Ananias and Sapphira
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
Observations and Reflections
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is one of the NT stories that sound too mythical to have actually happened. Luke’s description of Peter in the story seems out of character for some readers and for other readers it is hard to understand why God would strike down the couple for merely lying about the amount they gifted to the church. It is clear from the passage that the sin of Sapphira and Ananias was not that they gave only a portion but that they gave only a portion while either promising the whole or leading the community to believe it was the whole, and therefore was a deception. This is why Peter says “Satan filled your heart to lie”.
In order to understand the seriousness of this passage I think it’s important to pause for a moment and define what the community of Christians was like in this period. Luke introduces the early church as a type of Christian community where the Holy Spirit is the guiding light. The community itself was sacred, as they embodied the power of the Spirit which was evident in their life styles and in the growing numbers. The community must be protected from evil doers who would seek to destroy it. It is unclear if Peter saw the community in this way but Luke seems to treat it as such.
One also wonders how much of this story was not told. It seems as though the telling by Luke is abbreviated to make a point. It is not a very full story with lots of details. It is not clear why the couple was punished with immediate death and who is actually responsible for the death. Was it solely God’s doing with Peter acting as intermediary? Or was it Peter causing the death with the backing of the power of God? Moreover, what was the real crime?
First, it appears that the crime was not holding back a portion for themselves. It was not even lying about it. I believe the crime was deeper. They were trying to deceive a community into believing that they were in unity with them. It might be akin to buying influence. It’s also quite possible that they were never sincere about being part of the Christian community but just wanted to use the community for other reasons. Either way, they were not just deceiving Peter, but thousands of recent converts who were infants in the faith. Recall that they were in no way required to make such a donation. So it was never necessary for them to lie about the donations. They could have kept their lands and possessions and still have been part of the church. But they sold their belongings without being compelled to do so and then they tried to deceive Peter and the Christians. That sounds like something much deeper was happening. However, Luke is not as interested in the details as the modern reader is. He wished only to issue a warning.
Secondly, about their deaths, Peter does not appear to have been the cause of their deaths. Peter merely confronted them. It would seem that God was the arbiter of judgment and retribution. That is clear by the fact that Peter never utters a curse against them but they just fall and “take their last breathe”. Thus, it seems as though God found them unfit for communion with the first Christian community. It’s quite likely that this story is really a brief tale that serves only as a warning which is why Luke leaves so much out.
The fact that so many details are missing from this story makes it hard to make definitive conclusions about it. It’s also hard to see the value of this story in the modern church. However, it should still server as a warning to the church today. It is a holy body and those who wish to deceive it, do so at their own risk.
This is a hard passage to read. It speaks to a sin that was committed in act to show a false devotion to the church and to God. Ananias and Sapphira had put on a false front that they had indeed sold a piece of property in order to give to the church. They acted as they were generous and giving in their hearts, all the while having a heart of greed and deceit.
The reason for such a harsh punishment was not that God was being cruel. It was to show what happens when we claim to be serving God with our whole hearts and yet are living a life that is filled with greed and is uncommitted to truly serving Him. The problem with this couple was that they had a deep rooted sin in their hearts and attempted to trick both man and God.
The consequences for those of us who choose to reject God and attempt to claim that we follow Him, is eternal punishment. Ananias and Sapphira displayed what happens when we choose sin over God. I truly believe that had they chosen to confess of their sin, that God would have been gracious to forgive.
Sin might not lead to death right way. A life of sin is what causes eternal separation from God and leads to death. This is not just speaking of a physical death, this is speaking to spiritual one. This passage serves as a means to warn us that sin only leads to destruction. Choosing a path that whole heartedly follows after God results in an everlasting relationship with Him along with experiencing His joy, peace and blessings in our lives.