Acts 5:1-11

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he 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 some of the price of the land?
4 "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."
5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.
6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price."
9 Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well."
10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things. NASU

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 (p. 56), this means common "in the use of their property, not in ownership." 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.

Ananias Lies

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 (p. 110), "The story of Ananias is to the book of Acts what the story of Achan is to the book of Joshua. 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 (Bible, p. 72) 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." With boldness and great certainty, Peter asked (verse 3): "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?" (NASU)

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 (verse 4): "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." (NASU) 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.

Sapphira Lies

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 asked, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?"

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 (p. 56) writes: "No one can deceive the Holy Spirit; He is all-knowing. Even so, Ananias and Sapphira sought to test the knowledge of the Spirit, thinking that their deceit would go undetected."

Then, Peter declares, "Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well." (NASU) 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.

Conclusion

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 (Acts 5:11) "great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things." A reverential awe filled the believers. They knew they were serving a holy and mighty God.

George M. Flattery

Sources

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.

© Copyright 2002 GMF