Scripture among the Apologists: Theophilus’s Christian Sources

Shepherd Early ChristianityTheophilus’ Ad Autolycum has an interesting claim to fame in its use of Christian sources: nowhere do these treatises mention or name the Historical Jesus of Nazareth.[i] While apologetic purposes may help explain this, some have taken this neglect to indicate that Theophilus represented a “Jesus-less” form of heretical Christianity or viewed Jesus as merely a human prophet.[ii] These responses, especially in view of the praise accorded Theophilus by Eusebius and Jerome, likely overstate problems with Theophilus’ theology. With Grant, then, it seems best to think that, “apologetic convention is probably responsible for his failure even to mention the name of Jesus…. But just here we might have expected a successor of Ignatius to escape from convention into religious reality.”[iii]

Despite this lack of a clear reference to Jesus, Christian sources—especially those writings which came to form the Christian New Testament—played an important role in substantiating Theophilus’ arguments.[iv] The Gospel According to Matthew plays a fairly prominent part, as Theophilus made use of it some nine times, including several explicit quotations of the gospel.[v] Matthew was especially important in shaping Theophilus’ conception of Sophia[vi] and also influenced his reading of prophecy.[vii] Most importantly, where sayings of Christ are quoted from Matthew, they are not merely cited as “sayings of the Lord” as in earlier Christian texts, but are listed as “the gospel” (ευαγγελιος).”[viii] As with Justin’s Apology, there is no citation of Mark’s Gospel in Ad Autolycum.[ix] Theophilus knew and employed the Third Gospel, for Autolycum 2.13 relies on Luke 18.27.[x] Likewise, there are at least two references to Acts: Autolycum 2.8 stems from Paul’s speech in the Athenian Areopagus[xi] and the citation of the “negative” golden rule in Autolycum 2.34 appears dependent on a Western-type text of Acts 15.[xii]

[i] Rogers, “Theophilus”, 220. [ii] Grant, Jesus, 77-79. Grant, “Introduction”, xvii. Rogers, “Theophilus”, 220-2.[iii] Grant, “Theophilus”, 242. [iv] Grant, “Theophilus”, 254. Rogers, Life, 24. Again, note Roger’s chart of quotations and allusions to the NT, totaling 8 quotations and 64 allusions. [v] Cf. Matt. 7:12 in Autolycum 2.34; possible composite citation of Matt. 5.28, 32, 19.9 and Luke 16:18 in Autolycum 3.13; Matt. 5:44-6 in Autolycum 3.14; and Matt. 6:3 in Autolycum 3.14. Massaux, 134-138. [vi] Especially Matt. 11.28-30. Grant, “Theophilus”, 250. See also 1 Cor. 1.24; Col. 1.15-18; possibly Luke 11.49; and the section on the Fourth Gospel below. [vii] The quotation of Jer. 6 in Autolycum 3.12 uses reading from Matt. 11.29. See Grant, “Bible of Theophilus”, 178-9. Grant suggests that this means both the Evangelist and Theophilus possessed the same altered version of Jeremiah, though this is a far more complex reading than positing Theophilus’ use of Matthew. [viii] Grant, “Bible of Theophilus”, 185. Autolycum 3.14, 16. [ix] Massaux, 138. [x] Massaux, 138. Grant, “Bible of Theophilus”, 186, 250. Grant also suggests that Theophilus’ conception of Sophia was influenced by Luke 11.49. [xi] Acts 17.28. Massaux, 139. [xii] Compare Codex Bezae Acts 15.20, 29 and Autolycum 2.34.


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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