But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
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.
– Acts 5:1-11, New International Version
When Peter and John appeared before the rulers and elders, they were commanded not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, were threatened and then released. After this, they met other disciples and had a powerful prayer meeting. They prayed for confidence to witnessing and were empowered by the Spirit. As a result, they spoke the Word of God with boldness.
All Things Common
The presence of the Spirit brought about a great a great result. The apostles were witnessing with great power to the resurrection of Christ. At the same time, the believers were of one heart and mind. All things were common property to them. According to Robertson , this means common in the use of their property, not in ownership (p. 56). The attitude that they had toward their possessions was that they should share them. When special needs arose, they would sell their property and bring the proceeds to the apostles. Funds would be distributed to each, as they had need.
As an example of those who gave, Luke mentions Joseph who was a Levite of Cyprian birth. Joseph was also called Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.” He sold a tract of land that he owned and brought the money to the apostles. No doubt his action met a need and was a great encouragement to the early church.
The early church, however, was not without problems. The example of Barnabas stands in contrast to the flawed approach of Ananias and Sapphira to which Luke now turns. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, appear to be members of the congregation of believers. According to Bruce, the story of Ananias is to the book of Acts what the story of Achan is to the book of Joshua (p. 110). In both narratives an act of deceit interrupts the victorious progress of the people of God.
With the knowledge of his wife, Ananias sold a piece of property, kept back part of the price, and brought a portion of the price to the apostles. Luke does not record what their motive was, but we may surmise that they sought the honor of being donors who had given all. It may be, also, that they thought they needed the money or just did not want to release it. In any case they acted in a deceptive way.
Ananias without his wife came to meet with the apostles. Peter’s comments let us know that Ananias only pretended to give all the proceeds from the land. How did Peter know this Horton says, “Perhaps this was revealed to him through one of the gifts of revelation such as the Word of Wisdom or the Word of Knowledge,” (Bible, p. 72). With boldness and great certainty, Peter asked, “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?” (Acts 5:3).
Here, Peter uses the very same verb that was used of the Holy Spirit in Acts 4:31. Satan filled (eplerosen) the heart of Ananias with deception and untruth to lie to the Holy Spirit. The text does not say just when the heart of Ananias was filled with Satan’s lie. It simply emphasizes that Satan filled the heart of Ananias. However, we can assume that his motivation began prior to the sale and was sustained through the time when he pretended to give all to God.
Now, Peter continues his inquiry with these questions, “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,” (Acts 5:4). According to Peter, Ananias and Sapphira, owned the property. They did not have to sell it and give any of the proceeds to the church. In was in order to give part of the proceeds, but they should not have pretended to give all. We know from this comment that selling property and giving the proceeds was a voluntary act. The actions of the congregation and of Barnabas do not set a pattern that we have to follow.
Instead of being honest, Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit. Peter declared that the lie was not to men but to God. As Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed His last. Thus, Ananias paid for his lie with his life.
Three hours later, Sapphira came into the meeting without knowing what had happened. Peter questioned her about the price of the land. She said that the money given by Ananias was the full price of the land. ‘Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord?”‘ (Acts 5:9).
Obviously, Sapphira and Ananias had agreed together to lie about the price of the land. According to Peter, they had agreed to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test. Peter uses the verb perasai which means to attempt or to test. In this case, to test is the correct interpretation. Arrington writes, “No one can deceive the Holy Spirit; He is all-knowing,” (p. 56). Even so, Ananias and Sapphira sought to test the knowledge of the Spirit, thinking that their deceit would go undetected.
Then, Peter declares, “Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also,” (Acts 5:9). Although the text does not explicitly say that God put Sapphira to death, this is the clear implication. The cause was more than some natural emotion such as fright. Peter’s declaration is a prophecy of what was about to happen. Also, we may view it as a pronouncement of judgment upon Sapphira. The judgment was immediately executed.
The early church learned that it was a very serious matter to lie to the Holy Spirit. The judgment of God in the cases of Ananias and Sapphira was very severe. Even if they had lived, they would have been judged. This case should suggest to us that acting with integrity in the sight of God is extremely important. God does not always execute judgment in the same way, but we must know that there are consequences to our actions. The result was that, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events,” (Acts 5:11). A reverential awe filled the believers. They knew they were serving a holy and mighty God.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia The Westminster Press, 1971.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles Minneapolis Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville Broadman Press, 1930.
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