Luke’s First Treatise to Theophilus and the Purpose of his Writing


Luke’s deliberate intention, the beloved physician,[1] to put on record that his first treatise was addressed to Theophilus, discovers that his writing has a single purpose, a purpose with dedication to the facts that united Luke and Theophilus in an effort to safeguard for themselves the truth of the things in which they were both taught.

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3It 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, 4That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. Luke 1:1-4

Lucas’ first treatise is a private letter, which turns it into written material for specific purposes, purposes which, if they are not known, may deny any other user access to the true message of the treatise. Discovering who Theophilus is and why Luke devotes time and effort to systematically and accurately know and present the history of events and facts about Jesus and faith in his name is the key to understanding the real message that Luke intends to present to his interlocutor.

The first treatise is not a writing parallel to the other Gospels, despite the parity of the accounts between them, because unlike the others it was not written in order to leave testimony of the acts of Jesus but to validate the truth of the things in which they were both taught, the writer and the recipient, by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word. It is a treatise that pursues a particular aim united to the person for whom it was written, hence the importance of understanding who Theophilus is.

Although the introduction to the treatise slightly outlines two evident purposes, namely, to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, (v.1b); and, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed, (v.4); nevertheless they are not the true reason that motivates Luke to write two consecutive treatises to the same person, his motivation arises from the common facts that led both of them to know of the faith in Jesus.

Luke and Theophilus went through one or more unique faith experiences together that turned their common friendship into the motives for taking care of both of them and always keeping alive the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. Friendship became a brotherhood, and brotherhood became the jealous guardian of the certainty of the teachings they received upon which their faith in Jesus was built.

Luke and Theophilus are part of the group of “Greeks” who have gone up to Jerusalem to worship at the time of the solemn feast of Pesach, precisely the feast in which Jesus is crucified, according to the account that John presents in his gospel.

And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: 21The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. 22Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. 23And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. John 12:20-23

It is precisely at the beginning of this feast, the 14th of Abib,[2] after the supper of the paschal lamb, that Jesus is captured and brought first before Annas, Caiaphas and the Council of the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes; And from there, through a whole process of trials before Pilate, the first time,[3] before Herod,[4] he returned to Pilate a second time,[5] before the praetorium to be scourged,[6] and finally, under pressure from the leaders of the people, before Pilate again to finally determine his crucifixion on the 21st day of Abib.[7]  A week of commotion of which the group of “Greeks” is witness.

The principle of faith in Luke and Theophilus is not the same as that of any other who came to Jesus, before or after the crucifixion, there was a need for them to first understand the value of the crucifixion, and then who the man in whom they had believed is. This contrary form of evangelization built a stronger foundation than any other man of faith of his time.

The first treatise is a collection of data as stated in its introduction: having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first. This task must have begun in Jerusalem in the years prior to the persecution promoted by Saul, considering that this period of time was the only one when the Jerusalem church enjoyed a special prestige before the people,[8] and considering also that because of the doctrine of the soon return of Jesus, the motivation of the people was to relocate themselves into Jerusalem; it is in fact to believe that Luke and Theophilus are part of this migratory movement and are taught by which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, as he attests to the fact.

The evidence contained in the second treatise indicates that many of those who had gone up to Jerusalem to worship for the feast of Pesach remained in Jerusalem until the feast of Shavuot. Because of the nearness of both feasts this was possible mostly among those who lived in distant lands,

And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? 8And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.      Acts 2:5-11

The group of “Greeks” is one of the groups that remain active in Jerusalem, and with a very strong presence, judging by the emphasis that Luke himself makes in his second treatise, that the widows of the Greeks were belittled in the daily care of the Hebrew community.[9]

Because of how the writer of John’s Gospel describes the “Greeks” way of approaching Jesus, the group maintained from its origins a close bond with Philip, Andrew, and thus Peter and James, all from Bethsaida in Galilee,[10]

And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: 21The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. 22Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. John 12:20-22

So Luke’s reference to who taught them about Jesus: which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word, certainly refers to this group of apostles coming from the same city, Bethsaida of Galilee. This also explains why Luke only describes the calling of the four apostles of Bethsaida and includes Levi, who is also from the shores of Lake Gennesaret.

Because of the closeness to this group of apostles, it is also possible to consider that Luke and Theophilus are among the more than five hundred brothers to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection;

After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 1st. Corinthians 15:6

Otherwise, how did Paul know about this apparition? How does Paul know that some are still alive? The evidence for this is Luke’s connection with Paul, whom Luke meets in Antioch, Syria, where Luke takes refuge after the persecution of the church over Stephen’s death.

So, indeed, both Luke and Theophilus went through a series of common experiences, at the beginning of their life of faith, which made their friendship become the responsibility, in the case of Luke, to care for Theophilus’ faith after the separation of the two.

Like many other foreigners who had relocated to Jerusalem, Luke and Theophilus leave Jerusalem because of Saul’s persecution of the church; the two references contained in their second treatise show the places of refuge that the scattered men sought to escape persecution,

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. Acts 8:1

In the second reference Luke gives details of the event, implying that he knows the situation by direct contact and not by reference; however, this is Luke’s place of refuge but it does not seem to be the place where Theophilus is going. This is the point of separation of the two.

Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. 20And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.        Acts 11:19-21

Theophilus is younger in age than Luke, the use of the term: κρατιστε actually shows a degree of appreciation and dignity, a way to show a deeper friendship, not necessarily in the protocol form;[11] proof of this is that in the introduction to the second treatise, Luke omits the use of the term to address Theophilus again.

What is Luke’s purpose? What does Luke intend to write to him this first treatise?

After the separation, Theophilus did not have the same sort of fate as Luke, or at least he did not want to follow it. Theophilus returns to the place of origin where he is exposed to Greek philosophy, which apparently goes against the certainty of the things in which they were both taught.

Some data from the second treatise indicate that Luke separates himself from the apostle, in Macedonia: The same followed Paul and us (note the words of how he is included in the account),[12] and he meets him again in Troas: These going before tarried for us at Troas.[13] This is the trajectory through the regions of Macedonia, Achaia and Corinth. At some point in this trajectory, Luke encounters Theophilus, to whom he delivers the first treatise. Paul makes a lot of reference to Achaia in his writings, which leads us to believe that this is the Theophilus’ area of residence.[14] There are no references in Luke’s second treatise on the apostle’s stay in Achaia.

So, Luke’s first treatise to Theophilus is intended to “remind” Theophilus of those things which are most surely believed among us, so that thou mightest know the certainty of the things in which you have been taught.

The term know επιγνως is used with the force of, be aware of, showing that Luke has realized that Theophilus has begun to enter into the ambiguity of a philosophical-religious knowledge of which Luke warns him.

The first treatise from Luke to Theophilus is a concentrate of “advice” on how to live the faith in Jesus in an environment marked by Greek philosophy, and how to overturn philosophical arguments.

Luke begins his narrative from the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, and does so not as a historical reference, but to establish the certainty of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the central theme of the life of faith in Jesus and of the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven:

For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. Luke 1:15

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: Luke 1:41

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Luke 1:67

In chapter two, Luke presents two case testimonies of how people isolated from the knowledge resulting from interaction with civilization can receive and live by Revelation of the Holy Spirit:

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Luke 2:25, 26

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: …38And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38

Luke presents 52 (out of 96 in the entire NT) references to the fullness of the Holy Spirit in both treatises. The life of faith is not a way of thinking, or a form of wisdom; the life of faith is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in witness that Jesus lives in the person, and the person in Jesus.

And so, Luke reminds Theophilus about what it is like to live under the fullness of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit, who organized the genealogies (chapter 3) and determined the times of the coming of the Messiah,

Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 12Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. 1st. Peter 1:11, 12

It is the Holy Spirit who delivers Jesus, and everyone who believes in Him, from all temptation.

And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Luke 4:1

Who likewise gives testimony of the ministry that He is to develop,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, Luke 4:18

From then on, Luke reminds Theophilus who Jesus is, whom they knew just before being crucified, and in whom they believed,

And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power. Luke 4:32

And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out. Luke 4:36

And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ. Luke 4:41

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? Luke 5:21

And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? Luke 7:49

And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. Luke 6:5

And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him. Luke 8:25

Luke’s advice to Theophilus on how to live the life of faith is many;

On how to prioritize,

And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? Luke 5:34

On how to handle each situation depending on the purposes you want to achieve,

And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. 37And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. 38 But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. 39No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better. Luke 5:36-39

On how the Will of God is to be fulfilled without invalidating or violating the written Word of the Lord,

Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? Luke 6:9

On understanding about God’s judgments,

For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Luke 8:17

On how to know God and trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit,

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? Luke 11:13

On how to trust in Jesus and rest on the promises of divine provision,

But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:7

Unlike the other writings in the gospels, Luke’s first treatise is not an account of the things that developed as part of Jesus’ life, it is a compendium of the faith experiences of two men, Luke and Theophilus, who convert from Greek religious paganism to faith in Jesus. It is the experience of two gentile men accustomed to the existence of mythological gods and demigods, and how they approach Jesus, and recognize him as God: Who can forgive sins but only God? (5:21)

Luke’s first treatise is the vision about the work of the Holy Spirit, about the presence of Jesus in the community, and how His teachings can change the religious mentality of communities. It is human living in the light of God’s teachings. It is the transformation of natural events into a divine agenda. It is the conviction that everything that happens under heaven fulfills a purpose of exaltation of the divine work.

Luke and Theophilus approached Jesus without knowing who He was, without knowing the prophetic or spiritual value of their salvific work; however, in spite of this, they formed a protagonist part of the work of Revelation of Divine Grace.

Luke dedicated his life to the apostolic work accompanying the apostle Paul in each of his journeys, and wrote in detail about the work of the Holy Spirit in the places where Paul was taken. By his care of his former companion and neighbor, Luke’s writings have been kept to us, and today by the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write we are partakers of the experience with faith in Jesus. 



All biblical quotations are taken from the King James Version.



Pastor Pedro Montoya

Ph. (407) 764-2699

Twitter: @pastormontoya

[1] Colossians 4:14

[2] Exodus 12:6

[3] Luke 23:7

[4] Idem 23:8

[5] Idem 23:11

[6] Idem 23:16

[7] Idem 23:22

[8] Acts 2:47

[9] Idem 6:1

[10] John 1:44

[11] Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25

[12] Idem 16:17

[13] Idem 20:5

[14] Romans 15:26; 16.5; 1st. Corinthians 16:15; 2nd. Corinthians 1:1; 9:2; 11:10; 1st. Thessalonians 1:7, 8

About the ministry

Treasure in earthen vessels is a ministry of doctrinal instruction and training, according to the teachings of Jesus set forth in the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We proclaim that Jesus the Christ is God incarnate, so that, through faith in His Name, and in repentance before Him, men and women may attain forgiveness of sins, and be reconciled to the Father.

Our work is to instruct and train men and women who seek to develop in the life of Faith, and to prepare in ministerial work those who have a call to ministry in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Our ministerial emphasis is on deliverance and spiritual warfare.


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