How can we make sense of the troubling story of Ananias and Sapphira?
I know what folks, MUST be thinking here! Can you please provide some input…from the non-denominational site - Got Questions?:
And there’s also some Wiki input:
Hi again. Regarding the true nature of God, and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, please allow me to quote this entire answer from Richard Murray’s free ebook, God vs. Evil:
QUESTION 22: “CSI” JERUSALEM: WHO MURDERED ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA?
Were Ananias and Sapphira killed by the Holy Spirit as many claim (Acts 5:1-11)? Well, the passage doesn’t even “literally” say that God killed them, so we have to look closer at the passage’s subtext to do a fair CSI investigation as to the true cause of their deaths.
Peter asked Sapphira in the literal Greek of verse 9, “Why did the two of you agree to pressure the Spirit?” (Word Study Greek-English New Testament, Paul R. McReynolds, Tyndall, pp. 441 (1999). In other words, why did you two push away the protective presence of God? The implication is clear then that Satan, not God, is the culprit here. Satan “filled their hearts” to lie, then Ananias and Sapphira quenched away God’s protective presence with their sin, then Satan filled the vacuum in their hearts with his oppressive condemnation, and they both died.
McReynolds’ interlinear translation of 1 Corinthians 10:9 describes this same dynamic. “But not we might PRESSURE OUT the Christ, just as some of them PRESSURED and by the snakes were destroyed.” Interlinear translations can be a little awkward to our ear, but they often give us the gold of better understanding Scripture texts.
Do you see what this Acts passage now describes? Ananias and Sapphira’s rampant neglect and disbelief toward God, combined with their fear toward their circumstances, all combined to do the following. THEY PRESSURED OUT THE PROTECTIVE PRESENCE OF CHRIST AND WERE DESTROYED BY SATAN. And just how did Satan kill them? Below, we will see that Satan used his favorite weapons-- fear and condemnation-- to kill these two pathetic people.
But, how do we know God didn’t kill them? Because Hebrews 2:14-15 says Satan has the power of death, not God. John 10:10 says Satan kills men, not God. 1 Corinthians 5:5 says Satan destroys the flesh of men, not God.
And actually, the passage doesn’t say anybody actually killed them, but they themselves “gave up the ghost” (spirit) AFTER hearing Peter’s words of condemnation. It may well be that they feared Peter’s words so much that they just surrendered their will to live.
We all know, or have heard of, people who give up on life in despair, some gradually, others in an instant in time. Some “give up their spirit” because of a broken heart, or impending sickness or disaster. Perhaps they were so worried about their sin because it was one of the first of the church age, and they thought it was perhaps unforgivable.
In other words, it appears Annanias and Sapphira were condemned to death. But was this God’s will? Was it God’s best? Did Peter show them the same grace he himself received when he betrayed the Lord three times in one night? What if somebody in apostolic authority, James or John for instance, told Peter to essentially “drop dead” in the wake of his sin, might he also have given up the ghost?
Did Peter extend God’s grace to them to NOT hold this sin to their account, as Jesus did, as the martyr Stephen did, or did he even try to minister repentance to them, to counsel them, to pray for them, to intercede for them, to lay hands on them to be forgiven and healed, or any of the other things Scripture and later Church practice advised?
What about this passage? “Brethren , if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual , restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1.
Why, in Jesus’ name, was the space to repent NOT offered to Ananias and Sapphira in this situation by Peter?
Matthew 18:15-17 instructs us how to FIRST go privately to one caught up in a trespass, THEN to go with other witnesses if the private correction is not received by the person, and only THEN to bring public confrontation if the person remains unrepentant. And even then, the worse punishment is excommunication, NOT murder.
Do you see? God’s way is to confront a sin WITH the goal of restoration and repentance of the sinner, NOT summary execution. Why wasn’t this gracious dynamic followed?
Was the spirit of these merciful passages just cited above followed by Peter? No, Peter appeared to quickly and immediately condemn them, after which he basically just stepped out of the way and let the Devil have them. If lying to the Holy Spirit by holding back some of our resources REALLY mandated immediate Holy Ghost execution, then how many of us would still be standing? How many of us would not have been executed long ago? Perhaps the morale of this passage is more about Peter’s mercy-deficit than it is about Annaias and Sapphira’s faith-deficit.
Peter was not perfect. He had a well known quick trigger when it came to anger or frustration. He was quick to use the physical sword to cut an ear off an approaching soldier. He was also quick to use the verbal sword, such as when he told Simon the sorcerer to perish on the spot along with his money. Perhaps, Peter was also quick here to likewise thrust a murderous impulse here to Ananias and Sapphira.
If Paul had the guts to “withstand Peter to his face” (Galatians 2:11) for possible spiritual error, shouldn’t we too have the guts if, of course, the Holy Spirit so leads?
But, didn’t great fear come on the church in the wake of these deaths? It can be argued that the “great fear” that came on the church in the wake of this event, and the subsequent healing of the sick from Peter’s cast shadow, came more from men wrongly, excessively and fearfully elevating Peter rather than through the exercising of pure faith in Christ.
If we, as part of a young and inexperienced church body, saw a revered leader such as Peter appear to instill such fear that people dropped dead, literally scared and condemned to death, then we too might start to idolize his “shadow.” His presence, word and opinion might supplant or displace our faith in Jesus. We might turn Peter into an earthly Pope, kiss his ring, worship his shadow, etc. If people got legitimately healed from Peter’s ministry, it was despite Peter’s anger, not because of it.
And here is another thought. If the common interpretation is correct that God had Peter denounce Ananias and Sapphira to death for withholding truth and resources from the Holy Spirit, then Church history should be full of famous Christians who likewise verbally struck down and assassinated all the millions upon millions who have, at one time or another, withheld truth or resources from God ever since Ananias and Saphira. In fact, we should still be seeing people regularly executed as a normal part of Church meetings and discipline.
But, that is not the case.
So, again, when Peter appears a little too quick on the trigger to tell people to “drop dead” for their transgressions (Sapphira and Simon in Acts 5 and 8), should we willing to withstand his actions if our conscience compels us?
Do we follow the Holy Ghost or Peter? Jesus or Peter? I honestly can’t see Jesus telling anybody to drop dead on the spot. That ain’t the way He rolled. Jesus might rattle their religious cage, but He never cursed someone to die on the spot. Be merciful seven times seventy, overcome evil with good, bless your enemy and pray for them that despitefully use you. Don’t see “curse them to die or perish on the spot” on that list in Matthew 5:38-48.
And don’t get me wrong, I love Peter, but are we to assume he was flawless in his every dealing? Paul sure didn’t.
None of us are yet flawless in ministering the mercies of God. After telling Simon to “perish” along with his money, Simon asks Peter to pray for him that the things Peter spoke not happen to him. But, Scripture is silent as to whether Peter then prayed for him. I sure hope he did. I would definitely withstand Peter to his face if he didn’t on that issue. Jesus is our model, not Peter.
These are all questions the Holy Spirit wants to minister to us. It is understandable that the infant Church might have less tolerance and patience than a more mature and experienced group of believers. I know when I was newly converted and freshly fervent in the Spirit, my tolerance level for others’ unbelief was small. I would have been just as firm and ferocious as Peter. But, with time and maturity, and after suffering through many of my own grievous failures, my patience for people’s shortcomings, sins, and failures has exponentially increased. I am not nearly as quick to pull the condemnation trigger as I used to be.
Paul had the courage to “withstand Peter to his face” when Peter was wrong (Galatians 2:11). Perhaps WE should “withstand Peter to his face” in this passage as well. But regardless, one thing is certain. God did not kill Ananias and Sapphira. Satan did. Satan was certainly working lies and crippling condemnation in their hearts, and possibly in the hardening Peter’s heart toward them as well which kept him from ministering protective mercy. But, Satan was the true assassin here any way you look at it.
“it’s a rare case in the New Testament where God appears to act like the vengeful god of the Old Testament.”
IMO it’s not that rare in the NT & the OT & NT God are one & the same.
Thanks so much for your reply. That book you quoted from looks like a very interesting read. I like his approach to Scripture. It’s the kind of approach we look at in the subreddit cruciformity which you’re welcome to join if you’re interested.
Let’s read the account carefully:
1 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.
The first Christians held all of their possession in common. Both Ananias and Sapphira knew that they had carefully concealed the fact that they had not turned over the entire proceeds to the apostles but pretending that they had shared all like the other Christians had done. They felt certain that no one could ever know. But since Peter, through the Holy Spirit knew about their deception, I think they died from fear.
There is nothing at all in the account which indicates that God killed them.
Grasping at straws are we?
In response to Gabe’s response - to Paidion’s reply:
Paidion’s NOT the only one, holding this opinion:
Some speculate that these two deaths were from natural causes. Perhaps Ananias died from shock or guilt, but Peter pronounced Sapphira’s death before she died, and the coincidental timing and place of their deaths indicate that this was indeed God’s judgment. The question is why. Why would God kill two people for lying?
Don’t have ‘the’ answer. But Peter was pretty clear that they had lied to GOD. If he ‘took them’ as a warning to others and as chastisement for the couple, He had his reasons.
He is, after all, God.
But that’s the whole point of contention about this famous N.T. story: God’s true nature.
-Is God about pouring out on undeserving humanity grace, love, and abundant life, through our obedient Savior, JESUS? Or, is He about strictly judging us based on OUR performance: blessing us if WE succeed, but pouring out wrath when WE fail?
-Is God vindictive, picky, and iffy? Or, is there actually a DEVIL who has humanity snowed about God’s true nature: first himself doing terrible things, and then craftily laying the blame at the door of a God whose holiness supposedly requires Him to be inflexible, legalistic, and retributive?
As per Murray’s explanation above, sometimes Peter was right. Sometimes Peter was wrong. But overall, the New Testament increases the clarification that there exists a devil, and that it is he who is about death, not God:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Cor. 15:26.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— Hebrews 2:14.
H - you may be right; there is no way for me to ‘prove’ you are wrong, nor do I want to! :slight_smile
Is God’s taking of a life a violent thing? I don’t think that it is, necessarily. If He did take A&S, there is no indication it was via violence at all, is there? And, if the action was meant both as chastisement for them and for warning to the assembly, I can live with that without my view of God changing at all.
Just my thoughts.
Well, is it a violent thing when a human being takes a life? If so, why would it be any different if God should take a life?
Now of course it is not ALWAYS violent when a human being takes a life. For example the carrying out of euthanasia would not be violent, but rather a means of mercy. However, I don’t think the deaths of Ananias and Saphira were examples of euthanasia.
I would argue that, in contradiction to the traditional view of almost all of Christendom, God doesn’t take life, He only gives it. That Jesus, His exact representation (Hebrews 1:3), is called the Author of Life (Acts 3:15) for a very good reason. That although Ananias & Sapphira let the devil in through their sin, church leader Peter, instead of kicking him out, fully unleashed him on them. (Amen, Peter? “Amen, Hermano!” )
I understand the zeal to maintain one’s picture of the goodness of God, and in fact I try my best to argue FOR that complete goodness.
That being said, the things I said above make all the sense in the world to me. We see God’s goodness and severity, according to Paul; that does NOT mean that His severity is anything like ours.
Psalm 31:15 (NKJV): “My times are in Your hand.”
That verse seems to me to indicate that God, who gave us life in the first place, is the one who also takes it back. Even suicides, or capital punishment, or the actions of a church tribunal (e.g. the burning of Servetus on the stake) may not take place outside of His will.
Eccl. 12:7. Remember him–before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well,
It is God who severs that silver cord - none other. I have come close to death on a number of occasions, mostly resulting from my own stupidity (e.g. driving my car at 60 mph into the back of a snow plough on a snowy January day). Each time, the Lord allowed me to live. My time had obviously not come.
But it had come for Ananias and Sapphira - that’s about all I think we need to take from Luke’s account.
I must disagree. Death is God’s stated enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), and its power is held by Satan, not God (Heb. 2:14). We are to resist the devil, and resist being victimized and defrauded by him of the benefits of the finished work of Christ. We must ‘not neglect our so great salvation’ (Heb. 2:3).
As to the question of God’s sovereignty, whereas God is all-powerful, He chose to give choice to both angels and men. By doing so, God allowed us to have some control… by giving up some of His control.
Hence, God is not in control of everything; otherwise men and angels would not actually have any genuine choice.
As an evangelical universalist, I believe that a person MUST be born again to see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3). I also believe that both hell/Hades/Gehenna and the lake of fire are literal places, which many (or most) people will pass through—since they were not saved during their tenure on earth.
But I believe that Creation (which includes hell and the lake of fire) is a time-space classroom in which everyone will repent, and that we will all be graduated into eternity together. (I would go so far as to suggest that outside linear time, we are all already in the kingdom of heaven. Consider, for example, Ephesians 2:6.)
Within this classroom, we will each come to our senses and willingly submit to Jesus as Lord; we will each choose to give back our individual ‘sovereignty’ to him; and then his job as Savior will be done, as indicated in Corinthians,
1 Corinthians 15:24a, 27-28 (NIV)
24 Then the end will come…. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
I respectfully disagree with what you teach. It sounds very much like dualism - an old heresy. I doubt, however, that you really believe that Satan is more than a created being.
It’s more akin to Zoroastrianism. In fact, I don’t know how it differs from Hermano’s theological perspective.
But I’ll listen to him. As long as he’s equally receptive…to hearing about my theory…that the Zombie Apocalypse… is the most probable, end times tribulation model.
Satan is merely a rebellious angel, who has already been defeated and disarmed at the cross (Heb. 2:14, Col. 2:14). However, believers who mistakenly misattribute his hurtful activities to our loving God cannot effectively resist him in their own lives, or in the lives of others, since they think to do so is to oppose God himself.
Note this distinction between God and the devil, revealed by Christ–who exactly represents the unchanging God:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10.
Defeated though he is, the deceptive devil is still very dangerous:
2 Cor. 4:4
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
1 John 5:19
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
We have been warned in advance that the devil will resist his coming eviction. I do not believe in a Zombie Apocalypse, but certainly there will be a crescendo of demonic evil when it comes to its full harvest:
When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. Rev. 9:2-3.