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?

6 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.

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  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.

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    • 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.

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  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.

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