  Did he attend him in some illness? Were they just friends? Did some issue or controversy bring them together?   While we don’t know a lot for sure, here is what I have learned.


Theo’s name was Greek. He either had a Greek heritage or lived in Greece and met Luke while Luke was writing his account of Jesus and the Apostles. Luke 1:4 suggests that Theo probably converted to Judaism at some point.


Jerome, an early church leader from the early 4th century wrote commentary on scripture.  He suggested that Theo might have been a Roman leader in Greece while Luke was writing his accounts.  Interestingly enough there is a Greek official from Athens named Theophilus.  Hmmm!


Whoever Mr. Theo was, Luke respected him.  He called him “most excellent” as someone who deserved respect and honor for position as well as personhood. 


But Luke didn’t just stop with one very detailed account of Jesus.  He wanted Theo to know the rest of the story.  We have Luke and Theo to thank for the account of the Acts of the Apostles.  All the details about how the message of Jesus spread—it was all written to give Theo more evidence about who Jesus was and how His message spread in ways no other message had.


Did Luke achieve his purpose? Was Luke’s account enough to persuade Theo of the truth about Jesus?  We don’t know for sure but we can hope.


However, the story of Theo’s place in giving us the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles cannot be over-emphasized. We can learn some lessons from this partnership between a seeker of truth and one who wanted to share it.


1.       Seekers ask questions. 

We may not have the answers for them at first.  However, we can always use a person’s questions to find answers whether we do the research ourselves or consult someone who already has. We learn something new in the process and have more answers ready for the next person.


2.      Friendships matter.

How many conversations did Theo and Luke have before the talk went to Christ? What was his first question? Even if Luke wasn’t prepared to answer, he was motivated to find answers for his friend.  Luke respected Theo’s discerning mind.  He didn’t dump a prepared speech on him.  Luke simply gave Theophilus facts from his research.


3.       Finding answers helps others, too.

Today, our favorite Christmas story comes from Luke. The story of Paul’s conversion comes from Luke. We wouldn’t know as much about the Day of Pentecost without Luke. Nor would we have a detailed account of how Christianity spread.  Theo may have been the first reader, but he joins millions who have read and studied Luke’s accounts since then.


Over the years, I’ve had several Theo friends who asked questions I couldn’t answer at first. I think they liked it when I couldn’t.  It didn’t make them feel less uninformed.  I researched on my own, asked competent people, and prepared to give a faith-directed answer, just like Luke did.  And then, I left the results up to the Holy Spirit to finish the work. 

Who is your Theo?


Who is your Theo?  Where are the friendship circles where a Theo might be?  You don’t have to be a Bible nerd to satisfy a Theo in your life.  First give friendship. Then, listen for questions.  Let God put the two together just like He did for Luke and a seeker called Theophilus.

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