Posted in theology

Observable Character: Dorcas

By Elizabeth Prata

Ruth. David. Dorcas. They had character.

Character is defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

I wrote about Ruth’s character here, her love for God, her love for Naomi, her submission, humility, diligence.

I wrote about David’s character, his bravery, his love for God, his repentance, here.

We can observe through the pages of scripture Ruth and David’s character. The Spirit has recorded their words and their acts for us to assess and enjoy.

Dorcas, also known as Tabitha, is a different story. We don’t meet Dorcas until she is dead. Yet, we can readily observe that Dorcas was someone to emulate. Why? The reaction of her friends and the people in her sphere after she had died. We never read her words and we never see via first person what her works were. But her character is just as observable as Ruth’s and David’s!

We don’t know Dorcas’s marital status, only that she was a disciple who lived in Joppa. Joppa was about 40 miles from Jerusalem on the coast.

Dorcas was living Paul’s principles as written in Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:9-15,

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.

Dorcas certainly had a reputation for good works, caring for the afflicted, and devoting herself to every good work.

And it seems she had avoided the lifestyle written against by Paul in that same passage:

But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

How do we know this? Dorcas was no idler. She was completely occupied with Jesus and His people. She gave the adversary no occasion for slander. (1 Timothy 5:15). Quite the opposite, as we will see.

Her story begins in Acts 9:36.

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.

Let’s stop there for a moment. I like how the Spirit made sure that we would know who she is by repeating her name in both languages, Aramaic and Greek. Dorcas is a Greek translation of the Aramaic name Tabitha, which means “gazelle”. So the Jews knew her as Tabitha and the Greeks knew her as Dorcas. She was known.

She was full … the word full here means abounding, completely occupied with. It is the very definition of a full life. It seems from reading the original word that Dorcas’s life was oriented as much as possible toward Jesus, as she loved Him so much that she completely loved His people, and showed it with being occupied with good works on their behalf.

of good works… the word good is the widest possible meaning good. It describes what originates from God and is empowered by Him in life through faith, according to Strong’s. So her works weren’t surface and they weren’t hypocritical. They were spiritually powerful because they were as much as possible from God and for God.

This is amazing. How often are the works we do offhand, or casual, or mixed with other motives? Dorcas’s wasn’t. They were intentional and full of love and spiritually empowered. Her works weren’t only good to the people, her works were good to God. This is the highest kind of good works of all.

and charity… This word means the poor, a specific benefaction toward the poor, as in alms giving. It seems Dorcas was not scared off by dirty people. Remember, the poor in the first century looked like the poor man outside rich Lazarus’s house, with sores, on a mat, dirty from grime and road dust, full of fleas and bed bugs, wearing tatters. There was no Social Security or Welfare or WIC or anything at all. The destitute were destitute. For women, things could get worse than even that, in a hurry. If she was cast off (divorced), single, a widow, without family, the she was living life on the edge of death every day. Dorcas was completely involved with these impoverished ladies in her works of charity. She made them clothes.

The passage in Acts 9 goes on, Dorcas became ill and died. She was washed and laid out in an upper room. But it does not end there. The ladies didn’t stand around and cry, bury her, and go on with their lives. Dorcas meant so much to them that the women took action.

They sent two men to Lydda where they knew Paul was, and implored Paul to come to them in Joppa without delay. Paul did. (Good for him!) When he arrived to that upper room with Dorcas laid out, a crowd of women were there, according to Strong’s again, weeping aloud, expressing uncontainable, audible grief.

All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. (Acts 9:39b).

ALL the widows. It means all, every. Really? Every widow in Joppa? Wow. Sounds like a Dorcas touched a lot of lives!

Showing the tunics, the word here means of abundance and multitude.

Dorcas’s illness and death rocked the world of the people she touched. They loved her, really loved her. Do you often wonder, what people might think of you after you are gone? How your life impacted them? Would they weep and mourn, or would they just go on with their life, shrugging at the loss for a moment and then you’re forgotten?

Loving Christ and doing constant good works in His name and for His name will never be void. A life such as that will never be empty. Dorcas’s character was so sterling and bright that even after her death we see how much of an impact she made for His name. May our character be as bright.

PS: By the power of God, He allowed Paul to raise Dorcas to life again. And many who heard of this, believed. (Acts 9:42).



Further reading

Observable Character: Ruth

Observable Character: David

Who was Dorcas / Tabitha in the Bible?


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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