Theophilus of Antioch – 160-180s AD

Theophilus of Antioch – 160s-180s AD

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In the mid-second century, a number of anti-Semitic and anti-Sabbatarian teachers arose. Rome and Alexandria seemed to be the centers of this movement. Despite this development, there were still many Christians who held to the commandments of God. Among them was a special man named Theophilus.

Theophilus was the Bishop of Antioch and the sixth Bishop of the city since the time of the Apostles. He and others, like Polycarp, opposed heretics such as Marcion. He taught strongly and positively about the importance of 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” (ebdomas), a name which is adopted by every nation, although they know not the reason of the appellation” (To Autolycus, book 2, Chapters 11-12).

“Wherefore also on the fourth day the lights were made. The disposition of the stars, too, contains a type of the arrangement and order of the righteous and pious, and of those who keep the law and commandments of God. For the brilliant and bright stars are an imitation of the prophets, and therefore they remain fixed, not declining, nor passing from place to place. And those which hold the second place in brightness, are types of the people of the righteous. And those, again,, which change their position, and flee from place to place, which also are cared planets, they too are a type of the men who have wandered from God, abandoning His law and commandments” (To Autolycus, book 2, Chapters 15).

“… if he [mankind] should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality…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” (To Autolycus, book 2, Chapters 27).

“…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…Of this great and wonderful law, which tends to all righteousness, the ten heads are such as we have already rehearsed…” (To Autolycus, book 3, Chapters 9).

Notice that Theophilus had a significant emphasis on obedience to the Ten Commandments. He respected God’s law. He also reiterated that God rested on the seventh day and that “all men acknowledge” this day as the Sabbath. He also noted that the term Sabbath is retained in the languages of every nation. Many languages today still reflect this. Josephus said Biblical practices such as the Sabbath had spread to every nation on earth (Appion 2.40). In other places he spoke strongly against idols (bk 1:10, bk 2:34-35, bk 3:9).

Eusebius, a fourth century historian, mentions the stand he took against heresy and the anti-Sabbatarian teachers: “Of Theophilus, whom we have mentioned as bishop of the church of Antioch…another writing entitled Against the Heresy of Hermogenes, in which he makes use of testimonies from the Apocalypse of John, and finally certain other catechetical books… And as the heretics, no less then than at other times, were like tares, destroying the pure harvest of apostolic teaching…And that Theophilus also, with the others, contended against them, is manifest from a certain discourse of no common merit written by him against Marcion” (Eusebius, Church History, Book 4, Chapter 24).

In future articles, we will review the heretics that rose in the second century and why believers like Theophilus became so instrumental to continue the faith once delivered to the saints.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President –



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