Acts 5

Acts 5:1

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is troubling for the questions it leaves unanswered. How did they die? Why did they die? What do we learn from their story? A lack of clarity on these issues has opened the door for all sorts of interpretations such as, God killed them to set an example and scare the new church straight. However, there are numerous problems with this interpretation, as we will see.

Acts 5:2

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.

His wife was complicit in the deception.

Acts 5:3

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?

Lie to the Holy Spirit. Here we have a story of two liars: Peter lied about knowing the Lord (and with an oath; Matt. 26:72) while Ananias lied about how much money he had earned on the sale of some land. Surely Peter’s lie was worse, yet Peter framed Ananias’s lie as deadly serious. “You have lied to God” (see next verse).

Acts 5:4

“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.”

You have not lied to men. Peter comes across as a prosecuting attorney cross-examining a criminal.

Acts 5:5

And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.

(a) As he heard these words. Peter’s words seemed to have been the catalyst for Ananias’s death, but how did the man die? Some say, “God killed him,” but the Bible says no such thing. It’s just as likely that Ananias had a stroke or a heart attack triggered by Peter’s words of condemnation.

(b) Ananias fell down. Those who insist that God killed Ananias and his wife cannot give a satisfactory reason as to why God would do such a thing. “God killed them because they were sinners.” Yet Jesus went to the cross bearing the sins of the world, including the sins of Ananias and Sapphira. How can a just God punish the same sin twice? And why would God kill one couple and leave all the other sinners alone?

“God killed Ananias and Sapphira to warn and purify the infant church. By making an example out of these hypocrites, the church would be filled with a holy fear and kept safe from liars and cheats.” If so, God failed spectacularly. Liars, cheats and hypocrites have always been with us, and there were plenty in the New Testament church.

“God set up this killing to establish the authority of his apostles.” Never mind that Peter had been commissioned by the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit. Like a kid going through a gangster initiation he had to kill someone to establish his bona fides. How absurd! How utterly inconsistent with the message Peter had been commissioned to preach.

Further reading: “What about Ananias and Sapphira?

(c) Great fear; see entry for Acts 5:11.

Acts 5:8

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.”

Sapphira repeated the lie uttered by her husband.

Acts 5:9

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.”

Peter told Ananias that he had lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3) and he had lied to God (Acts 5:4), but he told Sapphira that she had tested the Lord. Such an accusation would have been terrifying to a Jewish woman raised on the laws of Moses. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16).

Sapphira was not innocent. She came to the meeting knowing that she had lied. Her conscience was guilty and her heart was pounding. Then the most powerful man in Christendom told her that her husband had died before condemning her as a law-breaker in the eyes of the Lord. What happened next was almost inevitable.

Acts 5:10

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.

Immediately she fell at his feet. Like her husband, Sapphira expired after hearing Peter’s words of condemnation, and religious people have been blaming God for her death ever since.

God did not and could not have killed Ananias and Sapphira – not without doing irreparable harm to the message of the cross (see entry for Acts 5:5). Either God is no longer holding our sins against us (2 Cor. 5:19), or he is.

If we must blame anyone for their deaths, let us blame sin. Sin kills people (Rom. 6:23). The strength of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56). When Peter spoke words of condemnation over the lying couple, he inflamed the sin that was already tearing them apart. “You lied to God. You tested the Spirit of the Lord. You will die.” Peter was acting like an old covenant judge, and the result was death and fear.

Acts 5:11

And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

Great fear. The immediate effect of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira was great fear. This was not the healthy reverential-awe type fear of God that we read about in Acts 9:31 and 10:35; this was plain vanilla terror resulting from the fact that two people had dropped dead. But where was this fear directed? Some translations say the “fear of God” came over the church, but this is not what the original text says. It simply says great fear. People were afraid of going to Peter’s church (Act 5:13).

Acts 5:20

“Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.”

(a) The whole message of this Life. When we preach the gospel, we are telling people about the new life that Jesus offers to all.

(b) This Life. Some Bibles add the adjective new as in this new life to show that the zoe-life we receive from the Lord is unlike the old life we inherited from Adam.

“To give us eternal life” is the answer to the question, why did Jesus come (John 3:16, 10:28, Rom 6:4, 1 Tim. 1:16). Jesus did not come principally to free us from sin or to give us a new nature. He came to give us a new life which includes those other things. “I have come that they may have (zoe) life” (John 10:10).

See entry for New Life.

Acts 5:31

“He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

(a) To grant repentance. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin, and both are a gift from God (Eph. 2:8).

The gospel of grace that comes wrapped in faith. When we hear the good news of Jesus the exalted Savior, our faith is activated (Rom. 10:17). It is goodness of God revealed in Jesus the exalted Savior that leads us to change our unbelieving minds and repent (Rom. 2:4).

(b) Forgiveness. The original word (aphesis) for forgiveness is a noun that is sometimes translated as remission and means a letting go or dismissal (see entry for Luke 24:47).

(c) Forgiveness of sins. All your sins – past, present, and future – were dealt with on the cross (Heb. 9:26). In Christ, you have the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14). In him, you are completely and eternally forgiven according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7).

On the night he rose from the dead, Jesus instructed his disciples to preach the good news of the complete forgiveness or remission of all sins (Luke 24:47). After the cross, the apostles described forgiveness in the past tense and as a gift to receive (see entry for Acts 13:38).

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