Jesus's Words

Chapter 13: Paul's Supposable Miracles Explained

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Section 10: Supposable Miracle IX.—at Troas, Eutychus Found Not to Be Dead.—Acts 20:7-12

In this story may be seen another example, of the facility with which, when men are upon the hunt for miracles, something may be made out of nothing: the most ordinary occurrence, by the addition of a loose word or two, metamorphosed into a miracle.

Paul, one evening, was treating his disciples with a sermon: he was at the same time treating them, or they him, with a supper. The architecture of the house was such, that, under favourable circumstances, a fall might be got from the top of it, or thereabouts, to the bottom, without much difficulty. If any difficulty there was, on the occasion in question it was overcome. According to circumstances, sermons produce on different minds different effects: from some, they drive sleep; in others, they produce it. On the occasion in question, the latter was the effect experienced by a certain youth. His station is represented as being an elevated one:—so elevated that, after the fall he got from it, it may be believed without difficulty, he lay for some time motionless. Paul "went down" to him, we are told, and embraced him. The youth received the embrace; Paul, the praise of tender-heartedness:—this is what may be asserted with a safe conscience, though it be without any special evidence. Trifling, however, is the boon he received from that congregation, in comparison of what he has been receiving from so many succeeding ones—the reputation of having made so brilliant an addition to the catalogue of his miracles. By the accident, whatever may have been the interruption, given by it to the festivity, no end was put to it. Sermon and supper ended, the rest of the congregation went their way: and with them went the youth, to whom had anything serious happened, the historian would scarcely have left us uninformed of it.

On this occasion, between the hero and his historian, there is somewhat of a difference. The historian will have it, that when Paul reached the body he found it dead. Paul's own account of the matter is the direct contrary: so the historian himself informs us. Here then the historian and his hero are at issue. But, the historian, having the first word, makes, if we may venture to say so, a rather unfair advantage of it, and by this same first word gives a contradiction to what he makes his hero say in the next. "He was taken up dead," says the historian, who was or was not there: "His life is in him," says the preacher, who was there beyond dispute.

But let us see the text.

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.Acts 20:7-12

At this time of day, any such contrariety might produce some embarrassment; but, when it is considered how long ago the thing happened, no such uneasy sensation is experienced. A supposition, by which all embarrassment is excluded, is so immediately obvious, as to be scarce worth mentioning. When Paul reached the body, the soul was already in the other world; but, with the kisses goes a whisper, and the soul comes back again. Whether from indolence or from archness, there is something amusing in the course the historian takes for enlivening his narration with these flowers: he sketches out the outline, but leaves it to our imaginations to fill it up.

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