The prologues of Luke and Acts were addressed to Theophilus. It’s been an historical mystery to many Christian scholars regarding who Theophilus was. But plenty of people believe this is a reference to Theophilus of Antioch (Syria).
For many Christians though, this simply won’t do. Theophilus was active in the late 2nd century, and much of the Christian narrative relies on these texts being written much earlier than that (at least 60 years earlier).
I’m firmly in the Theophilus-was-Theophilus-of-Antioch camp, and I think the writer of these prologues that addressed Theophilus was a Johannine in Western Turkey – it just makes more sense than any other plausible alternative. Consider Luke 1:1-2.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the WORD.
The writer refers to Jesus as “the word” (the Logos), and also claims that these stories were “handed down” by eyewitnesses. That’s exactly how a Johannine would put it. Their demiurge was the Logos (“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God”).
Additionally, the narrative that seemed to be invented by Irenaeus, writing at the same time as when Theophilus of Antioch was active, was that the author of the Gospel of John was John the apostle, son of Zebedee. This covers the “first were eyewitnesses” portion of the sentence, as does the Gospel’s Syrian counterpart, the Gospel of Thomas.
There was a rift building between the Johannines in Western Turkey and the Syrian community sometime before the Gospel of John was created, and the rift had to do with how mystical visions should be interpreted, and how much emphasis should be placed on them.
The Johannines were more conservative in this matter of mystical visions, and the Syrians were more liberal. As April Deconick notes:
“The Gospel of Thomas contains logia that reflect a knowledge of Jewish mystical traditions…the presence of these sayings suggests that the community…advocated a mystical experience of God.”
Deconick goes on to note the author of John “…argues that faith replaces vision as the vehicle of transformation” (John 20:29), and the author of John “writes of a pre-existent Logos figure who cohabited with God and was given the sole visionary experience of that God”.
Simultaneously, there was another rift: the rift between the Johannines/Syrians and the Valentinians. Valentinus claimed to be a student of Theudas (Paul’s disciple), and also claimed to have mystical visionary experiences of Jesus; the Valentinians also appear to have used the Gospel of John, so we do see a plausible link between the Johannines and the Valentinians in this complex matrix.
Could this emerging visionary construct have exacerbated the rift between the Johannines and those who were aligned with them – specifically the Ignatius sect in Syria and the Valentinus sect in Alexandria? Were the Valentinians the instigators of the rift between the Johannine and the Syrian communities? Was a battle being waged between the Johannines and the Valentinians to win over the Syrians? Perhaps this detail was what compelled the Johannines to write these “letters” to Theophilus, the Syrian. Moreover, perhaps an urgency related to increasing Valentinian influence over the Syrians is what contributed to Irenaeus’ decision to write “Against Heresies” a decade or two later.
Clearly this rift was in full swing by the 1st quarter of the second century (roughly 125CE). Incidentally, this is the same time when Marcion was accumulating power in the church; therefore, if you are of the opinion that Simon Magus was invented in response to Marcion and his hero, Paul, it would have been sometime between 125 and the 160s when the narrative of Simon Magus was crafted and included in Acts of the Apostles.
If the prologues of Luke and Acts were addressed to the Syrian community, sent by the Johannines, that might indeed imply a cooling of tensions by the latter half of the 2nd century; the Johannine/Syrian rift was replaced by the Johannine/Valentinian rift, or perhaps, the Johannine vs. everyone else rift, if you presume that Irenaeus was a Johannine.
Considering that the Syrian and Western Turkey communities were not too far apart on theology in the first place, this cooling is an easy situation to imagine. But the Johannines’ core texts were included in the canon, and the Syrians’ were not; this adds weight to the notion that Irenaeus was more closely aligned with the Johannines.
In the geographic and theological space between the Johannines and the Syrians was Marcion. As I’ve suggested before, I think it was Marcion’s teacher who was called both Cerdo and Cerinthus. Tradition gives Marcion’s teacher’s name as Cerdo, but that tradition was concocted by people who were writing polemical treatises against Marcion. This is my own speculation, but if Marcion’s teacher was Cerinthus, and you are of the opinion that Cerinthus wrote the Book of Revelation, then the relationship between Marcion and the Johannines begins to have a lot of explanatory power, in terms of how Marcion’s hero, Paul, managed to work his way into the orthodoxy.
Tertullian says this of Marcion:
He Derives His Proofs from St. Luke’s Gospel; That Being the Only Historical Portion of the New Testament Partially Accepted by Marcion
This is an odd detail for Tertullian to note, even moreso because Marcion was already dead by the time Tertullian was writing; however, consider this paradox I’ve just created in my assumption that the prologues of Luke and Acts were written to Theophilus: if Marcion was gaining power in the 120s and 130s, how could he have used a text that was composed for a Syrian church member in the 160s (or later)?
To be fair, there are ways around this paradox. For instance, maybe it was Marcion’s later disciples who used some version of Luke (Lucan perhaps?). Or, it could be that the bulk of the Gospel of Luke existed for a long time before it was written to Theophilus in the 160s.
Consider this detail: some people think Marcion wrote part of the Gospel of Mark. Could the “Partially Accepted” piece of Tertullian’s claim actually be a reference to the Gospel of Mark, the more condensed synoptic gospel, a nuance which may not have been recognized by Tertullian?
It’s an amazing detail how many name duplicates there seem to be in early Christianity: John, Mary, James, Mark. I think the trick that the church tried to play on its members in the 2nd century was to say that there was a Mark the Evangelist who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and we do indeed see a fingerprint of this “Mark the Evangelist” in Alexandria, where he supposedly formed the Christian church of Alexandria in the mid-1st century. 40 years later (so goes the tradition), the pope of Alexandria was named Cerdo. Hmmm…
If Marcion did craft part of the synoptic narrative, that would provide a number of explanations. It would also imply that there is no Q-document, which many scholars suggest supplemented Luke and Matthew’s fictions. Marcion is Q.
So who wrote the prologues to Acts and Luke? It might very well have been Irenaeus prior to his declaration of the official 4-gospel canon. If the Syrians were still using the Gospel of Thomas, sending them Acts and Luke might very well have been with the intention of getting them to replace their core document and replacing them with a Johannine-approved gospel and wisdom.
As to who wrote the core synoptic narrative, I think Marcion, or someone in his circle, played a role in its construction.