4 May 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 20:7-12. A week in Troas.
Luke records only one incident during this week in Troas, namely the dramatic sleep, fall, death and resuscitation of a young man called Eutychus. Because it took place in the context of a worship service, however, the story is also instructive in the area of early Christian worship.
a). The death and resuscitation of Eutychus.
*On the first day of the week we came together to break bread* (7a). How we interpret this ‘first day’ depends on whether we think Luke followed the Jewish reckoning of a day (from sunset to sunset) or the Roman (from midnight to midnight). It is because the NEB translators opted for the former that they rendered the opening expression ‘on the Saturday night’. And certainly the Bezan text of 19:9 ‘from the fifth hour to the tenth’ (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is a Jewish calculation, with the day beginning at 6 a.m. But here Luke is following the Roman way of reckoning, since the ‘daylight’ of verse 11 is already ‘the next day’ of verse 7. Professor Bruce is surely right, therefore, that Luke’s reference to ‘the first day of the week’, i.e. Sunday, ‘is the earliest unambiguous evidence we have for the Christian practice of gathering together for worship on that day’. Moreover, the purpose of their assembly was ‘to break bread’, which Luke understood as the Lord’s Supper in the context of a fellowship meal, as in the upper room in Jerusalem (Lk. 22:20; 24:30-35; Acts 2:42). In addition, *Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking* (JBP, ‘prolonged his address’) *until midnight* (7b).
Luke was himself present on this occasion (‘we came together’,7, and ‘where we were meeting’, 8), so that he was able to supply several eyewitness details which help us to visualize the scene. First, it was an evening service or meeting, for if Paul’s address ended at midnight, it can hardly have begun at midday! No, it probably began at about sunset, the congregation assembling for worship at the conclusion of their day’s work. Next, the meeting was being held in a private house, upstairs (8), indeed on the third floor (9). Thirdly, *there were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting* (8), so that the atmosphere became stuffy and oily, even for *Eutychus* who was *seated in a window* (9a; NEB, ‘was sitting on the window ledge’), which, being unglazed, gave him some fresh air to breathe. Fourthly, although Eutychus is called ‘a young man (*neanias*) in verse 9, in verse 12 he is only a ‘boy’ (NEB, JB) or ‘lad’ (RSV), *pais* normally covering the years from 8 to 14. Fifthly, Luke does not intend us to attach any blame to the boy for falling asleep during the apostle’s sermon. For the impression is that he had a protracted struggle with his sleepiness. To begin with, he was gradually *sinking into a deep sleep*, or better ‘grew drowsy’; it was only *as Paul talked on and on* that he fell *sound asleep* (NEB, JBP, he was ‘completely overcome by sleep’) and the accident happened: *he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead* (9b). The NEB ‘picked up for dead’, hinting that he might not really have been dead, is definitely wrong. Luke declares that he was dead; as a doctor he could vouch for it.
One can imagine the confusion that then took over, as everybody tried to run downstairs. Paul at once suspended his sermon and himself *went down*. Then, surely following the precedent established by Elijah with the son of the widow of Zarephath (1Ki.17:19ff), and by Elisha with the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Ki.4:32-33), he *threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him*, and *said, ‘Don’t be alarmed…
He’s alive*! (10). This is not a statement that he was still alive in spite of his disastrous fall, but that as a result of Paul embracing him he had come alive again. *Then he (Paul) went upstairs again and broke bread and ate*, sharing in both the Lord’s Supper and the fellowship supper, which had evidently not been served previously. Paul also resumed his sermon and *after talking until daylight, he left* (11). Meanwhile, *the people* (relatives and friends, one may assume) *took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted* (12).
Tomorrow: b). Some principles of Christian worship.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.