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.

4 comments:

  1. Dr. Manning, is it possible that Eutychus was never really dead but just perceived by the crowd to be dead because he just fell from the 3rd story and wasn't moving? It seems like maybe when Paul got close enough he sensed Eutychus was still alive, like he checked his pulse or heard his heart beating or something. The reason I ask is because it doesn't seem to me as though there was any prayer made by Paul for bringing Eutychus back to life. That seems to be a big difference between this situation and the situation with Elijah and Elisha. Elijah says, "O LORD my God, let this boy's life return to him!" Regarding Elish, 2 Kings 4:33 says that "He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD." Even in Jesus' raising of Lazarus he plainly states to the disciples that he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:14-15) and then He prays to the Father before doing so (vv. 41-42). Just the way Acts 20:10 describes it seems like Paul was making an observation rather than a resuscitation.

    Keoki
    YHWHdrivenWARRIOR

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  2. Good question. As Luke tells the story, it is clear that Eutychus is "picked up dead" (Grk: nekros)(Acts 20:9). Why does Peter say that Eutychus is alive? Because he is alive after Paul embraces him. Paul may be consciously doing the same as Jesus does in Mark 5:39 and John 11:11-14, perhaps downplaying the miracle somewhat.

    Narratives are incomplete by nature - they do not record everything. So the lack of mentioning prayer is not terribly important. Peter is not described as praying in the miracle in Acts 3, and Jesus is not described as praying in another raising of the dead in Luke 7. In fact, prayer is often omitted in miracle accounts.

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  3. Eutychus is also one of my favorite NT stories. Thanks for the excellent commentary.

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  4. I have also thought that this could be taken to demonstrate the dangers of window shopping. He was halfway out, halfway in and it cost him dearly, though God raised him from the dead.

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