This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ephesians known to Theophilus, and the location of Luke-Acts

Here I expand on an argument presented by Aletheia, who observes that Jason (Acts 17:5), Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), and Alexander (Acts 19:33) are mentioned in Acts without introduction, as if they were already known to the intended audience.

Below are all of the named persons in Luke-Acts, giving he language used to introduce them when they are first mentioned. I have divided them into three groups.

The first group contains the 38 persons who are introduced with a phrase of the form "a man named". For example, in Acts 5:1 Ananias is introduced with the phrase, "Ἀνὴρ δέ τις Ἁνανίας ὀνόματι" (But a certain man named Ananias). Acts 18:7 introduces Titius Justus in a similar way: "τινὸς ὀνόματι Τιτίου Ἰούστου" (of a certain man named Titius Justus). Strictly speaking the extra words do not give any additional information about Ananias or Titius Justus, but they do serve to indicate to the reader that the person is being introduced for the first time. Theophilus (or any other reader) then knows not to ask himself questions like, "has this Ananias been mentioned before?", "is this Ananias a famous person whom I am expected to know?", or "Have I met this Titius Justus?". By using a phrase like, "a certain man named", Luke indicates that he is not taking for granted that his audience has background knowledge of the person.

Group 1: Those who are introduced with "named" (or "a certain")
Luke 1:5  there was a priest named Zechariah
Luke 1:5  her name was Elizabeth
Luke 1:27  a man whose name was Joseph
Luke 1:27  The virgin's name was Mary
Luke 2:25  whose name was Simeon
Luke 5:27  a tax collector named Levi
Luke 8:41  there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue
Luke 10:38  where a woman named Martha
Luke 10:39  she had a sister named Mary
Luke 16:20  a poor man named Lazarus
Luke 19:1  a man was there named Zacchaeus
Luke 23:26  they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene
Luke 23:50  a good and righteous man named Joseph
Luke 24:18  then one of them, whose name was Cleopas
Acts 5:1  But a man named Ananias
Acts 5:34  a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law
Acts 7:58  at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Acts 8:9  Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic
Acts 9:10  a disciple in Damascus named Ananias
Acts 9:33  a man named Aeneas
Acts 9:36  a disciple whose name was Tabitha
Acts 9:43  a certain Simon, a tanner
Acts 10:1  a man named Cornelius
Acts 11:28  One of them named Agabus
Acts 12:13  a maid named Rhoda
Acts 13:6  a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus
Acts 16:1  a disciple named Timothy
Acts 16:14  a certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God ...
Acts 17:34  a woman named Damaris
Acts 18:2  a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recetly come from Italy with his wife Priscilla
Acts 18:7  a man named Titius Justus
Acts 18:24  a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria
Acts 19:14  Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva
Acts 19:24  A man named Demetrius, a silversmith
Acts 20:9  A young man named Eutychus
Acts 24:1  an attorney, a certain Tertullus
Acts 27:1  a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius.
Acts 28:7  the leading man of the island, named Publius

Of the remaining persons, many are introduced with a significant piece of information that serves to identify the individual. Often a title is all that is necessary. They are shown in Group 2 below.

Group 2: Those who are given an introduction
Luke 1:5 who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah
Luke 1:5 In the days of King Herod of Judea
Luke 1:13 and you will name him John
Luke 1:19 I am Gabriel
Luke 1:31 you will name him Jesus 
Luke 2:2 while Quirinius was governor of Syria
Luke 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius
Luke 3:1  when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea
Luke 3:1  and Herod was ruler of Galilee
Luke 3:1 and his brother Philip
Luke 3:1 and Lysanias ruler of Abilenne
Luke 3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas
Luke 3:4 the prophet Isaiah
Luke 3:19 Herod the ruler
Luke 3:19 Herodias, his brother's wife
Luke 3:23 He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, etc....
Luke 4:27 Naaman the Syrian
Luke 2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher.
Luke 5:10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
Luke 6:13-14 and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot
Luke 7:40 Simon, I have something to say to you
Luke 8:2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna
Luke 23:18 release Barabbas for us!" This was a man who had been put in prison
Luke 24:10 Mary the mother of James
Acts 1:21 So one of the men who have accompanied us..." So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
Acts 2:16 the prophet Joel
Acts 3:26 And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel
Acts 4:6 with Annas the high priest, CaiaphasJohn, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family
Acts 4:36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas
Acts 5:1  Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira
Acts 6:5 and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, ProchorusNicanorTimonParmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.

Acts 12:1 King Herod
Acts 12:12 the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark
Acts 12:20 Blastus, the kings chamberlain
Acts 13:1 there were prophets and teachers: BarnabasSimeon who was called NigerLucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul.
Acts 13:7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man
Acts 13:21 then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin
Acts 13:22 David son of Jesse
Acts 15:22 Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers
Acts 17:34 including Dionysius the Areopagite
Acts 18:2 Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recetly come from Italy with his wife Priscilla
Acts 18:8 Crispus, the official of the synagogue
Acts 18:12 Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia
Acts 18:17 Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue
Acts 19:22 So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia
Acts 19:29 Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul's travel companions.
Acts 20:4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia.
Acts 21:16 the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple
Acts 23:26 "Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings.
Acts 24:24 when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish,
Acts 22:27 Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus
Acts 23:2 the high priest Ananias
Acts 23:24 Felix the governor
Acts 25:13 King Agrippa and Bernice

Finally, listed in Group 3 below, are the 25 individuals who are mentioned with no introduction at all. In most cases the person was an Old Testament character or public figure who was famous to the original audience. Patriarchs and emperors, for example, required no introduction because everyone knew who they were.

Group 3: Those who are given no introduction
Luke 1:3 most excellent Theophilus (Theophilus was known to himself and those for whom Luke wrote)
Luke 1:5 descendant of Aaron (A major OT character, presumably known to the audience)
Luke 1:16 "the people of Israel"(these words are spoken to Zechariah, who knew of Israel)
Luke 1:17 "with the spirit and power of Elijah"(these words are spoken to Zechariah, who knew of Elijah)
Luke 1:27 house of David (A major OT character, presumably known to the audience)
Luke 1:33 "house of Jacob" (these words are spoken to Mary, who knew who Jacob was)
Luke 1:55 "to Abraham and his descendants" (these words are spoken to Elizabeth, who knew who Abaham was)
Luke 2:1 a decree went out from Emperor Augustus (Everyone knew who Augustus was)
Luke 2:22 the law of Moses (A major OT character, presumably known to the audience)
Luke 11:29 "the sign of Jonah"(Jesus's audience will have known who Jonah was)
Luke 11:31 "the wisdom of Solomon"(Jesus's audience will have known who Solomon was)
Luke 11:51 "from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah"(the lawyers addressed by Jesus here will have known who Abel and Zechariah were)
Luke 17:26 "just as it was in the days of Noah" (the disciples, addressed by Jesus here, will have heard of Noah)
Luke 17:28 "just as it was in the days of Lot"(the disciples, addressed by Jesus here, will have heard of Lot)
Acts 5:36 "For some time ago Theudas rose up" (the council, addressed here, will have heard of Theudas)
Acts 5:37 "After him Judas the Galilean rose up"(the council, addressed here, will have heard of Theudas)
Acts 7:9 "The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph"(the council, addressed here, had heard of Joseph)
Acts 7:16 "from the sons of Hamor in Shechem"(Stephen speaks here as if Hamor is known to his audience. Is he trying to impress the council with his knowledge of scripture?)
Acts 7:40 "saying to Aaron"(the council, addressed here, had heard of Joseph)
Acts 11:28 during the reign of Claudius (everyone had heard of Claudius)
Luke 4:38 he entered Simon's house
Luke 5:8 but when Simon Peter saw it
Acts 12:17 "Tell this to James"

Acts 19:9 the lecture hall of Tyrannus
Acts 19:33 Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward.
Acts 17:5 they attacked Jason's house

The mentions of Simon-Peter and James, shown in brown above fit the same pattern. These were two of the most famous members of the early church. Paul took it for granted that the Galatians and the Corinthians knew of them, so it is not unlikely that Luke too expected his audience to know of them.

The implication of all this, Aletheia argues, is that the hall of Tyrannus, Alexander, and Jason (shown in blue above) were also known to the original audience of Acts. Let us look at each of these three cases in turn.

The hall of Tyrannus
Acts 19:9 reads:
When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (ἐν τῇ σχολῇ Τυράννου). This continued for two years....
The hall of Tyrannus is mentioned abruptly without introduction. This would make sense if the hall of Tyrannus was a famous venue. We might similarly say, "he sang at the Royal Albert Hall" or "she conducted at the Sydney Opera House". The problem is that Paul would not have been able to afford to rent a venue that was famous across the mediterranean. Some later manuscripts add the word τινός after Τυράννου, so that we get "in the lecture hall of a certain Tyrannus. The western text goes further by specifying that Paul used the hall during the hottest hours when the rent for the hall will have been lowest: "in the lecture hall of a certain Tyrannus, from eleven o'clock in the morning to four in the afternoon". All these textual variants seem designed to overcome the problem that Paul would not have been able to afford to rent a venue that was so famous that it required no introduction.

The problem, of course, disappears if Luke's audience was in Ephesus, where the hall of Tyrannus stood. They would have known the place where the faith was introduced to their city, even if it was a modest venue.

Luke followed the same rules when mentioning places and people. Named places that were well known  required no introduction are: Luke 2:1; Luke 2:22; Luke 2:27; Luke 3:3: Luke 4:23, 26; Luke 6:17; Luke 10:12, 13, 30; Luke 11:30; Luke 13:4; Luke 17:11; Luke 18:35; Acts 2:9-11; Acts 4:36; Acts 6:9; Acts 7:2, 4, 10, 11, 16, 29, 30, 36; Acts 8:27; Acts 8:40; Acts 9:2; Acts 9:30; Acts 9:32; Acts 9:36; Acts 11:19-20; Acts 13:4, 6, 13,14; Acts 13:51; Acts 14:25; Acts 16:6-9, 11; Acts 17:1, 10, 15; Acts 18:1, 2, 18, 19, 27; Acts 20:13-15; Acts 21:1, 7; Acts 27:1, 5, 7, 17; Acts 28:12, 13, 15
Lesser-known places are given an introduction:
Luke 1:9 cf Luke 1:21; Luke 1:26; Luke 2:4 cf Luke 2:11, 15; Luke 3:1; Luke 4:31 cf Luke 7:1; Luke 5:1; Luke 7:11; Luke 8:26 cf Luke 8:37; Luke 9:10; Luke 19:29 cf Luke 21:37 & Acts 1:12; Luke 23:33; Luke 23:51; Luke 24:13; Acts 1:19; Acts 3:2 cf Acts 3:10; Acts 3:11 cf Acts 5:12; Acts 8:26; Acts 9:11; Acts 14:6 cf Acts 16:2; Acts 16:12; Acts 27:5, 8, 12, 16, 27; Acts 28:1;

The abrupt mention of Alexander in the Theatre of Ephesus at Acts 19:33 has long puzzled commentators. Much is not clear (to us). Was Alexander was a representative of the (non-Christian) Jews. Was he an artisan like Demetrius, as 2 Tim 4:14 might suggest? Was he a Christian, pushed forward to answer the complaints of the crowd? Or was he the town clark (Acts 19:35). The episode is baffling to us, but it need not have been baffling to readers who knew Alexander.

I argued here that Jason was given the name "Aristarchus", yet Acts, strangely, does not tell us that the two names belonged to the same person. This problem is solved if we suppose that the audience of Acts knew Jason-Aristarchus. The fact that he is mentioned without introduction in Acts 17:5 confirms that he was known to the intended audience of Acts. While Jason was from Thessalonica, there are hints that he did not remain there. He was in Corinth when Rom 16:21 was written, and if he was Aristarchus he was earlier in Ephesus (Acts 19:29) and he later travelled with Paul and Luke (Acts 27:2). We do not know where he settled or in which Christian communities he became well known, so he does not help us to determine the location of the audience of Acts.

It can be shown the Crispus (Acts 18:8) was given the name "Sosthenes"(Acts 18:17). See my article here and further discussion here. Acts 18:17 would have made sense to Luke's audience only if they knew that Sosthenes was Crispus. Since Sosthenes moved to Ephesus (1 Cor 1:1), the Ephesian community of believers would have known him.

Luke expected his audience to already know Alexander, Sosthenes, the hall of Tyrranus, and Jason. Three of these four resided in Ephesus, and the fourth, Jason, may have done. This suggests that Acts was written for the believers in Ephesus.


  1. Interesting!
    Creative idea.
    But I suspect that since there is nothíng new under the (theological) sun, someone else has already proposed this long ago?

    1. Hi Wieland:

      The hypothesis of Ephesus as the location of the readers of Luke has been proposed for serveral authors.

      The first was Goodspeed. It has been proposed by Witetscheck (in a doctoral these) and by the peruan Eduardo Arens, in an excellent paper in Spanish.

      The main argument of this authors is the importance of the speech of Paul to the elders of Ephesus in Miletus.


      Xabier Aletheia

      P.S. Richard, excellent post!