Was Paul such a boring preacher that someone almost died?
Author: Barry Steinman
Acts 20:7 - 12 (NIV)
7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "He's alive!" 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
This passage is one of the more interesting stories from the New Testament. It appears that Paul droned on and on all night. His preaching got so boring that Eutychus fell out the window and died. It seems it was a Sunday morning Church service, as verse 7 says it was the first day of the week. They must have also taken communion as verse 7 indicates that they broke bread. So we can easily relate to that. It was a Sunday morning church service, that seemed to last forever, and the preacher was so incredibly boring that someone fell out the window. Or is that really what happened after all?
First of all we must bear in mind that according to the Jewish Calendar, the day begins at sundown the previous day. The first day of the week, begins on what we call Saturday night. The New English Bible translates verse 7: “On the Saturday night”. Verse 8 also clearly indicates that it was at night when they were meeting: 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. It is a bit easier to understand how Paul could have preached till midnight, if the service began at sundown. It would be hard to imagine the service lasting from Sunday morning till the next morning.
Second of all when the early church took communion it was not in the stuffy liturgical, religious setting that we sometimes take it in. Most scholars agree that communion was taken in context of a pot-luck fellowship meal. In fact, the Beck translation renders the middle of verse 7: “When we met for a meal”. Communion indicated the close and intimate fellowship of the brothers as well as their fellowship with the Lord.
Thirdly, Paul was not “preaching” to them. The American Standard Version renders verse 7: “Paul discoursed with them.” E.V. Rieu’s translation renders it: “Paul was holding a discussion with them.” The actual Greek word used is “dialegomai”. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words: defines this Greek word as follows: “ The King James translates it “preached,” in Acts 20:7 & 9; This the Revised Version corrects to “discoursed,” literally, “dialogued,” that is, not by way of a sermon, but by a discourse of a more conversational character.”
The true picture of what was happening in this passage is now emerging. The brothers and sisters were having a pot luck fellowship meal on Saturday night, prior to Paul’s departure the next day. Paul was leading a participatory, back and forth discussion about the Lord Jesus. The discussion was so enjoyable that everyone stayed and continued it till the next morning. Eutychus did not fall asleep and fall out the window because the meeting was boring, but due to the lateness of the hour. Meetings in the early church were much more fellowship oriented and casual than our current day church services. Everyone was expected to participate. The teaching was more conversational, with everyone involved.
This passage indicates a problem we have in approaching the scriptures. We understand what we read thru colored glasses. Everything we perceive is tainted by our current cultural mindset. Here we thought we were reading a passage accurately describing Sunday morning church, just as we practice it today. But in actuality, it was describing something much different.