Scripture among the Apologists: Theophilus’s Jewish Sources

Old BooksIn the Antiochene context, Jews and Christians existed quite comfortably alongside each other until the seventh century.[i] It is not surprising, then, to see that Theophilus’ thought was indebted to Judaism.[ii] The influence of Jewish Sources on Ad Autolycum may be categorized into four classes: Hellenistic Judaistic Thought, Prophetic Materials, Wisdom Literature, and the Cosmogony of Genesis. While Theophilus may have been in contact with the exegetical work of rabbinic schools, it appears more likely that the Jewish elements of his exegesis arise from an encounter with an intellectual form of Hellenistic Judaism. [iii] Theophilus himself notes his reliance on Josephus and he also appears to employ the interpretive practices of Philo at times.[iv]

The “proof from prophecy” is also a key component of Theophilus’ apologetic: the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy vindicates the truthfulness of Christianity and Theophilus employs these prophetic materials no fewer than forty times in Ad Autolycum.[v] Another important authority for Theophilus’ thought was Jewish wisdom literature, especially Proverbs and the Psalms.[vi] He also employed Job[vii] and possibly used Ecclesiastes. He also seems to have known the Wisdom of Solomon, especially in the conception of Sophia which influenced his understanding of the Logos.[viii]

hebrew-biblePerhaps the most important Jewish writing for Theophilus was the book of Genesis and its account of creation. Much of Ad Autolycum’s second book is devoted to commentary on Genesis 1-4 and an explanation of its proper interpretation.[ix] Ad Autolycum contains numerous lengthy quotes from Genesis and makes clear that for Theophilus a proper understanding of the origins of the universe stood as a necessary for an accurate conception of reality.[x] Theophilus also demonstrated awareness of numerous other Jewish texts, including Exodus,[xi] Deuteronomy, and Sirach.[xii] Overall, Ad Autolycum displays the greatest reverence for Jewish thought and scriptures, so much so that at times Theophilus’ conception of God and salvation seems closer to Judaism than any other non-heretical Church Father.[xiii] This overview demonstrates the importance which Theophilus placed upon Jewish authorities and writings.

[i] Rankin, 82. Frend, 148. [ii] Grant, “Theophilus”, 254. Rogers, Life, 24. Note Roger’s chart of citations and allusions to the LXX, totaling 44 quotations and 78 allusions. [iii] Schoedel, “Theophilus”, 288. Grant, “Theophilus”, 254. Schoedel, “Theophilus”, 297. [iv] Cf. Autolycum 3.20 and Josephus, Contra Apionem, trans.William Whiston, The Works of Flavius Josephus in Four Volumes, Volume IV (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974), 1.94-7, 102; Autolycum 3.21 and CA 1.103-4; Autolycum 3.22 and CA 1.109-26; Autolycum 3.29 and CA 1.129-32; Autolycum 3.25, 29 and CA 1.154; Autolycum 3.23 and CA 2.154. Grant, “Bible of Theophilus”, 191. Schoedel, “Theophilus”, 290. [v] Frend, 148. Grant, “Bible of Theophilus”, 177. These include references from Isaiah (17 total allusions and 10 explicit quotations); Jeremiah (10 and 6); Ezekiel (2 and 1); Hosea (4 and 4); Joel (2 and 1); Habakkuk (1 and 1); Zechariah (2 and 1); and Malachi (2 and 2). [vi] There are some 8 references to Proverbs, 5 of which are explicit. See especially Autolycum 1.11’s quotation from Prov. 24.21-22 with the introduction ο νομος ο του Θεου. Theophilus also references Psalms some 30 times, 2 of which are especially clear. Rankin, 88. Grant, “Bible of Theophilus”, 176-7. [vii] 11 possible references are noted. Grant, “Theophilus”, 250-1. [viii] Grant, “Theophilus”, 250-1. Grant, “Bible of Theophilus”, 179. See especially Wisdom 7.22ff. Grant notes that, “In the two passages in which his logos-doctrine is clearly presented (II 10, 22) he is careful to state that Logos and Sophia are the same.” See, Grant, “Theophilus”, 251. [ix] Skarsaune, “Apologists”, 132. Grant, “Theophilus”, 234. [x] Autolycum 2.11, 20. Grant, “Theophilus”, 237, 254. [xi] Grant, “Bible of Theophilus”, 176-7. The combination of “judgments” from Exodus 21-3 with the Decalogue paralleled in the 3rd century Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum 26. [xii] Grant, “Bible of Theophilus”, 176-7. Grant, “Theophilus”, 240. Grant also notes single possible references to 1 Kings, Baruch, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, and 2 Maccabees, but these are far from clear. On the Theophilus image of the potter, reference Sir. 38.29f; Is. 14.9 and 64.8; Jer. 18.1f; Testimony of the Twelve Patriarchs 2.2-5; and Rom. 9.21. [xiii] Rogers, “Theophilus”, 223. Metzger, 117.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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