Acts 5: 1 – 11 Ananias and Sapphira
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’
Peter said to her, ‘How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
* * *
This passage troubles me, mainly because it seems out of character with the rest of the New Testament.
The events described here happened within weeks of Pentecost. The community of believers was still pretty much confined to Jerusalem, and the apostles were at its head. All sorts of exciting things were happening, including the growth of a culture of sharing that was so generous that ‘there was no needy person among them.’ (Acts 4: 34)
Ananias and Sapphira were members of the early community of believers. They saw others selling property and wanted to do likewise. But, while they didn’t want to hand over everything to the apostles, they wanted the credit for having done so. They lied. They handed over some of the money and said it was the whole sum.
Note; they had the good impulse to give a substantial sum of money to the church
Peter, prophetically, recognised what they had done. He pointed out that they didn’t need to have sold the property; that wasn’t a condition of belonging. Once they’d sold the property, they didn’t need to hand over the whole sum; that wasn’t a condition of belonging either. But they had lied, and tried to deceive the Holy Spirit.
Confronted with their guilt, each of them fell down and died.
Peter wasn’t responsible for their deaths; he just spoke prophetically. It would seem that God himself took their mortal lives.
Luke says that “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”
This passage troubles me because God ended the lives of Ananias and Sapphira supernaturally. It was a deliberate act. There was no opportunity given for repentance and forgiveness (how did Peter feel about that, I wonder?)
I can think of nowhere else in the New Testament where God acts in this way. (However, my knowledge is not comprehensive, and I could be mistaken.)
It also troubles me because Luke tells us that one of the consequences was that “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” I thought that an element of our redemption was that we no longer needed to fear death? To cause fear of death in the congregation seems contrary to that.
How can I understand this event?
I must start with confession; I’m not at all sure that this event happened. However, if it did, here are some thoughts about it.
First and foremost. I do not understand the intricacies of God’s plan. From that standpoint, if it’s true I just have to accept it.
What might God’s plan have been? Peter says, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?”
Thinking of this event in the context of spiritual warfare, the infant church was a group of several thousand believers in Jerusalem. It was extremely fragile. Satan was assaulting it externally, through the Sanhedrin, and now he was attacking it from within by tempting Ananias to greed and deception. Perhaps it was necessary for the believers to understand just how serious a matter it was to try to deceive the other believers?
In addition, we don’t know the status of Ananias and Sapphira before God at the moment of death. That they had tried to deceive was bad, but they had been moved to donate a substantial amount which suggests both faith and commitment. Maybe they both died in a state of grace?
If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you’ll know that I don’t believe that everything in the bible is literally true. This is one of those passages about which I have doubts. St Luke was not an eye witness to these events. He must have relied on an oral account of what happened. There are several ways that an exaggerated account might have circulated and become accepted as fact.
This is a significant event and I certainly can’t simply write it off as not true.
Nevertheless, this passage troubles me.
I find it difficult to believe that every word of the bible is literally true. If I am wrong about this, please forgive me and set me right. I trust you and accept that your will for me is sovereign.
In Jesus’ name, Amen