Ananias and Sapphira

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Early Church Workers

  • The story of Ananias and Sapphira is found in Acts 5:1-11.
  • It follows a story in chapter 4 that claimed all the Christians in the early church held all possessions in common.  They believed that nothing was their own – all belonged to God.  For this reason, they were choosing to share everything they had with each other. 
  • “And much grace was with them all.”  The bottom line is that everyone’s needs were met.  If anyone had a need, some member sold land or whatever it took to meet that need.
  • Two examples are given that illustrate how this worked.
  • The first one involves Barnabas, a Cypriot Jew, who sold a plot of land and gave all the proceeds to the church.
  • This is a positive example of the way things were supposed to work.  (This is the same Barnabas who will be an important church figure later on with Paul.) So, here, he is introduced as a man of good quality and character.
  • He brought the money from the sale and put it at the apostles’ feet, thereby honoring their authority and demonstrating his sheer goodness.
  • The next chapter introduces Ananias and Sapphira. 
  • Ananias means “Jehovah is gracious.”  Sapphira means “beautiful” or “pleasant.”
  • God had been gracious to them – they had each other, land, and fellowship in this community.
  • Like Barnabas, they also sold their land and put the proceeds at the apostles’ feet, claiming it was the whole amount.
  • Truth be known, however, they decided to withhold some of the proceeds, setting it aside, and only giving a portion to the church.
  • Peter asked, “Why is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?”
  • It should be pointed out that there was no requirement that any such proceeds belonged to the church.  Any gifts were to be given voluntarily.  The assumption would be, however, that people would be truthful about their actions.
  • In this case, Ananias said he was giving it all when, in fact, he was holding something back.
  • According to Peter, this was a lie not only against him, but also against God. This is quite early in Peter’s career.  He has been designated as leader, and it is important for readers to know that Peter is of the caliber of Jesus in that he can also read people’s hearts.  With a discerning eye, he knew what was really going on.
  • After being confronted by Peter, Ananias fell down dead on the very spot.
  • Scholars struggle with the harshness of the sentence – death for one lie!  (Not to mention the fact that Peter also lied about knowing the Lord at the time of his trial.  Yet, Peter had been completely forgiven; Ananias never even had a chance to repent.)
  • Other scholars have pointed out that this story is somewhat similar to the one of Achan found in Joshua 7.  (Yet the connection is a bit elusive.)
  • A few hours later, Peter confronted Sapphira, asking her to confirm the sale price.  Her comment agreed with what Ananias had said. 
  • Peter said, “The feet of those who have buried your husband will carry you out too.”
  • Immediately, she fell dead as well.
  • What might be the impelling message of these events?  There is nothing to suggest Peter caused these deaths by putting a curse on them or that he said anything to them, other than that they had lied against the Holy Spirit.
  • Maybe it shows the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • No doubt the actual cause of their deaths will be forever unknown.
  • Yet, the result in Acts is that Peter increased in stature and esteem.  He was able to discern the deception; he really was the handmaid of Jesus.  He had already been given the mantle, the commission to follow Jesus; he had to “earn” it as well. 
  • “Great fear seized the church.”  It is the first use of the word “church” in Acts.  It suggests these people were starting to develop an identity as a people of God.  “Fear” in this context means knowing that God is holy and sovereign, and reverencing Him.  Clearly, this community was not perfect, but with Peter as their leader and the Spirit among them, they were ready to go forward.

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