The Case of Eutychus
As Paul was concluding his third missionary campaign, he, along with eight traveling companions, came to Troas on the western coast of provincial Asia. Here they waited for seven days, finally meeting with the saints of that city on Sunday. It may have been early evening when the assembly convened. At some point the brethren ate the Lord’s supper, meditating upon the Savior’s death. Also, the great apostle discoursed to the brethren at length, prolonging his presentation till midnight.
Luke, who was in the company, vividly described the scene. He says there were many “lights” (lampas, an oil-burning vessel) where they met in a room that was on the third floor. Some have questioned the relevance of this allusion to “lights,” suggesting that it is much too trivial to be worthy of a document that professes to be inspired of God. In response, however, we may observe:
(1) This may provide background information for what follows, i.e., the sleep of the youth who fell and was killed (the fumes perhaps generating drowsiness).
(2) It may serve to inoculate against the false charge, later cited by Tertullian (Apology c.8), that the early Christians met in darkness where they practiced strange rituals.
As Paul extended his speech, a young (neanias – signifying between the ages of approximately twenty-four to forty – Arndt, p. 536) man named Eutychus was borne down with “deep sleep.” Suddenly, he fell from the window to the ground below. The Christians rushed down, doubtless to render assistance, but alas, the lad was dead.
Or was he? Some appear to be not so sure. The late William Barclay, who served as Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow, says that when the crowd ran down the stairs, they “found the lad senseless,” but Paul calmed them, asserting that his life was “yet” in him (p. 163). Note the “yet”; it hints that the young man did not actually die. The late F.F. Bruce, of the University of Manchester, in one of his books, wrote the following:
“Luke remembered the occasion vividly because a young man of the community in Troas, Eutychus by name, was overcome by sleep while Paul was talking and fell down from the third-floor window-ledge where he had been sitting. He was knocked unconscious by the fall and his friends feared that he was dead, but Paul hurried downstairs and embraced him (perhaps applying some form of artificial respiration) and assured the others, to their great relief, that Eutychus was still alive” (p. 340).
Richard Oster is a Bible professor at Harding Graduate School in Memphis, Tennessee. In his work on the latter portion of the book of Acts, Oster describes the fall suffered by Eutychus, and then adds his editorial comment: “. . . if the youth was in fact dead.” He subsequently mentions that there was a delay caused by Eutychus’ “injury” (p. 108).
The comments above either explicitly state, or strongly imply, that Eutychus did not die at all; he merely was injured.
It likely will remain a mystery as to why some writers feel so disposed to surgically remove certain miraculous elements from the New Testament, or at least to cast doubt on them.
The following observations are quite in order.
(1) Luke, a physician (Col. 4:14) on the scene, unequivocally says that Eutychus was “dead” (v. 9). Was he not, as an eye-witness, in a better position to judge the matter than a modern commentator, some nineteen centuries removed from the event?
(2) When Paul addressed the situation, he simply said: “His life is in him.” He did not say: “His life is still in him,” or “His life is yet in him.” To add those words to the sacred text manifests a tampering with the word of God.
(3) Luke later comments that Eutychus was brought “alive” (v. 12). One usage of this term is to describe “dead persons who return to life, become alive again” (Arndt, p. 336; cf. Mt. 9:18; Mk. 16:11; Acts 9:41,etc.). If the lad had merely been injured, why stress that he was “brought alive”? To merely mention that the youth was brought again to the assembly would have been entirely sufficient. Weren’t they all alive who returned to the upper room? What was special about this youth? He had been dead!
(4) When Paul was stoned at Lystra on his first missionary journey, Luke records that the apostle was dragged out of the city. He adds that the Jews were “supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19). The point is this. Had Luke wanted to present the idea that the saints in Troas merely “supposed” that Eutychus was dead, when in fact he was only injured, he certainly was capable of expressing that concept, as he did in chapter 14. But that is not what he wrote in chapter 20.
The resurrection of Eutychus brought “comfort” to the saints in Troas for two reasons:
First, it authenticated their religion as genuine. Only God can effect a resurrection. And secondly, it demonstrated that the grave is not the end of human existence. The Creator is able to bring life out of death.
- Arndt, William & Gingrich, F.W. (1967), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago).
- Barclay, William (1955), The Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press).
- Bruce, F.F. (1977), Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
- Oster, Richard (1979), The Acts of the Apostles, Part II (Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing Company).