In the New Testament of the Bible the name Tabitha in Hebrew or Dorcas in Greek means a female roe deer or gazelle. We read about Tabitha only in The Acts of the Apostles. Introducting Tabitha the Acts says, “In Joppa there was a woman named Tabith, who was a believer. (Her name in Greek is Dorcas meaning ‘a deer’)” (Acts 9, 36). In the time of Jesus Joppa was a seaport much visited by foreigners especially those who spoke the Greek language. Luke giving the Greek version of Tabitha’s name signifies the importance or the popularity of Greek language of Joppa. Tabitha too must have been very popular not only among the Hebrew people but also among the Greeks.
We do not know anything about Tabitha’s family background or her genealogy. But she was certainly a very popular person for her works of charity and kindness.
Luke describes Tabitha’s life saying, “She spent all her time doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9, 36). Tabitha must have been a well to do person or a resourceful woman that she could spend her time in doing good and helping the poor.
Tabitha is identified as a believer or as a disciple. We know as Herbert Lockyer says in ‘All Women of the Bible’, “Through the spirit-empowered ministry of Philip the evangelist, a Christian Church was established at Joppa – now known as Jaffa – and from an early date the Church was not only a centre of fervent evangelism but also of a well organized social service” (p. 46).
As a disciple and true believer Tabitha put her complete trust in Jesus. But she knew that her faith in Jesus is dead without works of charity. So she made use of her skills like stitching garments and her wealth to good use in serving the poor.
But them the unexpected thing happened. Tabitha became ill and died suddenly. The other believers and the beneficiaries of her charity were heart-broken. Luke describes the event: “At that time she became ill and died. Her body was washed and laid in a room upstairs” (Acts 9, 37). Tabitha died in the midst of her active life.
Luke do not mention any relative of Tabitha. But the fellow believers were there taking care of her dead body. Then they heard that Peter the great disciple of Jesus was at Lydda not far from Joppa. So they dispatched two disciples with the message to Peter “Please hurry and come to us” (Acts 9, 38).
When Peter came promptly, he was taken to the room upstairs where Tabitha’s body was laid. Luke has described the scene graphically, “when he arrived, he was taken to the room upstairs, where all the widows crowded round him, crying and showing him all the shirts and coats that Dorcas had made while she was alive” (Acts 9, 39).
Peter must have been moved by the scene of the widows crying around the serene body of Tabitha and telling him what Tabitha meant for them.
But after the example of his Master Jesus at the raising of Jairus’ daughter “Peter put them all out of the room, and knelt down and prayed; then he turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up!’ she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.” (Acts 9, 40).
Tabitha came back to life and Peter called the widows and all other believers and presented Tabitha to them. It must have been a moving scene for all. There must have been great joy written all over their faces as they have just witnessed the unbelievable event.
The news of Tabitha coming back to life through the intervention of Peter, the Apostle spread far and wide like wide fire.
As Ronals Brownrigg says, “This story has remarkable similarities to the raising of Jairus’ daughter, as recorded in Mark 5, 38-42 and Mathew 9, 25 particularly the weeping and the putting out of the women from the death chamber”