Acts 5 – The Death of Ananias and Sapphira

Luke gives an ideal example: Joseph the Levite, also known as Barnabas (4:36) Barnabas is a significant figure in the book of Acts, introduced here as a member of the community at Jerusalem. Barnabas sold some property and turns the proceeds over to the apostles. This stands in contrast to Ananias in the next paragraph, who claims to do the same thing but is not telling the truth. Ananias also participated in communal living, but not fully (5:1-2) Taking the end of chapter four together with the beginning of chapter 5, it looks as though Barnabas and Ananias are intentionally place in contrast with each other.

Since the sale of property is voluntary, there is no reason for Ananias to lie about the price of the property – what is his motivation? Possibly he is simply motivated by greed, he did not want to give as much as the price of the property but when others gave the whole amount, he claimed a larger amount that he actually gave. Since Peter describes him as “filled with Satan” many scholars see him as parallel to Judas, another man who was filled with Satan, whose sin also include money (eventually) used to buy some land.

Ananias “held back” some of the money from the sale. The word Luke uses here (νοσφίζω) refers to financial fraud, such as embezzlement or “a type of skimming operation” (BDAG). The word is used for people who hold back some of their crops which are to be used for the public good (Diodorus Scourus, 5, 34, 3). A more surprising use of this word is in LXX Joshua 7:1, 19-26 to describe the sin of Aachen. In that text, Aachen holds back some property which was supposed to be devoted to the Lord. His theft is therefore described as stealing from the Lord.

Peter confronts Ananias and his judgment is immediate (5:3-6) Peter tells Ananias that Satan has filled his heart. How is this possible, if the Jerusalem community is was filled with the Holy Spirit? Was Ananias possessed, or does this language simply describe temptation? This must be parallel to the experience of Judas, who was the only other person in the gospels described as “filled by Satan.” Peter makes it clear that Ananias’ sin is against the Holy Spirit – his lie is not told to the apostles or the apostolic community, but to the Holy Spirit. His wife Sapphira also lies, and is likewise judged (5:7-11) Luke tells us about three hours have passed since Ananias died before Sapphira came to Peter. We know that Ananias acted with the full support of his wife. Just as the apostolic community is of “one mind and heart,” so too this couple was of one mind in heart.

The community in Jerusalem was like a new Israel. Like the original Israel, there is no room for the double-minded. Ananias is a negative example of someone not fully committed to the new community. Barnabas is fully committed, and will be a significant player in the missionary efforts of the earliest church.

The problem is how we “apply” this story to a present day church situation. I doubt very many churches use this text to prod people to “catch up” on their tithe or faith promise, but what reasons do we have for ignoring that aspect of the story? Usually we have to add a great deal to the story in order to make the story more applicable. Go watch this well done video on YouTube. The application is fine, but is this application what Luke intended?

Does God “strike people down” who lie/steal from the Church? (At least in my experience this does not happen, some televangelists would be in big trouble!)

What principles should we draw from the story?

24 thoughts on “Acts 5 – The Death of Ananias and Sapphira

  1. When I have read and heard about this part of Scripture during my outlines and in the past, I always seems to make the connection from that to Cain and Abel in Genesis. In this story, Ananias and Sapphira are Cain and the rest of the congregation that is giving all that they have to the Temple is the equal of Abel. Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of their land and they did not give the portion that they should have given to the church. This displeased God so he struck them dead for lying about it. Cain also did not bring an offering that was from his heart and was acceptable to God. Abel brought all that he could bring to give to God and he was blessed by this. I think we can take the importance of tithing and offering what we can give to God because everything that we have is His. I think the fact that they were struck dead was to really put an emphasis to this story. God had just given them the Holy Spirit and Ananias and Sapphira did not choose to give back to God what He had given them.

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  2. This, for me, is one of those passages in the Bible that’s just kind of difficult to swallow–you want to defend it but, you can’t even deny, it’s kind of extreme for a loving God. I suppose the important thing to remember here is that Ananias is a parallel to Aachen and Judas (being “filled with Satan”) and that God is just.

    As a present day application, I think it’s safe to say that God does not deal with us quite the same way anymore, but it goes to show the severity of a sin like this, inspired by greed and pride and fully against the Holy Spirit. I guess it kinda sucks that Ananias and Saphira end up just being made an example, but God is God and we’re not.

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  3. ” The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” Jeremiah 17:9. For me personally, what I draw from the Ananias and sapphire story is how dark our hearts can be at times. Like professor Long mentioned, the offerings to the the apostles were not required or it wasn’t something God asked them to do. The people gave out of the kindness of their own heart. As I watched the YouTube video, they described Ananias and Sapphire as jealous people, who seeked attention. Although the video was made with the purpose of entertainment, there were a few things they touched on that I agreed with. Ananias and Sapphire thought they could deceive the Holy Spirit by their false generosity. However, God knows our true heart.

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  4. I have always thought of their motive as being trying to please others rather than God. However this motive is not necessarily clearly defined. It is apparent that the money was being given to the apostles but that this was not necessarily a requirement. Peter does not reprimand them for holding the money back but instead for the lie to the Holy Spirit. I think that greed may have been an aspect of this but that the lie was the deadly sin. Perhaps this was fulfillment of what Jesus said in Matthew when the Pharisees accuse Jesus of driving out an evil spirit by the power of Satan. Jesus responds saying that whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Matthew 12:22-32). If this action of Ananias and Sapphira was indeed blaspheming the Holy Spirit perhaps the severe punishment was meant to explain the severity of the situation to the rest of the church. As far as the area of how this scripture should be applied to the church today I think that it is a reminder for the church to take things seriously. The Holy Spirit is not to be lied to. But I also do not think that God deals with the church in the same way as he did in this instance. Going back to Matthew, Jesus did not strike the Pharisees dead. Jesus simply warned them of the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. I think that this passage may have been a reminder to the church to heed the instructions of Jesus.

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    • Great point Mary, I did not think of the Blasphemy against the HS, although since that statement is in Matthew there is no real literary connection to Luke. I wonder if lying to the HS is equivalent to blasphemy, especially as Matthew 12 describes it. Worth a thought, though.

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  5. I like to think of this story as a warning of how deadly sin can be. Ananias and Sapphira let greed and jealousy fill their hearts and this led them to believe they could get away with lying to the Holy Spirit. It became more about wanting to get praise from others rather than pleasing God. We should give because we want to give, not because we are forced to do it or want to make others think highly of us. I believe the church should take this passage seriously. God may not deal with us today in the same way that He did back then, but He still knows everything that we do. Tithing and offerings are important in helping support the ministry and the amount shouldn’t be what matters most but the intent of why you’re giving.

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  6. The story of Ananias and Sapphira is interesting in the way it displays the severity of the sin of lying to God and the church. Although sin is sin, and there is really no way to measure it, there are other sinful situations in the New Testament that to me, seem more worthy of death. (Herod’s wife’s plot to kill John the Baptist etc.) This goes to show that the act committed by Ananias and Sapphira was extremely serious to God.
    Perhaps God judged Ananias and Sapphira more harshly because they were believers and they knew the difference between right and wrong in this situation. This being the beginning of the church, perhaps God wanted to display the severity of this sin to future generations. This act of God also seemed to really shock and terrify the people, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (Acts 5:11) The believers may have been so wrapped up in all the excitement and good things God had been doing that this situation woke them up to the reality that God takes sin very seriously.

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  7. I’m not convinced that Satan did enter Ananias. When Jesus spoke to Peter after he tried to rebuke Him He said, “Get behind Me, Satan.” Obviously Peter didn’t become Satan, and I wouldn’t argue that Satan had even entered Peter here (Matthew 16). It seems Jesus rebukes Peter and confronts the fact that Peter is speaking as a representative of Satan’s lies. So when Peter says in Acts 4 that Satan has entered Ananias I’m not sure he means literally. It would make sense if it was the same idea as when he himself had been so influence by and lied to by Satan. In light of this, what we can learn from this story would be that we must not let Satan lie to us. This is impossible in our fallen world, but our job is to be surrounded by people who will call us out, not those who will lie with us, as Sapphira did to Ananias.

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  8. Lies, God knows all things because he is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent…so why do we still do it? Many times, I think, as Christians, although we know we have been called to tithe our sinful nature gets in the way. Because of this sinful nature, as humans we are concerned with our needs and being financially stable. So, without considering this act, of witholding tithe from God, a lack of faith that God will provide or as lying, we figure it’s a means to provide for ourselves and make sure we are secure.
    In Acts, the church provided for one another, when someone needed something, the church came together and helped. So in a sense when everyone gave what they could to God they also gave to eachother other ways. I believe that as a “church” and as brothers and sisters in Christ this is where we fail. Fellow Christians today don’t help and aren’t concerned with the lives of other Christians. I guess that’s just what I’m seeing.

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  9. Sin has always had a price however the truth is its not always sudden. King David went years with no punishment for his adultery. To quote a Johnny Cash song, “you can run on for a long time, sooner or later gotta cut you down” Ted Haggard went years being the face of evangelicals and on the side doing drugs with a male prostitute, but his sin came to light. I think this is not a direct “satan possession” but a “no temptation has ceased you except what is common to man” -1 cor 10:13 moment. I think all men have a type of sin he or she is bent to easier than others and his was giving of his money, and his greed of money and of attention was a horrible price. Maybe this is God making an example early on that He is not a fool and he wont accept this poor behavior. All i know is this, during this time the Holy Spirit was coming on people like fire on a fire works factory. We do not hear stories like this anymore, however the principal is the same, If you think you can short God for your glory, eventually your ruin is coming.

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  10. This story is one I always feel a bit uncomfortable about. Ananias could have easily avoided this punishment if he had simply not lied about the amount of money he was giving. As stated above, giving money was done out of free will; it was not something he had to do. But because of a simple sin, God struck him, and his wife, dead. It almost feels hard to defend God in this circumstance, because lying is a sin we all commit, even if they are small white lies. But God is just, and sin is sin, so it does make sense that He had to do it. I really do see this as a warning to us about sin. It really shows that no sin is too small to make God angry, and no sin is too insignificant to make us not good enough in God’s eyes.

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  11. In the past, I’ve always thought that the severity of God’s punishment toward Ananias and Sapphira was due to the fact that He was bringing in a new age, a new covenant, and that He made an example of Ananias and Sapphira to show that the emphasis of this new covenant was on the attitude and sincerity of the heart, and not just the outward actions.

    In reading the story again this time I had another idea. The believers were selling their possessions and living communally because, as far as I can understand it, they were all convinced that Jesus would be returning very soon to establish His kingdom. They weren’t concerned with having wealth or property because they wouldn’t have need for material wealth once the kingdom was established and God poured out blessing upon His people forever. When Ananias and Sapphira sold their property, it seems that they decided to create a sort of contingency clause. They donated most of the money to the believers, but saved back some, just in case they were wrong about Jesus after all.

    Perhaps God’s severe judgment was not just because they lied about the price of the field, but because they weren’t genuinely sold on the whole Gospel message. Even though Peter has just preached that Jesus is the only way to salvation (4:12), Ananias and Sapphira were still holding something back.

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  12. I would say that I agree with Sydney. This passage is hard to take in some ways, but at the same time, it seems to me that the punishment that God poured out onto Ananias and Saphira was unavoidable considering their actions and the motives behind them. Ananias did commit a sin, he did lie about it, and as you pointed out; was filled with Satan. That considering, and I do not mean to sound like an overly dramatic sociopath, was somewhat deserved. The main thing that I think we can draw from this for present day application, is that God is just and consistent. If the word used to describe the sin that Ananias committed is the same word used to describe Judas’s sin, then I would have to assume that God’s actions would be the same.
    Another point that can be used here is that Scripture doesn’t contradict Scripture. If God acts one way in one circumstance, it is logical to assume He will act the same in what could be the same situation.

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  13. Sometimes I feel that some things or stories were placed in the Bible for comic relief. When I first came across the story of Ananias and Sapphira I thought it was a joke. It was not until I became older and wiser and realized the seriousness of the story. I thought about the many times when I would lie to my parents. Lying to my parents when I was younger was totally different than lying to God. God sees everything and he is all knowing. Hebrews 4:13 says “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” In Jessica’s post she said “Lies, God knows all hings because he is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent…so why do we still do it?” That is something to really think about because sometimes people lie to make themselves feel better, but God ultimately knows the truth.
    Growing up my parents taught me to do to others how I would want them to do to me. I say that because I try to do the same to God. I believe that God does not strike people down who lie or still from the church; however I do believe that if you do good, good will come to you and if you do bad then bad will come to you. In other words I feel that God will punish you if you lie or steal from the church; He may not strike you down but he will punish you in some way. The principle that I drew from the story is that God knows and sees everything, and no matter how bad the situation is we should not lie to Him. God is always there for us, so we should always be honest with Him.

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    • “Comic relief” is actually some a good story (modern or ancient) intentionally includes to break tension. It is possible the Sons of Sceva or hte boy who falls from the window in Troas are other examples of this. As far as I know, no one has ever considered A&S “comic relief” before, perhaps because it raises tension rather than relieves it.

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  14. When I first read the bible and was asking my holy spirit for discernment this story jumped out like a sore thumb. I immediately had the impression that this story was used to scare Christians into donating what they had. The fact that Paul rejected and lied about Jesus and nothing was done to him and all of the killing going on around them at that time makes me believe this is a lie. Why in the world would this couple be killed when they were believers and gave the majority of their money to the church. Listen to your heart it will tell the truth. The laws of Jesus are written upon your heart. Just another attempt at religious leaders trying to extort or guilt money out of it’s followers.

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  15. I think that their motivation was status within the church. Remember, Barnabas sold something and laid the money at the apostles’ feet and it’s one of the things he’s remembered for. (Is this laying money at their feet a ceremony, like bringing up tins of soup for the poor at some church’s harvest festivals?) I think Ananias & Sapphira want to do this act of laying money at the apostles’ feet and be seen to be generous benefactors of the new church. But they mistook financial support for giving their all. We best apply it today by being very careful about status-seeking in the church.

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  16. I find two things very interesting about this passage in particular. The first is that Ananias and Sapphira were not overcome by a typical, or common sense of greed. At least, not the selfish desire that is usually paired with money. If they were concerned with money, then it would not make sense for them to partake in that kind of optional giving. It seems that they are greedy for some sort of public recognition. You can see that in the video that you tagged in the post as well. I think that their selfishness stems from what James calls “a double-minded man” in James1:8. That kind of man is thrown about by the wind, an unstable liar!

    The second thing is that I think what should be pulled from this passage is that we need to be aware and conscious of the state of our heart. Obviously, God knows it all the time, but when we act we need to be looking intrinsically enough to know what the motivation is behind the things that we are doing. And while doing that, remember who God is when we offer our services to Him, hopefully keeping us humble.

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  17. When Peter makes it clear that Ananias’ sin was against the Holy Spirit, this verse immediately came to my mind: “Truly I tell you, all sins and blasphemes will be forgiven for the sons of men. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-30). Ananias did not only sin, but he sinned against the Holy Spirit because he was filled with evil. It makes it even more clear to me that he was possessed by evil because the Holy Spirit did not come upon him like the rest of the community. He and his wife were very content with their sin and their deceiving ways because they assumed they would get what they wanted. It is evident to me that in this life if something or someone is allowing evil into their hearts and their minds, they will become numb when doing harm to others. However, I don’t think the overall message of Ananias and Sapphira is that you will be killed if you sin or blaspheme the Holy Spirit. I think an important message out of it is that we cannot deceive the Almighty God. He knows our thoughts before we think them, He knows what we are going to say before we even say it, and He knows our intentions when we do something. Ananias and Sapphira did not have the intention to be humble servants of the Lord but to appear as though they were when really they were lying and greedily hiding the remainder of the money. God knew that they were sinning against Him, yet they attempted to lie to Peter and cover it up anyways. In Acts 5:3-4, Peter in a way questions them why they would even THINK to sin against the Spirit and lie about it. Reading Peter’s response to their lying translated into my head to something like, “How could you be so foolish? Did you really think this was going to work? Did you really think you could fool the Lord?”

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  18. Found in Acts 5 the death of Ananias and Sapphire is not only an extreme story to read about for those living today but was even considered extreme for those living in that time period. “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things (Acts 5:11).” Peter even went so far to say Ananias was filled with Satan, a phrase given to no one else in the Bible except for Judas, the man who betrayed the Messiah (Acts 5:3). Therefore, what does this story in Acts mean? Does it mean God will strike down every individual who lies/steals from the church? The answer to that question is obviously no otherwise there would be hundreds of more documented stories telling about those getting struck down after stealing/lying from the church. However, I do believe God gave this extreme punishment to Ananias and Sapphira as a lesson for those to learn during that time, during this day and age, and for future generations. Being that this was one of the first acts of complete flesh during the formation of the church God wanted everyone to know it was not allowed within His kingdom (Strauss, 2004). God knew that their fake spiritually would spread like wildfire (Acts 5:9); therefore, He knew His divine discipline would show the rest of the community inside and outside of the church that it was not allowed and would not be tolerated (Strauss, 2004).
    Although this type of divine discipline is not seen today, which is a good thing because a lot of us would be dead by now, God still punishes those who steal/lie to the church. For example, in 2015, Creflo Dollar asked his congregation to each give $300 towards his fundraiser when the proceeds actually went towards his $65 million dollar jet (Serena, 2018). In 1988, Jim Bakker was charged with mail and wire fraud (Serena, 2018). The point I am trying to make here is that even though God no longer strikes individuals down after stealing/lying to the Church He still punishes them whether that be with them getting publicly caught or in other areas of their lives were His blessings no longer follow them.

    References
    Serena, K. (2018, February 22). 13 Famous Pastors Caught Doing Unholy Things. Retrieved from https://allthatsinteresting.com/pastors-behaving-badly#12
    Strauss, R. J. (2004, June 28). 12. Be Honest-The Story of Ananias and Sapphira. Retrieved from https://bible.org/seriespage/12-be-honest-story-ananias-and-sapphira

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  19. One principle we can gather from Acts 5:1-10 is that the point of selling their land they had intentions of doing so. They sold their land willingly in order to give whatever money they earned to the disciples for those who had a need. But Ananias let greed fill his heart and instead of giving all of the money to the disciples like those who did before him he kept some money hidden away for himself, and then lied about it. Peter asked Ananias how could he allow Satan to fill his heart? We don’t know was Ananias tempted to take the money? Did he have a need of his own and so instead of asking he just took some money and thought it would be ok? Was the reason he took money to put in the bank for a rainy day? The only thing scripture tells us is that he know is he took money and lied about it. I am in no way saying what he did was right but maybe he had a reason to take some of the money. Selling the land wasn’t about the money…well maybe it was, but the idea was that it would be used for anyone who truly needed it. And because he lied to the Holy Spirt about taking the money he died. His wife Sapphira is not innocent either. Because Peter strait up asked was this really the amount you sold your land for? Her answer was yes, even though Peter knew the real answer he wanted to hear the truth from Sapphira, but she still lied. She could have told the truth and possibly repented for their wrong doing, but instead it was easier for her to lie then tell the truth and ask for forgiveness. And because she sinned, the punishment for sin is death and so she too died. This story resembles the story of Adam and Eve, they sinned lied about and because of that were punished. Ananias and his wife Sapphira knew what was right because they were believers. And yet when it came time to give what they said they had received, they lied about what they received and hid away a part for themselves. Another principle from this could be even Christian’s get tempted and sometimes act on those temptations. Causing them to lie, cheat, and steal. And the punishment for those such actions is death it might not be instant death like in the story but you will still have to answer for that deed done. Or you can be strait forward and truthful bringing everything before God. Because no matter what you do, you can’t fool or lie to God because he knows everything.

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  20. The story of these two really caught my attention in class and answered some of my questions. I had always thought why would God smite two people in the New Testament after his son had died on the cross and paid for all sins, where they weren’t even under the law anymore. Well society and the formation of the church was quite different back then and I think God also wanted to refer back to Achan in the Old Testament. Achan did the same thing leaving some for himself and he met the same fate. This story could also be seen as an example, how in Matthew 16:24 Jesus talks about denying oneself and taking up his cross. We must be die completely to ourselves to be a follower of Jesus obviously Ananias and Sapphira weren’t ready to give up themselves or worldly possessions hence the reason I think that they were also smote.

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