Theu'das a person incidentally mentioned but once in the New Test. (Ac 5:36), and concerning whom much controversy has arisen.
I. The Name. —This, in the original, is θευδᾶς (a form which likewise occurs in Josephus, Ant. 20:5, 1), and, if Greek, may be for θεοδᾶς, as a contraction of θεόδο τος or θεόδωρος, i.e. God-given=Johanan (comp. Vulg. Theodas). A similar form, θειώδας', occurs in Diogenes Laert. 9:116. If Hebrew (Simonis, Onomast. N.T. p. 72), it may = תּוֹדָה, praise. The Mishna has a similar form, תודים (Bechor. 4:4).
II. Scriptural Statement. —According to Luke's report of Gamaliel's speech before the Jewish Sanhedrim, on the occasion of the first arraignment of the apostles (A.D. 29), Theudas was the leader of a popular tumult some time previously (πρὸ τούτων τῶν ἡμερῶν) (Ac 5:34-36). He is spoken of as a religious impostor of high pretensions (λέγων ειναί τινα ἑαυτόν), to whom a considerable body of adherents (ἀνδρῶν ἀριθμὸς ὡς τετρακοσίων) closely attached themselves (προσεκολ λήθη, προσεκλίθη, A. B.), but who was ultimately slain (ἀνῃρέθη), and his party annihilated (ἐγένοντο εἰς οὐ δέν). Gamaliel, it appears, was counseling prudent and temperate measures towards the apostles. Previous well-known examples, he said, had made it plain that the leaders of a bad cause would soon bring all to ruin, while those of a different kind would be sure to succeed. The first case he appeals to is that of Theudas, as above recited. He then goes on to notice the case of Judas of Galilee, who rose after Theudas in the days of the taxing, and after collecting a considerable band was defeated and slain. Now there can be no doubt that the Judas here spoken of was the Judas Gaulonites of Josephus, or Judas the Galilean, who, in the time of Cyrenius, raised a disturbance by opposing the census then ordered to be taken by the 'Roman government, and was cut off (Josephus, Ant. 18:1, 2; War, 2, 12). Thus far there is no difficulty; it is only by a comparison of contemporaneous history that a discrepancy is alleged as arising.
III. Adjustment of the Account with Josephus. —No insurgent of this name is mentioned by the Jewish historian at the period to which Gamaliel must refer, but he gives statements of several somewhat similar occurrences about that time.
1. A religious impostor (γόης τις ἀνήρ) named Theudas is described by him as having raised a strikingly analogous commotion in the reign of Claudius, when Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judaea. Josephus's account of the matter (Ant. 20:5, 1) is that this fanatic, laying claim to prophetical powers, persuaded a very large body (τὸν πλεῖστον ὄχλον) to follow him to the Jordan, taking their effects along with them, with the assurance that the waters would divide before him as they had done before Elijah and Elisha in the days of old; but being unexpectedly attacked by a squadron of cavalry sent out after him by Fadus, his followers werb killed: or taken prisoners, and the leader himself, being taken, was beheaded. The reign of Claudius and the procuratorship of Fadus fix this incident at about A.D. 44, i.e. some fifteen years later than the delivery of Gamaliel's speech; and some forty after the scriptural event, since Luke places his Theudas, in the order of time, before Judas the Galilaean, who made his appearance soon after the dethronement of Arcbelaus, i.e. A.D. 6 or 7 (Josephus, War, 2, 8, 1; Ant. 18:1,6; 20:5, 2).
Now, if we are to regard it as certain that there was only one Jewish insurgent named Theudas, it follows that either Luke or Josephus must be guilty of a chronological blunder. The hypothesis that Josephus has misplaced Theudas, though not impossible, and maintained by Michaelis (Einleit. in N.T. 1, 63) and Jahn (Archceöl. 2, 2), is a way of cutting the knot which no unbiased critic would desire to resort to. That the error is Luke's, though taken for granted by most modern German critics (Eichhorn, De Wette, Credner, Meyer, Baur, etc.), is even more improbable when we take into account the great historical accuracy of his narrative, which closer researches are continually placing in a stronger light, and the date of the publication of the Acts. (It may not be amiss to remind the reader of some fine remarks, in illustration of Luke's historical accuracy, in Tholuck's Glaubwürdigkeit der evang. Geschichte, p. 161- 177, 375-389. See also Ebrard, Evangelische Kritik, p. 678 sq.; and Lechler, Das Apostolische Zeitalter, p. 6 sq.) Few things are, therefore, less credible than that a careful author like Luke, writing within a few years of the event, should have been betrayed into such a glaring historical mistake as antedating the insurrection of Theudas by nearly half a century. That he should have done this by an intentional prolepsis, as is supposed by some (Vales. Ad Euseb. H. E. 2, 11), is as completely at variance with the simplicity and unartistic character of his narrative. It is the height of injustice to charge that the writer of the Acts either fabricated the speech put into the mouth of Gamaliel, or that he carelessly or surreptitiously wrought into it a transaction which took place forty years or more after the time when it is said to have occurred (see Zeller, Die Apostelgeschichte, p. 132 sq.).
But without resorting to either of these violent methods, the difficulty may be solved with perfect satisfaction by the simple hypothesis that there were two insurgents of the same name. Since Luke represents Theudas as having preceded Judas the Galilean (q.v.), it is certain that he could not have appeared later, at all events, than the latter part of the reign of Herod the Great. The very year, now, of that monarch's death was remarkably turbulent; the land was overrun with belligerent parties, under the direction of insurrectionary chiefs or fanatics (ἕτερα μυρία θορύβων ἐχόμενα τὴν Ι᾿ουδαίαν κατελάμβανε, Josephus, Ant. 17:12,4). The whole of these, with three exceptions, are passed over by Josephus without particularizing their leaders, so that it need create little surprise that one in which comparatively so small a number were concerned (Gamaliel's 400 can hardly be made to tally with Josephus's πλεῖστος ὄχλος) should have been omitted by him, or spoken of in equally general terms. The name Theudas was one of no infrequent occurrence (see above), while the fact that there were as many as three impostors of the name of Simon (Josephus, Ant. 17:12, 6; 20:4, 2), besides Simon Magus, and as many Judases (ibid. 17:12, 5; War, 1, 33, 2-4), mentioned by Josephus in the space of about ten years increases the probability that there may have been two named Theudas in the space of forty years. This mode of reconciling Luke with Josephus, which has commended itself to such critics as Beza, Scaliger, Casaubon, and Bengel, in earlier times, and Kuinol, Olshausen, Winer, and Ebrard, in later days, is ably supported by Anger (De Temp. in Act. Apost. Ratione, p. 185), and also by Lardner (Credibility, 1, 404-414), who remarks that "it is not at all strange that-there should be two impostors in Judaea of the same name in the compass of forty years, and that they should come to the same end; on the contrary, it is strange that any learned man should find this hard to believe." So impartial a witness as Jost, the historian of the Jews (Geschichte der Israeliten, 2, Anh. p.76), admits the reasonableness of such combinations, and holds in this case to the credibility of Luke, as well as that of Josephus. Moreover Jsephus was by no means infallible, as Strauss and critics of his school may almost be said to take for granted; and it is possible certainly (this is the position of some) that Josephus himself may have misplaced the time of Theudas, instead of Luke: who is charged with that oversight. Calvin's view that Judas the Galilean appeared not after, but before, Theudas (μετὰ τοῦτον =insuper vel praeterea), and that the examination of the apostles before the Sanhedrim occurred in the time of Claudius (contrary to the manifest chronological order of the Acts), deserves mention only as a way mark of the progress which has been made in Biblical exegesis since his time.
2. Another explanation (essentially different only as proposing to identify the person) is that Luke's Theudas may have been one of the three insurgents whose names are mentioned by Josephus in connection with the disturbances that took place about the time of Herod's death. Sonntak (Theol. Stud. u. Kritik. 1837, p. 622, etc.; translated in the Biblioth. Sacra, 1848, p. 409 sq.) has advanced this view, and supported it with much learning and ability. He argues that the Theudas referred to by Gamaliel, is the individual who occurs in Josephus under the name of Simon (War, 2, 4, 2; Ant. 17:10, 6), a slave of Herod, who attempted to make himself king amid the confusion which attended the vacancy pf the throne when that monarch died. He urges the following reasons for that opinion: first, this Simon, as he was the most noted among those who disturbed the public peace at that time, would be apt to occur to Gamaliel as an illustration of his point; secondly, he is described as a man of the same lofty pretensions (ειναι ἄξιος ἐλπίσας παῤ ὁντιονῦν = λέγων ειναί τινα ἑαυτόν); thirdly, he died a violent death, which Josephus does not mention as true of the other two insurgents; fourthly, he appears to have had comparatively few adherents, in conformity with Luke's ὡσεὶ τετρακοσίων; and, lastly, his having been originally a slave accounts for the twofold appellation, since it was very common among the Jews to assume a different name on changing their occupation or mode of life. It is very possible, therefore, that Gamaliel speaks of him as Theudas because, having borne that name so long at Jerusalem, he was best known by it to the members of the Sanhedrim; and that Josephus, on the contrary, who wrote for Romans and Greeks, speaks of him as Simon because it was under that name that he set himself up as king, and thus acquired his foreign notoriety (see Tacit. -Hist. 5, 9).
3. Wieseler (Chronicles Synops. of Gospels, transl. p. 9092) considers Luke's Theudas to have been the same with Matthias or Matthew, the son of Margaloth (Matthias = מִתַּיָּה being the Hebrew form of θεόδοτος = θευδᾶς), of whom Josephus (Ant. 17:6, 2-4) gives a detailed account as a distinguished teacher among the Jews, who, in the latter days of Herod the Great, raised a band of his scholars to effect a social reform in the spirit of the old Hebrew constitution, by "destroying the heathen works which the king had erected contrary to the law of their fathers." A large golden eagle, which the king had caused to be erected over the great gate of the Temple, in defiance of the law that forbids images or representations of any living creatures, was an object of their special dislike, which, on hearing a false report that Herod was dead, Matthias and his companions proceeded to demolish; when the king's captain, supposing the undertaking to have a higher aim than was the fact, came upon the riotous reformers with a band of soldiers, and arrested the proceedings of the multitude. Dispersing the mob, he apprehended forty of the bolder spirits, together with Matthias and his fellow-leader Judas. Matthias was burned. Now, had we used the term Theudas for the term Matthias, the reader would at once have seen that what we have just given from the more minute narrative of Josephus is only a somewhat detailed statement of the facts of which Gamaliel gave a brief summary before the Sanhedrim. The chronological difficulty then disappears. Matthias, or Theudas, appeared "before these days," before Judas of Galilee, and before the census; he appeared, that is, some four years anterior to the birth of our Lord.
4. Other identifications are those of Usher (Ann. p. 797) and Zuschlag, who regard Theudas as the same person with Judas the robber (Josephus, Ant. 17:10, 5), or with Theudion (ibid. 4, 2). Such attempts arise from an unwillingness to acquiesce in the fragmentary character of the annals of the period, and are simply curious as efforts of ingenuity. —
IV. Literature. Among the works, in addition to those already mentioned, which discuss this question or touch upon it are the following: Casaubon, Exercit. Antibaron. 2, 18; Neander, Geschichte der Pacmung, 1, 75, 76; Heinrichs, Exerc. ad Act. 2, 375; Guericke, Beitrdge zür Einleit. ins N. Test. p. 90; Baumgarten, Apostelgeschichte, 1, 114; Lightfoot, Hot. Heb. 2, 704; Biscoe, History of the Acts, p. 428; Wordsworth, Commentary, 2, 26; and the monographs De Theuda by Gros (Viteb. 1697), Kling (Hafn. 1714), and Scheuffelhut (Lips. 1774).
Theurgists, those mystics who claim to hold converse with the world of spirits, and to have the high power and prerogative of working miracles, not by magic, but by supernatural endowment. Among these may be mentioned Apollonius of Tyana, Peter of Alcantara, and the large company of Romish saints.