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Dorcas: The Historical Backdrop

The birth of the church

Fifty days after Jesus’ last Passover, a tremendous miracle occurred. On the day of Pentecost His disciples gathered together, waiting as instructed for “the promise of the Father.” First they heard a sound from heaven as of a “rushing mighty wind,” and then tongues of fire sat upon each of them filling them with the Holy Spirit. Devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem were drawn to the source of the commotion, astounded to hear the disciples proclaiming the wonderful works on God in the listener’s own language.

This event marked the beginning of the New Testament church and the spreading of the Gospel message . It also marked the beginning of a concerted effort by Jewish authorities to stamp out this movement before it gained traction.

Reactions to Peter’s powerful sermon recorded in Acts 2 didn’t help matters.  Three thousand were baptized (verse 41). Jewish authorities watched and fretted as the apostles continued preaching and 5000 more believed (Acts 4:4). Multitudes in Jerusalem became disciples, including priests (Acts 6:7). And eventually converts became churches that spread throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31). Something had to be done!

Futile efforts

To start with, the Sadducees, angered by what Peter and John were preaching, had them arrested. This only served to galvanize the believing multitude and fueled its determination to stay together and care for one another’s needs (Acts 4:32-37).

The Sadducees and the high priest, indignant at the signs and wonders done by the apostles and at the continuing increase of converts, again had the apostles put in prison. God responded by miraculously setting them free (5:19-25).

The Jews’ frustration and outrage grew murderous, and human lives were on the line.

The first martyr

Stephen, one of seven men selected to administer the care of poor widows, was full of faith and power, and did great wonders and signs among the people (6:8). He also was a powerful speaker and apologist, which ultimately led to his stoning and death. His martyrdom signaled the beginning of great persecution on the church, often at the hands of a man named Saul (Paul). Relentlessly he wreaked “havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (8:3).

A change in direction

God had other plans for Saul. Acts 9 contains the account of God’s intervention and Paul’s conversion. His misguided, hurtful zeal quenched, Paul himself began to further the spread of the Gospel, giving welcome relief to the persecuted fledgling church. The Bible says, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (9:31).

And Dorcas?

It is possible that Dorcas was among those converted during this time. The Bible doesn’t say.

About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

2 responses

  1. Thank you for your comment. You are correct that the word “poor” is not mentioned with regard to the Hellenists’ widows. Further cultural insights regarding this specific episode are provided below:

    Excerpts from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Luke 6:1-6: “Judaism had a system for the distribution of food and supplies to the poor, both to the wandering pauper and to those living in Jerusalem itself….The early Christian community at Jerusalem also expressed its spiritual unity in communal sharing of possessions and in charitable acts….Apparently with the ‘increasing’ number of believers and with the passing of time, the number of Hellenistic widows dependent on relief from the church became disproportionately large. Many pious Jews of the Diaspora had moved to Jerusalem in their later years in order to be buried near it, and their widows would have had no relatives near at hand to care for them as would the widows of the longtime residents. Nor as they became Christians would the “poor baskets” of the national system of relief be readily available to them. So the problem facing the church became acute.”

    The Women’s Study Bible includes a note regarding the Hellenists in Acts 6:1: “Hellenistic widows, often destitute, were coming to Palestine in increasing numbers, and these women needed help.”

  2. Mary Lee Johnston "Marilee"

    I think it is important to note that men such as Stephen that took care of widows were also ordained to serve the poor and the fatherless. Scripture does not indicate that a widow has to be poor to need to be included in the daily administration. Not just “poor widows” but widows indeed. The term Poor widow is not found in scripture. Not that I can see. The widow that gave her mite was rich in deed.

    Widows and poor and fatherless. Each of these need to be included in the daily administration in ways more than financial not to exclude financial when needed. Fatherless children need attention other than financial. The Church of God has always done well in this in regard to camps and activities for the youth.

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