The Truth about Eutychus
It is common to hear people mention the Eutychus incident in Acts 20:6–12 to hint that some men preach too long. “Don’t preach us to death,” they say with a smile.
Eutychus, of course, was the young man who went to sleep while the apostle Paul was preaching, fell out a third-story window, and died. Though pastors should use wisdom concerning the length of their sermons, sermon length was not why the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include this event when writing to Theophilus in The Acts of the Apostles. The story of Eutychus teaches a higher truth.
Acts 19 ends with a description of a commotion that broke out in Ephesus following opposition to the gospel. After the uproar, Paul encouraged the disciples, said goodbye to them, and went to Macedonia and then Greece, where he stayed for three months (20:1–3). When he was about to sail to Syria, local Jews harassed him. So he returned to Troas through Macedonia, where seven brothers in the Lord met him (vv. 3–5).
On Sunday, the believers gathered and held the Lord’s Supper. Paul was to leave Troas the next day, but he continued to teach until midnight because people were so hungry to hear the truth. Imagine how vivid the Bible became to them as he told them about the Messiah.
Eutychus was perched on a windowsill. He went to sleep, fell from the third floor, “and was taken up dead” (v. 9). Paul went to him; stretched himself out over the young man, embracing him; and told everyone, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him” (v. 10). Verse 12 says, “And they brought the young man in alive.” Paul continued to teach, and the next day he continued on to Miletus (v. 15).
So what was Luke’s purpose in telling Theophilus about Eutychus? How was Eutychus’s story intended to help Theophilus understand Paul was a true prophet, carrying the true message of God? How would it help Theophilus to accept the apostles’ epistles as the Word of God? Here is the truth about Eutychus:
Eutychus’s story is analogous to events in the lives of two of Israel’s greatest prophets: Elijah and Elisha. Paul’s resurrection of Eutychus was a miracle designed to identify and authenticate Paul as a messenger of God’s Word.
A valid analogy requires two main components: similar words and similar circumstances. Eutychus’s story has both.
Similar Words. Elijah and Elisha each raised a young boy from the dead during their ministries, and they did so in exactly the same way as the apostle Paul: by stretching themselves out over the dead child (1 Ki. 17:21; 2 Ki. 4:34). Luke described the way Paul raised Eutychus using the same words.1
In the case of Elijah, the Hebrew word va-itmoded is used (1 Ki. 17:21). In the case of Elisha, the Hebrew word ga-har is used (2 Ki. 4:34), which is a synonym for va-itmoded and means “to stretch oneself out over” something.
Elijah raised the young son of a widow in Zarephath, who concluded, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth” (1 Ki. 17:24). In 2 Kings, Elisha raised the son of a Shunammite woman who earlier had recognized him as a man of God and trusted he had power from God to do miracles.
Similar Circumstances. When Elijah prophesied, Israel was ruled by King Ahab, an Israelite who had no regard for God, and his evil pagan wife, Jezebel, an idol worshiper who wanted to kill Elijah. Only a minority of 7,000 followed the true prophets of God and did not kneel to the pagan idol Baal (1 Ki. 19:18).
In Acts 19, Gentile idolators rejected the gospel and forced Paul to leave Ephesus. Then rabbinical Jews persecuted and harassed Paul, and a mere seven brothers in the Lord waited for Paul in Troas. Only a minority followed the true God.
Luke wanted to show Theophilus that everyone is required to think of Paul the same way the widow of Zarephath and the Shunammite woman thought of the prophets Elijah and Elisha: that “the word of the LORD in [their] mouth[s] is the truth” (1 Ki. 17:24).
The Holy Spirit worked in Paul the same way He worked in the ancient Jewish prophets. Thus, Paul was as much God’s messenger as were Elijah and Elisha; and Paul’s message about Jesus is just as true and authoritative as the words of the Old Testament prophets.
Therefore, we must accept Paul’s writings as an integral part of Scripture; and those who reject Paul’s writings place themselves in the camp of Jezebel and Ahab, who rebelled against God and tried to kill the prophets of Jehovah.2
This is the true message of the story of Eutychus.
- John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Acts 13—28 (Chicago: Moody, 1996), 204.
- Dr. Seth Postell, WhatsApp discussion on Acts 20 (November 23, 2020).