Theophilus and Bible Translation – Should names/titles be translated?

First, allow me to state that I am new to Bible Translation, having only worked in this area for some two years. I still hope to be new some 60 years from now.

Here is a question that is on my mind. Granted, I have not yet begun Luke-Acts, but this is still something that is useful for other uses.

Luke-Acts (I presume these books written by the same author to the same ‘person’) is addressed to one by the name of Theophilus. Would it be implausible to translate the ‘name’ directly to it’s base meaning instead of mere transliteration?

Luke 1.3

It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

εδοξεν καμοι παρηκολουθηκοτι ανωθεν πασιν ακριβως καθεξης σοι γραψαι κρατιστε θεοφιλε

It can be translated as ‘friend of God’ or ‘beloved of God’, or as Robertson suggests, ‘God-lover’. It is my opinion, and I owe much of that opinion to Peter Doble’s book, the Paradox of Salvation, that Luke-Acts was written with a central theologia crucis in mind. Could the addressee be a part of that plan?

From Wikipedia comes this possible suggestion as to who Theophilus was:

A growing belief points to Theophilus ben Ananus, High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem from 3741 A.D. In this tradition Theophilus would have been both a kohen and a Sadducee. That would make him the son of Annas and brother-in-law of Caiaphas, raised in the Jewish Temple. Adherents claim that Luke’s Gospel was targeted at Sadducee readers. This might explain a few features of Luke. He begins the story with an account of Zacharias the righteous priest who had a Temple vision of an angel (1:5-25). Luke quickly moves to account Mary‘s purification (niddah), Jesus‘ Temple redemption (pidyon ha-ben) rituals (2:21-39), and then to Jesus Temple teaching when he was twelve (2:46). He makes no mention of Caiaphas’ role in Jesus’ crucifixion and emphasizes Jesus’ literal resurrection (24:39), including an ascension into heaven as a realm of spiritual existence (24:52; Acts 1:1). Luke also seems to stress Jesus’ arguments with the Sadducees on points like legal grounds for divorce, the existence of angels, spirits, and an afterlife (Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead). If this was the case then Luke is trying to use Jesus’ rebuttals and teachings to break down Theophilus’ Sadducean philosophy. One could also look at Luke’s Gospel as an allegorical (רֶמֶז remez) reference to Jesus as “the man called the Branch” prophesied in Zechariah 3:8; 6:12-13, who is the ultimate high priest foreshadowed by the Levitical priesthood.

And it could be, and let’s say it was (I don’t believe it, but…). That Theophilus is long dead, and yet the audience for Luke-Acts remains. Would be it acceptable to translated Theophilus to ‘Friend/Beloved of God’?

Really, I guess no matter what, the audience to Luke-Acts remains, so shouldn’t the addressee be the present community, that of the Friends of God? Or, incase of the Church, the Beloved of God?

To be fair, to follow that line, should we then discard other names as addressee’s? I wouldn’t so, since Timothy and Titus and others are recognized as actually existing people or places, etc… Theophilus, since I don’t buy the above suggestion, does not fall into that category.

I would recommend translating in this case the name to the base meaning, and not attempting a mere translation.

I can see Luke saying, “O Friend of God, let me tell you more about the things that happened after Jesus did begin to do and teach.”

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2 Replies to “Theophilus and Bible Translation – Should names/titles be translated?”

  1. Dear Friend in Christ,

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    I have been going through the studies at your web site, and I am deeply inspired with all of the teachings and studies thereon like Bible studies and other teaching materials on our Web site. This is such a wonderful studies you have arranged for all the nations, in the long run of your service for the nations of the all the world.
    I am from Islamic Republic of Pakistan where it is difficult to have Radio and TV channel for preaching purposes. They would not allow us to do that here; the Satan has real strong hold over everything. I often say that we are living in the land of the enemy.

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    Grace and Peace be with you, all brethrens.

    Yours brother in Christ,


  2. I always looked at it as either “Lover of God” or “God lover”. Just a literal translation for me, not debating there wasn’t an actual person of that name, or who might have taken on that name, in respect for their belief.

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