In Acts 9:36-43 Luke (author of Acts) gives an account of Peter healing a woman called Tabitha (later referred to as Dorcas) from the dead.
What do we know about Tabitha
Verse 36 tells us she lives in Joppa. Joppa today is known as Joffa, the modern city of Tel Aviv was founded on the outskirts of Joffa. Today, Joffa is one of the oldest functioning harbors in the world. Joppa was originally a Canaanite city. This port was the port that Jonah came to when fleeing from God to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). It was a rich trade center on the trade route of the Via Maris that went from Egypt in the south to Syria in the east. This city was sacked and rebuilt more than almost any other city in Israel, everyone wanted Joppa: the Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, Herod, Romans, etc.
We know that she is a disciple, which means a follower of Jesus. We find out later that she helps out the poor, specifically the widows.
Has Two Names
She is also called Dorcas, which is the Greek version of the Aramaic name Tabitha. Both Dorcas and Tabitha means gazelle. Like the biblical prophetesses Deborah and Huldah, she has an animal’s name. Nothing in the Bible indicates that Tabitha was a prophetess. She may or may not have been, but since it was not recorded by Luke, it was not important.
Helping the Poor
Tabitha was full of good works and almsdeeds, which she did. Almsdeeds is the act of giving alms (thanks Webster for the great definition). Alms is giving money or food to the poor. We know from verse 39, that there were several widows in the room that Tabitha had died in. The verse says that the widows were weeping and shewing (showing) the coats and garments that Dorcas (Tabitha) had made, when she was with them. Being a widow during this time was not merely losing your husband. It was a culture change. Widows usually lived in extreme poverty, they had no means of support. So we know that these women cared deeply for Tabitha and that Tabitha provided for them, by the very least making them clothing. She was important in the local church and community.
Disciples Are in the Area
They were in Lydda, which is now present day Lod. Lydda was about 14 miles from Joppa, which using Google is about a 4 hour walk (probably took longer as this is calculated off current roads). In verse 38 it says that two men heard that Peter was in Lydda and they went there to look for him. In verse 37, Tabitha had died already, so these men had to have some faith that Peter had the ability to do something. The fact that two men were sent out, probably means her death was unexpected. We don’t know if she was old and nearing the end of her life or if she had some type of ailment; the Bible does not say.
In verse 39, it also states that they washed and laid her body out. Washing the body is not out of the norm, but laying the body out is. Jewish custom was to bury the bodies within a very short time, usually within 24 hours. The people around her, had expectations that the disciples would be able to bring her back to life. With the men having to go to Lydda, it would have probably taken a couple of days to get back. It had been known that Peter had healed Aeneas in Lydda. The church was hoping that Peter would be able to help with Tabitha.
The widows were showing the coats and garments that Tabitha made, while she was with them. We don’t know for sure, but Tabitha was probably a weaver or seamstress. In verse 39, she is referred to as Dorcas, her Greek name, which may mean that the women were Greek and that’s why her Greek name was used.
Peter put them all forth (verse 40). I think this shows the character of Peter for two different reasons. First, he wasn’t raising her from the dead to make a spectacle or to put himself on a pedestal. Second, it’s an example of when we are praying to God we need to have a clear mind without distraction. It says that the widows were weeping, there was probably a lot of other commotion going on. Peter wanted it to be quiet.
What isn’t said about Tabitha
First, there is no mention of Tabitha having a husband. The Bible was written in a time when women were not recorded very seldom in documents. So there is a good chance that she might have been a widow herself. She was probably fairly known in the community.
What she did for a living is also not stated. She may or may not have been a weaver or seamstress. We do not know what her financial status was. She may have been a poor widow herself or she may have been financially well off.
We don’t know what happened after she was presented alive. How long she lived after is a mystery. The Bible gives not further details of her life.
Why is this story important?
So here we have 7 verses in the Bible about a woman being raised from the dead. I don’t think every person raised from the dead has been recorded in the Bible, so why was this important enough for Luke to record it? As mentioned in the very beginning of this post, Joppa was a trade city. It had been ransacked by different groups over the years. Those two reasons mean that there was a good mix of people of different cultures/tribes and it would be a place that information would flow into and out of. Tabitha’s account takes place in Acts. Acts covers approximately the first 30 years of the church, which means that what we call Christianity today was new. Due to this happening early in Acts, I’m assuming that this happens just a few years after Jesus ascends up to Heaven. Performing this miracle went throughout the city (verse 42), and due to being a trade city, means that this went throughout the trade routes. This was how the knowledge of Jesus was starting to spread and be validated.