Studies in the Book of Acts
Raised from the dead (9:36)
Peter next goes to Joppa (modern Jaffa, or Yafo). It is 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of Jerusalem, 10-12 miles northwest of Lydda. Today, Jaffa is part of greater Tel-Aviv. Joppa is the only natural harbor on the Mediterranean between Egypt and Ptolemais (Acco), to the north. Thus, it serves as a seaport for Jerusalem. Herod the Great built the artificial harbor of Caesarea Maritima, 30 miles north of Joppa, which is an important seaport in the first century, too.
Luke takes up the story of a much-loved disciple who lives in Joppa. In Aramaic her name is Tabitha, and in Greek, Dorcas (both names mean “gazelle”). Luke says she is a person “who was always doing good and helping the poor” (9:36). But suddenly Tabitha dies, and the church in Joppa is mourning its loss of a much-appreciated and needed servant.
When the church hears that Peter is nearby in Lydda, they send two men to urge him to come to see what he can do. When Peter arrives at Joppa, he is taken to the house where Tabitha is lying in preparation for her burial. Here all the widows are gathered. They are crying and showing Peter the clothing that Tabitha made for the poor. Peter goes upstairs where her body lays. He sends everyone out of the room, and kneels and prays. Finally, turning to the dead woman, he says, “Tabitha, get up” (9:40). He takes Tabitha’s hand, helps her to her feet and presents her to the others.
There are similarities between this account and the raising of Jairus’ daughter by Jesus (Mark 5:21-24; Luke 8:49-56). Some of the similarities include:
- the use of messengers to call the person who will raise the dead,
- the milling about of crying bystanders,
- the excluding of outsiders from the room,
- the call to the dead person to rise,
- the taking of the revived individual by the hand.
The most striking similarity is that both Jesus and Peter issued a command for the dead person to rise, a short sentence in each case. Jesus had said, “Talitha…get up!” (Mark 5:41), whereas Peter cried: “Tabitha, get up” (9:40).
As he had seen Jesus do in the case of Jairus’s daughter, he ordered the mourners out of the room and prayed. Then he spoke these words: “Tabitha, get up” (which in its Aramaic form Tabitha kumi would have differed in only one letter from Jesus’ command Talitha kumi [“Little girl, get up”]). [Longenecker, 382.]
The parallel between Mark’s account of the raising of Jairus’ daughter and Peter’s raising of Tabitha is striking. Interestingly, Luke uses a different construction for Christ’s command (Luke 8:54), one that does not parallel his phrasing of Peter’s command to Tabitha. This suggests that Luke is not aware of the similarity. Yet, it is there nonetheless.
Both the raising of Tabitha and the healing of Aeneas mirror similar miraculous works performed by Jesus (Luke 5:17-26; 7:11-16). The accounts in Acts 9 also remind us of the power to heal and to raise the dead exhibited by Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32:37). Taken together, these biblical accounts show God as one who continues to work through his servants — be they prophets or apostles or his own Son — to show his saving power. God brings his power to bear on behalf of the less-advantaged people of the world. Among those whom he liberates from death and sickness are widows like Dorcas and the poor and disenfranchised who have no one on whom they can rely.
Simon the tanner (9:43)
Almost as a footnote, Luke mentions that Peter stays in Joppa “for some time with a tanner named Simon” (9:43). The rabbis considered tanning an unclean trade [Mishnah, Ketubot7.10.] because a tanner’s work often required contact with unclean animals. [The skins of clean animals were apparently not unclean. Scribes often wrote the Scriptures on parchment, which is the stretched-thin skin of a dead animal.] This suggests that Peter is not overly scrupulous in observing some of the Jewish ceremonial traditions. Yet, he professes to be careful not to eat meats considered ceremonially unclean (10:4).
Peter seems to have an open mind regarding Jewish beliefs and practices; this prepares us for what will come shortly. He will be tested in the next chapter on matters “clean and unclean,” but from a much broader perspective.
As an aside, we should note Luke’s tendency to provide details that do not add anything pertinent to the account. But such details do underscore the historical accuracy of Luke’s writing. Specifically, Johannes Munck observes that “it is characteristic of Luke in Acts that he gives an accurate address” for a number of places in which Paul lives or works during his life. [Johannes Munck, The Acts of the Apostles, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1967; now published by Yale University Press), 88.]
Luke thus shows his attention to detail and to giving accurate information even on what might seem to be unimportant matters. In this case, we are told that the Simon with whom Paul stayed was a tanner, and he had a house by the sea. Luke also notes that Paul stays in Judas’ house in the street called Straight in Damascus (9:11). In Corinth Paul preaches in the house of Justus who lives next to the synagogue (18:17). At Ephesus, Paul teaches in the School of Tyrannus (19:9). [See also 16:14; 17:5-7; 18:2-3; 21:8, 16; 28:7.]
With this short section, Luke informs his readers that the gospel has been preached in the province of Judea by the apostles, at least by Peter (after Philip did so). Now, the story of the gospel in Judea has been told. Peter, the servant of God, has entered the cities of the Plain of Sharon, and has done wonders in the name of Jesus Christ. Many see his work, give God thanks and are converted.
The Christian mission within the Jewish nation has widened from southern Judea to northern Judea. The reader is now prepared for the next leap of the gospel message that must be taken. The good news must be preached to Gentiles, and in areas beyond Judea.
Author: Paul Kroll, 1995, 2012