Acts 5:1-11 as per the King James Version (KJV)
5 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
11 And great fear came upon all the church,
The epic story of the Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1-11 has become, for many, one of the more dissected stories of the entire New Testament; opponents of the Bible will cite the story of this husband and wife duo and their demise as proof of God’s wrath, anger, fury, and temper. Those calling themselves “Christians” will often ignore the story altogether (God striking down people for disobedience obviously not a fitting topic for sermons, debates, classes, or discussions in today’s “tolerant”, “My God is a LOVING God” type of world). Christians and even preachers today who DO broach the subject will often refer to this story as “disturbing” or “difficult”.
No part of the Bible should be ignored, “difficult” or not. Ananias and Sapphira, and their fate, was ordained by God, executed by God, and is thus just and expedient….again, by God. Let us look at the story, which many now may avoid completely.
The first century church was much different than now….early believers shared all their material wealth and possessions, having “all things common” (see Acts 4:32 and Acts 2:43-45). To ensure the very survival of this fledgling faith, members both wealthy and poor gave of their means and as a result, no one in the community “lacked” (Acts 4:24). Everything was shared and nothing was considered the “property” of a specific individual. Whatever need might arise cold be effectively dealt with and common human failings such as envy, strife, jealousy, and warring factions could, ideally, be alleviated.
In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira “sold a possession” (verse 1). Ananias brings the proceeds from this sale, most likely land the couple had owned, and laid it at the feet of Peter, with the obvious insinuation that this money was ALL that he had received for his sale and he was thus giving the money IN ITS ENTIRETY for dispersion amongst the faithful.
Peter’s response is scathing (see Acts 5:3-4)….Ananias had lied to the Holy Ghost, his heart filled with malice and greed by Satan. Note that Peter clearly contrasted Ananias’ deeds with that of all the other believers, none of whom would dare make the claim that posessions were their own, and ALL of whom would and did sell goods and lay the proceeds at the apostles’ feet. Verse 4 is especially notable; it was NOT a sin for the pair to keep back part of their proceeds, and Peter states without ambiguity that while their property, they could certainly give whatever portion they might deem appropriate. The pair had the gall, the unmitigated nerve, the audacity, to actually attempt to LIE to Peter, the early Christians, and most stunning of all, to lie to God himself.
Ananias falls and dies on the spot (Acts 5:5). Later, Sapphira, unaware of the fate of her husband (but fully complicit and aware of his nefarious, vile, tepid, and repugnant plot) approaches Peter, who in verse 8 asks the woman “whether ye sold the land for so much”, or “Is this the full amount you received for your sale?” in more modern terms. Peter provides her every opportunity to be honest. Like her forked-tongued husband, Sapphira lies, and like her husband, dies on the spot and is carried away and “buried by her husband” (verse 10). The pair had believed that they could deceive almighty God, an utter falsehood presented as truth, and it cost them their physical lives.
The modern-day “tolerant” among us will suggest that this was “wrathful” on God’s part, “certainly not very loving”, and thus the story becomes, as we have discussed, uncomfortable for many. But let us keep in mind that EVERY member of the early church was giving of their means (which were often VERY limited) to ensure that the church would even survive. Luke 21:1-4 reminds of the poor widow who provided the ‘two mites” (ALL that she had) to the early church, giving out of duty and sheer faith in Jesus Christ and NOT from abundance. How DARE this husband and wife scheme together to sell a belonging and LIE about it, in order to make themselves appear more dutiful, diligent, and dedicated, when in reality their hearts were filled with greed and hypocrisy…..there is no other term BUT hypocrite for a person who wants himself/herself portrayed to the world as concerned about supporting the winning of souls for Christ, when in reality, their concern is actually fulfillment of their own desires and wants. It is stunning that a person would knowingly and willingly lie TO GOD, when it is God who was provided him/her with EVERY physical/material blessing they have had or ever will have in the first place…..yet this is the crime of Ananias and Sapphira.
The lessons to be drawn from this story are as applicable today as they were in the first century…..many of us have seen the poorest (in monetary terms) among us be the most generous with their wealth, providing money or food or whatever else might be needed to their local congregation, even to the extent that they themselves are forced to suffer or “do without”. I know of people who, on a fixed income, delved into their limited bank accounts to help fund missionary and evangelical efforts in which the church is involved, with no fanfare or applause. Meanwhile, other more affluent and wealthy members often are the most stingy and hoarding with their monies….”I might be able to help out with some donations later next year, depending on how some of my investments pan out”, or a similar refrain, all too common.
Do you think the widow woman who gave the two mites was worried about how her investment portfolio might turn out?? Or were she and the other first century Christians, living a communal lifestyle with no thought of their own “belongings”, more concerned with spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ??
Is this narcissistic, self-centered, “flash over substance” obsession with portraying self as positively as possible applicable to our churches today, and not just to individuals? Do we sometimes worry about the mere “form of godliness” (2 Timothy 3:5), trying to impress others with vanity and lies? How about a congregation that focuses its “evangelism” on flashy, showy attributes such as fancy buildings and expansion, gymnasiums, “entertainment” facilities, and so on, instead of their Biblically-decreed true mission of glorifying God and winning souls to Christ?
There are other examples from the Bible of consequences inflicted upon those who would defiantly attempt to deceive and lie to an all-knowing, all-seeing God (see Gehazi, servant of the prophet Elisha, who practiced deception and lied to Elisha and was stricken with leprosy in 2 Kings 5:25-27). Rather than get leprosy, however, Ananias and Sapphira were summarily struck dead, and while some might consider their deaths as overly severe, let us keep one thing firmly in mind…..it was God’s decision, and God, without exception, does what is right. Questioning the “morality” of the deaths in this story is tantamount to questioning God himself, it seems.
We would be well served today to remember that God knows our hearts, our minds, and our souls down to the most minute detail and thought, and there can be nothing more absurd than to consider and believe that somehow, a repellant and self-serving heart can somehow be “hidden” from an omnipotent God. Our lies, if not repented of, will cost us far more than our physical bodies (see Revelation 21:8); this should be what the story of Ananias and Sapphira serves to remind us. We cannot serve both God and mammon (see Matthew 6:24-25); the heart of this husband and wife learned this lesson too late….let this not be the case for us and let each of us have an appropriate appreciation and value for possessions, the proper sense of priorities (specifically in supporting church efforts), and perhaps most of all, let us each never be foolish enough to think for a moment that nefarious lies, deceit, and trickery will go unseen by almighty God.