Today I respond to the chapter on Theophilus of Antioch by Rick Rogers in the book Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures edited by Paul Foster. Until I read this chapter I had seen passing references to Theophilus, but I knew nothing about him. Rogers does a good job informing the reader of this under appreciated figure.
Theophilus was “a second-century bishop from Syrian Antioch.” Since his role in the development of Christian theology has been uncertain he has been ignored by many. Others accuse him of “a heretical Jewish-Christian background.” (p. 52)
Later writers like Jerome and Eusebius mention Theophilus. Jerome had high admiration for him. Eusebius was less enthusiastic. (pp. 52-54) The sole surviving work seems to have been To Autolycus, which is a series of three interactions with one name Autolycus who seems interested in the Christian religion. Rogers believes that Autolycus was a real person for several reasons, but primarily because of the softening in the dialogue as it seems Theophilus was making in roads with Autolycus.
Theophilus’ Christianity seems short on Christ and high on law observance. Some see it as an outworking of the type of Christianity we find in the Epistle to James. Rogers is quick to note that we can’t judge Theophilus’ theology by this one document alone, but what we do have seems to be an appeal to the superiority of Christianity based on the type of morality exhibited by Christians (pp. 56-65)
As I read this chapter I wished we had more from Theophilus. I felt so-so about the message portrayed in To Autolycus, but I don’t want to judge a man by a single work. Rogers finishes the essay by referring to Theophilus as a “heterodox theologian.” (pp. 66) I guess we’ll never know if he was more than that.
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