Monday, July 11, 2011

Eutychus: Bored to Death?

Who fell out of a balcony while Paul was preaching? Eutychus (Act 20:9)

During, his third “missionary journey”, Paul and his entourage stayed in Troas for seven days (Acts 20:6). The only event recorded from this sojourn is a peculiar incident involving a young man named Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12). The name “Eutychus” appears in only one verse of the Bible (Acts 20:9). Its origins are pagan and it means “fortunate”. Eutychus’ name was Lucky.

Fortunately, Eutychus heard the apostle Paul preach. Unfortunately, Paul’s sermon dragged on until after midnight and as Paul continued unabated, Eutychus fell into a deep sleep (Acts 20:7). Unfortunately, Eutychus fell off the third story ledge he was sitting on to his death (Acts 20:9). Fortunately, his luck had not run out as an apostle was on hand to revive him after literally preaching him to death (Acts 20:10). Fortunately or unfortunately (depending upon your perspective), after partaking of some light refreshments, an undeterred Paul continued preaching until daylight as if nothing irregular had happened (Acts 20:11). It would have been very fortunate if Paul was preaching on the resurrection as Eutychus might have been the best object lesson ever.1

Have you ever fallen asleep in church? What is the most bored you have ever been in church? (If it was during one of my sermons, please do not tell me.)

There is some debate as to whether or not Eutychus actually died. The text states that he was “picked up dead” (Acts 20:9, NASB) but when Paul reaches the young man ,the apostle diagnoses that “life is in him” (Acts 20:10, NASB). Commentators including William Barclay (1907-1978) and F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) contend that Eutychus did not die from the fall. I suppose, in the terms of The Princess Bride, Eutychus was “mostly dead”.

Regardless of his condition, Paul restores Eutychus and he returns home fully recovered (Acts 20:12). If he did die, Eutychus is the last person resurrected in the Bible.

Why is this story included in the Bible? To illuminate the dangers of falling asleep in church or sitting in the balcony? To provide consolation to preachers whose parishioners sleep during sermons? To deter preachers from speaking for hours on end? To demonstrate that one should persist in doing what they feel God has called them to even if someone drops dead in front of them? Is it merely for comedic effect?

Some feel Eutychus’ story may have answered a false charge, later cited by Tertullian (160-220, Apology c.8), that the early Christians performed esoteric rituals under cover of night. Dennis R. MacDonald, who correlates the Bible with mythology, draws parallels between Eutychus and the character of Elpenor in Homer’s The Odyssey.

Are there any insignificant stories in the Bible?

While its doctrinal merits can be debated ,the story of Eutychus is a beautiful picture of the divine invading a seemingly mundane, all too human event. May God do the same for us.

1Note: The format of the retelling of the Eutychus story in the second paragraph is based upon the children’s book Fortunately by Remy Charlip (b. 1929).

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