Monday, March 31, 2008

"Your Son Lives" (John 4:46-54)

In John 4:46-54, John tells the story of Jesus healing the son of a nobleman of Capernaum. I used to think that this story was kind of plain vanilla, especially when compared with the stories nearby - Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the paralytic of Jerusalem. But it turns out, as you might suspect, that there is more than meets the eye.
  1. In each scene, John shows Jesus confronting, replacing or fulfilling a major institution of Judaism. Jesus is compared with purification rituals and the Temple (ch. 2), with a great rabbi (ch. 3), with a sacred well (ch. 4), and with the sabbath (ch. 5). In this scene, Jesus is compared with the rulers of Israel.
  2. The story has similarities to the healing of the centurion's servant (Matt 8:5-9) in that it involves healing at a distance in Capernaum. The The Gospel of John, a great movie, depicts this scene as if it were the same as Matthew's. But John tells the story with a Herodian nobleman and his son, not a centurion and his servant.
  3. Most scenes in John show Jesus as the source of life, echoing the idea found in John 1:3-4. The nobleman says "come, before my child dies;" Jesus says "go, your son lives" (4:50); the servants say "his child lives" (4:52); the nobleman remembers that Jesus said "your son lives" (4:53). Repeating it three times, as well as ending the account with the saying, tells us that John thinks it is important: Jesus is the source of life.
  4. Jesus uses the same words as Elijah does when he raises the son of the widow of Zarephath (ze ho huios, in Greek; see LXX 1 Kings 17:22). This may be an intentional allusion. Jesus is elsewhere compared to Elijah; here, he is seen as greater than Elijah by healing at a distance. (Paul does something similar in Acts 20:7-12; see this post).
  5. John is encouraging faith, as he often does. Jesus begins by pointing out the shortfall of signs-based faith (John 4:48). The nobleman then "believed the word that Jesus said" before he saw the miracle (4:50); then "he himself believed" after seeing his son, along with his whole household (4:53). He is a model believer - his faith grows, and through him, others come to believe.
  6. Most scenes in John have a foreshadowing of the death of Jesus. This one doesn't, but I don't know why.

The picture: The Healing of the Official's Son, from Auslegung der Episteln vnd Euangelien..., by Martin Luther, published 1544 (Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Three Days and Three Nights

Earlier this week I posted on the meaning of Jesus' three days in the tomb. Here are some other random thoughts on the three days:
  • Some sticklers notice that Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is only a day and a half, not three days. Greek writings, especially those written by Jews, used three phrases interchangeably: "three days and three nights" "after three days" and "on the third day." All mean something like "the day after tomorrow." I have seen the phrases used interchangeably in the Gospels, in Josephus, and in Esther 4:16-5:1.
  • Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after four days (John 11:17); mentioning the four days shows how certain it was that Lazarus was dead. In the same way, Jesus' three days in the tomb shows the certainty of his death. (Later rabbinic documents show that some Jews believed that it was possible to raise someone from the dead, but only in the first three days; that might be interesting, but we have no idea if Jews at the time of Jesus believed that).
  • Many Christians throughout history have believed that Jesus went to hell during the three days, either experiencing full punishment for our sins, or releasing OT faithful from imprisonment, or preaching to the damned (the so-called "harrowing of hell"). However, the four gospels say nothing about where Jesus was. Some interpret 1 Pet 3:18-20 to mean that Jesus was in hell; but most NT scholars don't think that's what Peter meant.

The picture: "Descent to Hell" by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308. Jesus is shown trampling Satan and helping Adam and Eve up.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Andrew and the Jelly Bean Crisis

Andrew Mandrew is my nickname for our three-year-old, Andrew. His name means "manly," so that's where the "Mandrew" came from. We have six sons, but I think Andrew beats them all for mischief. Here's a brief list of the havoc he has wreaked in the last several months:
  • Poured gallons of water on the bathroom flour
  • Poured flour all over the kitchen
  • Opened a child-safe bottle of Tylenol (yes, emergency-room visit resulted, but he didn't eat any)
  • Opened a child-safe bottle of Zyrtec (a children's decongestant)
  • Ate handfuls of sugar, leaving himself and the kitchen sticky
  • Snuck outside and opened the car doors partially, causing the battery to die
  • Poured salt all over the kitchen
  • Ate several Tums
  • Took handfuls of frosting from a cake left out to cool
  • Poured salt all over his bed
  • Got into the Easter candy a week early and ate all of his and one brother's candy
  • Poured water into the sugar container
  • Microwaved a Hot Wheels car until it burst into flames
  • Poured out at least three bottles of shampoo over toilet, counter, and tub
  • Covered his body with postage stamps
  • Watered the dog and dog house (maybe he thought they would grow)
  • Watered his car seat when it was left in the garage
  • Covered his arms in bandaids
  • Rubbed chocolate into the carpet
  • Squeezed a whole bottle of neosporin onto the bathroom counter
  • Poured out a whole jar of peanut butter (pure kind, so it pours)
  • Colored his arms with a marker
  • Destroyed his brothers' carefully made Lego models
  • Rubbed toothpaste all over the counter
  • Colored his face with a marker
  • Destroyed his brother's artwork
  • Turned on the hose and flooded the side yard
  • Destroyed his mother's artwork
  • Stuck a jelly bean so far up his nose that we almost had to take him to the emergency room (the most recent offense, which stimulated today's blog)

What's amazing is how happy he remains throughout all the chaos, or maybe it's because of the chaos.

So no scripture interpretation blog for today. But after rushing home from work to help deal with the Jelly Bean Crisis, I had to blog about Andrew. For those of you anxious for Bible blogs, I will post another by Friday.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why Three Days?

Why do the Gospel accounts emphasize that Jesus was dead three days? By my count, there are 26 references to the three days of Jesus' death in the New Testament. In Matt 12:40, Jesus gives us a hint about its significance: "For just as 'Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale,' so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth," quoting Jonah 1:17.

Another hint can be found in Luke 18:33, where Jesus says "they will kill him, and on the third day, he will rise." The phrase in italics is almost identical to Hosea 6:1-3 (in the LXX, the Greek Old Testament): "the Lord... has seized and he will heal us, he will strike and he will bandage us. He will heal us after two days, on the third day we will rise, and we will live before him."

These two Old Testament passages have something in common. Both of them, read in their orginal contexts, describe how God brought wrath on someone, but then rescued. Jonah cries out "I cried for help from the depth of Sheol [the grave]; you heard my voice... the earth with its bars was around me forever, but you have brought up my life from the pit" (Jonah 2:2-9). Hosea 6 in a similar way describes God's restoration of his people who experienced his wrath.

Jesus picks up this theme in his predictions of his death and resurrection. Like Jonah, Jesus would experience God's wrath, but after three days he would come up from "the depth of Sheol;" like Israel in Hosea, Jesus would be healed by the God who wounded. Jesus' prediction of "three days" was thus designed to recall these OT examples of faith that God would deliver; it probably also teaches that Jesus would suffer the wrath of God before his vindication and resurrection.

The picture above is a portrayal of the women at the empty tomb. It comes from The Brick Testament - a very interesting website, but occasionally rather warped.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Romans 1 Radio Show

Today I had the pleasure of being a guest on a local radio show, YFC for Parents. I have known Keli'i Akina, the host, since my days in Youth For Christ twenty years ago. Keli'i asked me to come on the show and talk through a passage of Scripture together. The goal was to show how we can interpret Scripture and how we can talk together about its meaning and application. Keli'i decided to pick a passage just before we recorded so that we could talk through it without formal preparation. We both thought the discussion was profitable, but I would love to hear your feedback, since we are considering doing more shows like it.

If you would like to hear the show, it will be broadcast in two parts on KGU 760. The first should be Tuesday, April 1st at 6:00 pm, and the second on on Tuesday April 8, at 6:00 pm. It will also be available in a month or so as a podcast here. (By the way, I am not in the picture - but Keli'i is the one on the right)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jesus' Post-Resurrection Teachings and Gnosticism

The only ancient documents that speculate much about Jesus' post-resurrection teaching are the Gnostic gospels, written one to three centuries after his death. Gnosticism began in the second century AD; it was a religious system that incorporated beliefs from many religions, including Christianity. However, its basic beliefs about God, Jesus, and salvation were incompatible with the message found in the New Testament. The solution that many Gnostics found was to write their own accounts of Jesus' teachings in which Jesus sounds more like a Gnostic. In order to seem more authentic, these gospels were falsely attributed to people like Judas, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Philip, Peter, and others. In many of these gospels, these Gnostic beliefs were only communicated by Jesus secretly to a few of his disciples in the days after his resurrection.

So it is probably a mark of the genuineness of the NT accounts that they do not record any post-resurrection teaching of Jesus that is fundamentally different from his earlier teaching. Jesus had already taught about his coming death and resurrection, the founding of the church, and his return; after the resurrection, he added little (for more on these themes, see posts here and here). Perhaps Jesus did not need to to add much; after all, almost everything that the apostles wrote about is a development of these three themes.

The picture above shows Jesus appearing to Peter and John; it is found in a book entitled Das Plenarium oder Ewangely Buoch (a set of gospel readings for masses), published in 1516.

What Did Jesus Teach After the Resurrection? (Part II)

In the last post, I summarized Jesus' post-resurrection teaching. Jesus taught about:
  • his death and resurrection
  • the church
  • his return

The NT authors left us only a few significant summary statements about each of these topics, although Acts suggests that Jesus taught on more than one occasion over the 40 days after the resurrection. He did not teach constantly, however, as the limited list of resurrection appearances (1 Cor 15) suggests. We do know that he talked for a few hours on at least one occasion (Lk 24).

However, it is not unusual for the NT authors to summarize Jesus' teachings. Jesus' entire early preaching ministry is summed up with a single sentence, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news" (Mk 1:16). Even the Sermon on the Mount is probably a summary of a much longer sermon. It can be read aloud in less than twenty minutes, yet we know that Jesus routinely taught all day (Mk 6:34-35). The gospel writers were comfortable giving accurate summaries of Jesus' teachings. It is reasonable to guess that Jesus did not say anything else of great significance beyond what is recorded in the NT, or one of the eyewitnesses would have recorded it.

As you celebrate Easter, meditate on what Jesus thought was most important before he ascended: his death and resurrection, the meaning of the church, and Jesus' return. These three themes also dominate our celebration of the Lord's Supper: as one body, we share in the cup and the bread (1 Cor 10:16-17) and we "proclaim the Lord's death until he returns" (1 Cor 11:26).

The picture above is from a Chinese Bible of the 1800s; it portrays Jesus' appearance to the disciples in the locked room.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What did Jesus Teach After the Resurrection?

My friend wrote me a question about Jesus' post-resurrection teaching (by the way, feel free to post other questions and I will try to tackle them). Why is it that we have so much of Jesus' teaching before his death, but very little after his resurrection? First, let's list what we know about Jesus' teaching during those approximiately forty days:
  • Instructions to inform other disciples about his resurrection (Mt 28:10; John 20:17-18)
  • Demonstration that the resurrection was in a new body - thus showing that the new covenant age had begun (Lk 24:38-43; John 20:27)
  • Explanation of how Jesus' death and resurrection fulfills the OT prophecies (Lk 24:25-27, 44-46)
  • Blessing on those who believe in his resurrection (John 20:29)
  • Foundation of the church with people from all nations as disciples (aka the Great Commission) (Mt 28:19-20; Lk 24:47; Acts 1:8; John 20:21, 23)
  • Promise of the Holy Spirit and/or giving of the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8; John 20:22)
  • Restoration and re-appointment of Peter (John 21:15-19)
  • Unspecified teaching about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3)
  • Unknown time of the fully restored kingdom (Acts 1:6-7)
  • Promise to be with his disciples to the end (Matt 28:20)
Notice three basic categories. Jesus teaches about
  1. his death and resurrection (its nature, significance, and connection to the OT)
  2. the founding of the church (its nature, its source of power, and its human leadership)
  3. Jesus' return (the unknown time, the restoration of the kingdom, and Jesus' presence until then).

I'll post more on this topic in the next few days. I'd love to finish now, but my sons are informing me that it's time to begin a sacred Maundy Thursday ritual. It will be held at the Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park. :)

The picture above is a stained glass depiction of Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalene. It is displayed in Trinity Church, New York, and was designed by by Sir Edward Burne-Jones in the late 1800s.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jesus' Birthday

I just came across an excellent article about the date of Jesus' birth by Paul Meier, a prominent New Testament scholar. Since it is rather long and technical, I will summarize it here.

We celebrate Jesus' birthday on December 25, but it is quite unlikely that he was born on that day. That date was picked out in the fourth century, most likely as a replacement celebration for the winter solstice or other pagan holidays.

Paul Meier suggests a birthday in November. This is based on two pieces of data. First, Luke's nativity story begins with the account of Zachariah's service in the Temple at the assigned time for his priestly division (Abijah). A few weeks later, his wife conceives; six months later, Mary conceives; nine months after that, Jesus is born. Since Zachariah's priestly division served in late July to early August (according to some educated guesswork based on early rabbinic documents), Jesus would have been born in November.

By itself, that would not be very strong evidence. However, that date is backed up by the very earliest reference to Jesus' birth date. Clement of Alexandria, one of the church fathers, wrote in AD 194 that Jesus was born 194 years, one month, and 13 days before the murder of emperor Commodus - a significant event that occurred on December 31, AD 192. (By the way, Commodus is the same emperor fictionally depicted in the movie Gladiator). Although Clement seemed to get the year wrong, he may well have had the correct day - November 18.

Many people already know that Jesus was, ironically, born BC. The sixth-century monk Dionysius Exiguus, inventor of our BC / AD system, made two errors. First, he was off by about four or five years; and second, he forgot to include a year zero. Our calendar goes directly from 1 BC to AD 1, which throws off computations.

How do we calculate the correct year? Herod the Great, who figures prominently in Matthew's birth account, died in March of 4 BC (a date pinned down by a lunar eclipse recorded in Josephus' history). Jesus must have been born before then. He may have been born as early as 7 BC, but several details suggest that 5 BC is the most likely year. If so, Herod died only four months after his attempt on Jesus' life.

So Jesus' birthday, by Paul Meier's cautious estimate, is November 18, 5 BC. Any one planning on moving your Christmas celebration to before Thanksgiving? If you do so this year, be sure to put 2012 candles on the cake (AD 2008 + 5 BC - 1 for Dionysius' mistake).

In the end, the day or even the year of Jesus' birth is not certain, like the birthdates of most other ancient people. Nor is that date terribly important. But it reminds us that Jesus is a real historical person; his life can be investigated using the normal methods of historical inquiry. He is not merely a convenient, timeless myth or an artificial object of faith.

The picture: a Korean portrayal of the nativity, by Ki Chang Kim.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Enough of Eutychus Already

One of my friends asked if my blog would be about something besides Eutychus. "But why?" I asked. "Everything you need to know about life you can learn from Eutychus." All Eutychus, all the time.

OK, maybe not. But one more post on Eutychus will help provide the final touches to the story. To understand the heart of the story, read the last post on the topic. But there are some other interesting side notes to the story that make it come alive even more.
  • It was the Easter season (Acts 20:6, "Unleavened Bread"). Quite likely, Paul was preaching about the death and resurrection of Christ before Eutychus died and was raised.
  • The church was meeting on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). This is perhaps the first reference to the Christian practice of worshipping on Sunday. At first, Christians worshipped on the Jewish Sabbath, which is sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Christians increasingly began to worship on Sunday, apparently to have a weekly celebration of the resurrection of Christ. They also met during the week in people's homes (Acts 2:46).
  • Since it was Sunday, that means Eutychus and the rest of the church had worked all day. Jews and Christians originally rested on the Friday/Saturday Jewish Sabbath. Pagan Romans and Greeks did not keep a weekly rest day (in fact, they sometimes mocked Jews for this practice). However, Roman law protected the Jewish right to observe the Sabbath. There was not yet a Sunday rest custom, and Roman law would not have granted it. This probably explains Eutychus' sleepiness - he worked all day, and then listened to Paul teaching in a warm room for several hours.
  • The Christians at Troas met "to break bread." This probably included both a meal together and the celebration of the Lord's Supper, much like Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22. Paul condemned the practice in Corinth only because they were misusing it - some going hungry, some overeating and getting drunk.
  • Eutychus is described as a "young man" (Greek neanias) and "boy" (pais). It was common to use the second term to describe a boy aged 10-14 (although it can be used in other ways).
  • When Paul goes downstairs to find Eutychus dead, he stretches himself out on the dead boy and embraces him (Acts 20:10). Why? Paul is imitating Elijah and Elisha from the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:21, 2 Kings 4:34). In both cases, Elijah and Elisha felt personally (although unintentionally) responsible for the death of a boy. In both cases, they stretched out on the dead boy, embraced him and asked God to raise him. In the middle of Paul's distress over the death of Eutychus, he took a step of faith and acted like Elijah and Elisha. That also took a great deal of boldness, since Elijah and Elisha were great heroes - not necessarily the sort of men just anyone can imitate!

OK. Now look at the tools we used to interpret the Eutychus story:

  • Far context: looking at the themes and purposes of the book of Acts, we saw that Luke included this story to show the vitality of the early church (see Eutychus, Part II and Eutychus, Part III).
  • Near context: looking at the nearby story in Acts, we saw that the story of Eutychus showed Paul as a model apostle (see the end of Eutychus, Part III).
  • Historical-cultural context: in this post, we saw how knowledge of the history, culture, and Old Testament background can add significantly to our grasp of the story.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Toast to Lemuel's Mother

Yesterday my students asked me about an unusual (to say the least) proverb that seems to advocate getting drunk. Proverbs 31:6-7 says "Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his trouble no more."

The difficulties are obvious. Scripture elsewhere warns against inebriation (Prov 20:1, 23:29-30; Isa 5:22, 28:7; Rom 13:13, and many others). Why would the Bible advise us to help poor people by tapping a keg?

As usual, context provides some answers. This part of Proverbs contains advice that King Lemuel's mother gave to him about conducting himself as king (Prov 31:1). In Prov 31:2-5, Lemuel's mom warns him about habits that will damage his kingship - wine and women. She points out that "It is not for kings to drink wine... for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted." Lemuel's mom is saying that it doesn't make sense for a king to get drunk, because 1) drunkenness may make him forget his responsibility to the downtrodden, and 2) he is not suffering, so he doesn't even have a bad excuse for getting sloshed. They may need to forget, but Lemuel needs to remember.

So I suspect that Lemuel's mother is not advising getting tanked - she is pointing out that a king doesn't have any of the normal reasons for getting drunk. We might paraphrase Mrs. Lemuel's advice: "People who are suffering and poor drink to forget their suffering - but as the king, you are not suffering. The suffering and the poor will suffer even more if you drink to forget." Her point is not that getting pickled is a good idea for the poor. She is merely pointing out how foolish it is for the king to get drunk. Proverbs 31:6-7 cannot be read in isolation, but rather as a contrast to Proverbs 31:4-5.

There may be something else going on here. Lemuel's mom is very concerned for the poor: she warns Lemmy (I'm sure that's what she called him) that he must defend the rights of the poor and oppressed in Prov 31:5, 8, and 9. In vv. 6-7, she may be advising that instead of hoarding his wine, he should give it out as gifts to the needy (see Paul E. Koptak, NIV Application Commentary: Proverbs). Although the Bible condemns drunkenness, it never condemns drinking in moderation. In fact, good wine is often used as a mark of God's abundant blessing (see Deut 7:13, 11:14, 14:26, 15:14; Joel 2:19, 3:18 and many others). Think of Jesus' generous gift of high-class wine to the young couple who had run out in John 2:1-12.

By the way, the picture above is a depiction of wisdom, found in an illuminated manuscript from 1170. The top figure is Jesus, the source of wisdom. Below him is Lady Wisdom (as in Prov 8), and below her is Solomon, I think. I'm not sure of the other figures, although the one in armor is probably David, and a few others have the look of Moses, Abraham, James, and perhaps John.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Eutychus, Part III

In my last post, I asked you why Luke included the story of Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12. To be honest, I think Luke included the tale partly because it was funny! But Luke intended the story of Eutychus to show us what the church can be like. Notice the following connections between Luke's ideal church qualities (from Acts 2:42-47) and Eutychus' church in Troas:

Ideal Church----------------------Church at Troas
devoted to learning from the apostles ---believers learned from Paul all night
genuine and generous community ------believers gathered for a meal
the visible power of the Holy Spirit ------Paul raised Eutychus from the dead
spontaneous worship and prayer --------sharing of communion
constant conversion------------------------???
glad and sincere hearts -------------------believers were greatly comforted

The only one of Luke's themes that isn't obvious in the story of Eutychus is constant conversion. And there is even a hint of that here: the church at Troas has sprung up with no account of the proclamation of the gospel there. Eutychus is a pagan name, which hints that he was born a pagan and converted to Christianity. So the story of Eutychus' raising is another of Luke's illustrations about what the church was and can be.

There's another reason Luke included this story. Shortly before this journey, Paul wrote to the Romans that "it has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known," but that for now "I am... in the service of the saints" (Romans 15:20-25). Acts 20 contains three accounts describing this mission of service. In Acts 20:1-6, Paul exhorts or encourages (parakaleo) the churches in Macedonia; in Acts 20:7-12, the raising of Eutychus comforts (parakaleo) the church at Troas; and in Acts 20:17-38, Paul exhorts the elders of Ephesus.

So the story of Eutychus, in addition to giving us a good chuckle, has two central messages. The church as it ought to be: devoted to learning, genuine community, worship, the power of the Spirit, constant conversion, and glad and sincere hearts. Paul as a model apostle: he would rather just plant new churches; but in obedience to the Spirit, Paul also strengthens the established churches.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Eutychus, part II

So what's the point? Why would Luke tell us this strange little story about Paul's killer sermon (Acts 20:7-12)? Is it supposed to be a warning against sleeping during church? Or against preaching too long? or is it supposed to be a note of comfort to boring preachers that the Spirit will come to the rescue if you kill one of your flock? Somehow we suspect that Luke was just a little more sophisticated than that.

One of the keys to understanding any scene in Scripture is to re-entangle the scene in its book. Luke, like all the authors of the Bible, wrote with purpose. He chose stories and told them intending to make a difference, not just get the facts straight. Luke was not only a historian, but a pastor and a master story-teller.

Luke wrote the book of Acts to describe the success of the Holy Spirit in spreading the church from Jerusalem to Rome, from the capital of Israel to the capital of the world (as the Romans saw it). Acts is designed to show us how the church was and can be. Gordon Fee reminds us that Acts is about "our roots, not our fruits," but that was only a warning that we should not treat Acts too simplistically as a how-to manual for the church. It's true that church discipline should not usually include death pronouncements (Acts 5:1-11) and that believers should not expect to use their heads as Bunsen burners (Acts 2:3). Once we get away from that sort of silly over-simplification, it becomes obvious that Luke has some ideas about what the church ought to do and be.

Near the beginning of Acts, Luke gives a description of the church at Jerusalem that serves as a picture of the ideal church for the rest of the book. I'll let you look up the passage (Acts 2:42-47), but here are the qualities of that model church:
  • devoted to learning from the apostles
  • genuine and generous community
  • the visible power of the Holy Spirit
  • spontaneous worship and prayer
  • respect from non-believers and constant conversions
  • glad and sincere hearts

Luke's list illustrates some of the key themes of Acts. Luke is telling us that church should be characterized by learning, relationships, power, worship, prayer, evangelism, and a different temperament. He doesn't tell us that only in Acts 2; it shows up in scene after scene in the whole book.

OK, now here's where you come in. Look back at the story of Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12. Why did Luke include this story?

Monday, March 3, 2008


I have always been fascinated by the story of Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12. Paul is preaching in a third-floor meeting room in Troas. As he continues to speak on past midnight, a young man named Eutychus goes over to sit on the windowsill to try to stay awake. His eyelids lose the battle, and he tumbles out the window to his early demise. Paul hurries down the stairs, throws himself upon the corpse, and then pronounces Eutychus living (L.O.A.?). After Eutychus gets up, they go back upstairs, have something to eat, and Paul continues teaching until dawn.

Why do I love this story? When I was in high school, it was cool for Christians to sign each other's yearbooks with their favorite verses. Most people signed with something normal, like John 3:16 or Philippians 4:13. But I always signed with Acts 20:7-12. To be honest, I did it primarily to maintain my quirky reputation (OK, maybe "quirky" is being generous). Maybe I like the story because of the strange incongruity. A boy named Eutychus (Greek for "Lucky") is so unlucky as to die from falling asleep when Paul couldn't stop talking; but then is so "lucky" to happen to have an apostle handy to raise him from the dead. Paul preaches one of his flock to death; then after healing him, he decides that light refreshments are all that is needed before preaching for another six hours or so.

In the end, I think I am fascinated by this story because it is one of those passages of the Bible that is both profoundly human and eerily divine.

Next post: What does this passage mean? What did Luke hope for us to get from the story?