Scripture among the Apologists: Theophilus on Scripture

theophilus-of-antiochTheophilus of Antioch clearly found numerous sources valuable for the construction of his apologetic Ad Autolycum, drawing upon numerous Greek, Jewish, and Christian sources in this writing. Especially important for his conception of scripture was the doctrine of the Logos, formed in Hellenistic Judaism and applied by Justin Martyr to Christian apologetics, but in Theophilus developed most clearly from the Gospel of John. This doctrine allowed Theophilus to locate writings inspired by the Logos, whether they were composed by the Sibyl, Moses, Paul, or someone else. The Logos is that with whom Greek philosophy must accord, that who inspired the prophets of Israel, and he who continues to serve God’s salvific nomos.[i] In this sense, Theophilus did not explicitly locate the Logos with any one “person,” but instead focused on the literary personification and work of the Logos, an endeavor with which those seeking God had to bring themselves into accordance. This is an admittedly Jewish way of thinking, leading Grant to posit that Theophilus’ Jewish-Christian perspective ultimately stands behind the later excesses of Antiochene exegetical theology.[ii]

However, this assessment does not allow Theophilus’ full treatment of written sources to speak for themselves. For he not only relied upon Jewish exegetical practices and conceptions of the Logos, but also took seriously the message of New Testament writings which proclaimed the Good News of Jesus. Though Jesus was not mentioned by name in Ad Autolycum, Theophilus does identify Jesus’ work as that of the Logos. Admittedly, Theophilus stands as a unique interpreter of the Godhead among early Christians, with his radical monotheism standing in notable tension with the robust Trinitarian expressions of later Christianity.[iii] Yet these characteristics of his writings seem to have been interpreted as part and parcel of his apologetic purposes by those who could access his other writings. Furthermore, this theology is ultimately consistent with Theophilus’ use of sources from now-New Testament sources. As Grant indicates, “Behind all his definitions lie the Christologies of the New Testament. It is Christ who is the Logos, who is the Spirit, who is the Beginning, or in the Beginning, and who is the Sophia of God and Power of God.”[iv]

Ancient Roman WomenThis analysis of Theophilus of Antioch’s conception of written sources of authority in his treatises Ad Autolycum indicates that he employed Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian texts as useful fountainheads for his defense of Christian faith and cogmogenic exegesis. Especially important was God’s Divine Logos, which inspires and empowers all creation and truth. In this regard, the Johannine Prologue, especially John 1.1-3, functioned as an important source of authority for Theophilus’ thought and argumentation. With these conclusions in mind, this study now enters its final stage, a comparison of Theophilus’ conception of written authorities with that of Justin Martyr.

[i] Rogers, “Theophilus”, 222. [ii] Grant, “Theophilus”, 245. Grant, “Introduction”, xvi. [iii] Grant, “Introduction”, xv. [iv] Grant, “Theophilus”, 252.


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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