Was Eutychus Really ‘Spiritually Asleep’?
- Annette Griffin Contributing Writer
- 2021 17 Sep
Some biblical stories make us stop and think, others inspire awe, and some are so odd and humorous that we have to wonder why God included them in Scripture. No doubt, poor Eutychus hadn’t a clue that believers would still be discussing his youthful lethargy 2000 years later. But God can use anyone and any circumstance to teach His children valuable spiritual lessons that stand the test of time.
Who Was Eutychus in the Bible?
At the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, which had taken him through Asia Minor and Greece, the Apostle and his mission team spent a week in the district of Troas—on the east coast of the Aegean Sea, in modern-day Turkey. While in Troas Paul met a man named Eutychus.
The Bible doesn’t give us many details about Eutychus’s persona, except that he was a young man. We can glean from context that he had heard the Gospel and received it unto salvation, possibly during Paul’s first trip to Troas, and that he was a member of the burgeoning Church in that area.
The whole purpose of Paul’s missionary trips was to strengthen and encourage the newly established body of believers. So, the day before Paul and his team planned to leave Troas and return to Jerusalem, they gathered with God’s people in the upper room of a three-story house to “break bread.”
The place was packed. The baby Christians were hungry for Truth and Paul had plenty of God’s Word to feed them. The Greek word dialegomai is used to describe how Paul addressed the crowd. It suggests a conversational form of presentation, rather than a sermon. Our English word dialogue is derived from dialegomai. The believers inevitably had many questions, and Paul was a vital source of wisdom, sent by God.
But Paul was only in Troas for one short week. He would be leaving them the next day. Not knowing if or when he’d see these new believers again, he was eager to equip them and build them up in Christ. The church was so enthralled with his discourse that minutes slipped into hours. Before anyone knew it, midnight had come.
Many oil-burning lamps illuminated the warm, crowded room. Breathing would have been difficult without fresh air circulating in, through the open windows.
At this juncture in the story, Dr. Luke’s adept, eyewitness retelling of the events is priceless. Using a few short sentences, Luke paints a word picture of the unfolding scene that conveys so much about young Eutychus, the situation at hand, and about Luke, himself.
In Acts 20:9 Luke begins by telling us, “Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on.”
Can’t you just see this scene playing out? It’s very late. Luke and the others are packed in a room, lit only by the soft hues of flickering yellow lamplight. They’ve eaten a fellowship meal together—not just communion (Acts 2:46). As motivated as the group still is to indulge in Paul’s teaching, their flesh begins to grow tired. Plus, Paul had fed them pure spiritual milk all evening (1 Peter 2:2). Perhaps many are now feeling spiritually milk drunk—like a newborn baby who has deeply imbibed at his mother’s breast and can no longer keep his eyes open.
Luke stifles a yawn and begins to wonder how much longer Paul will go “on and on.” His weary eyes catch movement at the window. He turns to see Eutychus sitting on the sill, fighting his own fatigue. Luke watches the young man’s eyelids drift downward. Eutychus’s body dips and sways. Instinct causes a momentary rebound, but he quickly loses the battle with exhaustion and “sinks” into a deep sleep.
Imagine Luke’s astonishment as he witnesses the young man vanish from the window seat. The realization jolts him from his own drowsiness.
The stuffy room, once tranquil, now bursts to life. No one can believe it. What just happened? Eutychus is dead? How? How did this happen when throughout the evening God had been so powerfully in their midst? But indeed, the report is true. The man is dead. Dr. Luke confirms it.
Women are screaming and wailing, the men are in a panic, children are crying. Until…Paul turns to the frantic and mournful onlookers and says, “Don’t be alarmed. He’s alive!”
Luke doesn’t describe the jubilation that must have followed this miracle. But he does give us a hint that would suggest that Eutychus was not the only one brought back to life.
Wide awake and hungry for more teaching, the Believers venture back upstairs and stay till daylight, feasting on all God has for them through Paul (Acts 20:11).
Why Did Eutychus Fall Asleep?
A few biblical scholars have speculated that Eutychus’s tiredness could have been caused by his seat of choice and the number of lamps burning in the meeting room (Acts 20:8). They suspect the air near the window was warmer and richer in carbon dioxide, which would have induced sleep.
Others who have studied the biblical account characterize Eutychus as an inattentive youth, who suffered the natural consequence of his own spiritual laziness during the service.
Even though the Bible doesn’t lend insight into what caused Eutychus’s “deep sleep,” the simplest explanation is usually best. The hour was well after midnight. The young man likely had joined the meeting after a full day of hard labor—typical of that era, day, and locale.
Eutychus, like the other new believers, would have been anxious to take advantage of the limited time they had with Paul. With youthful anticipation, he would have made his way to that upper room after work—not begrudgingly or half-heartedly. Why did he fall asleep? After hours of hard labor followed by hours of spiritual fervor, Eutychus was simply worn out.
Was Eutychus’s Sleepiness a Sin?
Scripture never condemns the sleep that led to Eutychus’s death. But for centuries commentators have picked apart Luke’s six-sentence narrative in an attempt to construct a logical object lesson. The problem with that process is, you can’t use logic to explain a mishap. And while God has never, and could never, experience a mishap—humans are notorious for them.
Yes, God is sovereign. And scripture is full of examples of His sovereign hand at work in the midst of our fleshly, human, temporal faux pas.
Because “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness,” we know that Eutychus’s story contains a message for us from God. If we want to accurately hear that message, we must allow Scripture to have its own way. We can apply God’s living Word to our everyday lives, but we should never conform it to our will.
If sin, spiritual lethargy, or negligence had caused Eutychus’s sleep-induced fall from the window, we can be sure that the whole of Scripture would bear out that lesson. Here are three reasons why the “spiritually asleep” theory may not apply to Eutychus:
First, after Eutychus is resurrected—we are NOT told that Paul rebukes the young man, instructs him to repent, or even uses Eutychus’s supposed spiritual laziness as a teaching point for the new believers Paul has come to train. Certainly, the Apostle would have brought to light any teachable offense, given his zeal for the Truth and passion for equipping God’s people (1 Corinthian’s 5:12). Plus, elsewhere in Scripture. we do see evidence of post-healing exhortation that takes place when the measure is called for (John 5:14,15; Luke 17: 11-19; Luke 5:17-39).
Secondly, we do see other cases in Scripture where the disciples’ sleep is clearly equated to a spiritual deficit (Matthew 26:36-45). Paul would have heard a firsthand account about Peter, James, and John’s drowsiness in the Garden of Gethsemane. Scripture clearly reveals the disciples’ sleep as unfaithful and negligent. If Paul had recognized those same maladies in the actions of his young pupil, he surely would have felt compelled to share Jesus’s warning to “watch and pray” with Eutychus and the other believers. And Luke likely would have felt compelled to record the warning in this chapter.
Last but not least, when we look at this passage through the lens of modern American Christianity, it’s easy to project thoughts, feelings, and motivators onto Eutychus that aren’t authentic. The New Testament church had its share of problems, but zeal for God was the least of them.
The new believers were on fire for the Lord. They had a burning desire to know everything they could about their Savior, but they didn’t have the benefit of our New Testament text and rarely had the privilege of hearing sound teaching. Most of their spiritual education came by way of letters from the disciples, oral testimony, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. When God graciously sent the Apostle Paul to Troas to speak, you better believe those Christians clamored for the opportunity to sit at his feet for as long as possible. This was not a culture that had become callous to doctrinal teaching; they were just discovering it!
Today’s American Christians have unlimited access to the whole Bible and unrestricted opportunity to worship with other believers. We’re also privy to thousands of books, commentaries, movies, articles, study guides, clubs, gatherings, and retreats—all geared to help us gain a clearer understanding of God’s ways.
How often do we take advantage of those privileged resources?
When is the last time any of us has worked a full day of manual labor then eagerly rushed to a crowded, stuffy, dimly lit church gathering where there were not enough seats for everyone? Who of us has been so enraptured by the undefiled teaching of the Word of God that, even when we can barely keep our eyes open, we refuse to leave the all-consuming presence of the Lord?
Was Eutychus spiritually asleep…or are we? Eutychus’s eyes were closed. Ours may be continually open. But only God can determine who is spiritually asleep.
“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (Revelation 3:16-18).
Do you feel spiritually drowsy? Or maybe you feel indifferent about the things of God that once excited you? If so, check out these resources: Whitney Hopler’s 5 Ways to Wake Up When You’re Spiritually Asleep And Lynette Kittle’s 10 Warnings for Christians Who are Asleep
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Viacheslav Peretiatko
Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.
This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.
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