On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 9:36-43.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 343 - December 1884


Chapter 9:36-43

Another circumstance of like kind at a different place gave occasion for the power of God to display itself by Peter still more wonderfully.

"Now, in Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which, being interpreted is called Dorcas (Gazelle). She was full of good works and alms-deeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days that she fell sick and died: and, having washed, they laid her in an 1upper room. And as Lydda was near to Joppa, the disciples hearing that Peter was there sent two men unto him, beseeching, Delay2 not to come on to us. And Peter rose up and went unto them; whom, on his arrival, they brought up into the upper room; and all the widows stood by him weeping and showing the coats and cloaks which Dorcas used to make while she was with them. But Peter, putting them all forth and kneeling down, prayed; and, turning unto the body, he said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and, seeing Peter, she sat up. And, giving her a hand, he raised her up, and, calling the saints and the widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout the whole of Joppa, and many believed on the Lord; and it came to pass that he remained many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner" (ver. 36-43).

Will it be believed that a professed and not unlearned translator of the New. Testament dared thus to render the opening verse, "Moreover, there was among the disciples at Joppa a woman named Tabitha, who was always doing good works and giving alms "? I cite from Gilbert Wakefield's second edition, ii. 27, though I cannot say (not having its predecessor) whether this is one of its alleged "improvements" or a mere reproduction of the first. It is the note (375) which is so offensive:—" I have left out the impertinent explanation in this verse, because, even if no interpolation, it must be either ridiculous or unintelligible in a translation." It is the more shameless from one who allows himself no such audacity in his rendering, as among many like passages, of John i. 39, 42, 43, with all three of which he deals fairly. Now what is the fact in our case? It is the true Aramaic form of that time and country: so Gamaliel's maid was called; and Josephus (B. J. iv. iii. 5) gives as Luke does the same corresponding Greek name to the mother of a certain truculent John, as the English reader can see in Dr. Traifl's Tr. ii. 64. The Hebrew word that answers to it means "beauty," but it is commonly used of a "gazelle," "hart," or "roe," as in Dent.; 2 Sam.; Song of Solomon. So in our own tongue men and woman are called Buck, Doe, Roe, Stag, &c. In Lucret. iv. it occurs only as a term of endearment. Where is the "impertinence " of such an explanation? Only in the empty, presumptuous, and profane mind of Mr. Wakefield. I take the trouble of refuting it, as a caution to the misinformed not to be imposed on by the unconscious impiety of such as believe not the inspired character of Holy Writ. Whenever they assail that word, it would be easy to expose their self-sufficient folly.

Tabitha, or Dorcas, then, is described as a disciple at Joppa, who was a doer of the word and not a hearer only; for her pure and undefiled service before her God and Father was to remember the widows in their affliction, keeping herself unspotted from the world. She was as full of good works and almsdeeds as of faith. Now in those days she sickened and died. Now if washed in the usual way, she was laid in an upper room, a suitable place to await the arrival of the apostle. For it seems not obscurely implied that the disciples looked for more than consolation, in sending messengers for the apostle just at that moment and admitting of no delay;3 as he en his part promptly met their entreaty. As usual the scene is livingly before us, though it is with Peter for the central figure, not Paul of whom Luke was the cherished companion. But what mattered this or that if the Spirit inspired him to give us the truth to Christ's praise? He certainly had it all before Him as it was, though Luke was not there: and no jealousy for his leader tarnished one word of his narrative. There they were in the upper chamber; and all the widows stood by Peter, not in tears only but displaying the work of Dorcas' loving hands, the clothes inner and outer which she used to make while she was with them.

But Peter had not come for condolence only nor chiefly, but for the glory of God that Jesus the Son of God might be glorified in her who was gone. So, putting them all out and kneeling down, he prayed. He sought not to display the great work about to be done; he sought the Lord only, and with that grave reverence which became one who walked in presence of the Unseen who alone could avail. Here again how vividly graphic is the recital! yet no eye of man was on Peter and the body of the disciple. He who wrought in power through one servant has told us it through another. Some of old in east and west and south have ventured to add "In the name of [our Lord] Jesus Christ."4 If they meant honour, they were guilty of a heinous wrong. "Add thou not unto His words." The inspiring Spirit has given us the truth perfectly. Enough to know that Peter knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body said, Tabitha, arise. Spoil not the word of God, 0 man, unworthy of the name of a believer, unworthy of the task of a translator, or of an expositor, by thy unallowed glosses. His prayer proved to whom he looked and on whom he leaned; but we may not take from His words in chap. iii. 6, nor add to them in ix. 40, nor assimilate either one or other to ix. 34. Let us be assured that each is as God wrote it, and therefore as each should be: our place is to receive humbly, believe confidingly, and enjoy to the uttermost.

The power of the Lord was there, according to His servant's prayer, not to heal as before, but to raise the dead. "And she opened her eyes, and, seeing Peter, sat uρ. And, giving her a hand, he raised her uρ; and calling the saints [who had the deepest and least interested feelings] and the widows, he presented her alive. And it became known to the whole of Joppa"

Yet it is to be remarked that the moral or spiritual effect is not to be measured by the comparative character or measure of the power displayed. When the paralysed Ænos was healed, all who inhabited Lydda turned to the Lord; when the far greater wonder was wrought of raising up the deceased Dorcas in Joppa, no such wide or large effect followed, but "many believed on the Lord": a blessed result for these souls, and to His glory assuredly, but, as far as we may gather from Scripture, by no means so comprehensive now as then. After all it is the word which is the true and right means of conversion to Him, whatever may be the means used to draw attention to His word. For His grace is sovereign, and refuses the plausible reasoning of men.

There is another word which the Spirit adds at the close, and not without its importance. "And it came to pass that he remained many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner." The veil drops over the recollections of Dorcas if she had any about her recent experience, as in the case of Lazarus and all others raised from the dead. But of the great apostle of the circumcision, through whom pseudo-apostles claimed succession over the uncircumcision as well as a monarch's patrimony, we are told that he staid a good many days in Joppa at the house of a certain tanner who bore his own name of Simon. Has this no voice to those who easily believe that they too stand "first" in the church of God in our day? No true apostle according to Scripture ever sought, ever possessed, wealth or rank in virtue of his office. Alas! it is not only power that is departed, but, what is far more serious, the spirit of obedience and the simplicity of faith, which last invests the least thing on earth, which Christ gives or sanctions, with the halo of heaven



1) Lachmann, following A C E and in many cursives, reads "the"; but the best and most ancient copies confirm the common reading with all other editors.

2) The ancient copies give the entreaty more graphically than the Text. Rec.

3) The marginal reading of the Authorised Version ("Be grieved") is in no way suitable as a rendering here, though habitually used in classical authors for the hesitation of shame, pity, or alarm. They were led to retain it in the margin through their respect for Tyndale, followed by Cranmer. The Geneva V. discarded it rightly. The Rhemites give "Be not loth," though Wiclif had translated correctly, as they adhered servilely to the Vulgate. Num. xxii. 16, Judg. xviii. 9 are unquestionable precedents in the LXX, and so Joseph. Ant. ii. 7.

4) So in the Thebaic, Armenian, Philox. Syriac, Cyprian, &c.