The Conversion of Saul, 1-22

9:1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest 9:2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 9:3 As he was going along, approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 9:4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 9:5 So he said, “Who are you, Lord?” He replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting! 9:6 But stand up and enter the city and you will be told what you must do.” 9:7 (Now the men who were traveling with him stood there speechless, because they heard the voice but saw no one.) 9:8 So Saul got up from the ground, but although his eyes were open, he could see nothing. Leading him by the hand, his companions brought him into Damascus. 9:9 For three days he could not see, and he neither ate nor drank anything.

Threats to murder – ‘When the NIV renders “threats and murder” as murderous threats, something is lost of the reference to the two-part Jewish judicial process (Longenecker 1981:368) and the highlighting of Saul’s violence (Lake and Cadbury 1979:99). Saul does not just make threats; (compare Acts 4:17,29) he helps bring about actual executions.’ (Acts 8:1; 26:10) (IVP)

“Why do you persecute me?” – These words identify the speaker as Jesus (cf. v5)—the very one whom Stephen had seen at the right hand of God when Paul witnessed Stephen’s stoning.

This was evidently not the first time that the Lord Jesus had revealed himself to Paul.  ‘According to Paul’s own later narrative, Jesus said to him: ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads’ (26:14). By this proverb (which seems to have been fairly common in both Greek and Latin literature) Jesus likened Saul to a lively and recalcitrant young bullock, and himself to a farmer using goads to break him in. The implication is that Jesus was pursuing Saul, prodding and pricking him, which it was ‘hard’ (painful, even futile) for him to resist.’ (Stott)

Stendahl has argued that what happened to Paul on the Damascus road was a call rather than a conversion, since it involved no change of religion. To regard it as a dramatic conversion is to view it through the eyes of the ‘introspective conscience of the West’, and in the light of the experiences of Augustine and Luther. However, Paul himself describes his own experience in terms much more radical than could be applied to his simply having received a new assignment. See 1 Cor 15:8; Php 3:4-8,12; Gal 1:13, all of which suggest a radical break with his Judaic past. (See Reymond, Paul: Missionary Theologian 60f)

His companions brought him into Damascus – This is consistent with Paul’s own account in Gal 1:11-18, where he says that after going to Arabia, he ‘returned again’ to Damascus, clearly indicating that he had been there soon after his conversion, as the present passage says.  Here, then, is an undesigned coincidence between the two sources.  (See McGrew, Hidden in Plain Sight)

9:10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias,” and he replied, “Here I am, Lord.” 9:11 Then the Lord told him, “Get up and go to the street called ‘Straight,’ and at Judas’ house look for a man from Tarsus named Saul. For he is praying, 9:12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he may see again.” 9:13 But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem, 9:14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call on your name!” 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. 9:16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 9:17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 9:18 Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 9:19 and after taking some food, his strength returned.

v13 ‘”Not him, Lord, that’s impossible. He could never become a Christian!” This was the essence of Ananias’s response when God told him of Paul’s conversion. After all, Paul had pursued believers to their death. Despite these understandable feelings, Ananias obeyed God and ministered to Paul. We must not limit God. He can do anything. We must obey, following God’s leading even to difficult people and places.’ (Handbook of Bible Application)

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 9:20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “This man is the Son of God.” 9:21 All who heard him were amazed and were saying, “Is this not the man who in Jerusalem was ravaging those who call on this name, and who had come here to bring them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 9:22 But Saul became more and more capable, and was causing consternation among the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

Saul’s Escape from Damascus, 23-25

9:23 Now after some days had passed, the Jews plotted together to kill him, 9:24 but Saul learned of their plot against him. They were also watching the city gates day and night so that they could kill him. 9:25 But his disciples took him at night and let him down through an opening in the wall by lowering him in a basket.

This escape from Damascus is also recorded in 2 Cor 11:32f.  The two passages agree on the core facts, but give different details; one is therefore not a simply copy of the other.  We conclude that this is another instance of an undesigned coincidence.  (McGrew, op. cit.)

Saul Returns to Jerusalem, 26-31

9:26 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he attempted to associate with the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, because they did not believe that he was a disciple. 9:27 But Barnabas took Saul, brought him to the apostles, and related to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 9:28 So he was staying with them, associating openly with them in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 9:29 He was speaking and debating with the Greek-speaking Jews, but they were trying to kill him. 9:30 When the brothers found out about this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.
9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria experienced peace and thus was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers.

Schnabel notes this this is the 8th such summary statement in Acts, and ‘notes the geographical and numerical growth and consolidation of the church in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.’

Encouraged by the Holy Spirit – Or, ‘in the comfort of the Holy Spirit [Ghost]’ – so AV, NASB, NRSV

Looking back over this account of Saul’s conversion, Stott remarks that a person’s conversion ‘is only the beginning. The same grace which brings a person to new birth is able to transform him or her into Christ’s image. Every new convert becomes a changed person, and has new titles to prove it, namely a ‘disciple’ (26) or ‘saint’ (13), newly related to God, a ‘brother’ (17) or sister, newly related to the church, and a ‘witness’ (22:15; 26:16), newly related to the world. If these three relationships—to God, the church and the world—are not seen in professed converts, we have good reason to question the reality of their conversion. But whenever they are visibly present, we have good reason to magnify the grace of God.’

Peter Heals Aeneas, 32-35

Peter has last appeared in the narrative in Acts 8:14-25, in connection with the mission to the Samaritans.  Here, he is found participating in the mission to greater Judea, among the coastal towns.  Next will come the momentous meeting with Cornelius, in chapter 10.  We will meet him again in ch. 12 (his imprisonment and miraculous release), and, once more, in ch. 15 (the Jerusalem Council).

Schnabel notes that the main theme in this section of Acts (8:4-12:25) is missionary work among new groups of people.  Even though the present two accounts feature miracles, the evangelistic effect of these is strongly apparent.

For Schnabel, the main idea is: ‘The miracles which happen in Lydda and Joppe in the context of Peter’s missionary work confirm that the apostles are Jesus’ representatives whose missionary ministry is evidence for the ongoing restoration of Israel, for the visible presence of the time of salvation, and for the effective reality of God’s power.’

The following two miracles stories recall those of Jesus healing a paralytic (Lk 5:17-26) and raising Jairus’ daughter (Lk 8:41-56).

9:32 Now as Peter was traveling around from place to place, he also came down to the saints who lived in Lydda. 9:33 He found there a man named Aeneas who had been confined to a mattress for eight years because he was paralyzed. 9:34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Get up and make your own bed!” And immediately he got up. 9:35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

Peter was traveling around from place to place – As Barrett remarks, Luke presents Peter asn an evangelist ‘who gradually extended his range of operation till he covered the whole racial and religious scale, though not the whole geographical area, available.’

With Saul/Paul waiting in the wings, Peter is re-introduced, in preparation for the momentous recorded in the next two chapters.  The spread of the gospel has been described as beginning in Jerusalem, then to Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, northwards to Damascus (Acts 9:10,19) and now westwards to Lydda and Joppa.  In travelling from Lydda to Joppa Peter is moving further and further into Gentile territory.  As he does so he experiences God’s blessing on his ministry of preaching and healing, and, when he reaches Joppa, in in place to hear Cornelius’ momentous summons.

He came down to the saints – Jewish Christians, as in v13.  Peter would not be ready to minister among the Gentiles until after the events recorded in chapters 10 and 11.

Peter’s purpose here is not establishing new churches but strengthening existing ones (cf. Acts 9:31).  Evangelism is vital; but so is edification.  See Jn 21:15-17.

‘The Christians are called saints, not only some particular eminent ones, as saint Peter and saint Paul, but every sincere professor of the faith of Christ.’ (MHC)

It is also to be noted that the word ‘saints’, in the NT, is always in the plural, referring to groups of believers and not to individuals.

Lydda was situated to the north-east of Jerusalem, twelve miles south-east of Joppa.  In 1 Chron 8:12 it is called Lod.  This is also the modern name, and it is the site of the Tel Aviv airport.  Peter’s purpose was not only to preach the gospel but also to teach and encourage the saints (cf Lk 22:32).

As Wiersbe remarks, this area may have first been evangelised by people who had been converted at Pentecost (Acts 2), or by believers who had been scattered during the time of persecution (Acts 8:1), or by Philip the evangelist (Acts 8:40).

Aeneas…had been confined to a mattress for eight years – or, possibly, since the time he was eight years old.

We are not told if Aeneas was a Christian.  But, since Peter’s purpose was to support the Christian community here, we may assume that she was.  Tabitha certainly was a ‘disciple’, confirming (as Fernando observes) that healing miracles occurred among believers as well as unbelievers.

The healing is immediate and complete: “Jesus Christ heals you” (not, for instance, “Jesus Christ will help you to feel better”)

‘As you read the Book of Acts, you will see parallels between the ministries of Peter and Paul. Both healed cripples. Both were arrested and put into jail and were miraculously delivered. Both were treated like gods (Acts 10:25–26; 14:8–18), and both gave a bold witness before the authorities. Both had to confront false prophets (Acts 8:9–24; 13:6–12). No one reading the Book of Acts could end up saying, “I am for Paul!” or “I am for Peter!” (1 Cor. 1:12) “But it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Cor. 12:6).’ (Wiersbe)

“Get up and make your own bed”– Out of context, this could mean, ‘Prepare your bed for sleep.’  More probably, it means, ‘Roll up your mattress.’  But, as Marshall, says, it could refer to preparing a couch for sitting at a table to take a meal, in which case there would be a parallel with Lk 8:55.  Polhill agrees that this is a possible interpretation, in which case ‘the reference would be to the man’s thorough recovery and taking of sustenance for further strength’.

‘This was really power! Some of us for years have been saying, “Arise and make your bed,” to our teenagers with no result!’ (Charles Swindoll)

‘Interestingly, these successes were essentially duplicates of miracles Jesus had performed. The healing of Aeneas’ paralysis was similar to that of the paralytic at Bethesda to whom the Savior said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8). Regarding Dorcas’ healing, Peter may have learned the procedure from Jesus’ raising of Jairus’ daughter as recorded in Mark 5 because when Peter arrived the people were making a commotion, just as others had done in Jairus’ home. The apostle shut them all out of the room, just as Christ had done, and then said, “Talitha kumi” (“Tabitha, get up”), which if you change one letter is the duplicate of Christ’s words, “Talitha kumi“—”Little girl, get up” (Mark 5:41).’ (R. Kent Hughes)

Curse reversed

‘This is an example of what C. S. Lewis called a “miracle of reversal” in which the effects of sin and the fall are reversed and a glimpse of the new creation is given. It is meant to convey, in what we might call an “eschatological” sense, the nature of what Jesus had ultimately come to do—restore a broken, cursed creation. In the new heavens and new earth, where all the effects of sin have been removed, there will be no place for disease and paralysis.’ (Derek Thomas)

A sign

‘Like Jesus, Peter employed a miracle that demonstrated much more than what the onlookers’ physical senses told them—as the healing of the physically blind conveyed that Jesus gives spiritual sight to those who are spiritually blind (John 9), and as the multiplication of loaves and fishes really pointed to Jesus as the Bread of Life (John 6). So, too, this miracle acted as a sign: Jesus can “lift … drooping hands and strengthen … weak knees, and make straight paths for … feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Heb. 12:12–13).’

Moreover, ‘these miracles should help us to see that one day, in the resurrection glory, all sickness and disease will be eradicated. In the world to come, there will be no disability to hinder us. We will have new bodies made—remade—to function as they were intended to without the debilitating effects of sin that now characterize the physical world. It is a longing that inanimate creation itself longs for, groaning “in the pains of childbirth” as it anticipates the new creation (Rom. 8:22).’ (Derek Thomas)

All…turned to the Lord – The expression is obviously being used hyperbolically.

There are several similarities with the healings of Jesus: some of those were performed, as here, apparently without being asked; many were performed by a simple word of command; they attracted attention and led to the gathering to crowds to hear and receive the good news.  Truly, Peter is an apostle appointed and empowered by Jesus Christ.

As Polhill remarks, ‘the miracles in Acts are signs of the power of Jesus and often serve as the initial basis that leads to ultimate commitment. They are never, however, a substitute for faith (cf. Acts 3:9f. with Acts 3:19f.).’

Sharon – the coastal plain extending from Lydda up towards Mount Carmel.

Peter Raises Dorcas, 36-43

9:36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which in translation means Dorcas). She was continually doing good deeds and acts of charity. 9:37 At that time she became sick and died. When they had washed her body, they placed it in an upstairs room. 9:38 Because Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Come to us without delay.” 9:39 So Peter got up and went with them, and when he arrived they brought him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him, crying and showing him the tunics and other clothing Dorcas used to make while she was with them. 9:40 But Peter sent them all outside, knelt down, and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 9:41 He gave her his hand and helped her get up. Then he called the saints and widows and presented her alive. 9:42 This became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 9:43 So Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a man named Simon, a tanner.

Joppa is modern Jaffa.  It is the nearest sea-port to Jerusalem (thirty-five miles northwest).

‘The city is important in Bible history as the place from which the Prophet Jonah embarked when he tried to flee from God (Jonah 1:1–3). Jonah went to Joppa to avoid going to the Gentiles, but Peter in Joppa received his call to go to the Gentiles! Because Jonah disobeyed God, the Lord sent a storm that caused the Gentile sailors to fear. Because Peter obeyed the Lord, God sent the “wind of the Spirit” to the Gentiles and they experienced great joy and peace. What a contrast!’ (Wiersbe)

A disciple named Tabitha

For Beth Allison Barr (The Making of Biblical Womanhood) this account of Tabitha is one of a number that subvert traditional gender roles:

‘We see a surprising number of passages subverting traditional gender roles and emphasizing women as leaders—from the Samaritan woman at the well giving Jesus a drink to Mary of Bethany learning at Jesus’s feet like a disciple to Martha declaring her faith in Jesus (which counters the lack of faith exhibited by most of the disciples). I laughed recently at biblical scholar Febbie C. Dickerson’s musings about Tabitha, a woman identified as a disciple in Acts 9. “I wonder,” asks Dickerson, “what would happen if preachers learned Greek and so recognized that Tabitha’s identification as ‘a certain female disciple’ probably indicates that she is one of many female disciples.” Biblical women are more than we have imagined them to be; they will not fit in the mold complementarianism has decreed for them.’

I am not competent to evaluate Dickerson’s appeal to the Greek in order to show that Tabitha was one of a number of disciples.  All I can say about this is that the vast majority of English translations (produced, presumably, by people who had ‘learned Greek’!) do not call Tabitha ‘a certain disciple’.  Nor have I found any commentary which makes anything of this.

However, I willing agree, on other grounds, not only that Tabitha was one of a number of women disciples, but that she was a person of some means and influence.  But this some distance from affirming, with Barr, that the accounts of the Samaritan woman, of Mary and Martha of Bethany, and of Tabitha emphasize ‘women as leaders’.

Tabitha…Dorcas – meaning ‘gazelle’ in Aramaic and Greek respectively.

Our author is in the habit of telling us something about those who experience healing.  In the case of this woman, her kindness included making clothes for widows (v39).

She was a disciple.

Fernando comments from this account that

(a) miraculous healing is available to believers, as well as to believers (but it more frequently occurs in evangelistic settings, and even the present healing has an evangelistic effect);

(b) although there would have been Christian leaders and people of prayer in Joppa, they send for Peter, suggesting that gifts of healings are given to some, and not all, believers;

(c) this miracle involves a raising of the dead, and we should not assume that God would not do such a miracle today.  Only, let us remember that many notable believers (such as Stephen and James) have not been spared untimely deaths, and always rest in the belief that for us, as for them, death is a portal to ultimate glory.  Considerable wisdom, discernment and sensitivity are needed.

She was always doing good and helping the poor – A true follower of Jesus in this regard, cf. Acts 10:38.  Since no husband is mentioned, she may have been a widow herself.  And, since we will learn that she made clothes for other widows by hand, she was probably of limited means.

‘Much attention is paid to Tabitha’s former good works, even to the point of displaying garments she produced, as if somehow to justify the miracle. This is highly unusual. We do not read encomiums to the personal character or economic output of Lazarus before Jesus brings him back from the dead (John 11)!’ (Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol 2)

‘Once again, generosity surfaces in the narrative of Acts as a sign of the Spirit’s work in those who turn to Christ (cf. Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–37).’ (Peterson)

Such works were highly esteemed in Judaism, and continued to be so among the Christians.  They would have been particularly important in an age when there was no state welfare system to fall back on.  ‘Many are full of good words, who are empty and barren in good works; but Tabitha was a great doer, no great talker.’ (MHC)

Fernando comments that although there are special gifts of service and mercy (Rom 12:7f), all Christians should be characterised by kindness (1 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 5:22).  Tabitha is a model for us all.  See also James 1:27; 1 Tim 5:16.  We may conclude that ‘caring for the needy is an essential aspect of the Christian lifestyle.’

When they had washed her body, they placed it in an upstairs room – The usual practice would have been to wash, anoint, and bury the body before sunset on the day of death.  Placing it in an upstairs room may suggest the hope that she would be raised.  Cf. 1 Kgs 17:19; 2 Kgs 4:10, 21.  It seems clear that they do not want to bury the body until they have had a response from Peter.

‘The incident may testify to a belief in some parts of the early church that Christians would not die before the return of the Lord but would be resurrected. In any case the Christians in Joppa felt sufficient faith in the possibility of resurrection to send for Peter and bid him come at once.’ (Marshall)

‘There is no record in Acts that any of the Apostles had raised the dead, so their sending for Peter was an evidence of their faith in the power of the risen Christ. When our Lord ministered on earth, He raised the dead; so why would He not be able to raise the dead from His exalted throne in glory?’ (Wiersbe)

Lydda was near Joppa – about ten miles away.

When the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Come to us without delay” – They sent for him, ‘not to attend the funeral, but, if it might be, to prevent it’ (MHC)

“Please come at once!”– The urgency is due in part to the fact that burial would take place before sunset on the day of death.  The round trip of 20 miles (for the messengers to reach Peter, and for Peter to get to Joppa) would have taken 8 hours or so.

‘Raising the dead was a rare phenomenon, even in Jesus’ ministry—only three instances are recorded (Matt. 9:18–25; Luke 7:11–15; John 11:1–44). In Acts, there have been none! Were they really expecting Peter to restore her to life? And why did they expect that Peter, especially, was capable of doing something extraordinary at all? Had they already heard about the paralytic who had been healed? Had news already traveled to Joppa that Peter had miraculous powers?’ (Derek Thomas)

What did they expect him to do?  Conduct the funeral service?  No: ‘Bodies normally were anointed prior to burial. Luke mentions only that the body of Dorcas was washed, and therefore he seems to imply that the Christians had a hidden motive. Having heard that Peter performed the miracle of healing a paralytic in nearby Lydda, they wanted to ask him to raise Dorcas from the dead.’ (Kistemaker)

‘Luke does not say what they expected from him or asked him to do. But since (1) Tabitha’s body was washed but not anointed for burial and (2) her good deeds were told to Peter when he arrived, they apparently wanted him to restore her to life. Having heard of Aeneas’s healing, they seem to have thought it merely a slight extension of divine power to raise the dead.’ (EBC)

The widows show Peter the tunics and other clothing Dorcas used to make.  Quite possibly, they were wearing them!

The difficulties faced by poor Greek-speaking Jewish widows has already surfaced in Acts 6:1-6.

Dorcas does not appear to have been a wealthy benefactress, for she made the clothes herself.  Later NT writings, such as 1 Tim 5:9f, 15 show that care for, and responsibilities of, widows would become a feature in the church.

I think that the following attempt to read into Tabitha’s story a higher social status for her that is warranted by the text is likely an instance of special pleading:

‘Tabitha’s role, especially among the widows of the community, once more calls into question the traditional interpretation of Acts 6, which styles the widows of The Way as passive recipients of food. The widows of Joppa also function as official mourners of the community, tending to Tabitha’s corpse and accompanying it until its intended burial. In both instances, these are women with clear and respected roles within The Way.
Of course, Tabitha is a woman of wealth and status, whose death financially impoverishes the community, rather than a poor woman.’
(Women’s Bible Commentary)

‘God uses great preachers like Peter and Paul, but he also uses those who have gifts of kindness, like Dorcas. Rather than wishing you had other gifts, make good use of the gifts God has given you.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

We cannot be sure why Peter sent them all out of the room; but he would have observed Jesus doing the same when raising Jairus’ daughter, Mk 5:40.  It is possible that the presence of the mourners (v39) would have been detrimental to the prospect of restoring her to life.

‘Peter declined every thing that looked like vainglory and ostentation; they came to see, but he did not come to be seen. He put them all forth, that he might with the more freedom pour out his soul before God in prayer upon this occasion, and not be disturbed with their noisy and clamorous lamentations.’ (MHC)

“Tabitha, get up” – If Peter spoke these words in Aramaic, as is likely, then there is just one letter difference between what he said (“Tabitha koum!” – “Tabitha, get up!”) and what Jesus said when he raised Jairus’ daughter (“Talitha koum!” – “Little girl, get up” Mk 5:41).

What must have been going through Peter’s mind?  And what gave him the faith to believe that he would be enabled to perform a miracle such as he had never performed before.  The only answer must be that he had such a vivid awareness of the presence of Jesus Christ that he believed that Jesus could perform a miracle just as he had done during the time of his earthly ministry.

Presented her to them alive – ‘as Elijah (1 Ki 17:23), and Elisha (2 Ki 4:36), and Christ (Lk 7:15), presented the dead sons alive to their mothers.’ (MHC)

‘To her own loss for a little while; but so God might be glorified and the Church gratified, she was well contented.’ (Trapp)

‘As with Jairus’s daughter, the widow’s son at Nain, Lazarus, and Dorcas, it was not a matter of resurrection but of resuscitation, of temporary restoration of life. But all the miracles of raising from the dead are in a real sense “signs,” pointers to the one who has power even over death and is himself the resurrection and the life for all who believe and trust in him.’ (Polhill)

‘The description that Peter “presented” her to them reminds one of the similar expression of how Elijah “gave” her son back to the widow of Zarephath (1 Kgs 17:23) and how Jesus “gave” her son back to the widow of Nain (Luke 7:15). In these two instances the restoration of an only son to a destitute widow was indeed a gift, and Peter’s presentation of Dorcas alive was no less a gift to the widows of Joppa.’ (Polhill)

Imagine their joy and wonder! No wonder that many believed in the Lord: they turn to Jesus (not to Peter).  It has been noted that not accompanying sermon is recorded, specifying the nature and content of this belief.  But we may assume that Peter (and his message) were well known in Joppa (otherwise, why the believers there send for him?).

The link between miracles and faith is not uniform or universal in Acts.  As Schnabel notes: ‘Miracles do not automatically lead to conversions and church growth (see Paul’s experience in Lystra, 14:8–18, and 19), and the lack of miracles does not hinder or prevent conversions and church growth (see Paul’s experience in Pisidian Antioch, 13:14–49). Miracles are caused by Jesus’ power, and conversions are caused by Jesus’ power. Sometimes Jesus chooses to heal miraculously; sometimes he does not heal despite the believers’ prayers and their faith in the Lord. Tabitha is brought back to life not because she was devoted to good works, but because this was the will of the Lord.’

Stott suggests that Luke has deliberately portrayed Peter as an authentic apostle, who performed ‘the signs of a true apostle’ (2 Cor 12:12).  For,

  1. Both miracles followed the example of Jesus.  Peter’s words to Aeneas in v34 echo those of Jesus to another paralytic, Mk 2:11.  The raising of Tabitha echoes that of Jairus’ daughter.
  2. Both miracles were performed by the power of Jesus.  Peter is clear that it is Jesus Christ who heals, and not himself, v34, and he prayed before he addressed Tabitha, v40.
  3. Both miracles were signs of the salvation of Jesus.  In both cases, Peter use the same word (anastēthi, ‘Get up!’, v34, 40) that is used of God raising Jesus from the dead.
  4. Both miracles redounded to the glory of God.  When Aeneas was healed, large number of people turned to the Lord, v35.  So too with the healing of Tabitha, v42.  ‘In accordance with the purpose of the signs, which was to authenticate and illustrate the salvation message of the apostle, people heard the word, saw the signs, and believed.’

Barrett comments: ‘The story recalls Mk 5:36–43; 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:18–37. Haenchen is probably right in seeing here the intention to show that the apostles did not come behind the prophets; whether we should think of the ‘greater works’ of Jn. 14:12 is more doubtful. The raising of Tabitha is hardly greater than that of Mk 5 or Jn 11—or Lk. 7.’

Mysteries remain

‘Why is Peter called to this person who has just died, and not to any one of the others (Dorcas cannot have been the only follower of Jesus to have died in the first years of the movement)? Why does Aeneas get healed, rather than all the other disabled people in the area? Why do some people get called to new work by an inner prompting, others by an angelic visitor, and others again by an ordinary messenger coming from a neighbouring town? If Luke had wanted to tell us that God keeps people guessing, he couldn’t have done it much better.’ (Wright)

The meaning for Peter

Derek Thomas remarks that this miracle would have had great confirmatory power for Peter.  He was about to have his Jewish prejudices turned upside down.  It was important for him (and those around him) to know that God was present with him with power.  ‘The miracle would have corroborated his authority as an apostle, vindicating what would otherwise have been seen as an act of betrayal to have given to Cornelius—a Roman soldier of some standing and a Gentile, no less—such prominence in the future direction of the church.’

A rare miracle

‘While the presence of the narrative of Tabitha’s healing provides a precedent for asking Jesus to intervene even in cases of death, we should not forget that many leaders, such as Stephen and (later) James, died untimely deaths without being brought back to life, and, more importantly still, that as a result of Jesus’ victory, death has lost its sting (1 Cor 15:54–55) and believers look forward to depart from this earth to “be with Christ” (Phil 1:23).’ (Schnabel)

Miraculous healing today?

Milne comments:

‘As far as healing miracles are concerned, we dare not set limits to the power of God, though we must rightly retain a concern that God’s honour be always pre-eminent, a recognition of the need for wise pastoral response, and the recognition that the supreme ‘healing’ is always that of rebirth in the Holy Spirit.’

Peter and Paul

We have pointed out the similarities between this pair of miracles and the miracles of Jesus.

But also, ‘as you read the Book of Acts, you will see parallels between the ministries of Peter and Paul. Both healed cripples. Both were arrested and put into jail and were miraculously delivered. Both were treated like gods (Acts 10:25–26; 14:8–18), and both gave a bold witness before the authorities. Both had to confront false prophets (Acts 8:9–24; 13:6–12). No one reading the Book of Acts could end up saying, “I am for Paul!” or “I am for Peter!” (1 Cor. 1:12) “But it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Cor. 12:6).’ (Wiersbe)

The greatest miracle

‘What is the greatest miracle that God can do for us? Some would call the healing of the body God’s greatest miracle, while others would vote for the raising of the dead. However, I think that the greatest miracle of all is the salvation of a lost sinner. Why? Because salvation costs the greatest price, it produces the greatest results, and it brings the greatest glory to God.’ (Wiersbe)

Acts of kindness

‘What we see in this passage is a glimpse of a church where practical acts of kindness are seemingly the norm. Is this true of our church? Is this true of you? Are there things that you could be doing in order to help in the communal life of the body of Christ? Dorcas’s presence in the church was a continual reminder to them of the grace and power of God.’ (Derek Thomas)

Wright, similarly: Dorcas ‘stands as it were for all those unsung heroines who have got on with what they can do best and have done it to the glory of God. Had it not been for Peter, she might never have made it into the pages of the New Testament, and we have to assume that there were dozens in the early years, and thousands in later years, who, like her, lived their lives in faith and hope, bearing the sorrows of life no doubt as well as celebrating its joys, and finding in the small acts of service to others a fulfilment of the gospel within their own sphere, using traditional skills to the glory of God. Luke is right to draw our eyes down to the small-scale and immediate, in case we should ever forget that these are the people who form the heart of the church, while the apostles and evangelists go about making important decisions, getting locked up, stoned or shipwrecked, preaching great sermons, writing great letters, and generally being great and good all over the place. I am privileged to know plenty of Dorcases. The day before I wrote this I met one whose speciality is chocolate truffles. When I meet such people I greet them as what they are, the beating heart of the people of God.’

Acts 9:43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Peter sayed…for some time with a tanner named Simon – Since tanners worked with the skins of dead animals, they may have been regarded as ceremonially unclean (Schnabel doubts this, although he does note that they were often scorned). Peter’s willingness to stay with this man perhaps indicates his openness to the events which will now be recorded in ch. 10.  ‘Peter was apparently not troubled by such concerns, but he would soon have difficulty taking the more radical step of visiting a Gentile household. He would need a series of revelations from God to move him in that direction.’ (Peterson)

Barrett observes that ‘pure invention would never have invited confusion by making Simon Peter stay with another Simon.’  However, he does not think that this assures the historicity of the text.

Note the prominence given in Acts to Christian hospitality.  ‘The moral dangers at the inns made hospitality an important virtue in early Christianity (Rom. 16:23; 1 Pet. 4:9; 2 John 10; 3 John 5–8; Heb. 13:2; 1 Clement 10–12; Didache 11–13) because of the needs of missionaries and messengers of the churches and other Christians who happened to be traveling … The churches provided an extended family, giving lodging and assistance for the journey.’ (Everett Harrison, quoted by Fernando)

Peter’s heart was softening; he was becoming more mellow; he was being prepared for a still greater change.