Biblical People
Dorcas (do[r'ka ¬s). [Gr. Dorkas, a translation of the Aramaic T\abyethaÕ, "gazelle." The name occurs also in Greek literature.] A Christian woman of Joppa who was a great friend and helper of the poor. The apostle Peter raised her from the dead, an event that greatly accelerated the spread of the Christian message (Acts 9:36-42) -- Seventh-day Adventist Dictionary.

Acts 9:36-42

Tabitha. An Aramaic name, T\abyethaÕ, corresponding to the Hebrew name Zibiah in the OT (2 Kings 12:1; 2 Chron. 24:1), or Zibia (1 Chron. 8:9), "gazelle." The Greek form, Dorkas, means "wild she-goat," or "gazelle." The fact that this disciple's name is given in two languages may imply some points of connection between the Hebrew and the Hellenistic sections of the church.

Full of good works. By some, Dorcas is regarded as a deaconess in the church at Joppa. If this is true, it may reflect the influence of Philip. He was one of the seven (see ch. 6:3, 5), and it is possible that he carried the organization of the church in Jerusalem into the churches he himself established. Thus, Dorcas may have had special care of the widows of the church (cf. chs. 6:1; 9:39).

Almsdeeds. Gr. elee µmosune µ, "mercy," especially as shown in giving alms, hence, "charity," "benefaction," "alms." Dorcas' benevolence expressed itself in two principal ways: she gave her services in "good works"; she gave her means in "almsdeeds." She was not content to be charitable by proxy, but gave herself as well as her possessions.

37. Was sick, and died. The details given of the treatment of Dorcas' body are evidence that she had, indeed, died. Critics often attempt to throw doubt on the actuality of miracles of raising the dead by alleging that the person was simply in a coma.

Washed. The custom of washing the corpse was practiced by many people in classical times. Among the Jews it was known as the "purification of the dead." In the Mishnah (Shabbath 23. 5, Soncino ed. of the Talmud, p. 771) it is stated: "All the requirements of the dead may be done; he may be anointed with oil and washed." The women of the church now performed this office for their beloved Dorcas.

Laid. In Jerusalem, burial took place on the day of death (cf. ch. 5:6, 10). Outside the capital there might be an interval of three days between death and burial. The corpse was allowed to lie until all hope of resuscitation was past and there was no danger of anyone's being buried alive. During this waiting time the body was usually laid in the upper room, immediately under the roof. In the case of Dorcas, the church may have delayed burial in the hope of divine intervention. Peter had just healed Aeneas, and devout souls may well have hoped that he would restore Dorcas to life.

38. Nigh to Joppa. Lydda lay only 11 mi. (17.7 km.) southeast of Joppa, so the report of the healing of Aeneas could quickly have traveled from one town to the other.

Not delay. Textual evidence attests (cf. p. 10) the direct form of entreaty, reading, "entreating, Delay not to come unto us." The messengers may have left Joppa before the death of Dorcas, hoping the apostle would arrive in time to avert death. If, as is more probable, death had already taken place, the church had faith that resurrection was possible through the power of God. In either case, haste was imperative, either to save a life or to forestall a burial.

39. Peter arose. He was ready for any genuine appeal that came to him, especially such an urgent call as came from the Christians in Joppa.

Upper chamber. See on v. 37.

All the widows. Luke shows a special sympathy for womankind (see Luke 8:2, 3). He mentions "widow" nine times in his Gospel and three times in Acts. The "widows" of the church were the object of a special provision (see on Acts 6:1). The phrase used here suggests that the church at Joppa was also organized for charity.

Coats and garments. Gr. chito µnes and himatia, respectively (see on Matt. 5:40).

Dorcas made. Rather, "used to make." It was her custom to make garments for charitable purposes (see on v. 36).

40. Put them all forth. In doing so, Peter was following his Lord's example in the healing of Jairus' daughter (see Mark 5:39, 40), which he had witnessed. There was the noise of great mourning (Acts 9:39) in the chamber where the body of Dorcas lay. Peter felt the need for silence, in which he could commune with God. Compare Elijah's method with the widow's child (1 Kings 17:17-23), and Elisha's procedure at the raising of the Shunammite's son 2 Kings 4:33. Note also how God's servants avoid ostentatious display of power.

Prayed. Peter kneels down and engages in earnest prayer, realizing that only divine power can accomplish the desired miracle. Prayer again proves to be the channel through which the early church obtains power (cf. on chs. 1:14, 24; 6:4, 6; 8:15; 9:11; 10:2; etc.). The humble, devout, earnest nature of Peter is clearly revealed in this incident (cf. on ch. 3:1).

Turning. After he had prayed and received the inner assurance that his prayer was heard. He realizes his utter dependence on supernatural power, but when assured of its operation he does not hesitate to act.

Body. This leaves no room for doubt concerning the nature of the subsequent miracle. Dorcas was dead (see on v. 37). Peter turned to her lifeless body.

Arise. The very brevity of his command shows his unfaltering belief that his prayer would be positively answered.

Sat up. Gr. anakathizo µ, "to sit up," is employed by medical writers to describe a patient's sitting up in bed, and by Luke in his Gospel (ch. 7:15). The brief description of Dorcas' restoration is extraordinarily vivid. There is the opening of the eyes, as after sleep; the unexpected sight of Peter, who was probably unknown to her; and the dramatic sitting up of one who had been dead. Such details accord well with Luke's medical interests.

41. Gave her his hand. She accepted his proffered hand, for she was already conscious, unlike Jairus' daughter when Jesus "took her by the hand" (Matt. 9:25). This detail is evidence that the two narratives are independent. The latter is no mere echo of the earlier story, as some have contended.

The saints. This does not necessarily imply that the widows were not "saints," or Christians, although it may well have been that some of those whom Dorcas helped were not church members.

Presented her alive. Peter made sure that this miracle of God would receive due recognition by first gathering together those who knew Dorcas personally and could testify to the fact of her death, and then making a public presentation of her to them. Thus he ensured that there would be ample witness to the fact that a miracle had taken place.

42. Many believed. News of such a miracle spread quickly. The whole area of Joppa was aroused, and the gospel message received a great impetus -- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary.

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