Theophilus of Antioch

by COGwriter

Theophilus was a leader for most who professed Christ in the Syrian city of Antioch. Although he apparently wrote a lot, only three of his writings have been clearly found (one or two others were debated, but not considered to be authentic).

The Antiochian Orthodox Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church both claim Theophilus as one in its bishops in its apostolic succession list (and sometimes refer to him as Saint Theophilus of Antioch):

1 St. Peter the Apostle 37-67
2 St. Evodius 67-68
3 St. Ignatios I Nurono (the Illuminator) 68-107
4 St. Heron 107-127
5 St. Korneilos 127-154
6 St. Heros 154-169
7 St. Theophilos 169-182
8 St. Maximos I 182-191
9 St. Seraphion 191-211

Source: Syriac Orthodox Resources. Chronological List of the Patriarchs of Antioch. http://sor.cua.edu/Patriarchate/PatriarchsChronList.html 01/14/06.

The Roman Catholics also consider him to have been a bishop in the succession of those in Antioch.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

Theophilus...Bishop of Antioch. Eusebius in his "Chronicle" places the name of Theophilus against that of Pope Soter (169-77), and that of Maximinus, Theophilus's successor, against the name of Eleutherus (177-93). This does not mean that Maximinus succeeded Theophilus in 177, but only that Theophilus and Maximinus flourished respectively in the times of Soter and Eleutherus. Lightfoot and Hort showed that Eusebius, having no such precise chronological data for the bishops of Antioch as he had for those of Rome and Alexandria, placed the names of the Antiochene bishops against those of contemporary Roman bishops (Lightfoot, "St. Ignatius", etc., II, 468 sq., and St. Clement", etc., I, 224 sqq.)....The "Ad Autolychum", the only extant writing of Theophilus, is an apology for Christianity. It consists of three books, really separate works written at different times...The author speaks of himself as a convert from heathenism. He treats of such subjects as the Christian idea of God, the Scripture accounts of the origin of man and the world as compared with pagan myths. On several occasions he refers (in connection with the early chapters of Genesis) to an historical work composed by himself...Theophilus commented upon a Diatessaron or Gospel Harmony composed by himself ("Theophilus . . . quattuor Evangelistarum in unum opus compingens") (Bacchus F.J. Transcribed by Herman F. Holbrook. Theophilus. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Protestant scholars Roberts and Donaldson note:

Theophilus occupies an interesting position, after Ignatius, in the succession of faithful men who represented Barnabas and other prophets and teachers of Antioch,2 in that ancient seat, from which comes our name as Christians (Roberts A., Donaldson J. Translated by Marcus Dods. Introductory Note to Theophilus of Antioch. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. American Edition, 1885).

Thus scholars from the major groups endorsing Christianity considered Theophilus to be a leader in the early church.

Theophilus Wrote Against Idols

Here is a little bit of what Theophilus wrote about idols:

We have shown from their own histories, which they have compiled, that the names of those who are called gods, are found to be the names of men who lived among them, as we have shown above. And to this day their images are daily fashioned, idols, "the works of men's hands." And these the mass of foolish men serve, whilst they reject the maker and fashioner of all things and the nourisher of all breath of life, giving credit to vain doctrines through the deceitfulness of the senseless tradition received from their fathers...

The divine law, then, not only forbids the worshipping of idols, but also of the heavenly bodies, the sun, the moon, or the other stars; yea, not heaven, nor earth, nor the sea, nor fountains, nor rivers, must be worshipped (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapters XXXIV,XXXV. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

And concerning piety He says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I am the LORD thy God" ...Of this divine law, then, Moses, who also was God's servant (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book III, Chapter IX. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Since his position so greatly differs from that now held by the Orthodox Church, it is clear that the Orthodox Church itself has not been faithful to the original teachings of some of its early claimed leaders.

Even The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

Long before the outbreak in the eighth century there were isolated cases of persons who feared the ever-growing cult of images and saw in it danger of a return to the old idolatry. We need hardly quote in this connection the invectives of the Apostolic Fathers against idols (Athenagoras "Legatio Pro Christ.", xv-xvii; Theophilus, "Ad Autolycum" II; Minucius Felix, "Octavius", xxvii; Arnobius, "Disp. adv. Gentes"; Tertullian, "De Idololatria", I; Cyprian, "De idolorum vanitate"), in which they denounce not only the worship but even the manufacture and possession of such images. These texts all regard idols, that is, images made to be adored (Fortescue A. Transcribed by Tomas Hancil. Veneration of Images. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Hence, Theophilus held a position that differs from that now held by the Roman Catholics or the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Do Humans Possess Immortality?

Not according to Theophilus.

Here is some of what he wrote about immortality:

When thou shalt have put off the mortal, and put on incorruption, then shall thou see God worthily. For God will raise thy flesh immortal with thy soul; and then, having become immortal, thou shalt see the Immortal, if now you believe on Him; and then you shall know that you have. spoken unjustly against Him (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter VI. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

For if He had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God...so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God...For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XXVII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885, p. 105).

But God at least, the Father and Creator of the universe did not abandon mankind, but gave a law, and sent holy prophets to declare and teach the race of men, that each one of us might awake and understand that there is one God. And they also taught us to refrain from unlawful idolatry, and adultery, and murder, fornication, theft, avarice, false swearing, wrath, and every incontinence and uncleanness; and that whatever a man would not wish to be done to himself, he should not do to another; and thus he who acts righteously shall escape the eternal punishments, and be thought worthy of the eternal life from God (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XXXIV. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Theophilus basically argues that humans are not immortal, but become God when they are immortal. While that is the Church of God (COG) teaching, this is not a position held that way by the Roman Catholic Church, even though it considers Theophilus to have been a bishop. Although the Orthodox Church does teach that Christians are to be God, they seem to teach that humans are currently immortal, hence they are differing from one of their early saints and patriarchs (an article of possible interest may be Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Genuine Church of God; other related articles could include Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality? and Deification: Did the Early Church Teach That Christians Would Become God?).

Did Theophilus Teach The Resurrection?

Theophilus taught the resurrection:

But you do not believe that the dead are raised. When the resurrection shall take place, then you will believe, whether you will or no; and your faith shall be reckoned for unbelief, unless you believe now...Moreover, you believe that the images made by men are gods, and do great things; and can you not believe that the God who made you is able also to make you afterwards? (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter VII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Most groups that profess Christianity will concur that the Bible teaches that there will be a resurrection. An article of related interest may include What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection?

However, Theophilus taught that one would be "born again" at the resurrection:

But the moon wanes monthly, and in a manner dies, being a type of man; then it is born again, and is crescent, for a pattern of the future resurrection (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book II, Chapter XV. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

An article of related interest may include Born Again: A Question of Semantics?

Theophilus and The Ten Commandments

Theophilus taught about the ten commandments:

And on the sixth day God finished His works which He made, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all His works which God began to create...Moreover, [they spoke] concerning the seventh day, which all men acknowledge; but the most know not that what among the Hebrews is called the "Sabbath," is translated into Greek the "Seventh" (έβδομάς), a name which is adopted by every nation, although they know not the reason of the appellation...God having thus completed the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and all that are in them, on the sixth day, rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapters XI, XII, XIX. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885, pp. 99,102).

Now we also confess that God exists, but that He is one, the creator, and maker, and fashioner of this universe; and we know that all things are arranged by His providence, but by Him alone. And we have learned a holy law; but we have as lawgiver Him who is really God, who teaches us to act righteously, and to be pious, and to do good. And concerning piety He says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I am the LORD thy God." And of doing good He said: "Honour thy father and thy mother; that it may be well with thee, and that thy days may be long in the land which I the LORD God give thee." Again, concerning righteousness: "Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, nor his land, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his beast of burden, nor any of his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbour's...Of this divine law, then, Moses, who also was God's servant, was made the minister both to all the world, and chiefly to the Hebrews...Of this great and wonderful law, which tends to all righteousness, the ten heads are such as we have already rehearsed (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book III, Chapter IX. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

In this respect, he greatly differed from Justin Martyr who essentially taught that they were for the Jews and not Christians. Theophilus' position on the ten commandment is much more in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, Paul, John, and New Testament writers (please see the articles What Did Jesus Teach About the Ten Commandments?, Were the Ten Commandments Nailed to the Cross? What Did Paul Actually Teach About the Ten Commandments? Are the Ten Commandment Still in Effect? Were the Pharisees Condemned for Keeping the Law? The Ten Commandments Reflect Love, Breaking them is Evil Was the Commandment to Love the Only Command? and The Ten Commandments and the Early Church).

I should add here that I believe that some of this particular ten heads text on the commandments has been corrupted since Theophilus specifically mentions that he rehearsed ten, yet only nine were in this passage. Textual corruption could have been accidentally or the result of deliberate editing.

While Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches do teach that some version of the ten commandments need to be kept by Christians, many Protestant groups teach that they were nailed to the cross or somehow done away with.

What Did Theophilus Teach About The Sabbath?

Theophilus taught the following about the Sabbath:

And on the sixth day God finished His works which He made, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all His works which God began to create...Moreover, [they spoke] concerning the seventh day, which all men acknowledge; but the most know not that what among the Hebrews is called the "Sabbath," is translated into Greek the "Seventh" (ebdomas), a name which is adopted by every nation, although they know not the reason of the appellation. (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapters XI, XII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Hence it appears likely that Theophilus observed the seventh day Sabbath.

The Syriatic version of Eusebius' Church History notes:

BUT as to Theophilus, concerning whom we have said that he was Bishop of Antioch, there are three treatises by him against Antolycus, and another which is inscribed "Against the heresy of Hermogenes," in which he uses testimonies from the Revelation of John; and there are other books by him which are suitable for teaching. But those, who pertained to heretical doctrine, even at that time like tares were corrupting the pure seed of the doctrine of the Apostles; but the Pastors which were in the churches in every country, were driving them like beasts of the wilderness away from the flock of Christ; at one time by teaching and exhortation to the Brethren, but at another time openly before their faces they contended with them in discussion, and put them to shame; and again, also, by writing treatises they diligently refuted and exposed their opinions. But Theophilus, together with others, contended against them; and he is celebrated for one treatise, which was ably composed by him against Marcion, which, together with the others that I have already mentioned, is still preserved. And after him Maximinus received the Bishoprick of the Church of Antioch, who was the seventh after the Apostles.

But Philip, respecting whom we have learned from the words of Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth,2 that he was Bishop of the church of the city of Gortyna, he also composed with accuracy a treatise against Marcion (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, Syriac version, Book 4 (Extract), Chapter 24. Spicilegium Syriacum (1855). This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2003. Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font/Polytonic Greek. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/spicilegium_7_eusebius4.htm#2 last viewed 05/30/08).

This is of interest because it shows that both Philip and Theophilus wrote against the heretic Marcion (though the document, while apparently available to Eusebius, is currently unavailable). Marcion was the perhaps the first who professed Christ who taught against the observance of the seventh day Sabbath.

The seventh day sabbath was actually observed throughout most of the professing world into the fifth century, in most areas except Rome and Alexander as the historian Sozomen reported in the mid-5th Century:

The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria (Sozomen. THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF SOZOMEN. Comprising a History of the Church, from a.d. 323 to a.d. 425. Book VII, Chapter XIX. Translated from the Greek. Revised by Chester D. Hartranft, Hartford Theological Seminary UNDER THE EDITORIAL SUPERVISION OF PHILIP SCHAFF, D.D., LL.D., AND HENRY WACE, D.D., Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York. Principal of King's College, London. T&T CLARK, EDINBURGH, circa 1846).

An article of related interest may include The Sabbath in the Early Church and Abroad.

What Did Theophilus Teach About The Godhead?

Theophilus' writings on the Godhead are perhaps the biggest concern that those in the real Church of God (COG) would have about his doctrines, especially the part about the Son.

Theophilus taught the following about God the Father:

You will say, then, to me, "Do you, who see God, explain to me the appearance of God." Hear, O man. The appearance of God is ineffable and indescribable, and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. For in glory He is incomprehensible, in greatness unfathomable, in height inconceivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivalled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable. For if I say He is Light, I name but His own work; if I call Him Word, I name but His sovereignty; if I call Him Mind, I speak but of His wisdom; if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath; if I call Him Wisdom, I speak of His offspring; if I call Him Strength, I speak of His sway; if I call Him Power, I am mentioning His activity; if Providence, I but mention His goodness; if I call Him Kingdom, I but mention His glory; if I call Him Lord, I mention His being judge; if I call Him Judge, I speak of Him as being just; if I call Him Father, I speak of all things as being from Him; if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. You will say, then, to me, "Is God angry?" Yes; He is angry with those who act wickedly, but He is good, and kind, and merciful, to those who love and fear Him; for He is a chastener of the godly, and father of the righteous; but he is a judge and punisher of the impious. And He is without beginning, because He is unbegotten; and He is unchangeable, because He is immortal. And he is called God [Qeos] on account of His having placed [teqeikenai] all things on security afforded by Himself; and on account of [qeein], for qeein means running, and moving, and being active, and nourishing, and foreseeing, and governing, and making all things alive. But he is Lord, because He rules over the universe; Father, because he is before all things; Fashioner and Maker, because He is creator and maker of the universe; the Highest, because of His being above all; and Almighty, because He Himself rules and embraces all. For the heights of heaven, and the depths of the abysses, and the ends of the earth, are in His hand, and there is no place of His rest. For the heavens are His work, the earth is His creation, the sea is His handiwork; man is His formation and His image; sun, moon, and stars are His elements, made for signs, and seasons, and days, and years, that they may serve and be slaves to man; and all things God has made out of things that were not into things that are, in order that through His works His greatness may be known and understood. For as the soul in man is not seen, being invisible to men, but is perceived through the motion of the body, so God cannot indeed be seen by human eyes, but is beheld and perceived through His providence and works (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapters III-V. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Theophilus uses so many descriptive terms in a poetic form, that it takes some time to grasp his points. But I believe he is basically saying that no one has seen the Father, the Father is God, the Father is unbegotten, the Father is immortal, and that God is real.

Interestingly about the point about God being angry, Theophilus clearly disagrees with Origen (a later Roman Catholic writer) who denies that fact. Theophilus seems to accept the literal biblical interpretation of biblical verses such as Deuteronomy 1:37;3:26;4:21;9:8;9:19;9:20 which state that God is angry, while Origen denies all of this as allegory (Origen. De Principiis, Book II, Chapter IV, Verse 4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 4.Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

And while Theophilus taught that the Father was unbegotten, he taught apparently the following about the Son:

You will say, then, to me: "You said that God ought not to be contained in a place, and how do you now say that He walked in Paradise?" Hear what I say. The God and Father, indeed, of all cannot be contained, and is not found in a place, for there is no place of His rest; but His Word, through whom He made all things, being His power and His wisdom, assuming the person of the Father and Lord of all, went to the garden in the person of God, and conversed with Adam. For the divine writing itself teaches us that Adam said that he had heard the voice. But what else is this voice but the Word of God, who is also His Son? Not as the poets and writers of myths talk of the sons of gods begotten from intercourse [with women], but as truth expounds, the Word, that always exists, residing within the heart of God. For before anything came into being He had Him as a counsellor, being His own mind and thought. But when God wished to make all that He determined on, He begot this Word, uttered, the first-born of all creation, not Himself being emptied of the Word [Reason], but having begotten Reason, and always conversing with His Reason. And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God," showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him. Then he says, "The Word was God; all things came into existence through Him; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence." The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, He sends Him to any place; and He, coming, is both heard and seen, being sent by Him, and is found in a place (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book II, Chapter XXII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

It is part of this particular teaching about the Son that seems to have an inappropriate translation. Theophilus' writings, at least the translated portions that seem to be available, are probably not written in the manner that most who are unitarian would do would do. It cannot be a true unitarian view, for it admits that the Word is also God.

It seems to be a different way to explain a normal binitarian view--for the binitarian view also presumes the Word was also God from the beginning. My research indicates that the statement being naturally produced from God is a mistranslation. After looking at the original Greek of Theophilus and consulting with the Liddell Scott Greek-English Lexicon with the 1996 supplement (p. 325 and http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=bou%2Flhtai&la=greek&prior=te accessed 07/03/15), that statement seems to be better translated as naturally counseled/willed by God.

Since it is likely that some of Theophilus texts were corrupted (or at least edited), this may be an area that this occurred in or that we simply do not understand a possible idiom. Another possibility is that Theophilus only had limited understanding, and perhaps partial misunderstanding, related to this area. The Bible shows that it is possible that public church teachers (like originally Apollos, see Acts 18:24-26) may not have had proper understanding of certain matters related to the Son.

Theophilus taught the following about the Spirit of God:

...if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath...For as the pomegranate, with the rind containing it, has within it many cells and compartments which are separated by tissues, and has also many seeds dwelling in it, so the whole creation is contained by the spirit of God, and the containing spirit is along with the creation contained by the hand of God (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapters III,V. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

This is my God, the Lord of all, who alone stretched out the heaven, and established the breadth of the earth under it; who stirs the deep recesses of the sea, and makes its waves roar; who rules its power, and stills the tumult of its waves; who founded the earth upon the waters, and gave a spirit to nourish it; whose breath giveth light to the whole, who, if He withdraw His breath, the whole will utterly fail (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapters VII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Therefore, do not be sceptical, but believe; for I myself also used to disbelieve that this would take place, but now, having taken these things into consideration, I believe. At the same time, I met with the sacred Scriptures of the holy prophets, who also by the Spirit of God foretold the things that have already happened, just as they came to pass, and the things now occurring as they are now happening, and things future in the order in which they shall be accomplished (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapters XIV. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

It is not totally clear how Theophilus views the Holy Spirit, though life-giving breath may be close. The above writings suggest that it is the power of God, as opposed to a specific person--in no place does Theophilus suggest that the Holy Spirit is a separate person.

However, it is possible that Theophilus' imperfect understandings of the Son somewhat set the stage for Arianism. And while Alexandria is commonly considered to be the birthplace of Arianism, the Catholic Church seems to believe that it began in Antioch:

Arianism had its original root not in Alexandria but in the great Syrian city, Antioch (Schaeffer F. Transcribed by WG Kofron. The Church of Antioch. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Regarding Arius, here is what The Catholic Encyclopedia records:

He described the Son as a second, or inferior God, standing midway between the First Cause and creatures; as Himself made out of nothing, yet as making all things else; as existing before the worlds of the ages; and as arrayed in all divine perfections except the one which was their stay and foundation. God alone was without beginning, unoriginate; the Son was originated, and once had not existed. For all that has origin must begin to be (Barry W. Transcribed by Anthony A. Killeen. Arianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

And while true Christians will understand that Christ is God and accepts the Son being under the authority of God the Father, we do not accept that He had a beginning (see Hebrews 7:3).

Perhaps, I should add what Herbert W. Armstrong wrote about Arius:

...another controversy was raging, between a Dr. Arius, of Alexandria, a Christian leader who died A.D. 336, and other bishops, over calling God a Trinity. Dr. Arius stoutly opposed the Trinity doctrine, but introduced errors of his own (Armstrong HW. Mystery of the Ages. Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1985, p. 54).

Herbert Armstrong is essentially stating that Dr. Arius' understanding was imperfect--and that would be at least on the point of Jesus at one time not existing.

Overall, though imperfect, it appears that Theophilus probably held a binitarian view of the Godhead. Binitarians historically have held what is referred to as a semi-Arian view.

One Catholic historian, Epiphanius in the mid-4th Century, described the some semi-arians this way:

Semi-Arians...hold the truly orthodox view of the Son, that he was forever with the Father...but has been begotten without beginning and not in time...But all of these blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and do not count him in the Godhead with the Father and the Son (Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80), De Fide). Section VI, Verses 1,1 and 1,3. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, pp.471-472).

The above description is somewhat consistent with those held by the COGs. We believe Jesus was always God and forever with the Father, but once begotten, became the Son.

What About the Trinity?

At risk of repeating some previous quotes, the doctrine of the trinity and Theophilus really needs to be addressed.

The trinity is a doctrine that was not originally taught by the Christian Church, though most seem to think that Theophilus did teach it. However, according to other Roman Catholic sources, it was originally developed by early Gnostic heretics such as Montanus and Valentinus in the mid-2nd Century.

One of the so-called Montanist Oracles was:

"I am the Father and the Son and the Paraclete." (Didymus, De trinitate iii. 41. 1.) (Assembled in P. de Labriolle, La crise montaniste (1913), 34-105, by Bates College, Lewston (Maine) http://abacus.bates.edu/Faculty/Philosophy%20and%20Religion/rel_241/texts/montanism.html 01/31/06).

This is one of the first, if not THE FIRST, references to a trinitarian view of the Godhead (the other earliest one was from the heretic Valentinus). The paraclete is a term used to signify the Holy Spirit (it is from the Greek term parakletos). It should be noted that one of Theophilus' successors, Serapion of Antioch was an anti-Montanist, hence it is likely that Theophilus was as well.

Here is what it is recorded that a one-time Catholic bishop named Marcellus of Ancyra wrote on the nature of God around the middle of the fourth century,

Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God...These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him 'On the Three Natures'.  For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes and Plato (Source: Logan A. Marcellus of Ancyra (Pseudo-Anthimus), 'On the Holy Church': Text, Translation and Commentary. Verses 8-9.  Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Volume 51, Pt. 1, April 2000, p.95 ).

Valentinus also wrote this in the heretical Gospel of Truth,

The Father uncovers his bosom, which is the Holy Spirit, revealing his secret. His secret is his Son! (Valentinus.  Gospel of Truth.  Verse 17.  English translation by Patterson Brown).

Hence Valentinus is the earliest known professing Christian writer to make clear trinitarian hypostasis claims though he, himself, did not come up with the term trinity--Tertullian did. It also should be noted that Valentinus was denounced by Polycarp of Asia Minor, when Polycarp visited Rome as a heretic (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 3, Verse 4) and is considered to have been a heretic by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, most Protestants, and those in the Continuing Church of God.

The position of many religious scholars is that the term 'trinity' (from the Latin trinitas) was first developed by Theophilus and that was 85 years after the last book of the Bible was written. The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches:

In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together...The word trias (of which the Latin trinitas is a translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A.D. 180...Afterwards it appears in its Latin form of trinitas in Tertullian ("De pud." c. xxi) (Joyce GH. The Blessed Trinity. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight).

First of all, it should be understood, that claims of Catholic supporting scholars to the contrary, that Theophilus of Antioch did not teach the trinity or that the Holy Spirit was a person (though Tertullian, who became a Montanist did--the leaders of the churches in Asia Minor and Antioch opposed the Montanists--who taught a type of trinity--before the Romans ever did--see Eusebius Book V, Chapters 18-19). It was not until Tertullian (over 100 years since the Book of Revelation was written) that professing Christian writers suggested the concept of the trinity as now understood.

Here is a mistranslated version of what Theophilus wrote:

In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XV. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

It is mistranslated because trinity is NOT a Greek word. Thus, the proper translation would be:

In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the threes of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man.

Now the trinitarian may argue that this is just a semantics issue and that Theophilus is actually still talking about the trinity. Well, he is not as the third part is what Theophilus is teaching that man becomes. And that is what Theophilus is teaching--that now man is a fourth, but will become part of God, a third part, when humans become God's offspring! And that he seems to see this as the wisdom of God's plan. This seems to support a binitarian view.

Furthermore, I suspect that what Theophilus is actually doing is providing insight to what trinitarians refer to as the "trinitarian formula" for baptism:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

I believe that Theophilus is explaining that Christians becoming God (a concept that he clearly held; see also Deification: Did the Early Church Teach That Christians Would Become God?). And we in the Continuing Church of God believe that we are begotten by the Holy Spirit at baptism to become part of the family of God. And that in a sense, we, true Christians, are those that ultimately will fill this "third part" of the God family.

Notice that Jesus Himself prayed that His followers would be in the same oneness with Him and the Father and He had with the Father:

20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: (John 17:20-22)

Christians are to one with the Father and Son as they are one!

We Christians, after we are resurrected and deified, are the 'third' part of the Godhead that Theophilus was referring to.

Lest anyone suggest that I am reading something into Theophilus that he does not mean (and since he often writes poetically, he is a bit hard to follow), he verifies what I concluded when he wrote:

if I call Him Mind, I speak but of His wisdom; if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath; if I call Him Wisdom, I speak of His offspring (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter III. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Notice that Theophilus refers to the Spirit as God's breath and that he does not refer to it here as "wisdom." Theophilus teaches that we are to be God's offspring! We are to be God in the family of God.

Paul verified that concept when he wrote:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).

Lest anyone suggest that I am reading something further into Theophilus of Antioch's writings that he does not mean, he verifies what I concluded when he wrote:

...so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XXVII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Theophilus did not teach that the Holy Spirit was, or somehow was, one of three persons in any trinity. He simply did not teach the often accepted idea of the trinity.

Furthermore, even trinitarian scholars who believe that Theophilus's writings do support the trinity will admit that the Greek expression used should not be used about the Holy Spirit, though they seem to wish to overlook that.

Note the following false claim and then admission about Theophilus's threeness statement:

An eminent authority says, “It is certain, that, according to the notions of Theophilus, God, His Word, and His wisdom constitute a Trinity; and it should seem a Trinity of persons.” He notes that the title σοφια, is here assigned to the Holy Spirit, although he himself elsewhere gives this title to the Son (book ii. cap. x., supra), as is more usual with the Fathers.” Consult Kaye’s Justin Martyr, p. 157. Ed. 1853. (Footnote 3 from Ante-Nicene Fathers, on To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XV).

That admission is also outrageous. The term "spirit" or "Holy Spirit" is not even in the improperly translated versions of Theophilus' To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XV.

So basically an honest reading of Theophilus' writings are that he NEVER wrote that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were the three persons of the trinity. He wrote that there is a threeness associated with God that includes the Son and the Wisdom of God's offspring.

Was Theophilus was a Quartodeciman?

It appears farily certain that Theophilus was a Quartodeciman. Quartodecimans held to the original date of Passover coming on the 14th of Nisan. I came to that conclusion based upon three pieces of information.

The first is that the account of those who kept a Sunday Passover and were opposed to a Passover on the 14th that Eusebius records, simply does not include Antioch amongst the Sunday supporters (Eusebius. Church History, Book V, Chapter 23).

The second is that others, like R.M. Grant, have concluded that Theophilus "was following a Jewish or Jewish Christian source" and that "in spirit and in content he is very close to Judaism" (as quoted in Pritz R. Nazarene Jewish Christianity. Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1988, p. 75).

The third and strongest evidence is that the following sent by Serapion, the second listed successor to Theophilus of Antioch:

"I have sent you letters of the most blessed Claudius Apollinarius, who was made bishop of Hierapolis in Asia" (Serapion of Antioch. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From the epistle to Caricus and Ponticus. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors; American Edition copyright © 1885. Copyright © 2001 Peter Kirby).

Claudius Apollinaris was a well known Quartodeciman and led the church at the time in Hierapolis, a city in Asia Minor. It is likely that this suggests that up until the time of Serapion, that those in Antioch were also Quartodecimans. And this also seems to have been suggested by Polycrates of Ephesus (and the 4th century historian Eusebius), who wrote about the time of Serapion that the Churches in Asia kept the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, like the Jews (Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapters 23,25). Thus, it is likely that Theophilus of Antioch would have been a Quartodeciman.

After time (and the Council of Nicea), the Roman change to an Easter Sunday observance was agreed to by those who are now part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, but not by the COGs.

Theophilus and Origen

The Bible many times records that God is angry. And while most of those of us in the “literalist” camps believe that God actually does get angry, scholars like the third century Origen did not believe that. Origen, for example, wrote:

But when we read either in the Old Testament or in the New of the anger of God, we do not take such expressions literally, but seek in them a spiritual meaning, that we may think of God as He deserves to be thought of (Origen. De Principiis, Book II, Chapter IV, Verse 4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 4. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

And while there may be a spiritual meaning, there clearly is a literal meaning. Now contrast this with what Theophilus of Antioch wrote c. 180 A.D. and it becomes clear that there were major differences in scriptural interpretation between Antioch and Alexandria (which were similar to the differences between Asia Minor and Rome):

if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. You will say, then, to me, “Is God angry?” Yes; He is angry with those who act wickedly, but He is good, and kind, and merciful, to those who love and fear Him (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter III. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885, p. 90).

Since both Origen and Theophilus disagree, who is right?

Origen who is considered to be an important teacher according to Pope Benedict and the Orthodox Church or Theophilus of Antioch who is considered to be a saint by the Catholics and a successor of the apostles in Antioch?

If we are to rely on the Bible for doctrine, we should be able to see that Theophilus is the one who is clearly correct here. Therefore, those who praise or follow Origen would clearly be of the camp that deviated from proper principles of biblical interpretation at an early date.

Conclusion on Theophilus

Contrary to the position of some scholars, he did not write in support of the current concept of the trinity. Other than the nature of the Son and use of trias issues, which seems unusual (and may possibly be a corrupted/mistranslated text or simply a misunderstanding), the other positions from Theophilus suggest that he supported the doctrines of the true and original church.

Of course, in retrospect, we humans cannot be certain who were or were not true Christians at that time. But it appears that Theophilus may have been one. But even if he was not, the bulk of his writings demonstrate a theology closer to that held by the Continuing Church of God, than the Orthodox or Catholic faiths. And that helps demonstrate that it is the COGs who hold positions most consistent with truly orthodox Christianity, than the majority who now profess Christianity do.

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Thiel B. Theophilus of Antioch. www.cogwriter.com 2006/2007/2008/2012/ 2015 0807