Acts 9:36-35 – Raising Tabitha

Tabitha is described as a godly disciple who died suddenly (9:36-38). This is the only woman described as a disciple in the New Testament. The word μαθήτρια is used only here, it is used for female disciples of Plato (D. Lat Lives, 4.2). Luke is fond of telling two similar stories, one featuring a man and a second featuring a woman (cf., Luke 15:1-10). It is likely Peter did many other miracles during his ministry on the coastal plains, but Luke selected these two examples. Luke likely wanted his readers to take these two healings together as examples of the sorts of things Peter often did. In both cases Peter encounters potential uncleanliness, but this ceremonial uncleanliness does not prevent him from reaching out to people on the fringes of Judaism. I suggest Peter is simply following the pattern of ministry of Jesus who regularly crossed over cleanliness taboos during his ministry.

Tabitha Masolinode PanicaleTabitha was also known as Dorcas, both names mean “gazelle.” While the name may be drawn from Song of Solomon 2:9, Ben Witherington points out it was common to give female slaves animal names (Acts, 331, n.16).  He goes on to speculate that she may have been a freedwoman, although he settles on the name being of Jewish origin. It is possible Tabitha was wealthy since she is “always doing good works.” If she was a former slave set free by some prominent person, she may have had the time and means able to devote herself to charity work. She has a home with an “upper room” and her burial seems to be more opulent than expected if she was a pauper. It is possible she was a patroness of the church in Joppa, although this is not stated.  Luke mentions at least one other prominent, wealthy woman, Lydia, who may have become a patroness of the church at Philippi. In addition, it is possible that Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 was a patron for the church in Cenchrea.

The description of her godliness is in line with Jewish indications of godly living. First, she was “always doing good.”  Paul urges women to do “good works appropriate for women who profess to worship God” in 1 Tim 2:10. Second, she was always “helping the poor,” specifically poor widows. It is likely the clothing the women show Peter in v. 39 are examples of these acts of compassion.  The description of Tabitha is similar to that of Tobit, a prototypical good man in the Jewish captivity (Tobit 1:3; 4:5-11).

Whatever Tabitha’s social position, her death was seen as a great loss to the believers in Joppa.  It is not clear that the believers called on Peter to raise her from the dead.  Peter comes quickly to Joppa and prays for Tabitha (9:39-42). Similar to Jesus in Luke 8:50-56, Peter tells Tabitha to arise. There are a few significant differences, however. Jesus commanded the girl to rise, using nearly the same words as Peter does in verse 40 (in Aramaic, there would have been a difference of only a since letter). Unlike Jesus, Peter prays prior to telling Tabitha to rise. Peter also takes Tabitha’s hand in order to help her up from the bed. This is significant since (until a few moments before) she was dead. Touching a corpse would have rendered Peter unclean, but he has no problem entering a home where a dead person was placed and even touching the woman’s hand.

As with the healing of Aeneas, we are left wondering what the point of the story is. Is Luke setting up Peter’s vision in Acts 10 and his visit to Cornelius? Or is Luke trying to consciously patterning the ministry of Peter after than of Jesus?

16 thoughts on “Acts 9:36-35 – Raising Tabitha

  1. We are not actually told that Tabitha was also known as Dorcas. It could be that Luke, when writing Acts, was the first to translate her name into Greek. In any case, Luke takes an interest in the meaning of her name, and this shows that he commends her highly, for the implication is that she had lived up to the name(whatever exactly it symbolized). It is very very unlikely that she was given the names Tabitha and Dorcas at birth, since there is only one example in the ancient world of a Jew having two names that translated each other.

    The point of the stories (or at least a major point) is that God saves those who are worthy. Both Tabitha and Cornelius were generous. Cornelius was commended and the name Aeneas means praised.

  2. In both the case of the raising of Tabitha and the healing of Aeneas, we are able to see Peter helping those in need in the name of Jesus. Some choose to question to point of the story and why Luke decided to include it. I chose to see it as a reminder of God’s love for us in that He used His disciples to help those in need and that He has never turned His back on us. While I do not know for sure why Luke included the story in Acts, my guess would be that it is a good reminder of God’s love and compassion for those that are faithful to Him. Or I could be completely wrong and it was because Luke was setting up Peter’s vision in Acts 10. However, I tend to lean more on the side that Luke was reminding the readers of God’s faithfulness to us. This may have also been Luke reminding us of how Peter modeled the way he spread the gospel with what Jesus did while He was on earth.

    • Alex,
      I would agree. I think part of the passage is a reminder of Gods faithfulness, but also, having faith in him. It was stated above that there were differences in how Jesus told a young girl to rise and how peter told Tabitha to rise. One thing that was mentioned above was that Peter prayed. I think this is significant because its showing us that peter had faith in God. Faith that God would raise Tabitha up. And the other would be touching. When Jesus raised the girl up, she rose on her own but in peters case he helped her. This could be the area or maybe a representation. When peter did this, Jesus had already died and rose again, thus fulfilling the prophecy and meankng the old law didnt apply anymore.

  3. Seeing how Jesus’ ministry is reflected in the ministries of the disciples is always unique. At this time there were so many different cultural taboos that they were “breaking” to do healings and tell people about the Gospel. Also, when it comes to Tabitha’s actions of ministry, I find it interesting that it has to be clarified that she only does things that are “appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” It is so hard for me to wrap my head around the limitations that are always present. But, the fact that her works were still seen as good and beneficial is encouraging; because of this her death is taken very hard by those around her, but they were not even looking for her to be raised or healed. Peter comes on his own, which is unique because entering a dead woman’s house and touching her would have been anther taboo subject. There are again similarities between what Jesus did and how Peter raised the dead. However, Peter prays first, which I think is really important. Jesus did not have to pray because He is God, but Peter is praying for God to use him to do His will and His work. This is what makes the resurrections different. It shows the people around him that it is done by God’s will and not of his own will or power.

  4. The miracle of Tabitha is an amazing story of the power of God. Although many women were not mentioned in scripture this story seems to be of significance to Luke. I think this story shows the power of God through Peter, because he prayed before the healing. The stories of Jesus healing and Peter’s healing are very similar and I think Luke was definitely trying to pattern Peter’s ministry with Jesus’.

    However, I do not think that this was the only reason Luke shared this story. God changes both Paul and Peter’s thinking. Paul converted/called by God does not require Gentiles to be circumcised or follow a bunch of Jewish rules to be saved, but rather he shares that salvation is through faith alone (Galatians). Peter, even though he was a Jew, was not hesitant to enter the room of the corpse of Tabitha, which was a radical thing for a Jewish man. I think Luke shares this story to help us understand that God was changing Peter’s thinking and was about to challenge him in new ways with his vision in the next chapter.

    Whatever point Luke was trying to make through this story, we do know that many believed in the Lord after this miracle (9:42). I think this passage shows that God still has power over death. Even though Christ is not physically on earth, the Holy Spirit is performing miracles through Peter and death is conquered in Jesus’ name.

  5. I think many, if not all, the miracles of the disciples are in reflection of Jesus’ ministry and the things he has done. Although, It is difficult to confidently say the purpose with little to go off of. I think the best way for us to get an understanding of the purpose that Luke chose to share this event, is to understand the book of Acts as a whole and it’s purpose for being written. The purpose of Acts, as well as Lukes writing in his gospel, is to give an orderly, detailed account of the early church after Christ’s resurrection. It also is setting ground work for a new age, and a messianic kingdom beginning to take place, and through the Holy Spirit and the disciples the good news is beginning to spread. With that in mind, I think the story of Tabitha fits comfortably in the ark of Acts, as well as reflecting Jesus’ Ministry. Not only is he crossing cleanliness taboos similar to Jesus, but also reflecting Jesus’ words and actions in Luke 8:50. So, I would say the purpose of this story is help guide the purpose of the book in redirecting those who are considered Jews own thinking. Preaching the gospel requires a new way of thinking for these Jews. In this chapter we see Saul (eventually Paul), a devoted Jew and Pharisee, was converted from killing people who were preaching Jesus’ name. To them preaching Jesus’ name. For Peter, also a devoted Jew, although having become a disciple early one, went against cultural taboos to raise Tabitha from the dead. So, although their might be a few reasons why Luke included this, or even how this helps the purpose of his writings. I think arguably, a good reason is to show the reorienting of thinking, by Jesus, for those who are becoming devout believers.

  6. First, I find it interesting that she is the only woman referred to as a disciple of Jesus. There are several other women in the New Testament narrative who played an active role in the church. Mary washed Jesus’ feet, Lydia, and Pricilla immediately come to mind. How did Tabitha differ from these women? Why is she the only one to be referred to as a disciple? This simply be explained as passive linguistic choice. Its singular use suggests otherwise. To what degree did she have an official role or position in the church or community? How literally can we take the word disciple here? Regardless Luke wants to stress her key role in the life of the church (ie. caring for the poor, always doing good).
    In response to your question regarding the point of the story, my answer is that I don’t know. Both options seem reasonable. It is interesting that Luke’s account here mirrors his record of Jesus’ healing in Luke 8. This, like the use of the word disciple, seems intentional. Given what I now understand about the setting of the book of Acts, I might also guess that this is more evidence of the continuing of the spread of the gospel. That being said, and interesting problem occurs – why would Peter go and raise a woman who was dead and who was already a believer. Clearly it is not due to the fact that Peter hoped to evangelize to her after he raises her. This was, if anything, a witness or message to the fellow believers and an unbelieving crowd.
    Also, what would be the purpose of patterning Peter’s ministry after that of Jesus? Was Luke trying to authenticate Peter’s ministry? Or possibly, he is simply trying to draw out the patterns and the continuation of Jesus’ ministry as the disciples go out into all the nations?

  7. Tabitha is an intriguing character to me, especially because she is named a disciple. She is depicted to have a good standing in the community at this time. Although who she was or her potential importance is not the most important point here. Here we see Peter healing a women like Jesus. In verse 40 it says, “Tabitha arise”. Peter here is replicating Jesus’ resurrection of the Talitha “little girl” in the mark 5. Peter appears to no longer be caring about the unclean and clean laws the Jews had. As stated above Peter appears to be resembling “Jesus who regularly crossed over cleanliness taboos during his ministry”(P.Long). It seems as if this is a key milestone in Peter’s ministry because in chapter 10 Peter is addressed by God about clean and unclean foods. It is also important to recognize that Peter is staying with a tanner. Tanners were considered unclean people. Being unclean they would have been someone who Jews would have been not associated with because of being righteously unclean. This again then shows that Peter is becoming less focused on who people are in the community but more concerned about their souls and spreading the gospel. As Peter becomes more gospel driven he resembles more of Jesus’ ministry as he grows his ministry for the Lord.

  8. When I first read this story in Acts, I was surprised she was labeled as a disciple. Since the Bible has a different role for women than men, it is interesting to see how she discipled to others through her caring nature. I like the similarity between how Jesus heals and how Peter healed Tabitha. However, as mentioned, the main difference is that Peter prayed before he healed her. I think this is very significant. It reminds us that Peter is not the same as Jesus. His “power” comes from God. His ability to heal people comes from God and is used alone to spread the gospel to everyone who hears and believes.
    It is clear that Tabitha made a huge impact in people’s lives. Many were gathered at her home while she was dead. The people morning her life were proclaiming all the good things she had done for others. They were certainly saddened by her passing. Therefore, when she was brought back to life, many people believed in the Lord because of this miracle. It is amazing how God orchestrated these events to spread his word around the world.

  9. In agreeance with many others who have read this part of Acts, I was taken aback when Tabitha was labeled a disciple, especially with the roles that women had in the ancient Bible times. The usually was a word coined for the leaders of the household: men. Tabitha must have been a very influential person for her lifetime and community to be labeled a female disciple. This goes to show that the Lord will use anyone and everyone he wants to, regardless of societal roles and norms because that is the way His will wants. It was also really inspiring to hear of all the good works she had been doing for the poor and even the widows that when the whole town heard she had died, they were all devastated. This is part of the story where Peter raises Tabitha from the dead and in some of the same ways Jesus rose the little girl up from the dead. It is an interesting parallel between the stories. As Long had mentioned, one of the only things different was how Peter prayed before, while Jesus didn’t. This can go to show how unpowerful we are as humans versus the son of the all-powerful God. Peter recognized the need to go before the King before raising her up from the dead, something we can learn from in today’s society.

  10. Tabitha was supposedly described as the words of a disciple and one of the one ones to be described as so in the entirety of the New Testament which is interesting and should be thought about. I never knew that Peter performed two examples of healings such as one individual being male and the other individual being female, and I also agree with Phillip Long that Peter was following in Jesus’ footsteps to cross over the uncleanliness to heal specific individuals (Long, 2019). I think it is ridiculous that female slaves were given animal names such as Dorcus which means gazelle because personally I feel that it is an attack directly on the female gender. But it also makes complete sense because during this time period women were definitely looked down upon as lesser than. I love the idea of how Paul preached to women that they need to do Godly works and worship the Lord because I think it was a very important message to hear and to even perform throughout a lifetime. Tabitha’s death was a major loss according to the people in Joppa (Long, 2019) because many loved her but it is unclear if those individuals were the ones to grasp Peter’s attention to raise her from the dead (Long, 2019). Imagine witnessing someone being raised from the dead and all of the emotions that filled the room, it would be a memorable occurrence and exciting to see. I never knew that there was a phenomenon which stated that a person was considered to be unclean if they happened to touch a dead body, and I was pleased to read that Peter was not worried about the stereotype of being considered unclean, he just wanted to help people in the long run.

  11. When reading the blog post analyzing Acts 9:36-35, Long made some interesting and strong points. It was well known that Tabitha was one of the well known devoted disciples that was also a woman. She was very devoted to her church, serving, donating resources, time, and treasures, more particularly a heart for the poor. Long also brings up the point that both versions Peter reviving these people brings him close to uncleanliness, yet he does not let this prohibit him from serving children of God. This can be used as a challenge for disciples reading the word of God. We should let no amount of controversy, concern for self image, or bias become an obstacle to serving God’s people. Long rightly states “Peter is simply following the pattern of ministry of Jesus who regularly crossed over cleanliness taboos during his ministry”. Tabitha’s influence on her community was well known and her death was felt by everyone.

  12. When it comes to the case of the raising of Tabitha from death and the healing of Aeneas, we can see Peter helping those in need in the name of Jesus. Some choose to question the point of the story and why Luke decided to include it. I see it as a reminder of God’s love for us in that He used His disciples to help those in need. Also, for us to see that he has never turned His back on us. I am not certain why Luke included the story in Acts, but I say that it is a good reminder of God’s love and compassion for those that are faithful to Him and to trust in him. I also think that the things they are doing or have done is a carried out tradition that Jesus did while here on earth.

  13. As mentioned in this post, I had never realized that Tabitha is the only woman in the bible given the title of “disciple.” Also, as Dr. Long points out, Luke tends to “pairs” miracles together, often one involving a male and one involving a female. I think certainly he does this with a purpose, to include women in the ministry of Christ, as several times throughout Acts Luke makes a point to reference the women being brought to belief in Christ.

    I think that, as we have seen through the first 8 chapters of Acts, nothing Luke does, nothing he chooses to chronicle, is accidental. I think he certainly could be using this miracle as a precursor to Peter’s vision in Acts 10, in which Peter is told (three times) to eat an unclean animal. In Acts 9, Peter is laying hands on those who have died, who are considered “unclean,” and in the following chapter he is told to go even further, to eat what is considered unclean.

    I think this goes along with the fact that Luke patterns “the ministry of Peter after that of Jesus” (Long). Jesus made a habit of interacting with the “others” of society–he touched lepers, he touched the woman who had been bleeding for years, even though those people were considered unclean. As we move onto the rest of Acts–and even specifically into Paul’s epistles, this idea of clean vs unclean becomes more prevalent, and so I think it is very significant that we see Peter touching what is considered “unclean.”

    Additionally, all these miracles Peter is performing is for the sole purpose of winning people over to Jesus. Peter does not heal in his own name. In 9:34, he tells Aeneas “Jesus Christ heals you,” and in 9:40, he prays before saying “Tabitha, arise.” There is no claiming the glory for himself; Peter does not in himself have any power to heal, “but the Lord had showed him what he was going to do in response to Peter’s prayer, and he imparted to Peter’s heart the knowledge and faith that he was going to restore Tabitha to life as Peter spoke” (Polhill, p. 2102).

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