Ananias and Sapphira by Anna Giovanetto; Sylvie Raquel

Today, lying is a common practice that does not seem to have many consequences; however, in the early church, one lie caused irreparable damage.

Should life in the Holy Spirit change the way a believer acts?

In Acts 5:1-11, Luke introduces Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple within the congregation of new Christians in Jerusalem. Ananias and Sapphira were land owners, which indicates their financial security (Acts 5:1). Acts 5 is the only place where the Bible mentions this couple. (This Ananias is not the same as the one who interacts with Saul in Acts 9.)

Preceding this account, Luke reports that the Holy Spirit filled those who believed in Jesus and caused them to be united in “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:31-32). The Spirit prompted unity and overflowing generosity (Acts 4:32). Those who were able provided for the common needs by selling land and bringing the funds to the apostles (Acts 4:34-35). A man named Joseph, also called Barnabas, provides a positive example. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Joseph sold part of his land to care for the believers’ needs (Acts 4:36-37).

By contrast, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property, and conspired together to keep part of the proceeds (Acts 5:1-2). Peter, as the head of the early church in Acts, confronts Ananias, asking why Satan “filled [Ananias’s] heart to lie to the Spirit” (Acts 5:3-4). Ananias and Sapphira were not obligated to present the entire proceeds from the sale of their land, but they might have been expected to do so (Acts 5:4). Living in a culture where their actions would have brought honor or shame upon their social standing and not wanting to appear greedy, they misrepresented the amount of money they donated to the apostles (Acts 5:2). They could have reserved part of the funds without moral failing, but the problem arose when they lied about how much of the sale they were giving. By lying to the apostles, Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Spirit, which the assembly learned was unacceptable (Acts 5:5, Acts 5:11).

What happened when Ananias and Sapphira lied?

After Peter exposed Ananias’s lie, the Spirit struck Ananias dead (Acts 5:5). Sapphira appeared before the apostles hours later. Although Sapphira’s name is mentioned less than her husband, which some scholars, like Mitzi Smith, say diminishes her significance, the apostles chose to give her a voice to defend herself (Acts 5:7). Unaware of her husband’s death, Sapphira answered Peter with the same falsehood and suffered the same fate. She fell down and died (Acts 5:9-10). Ananias and Sapphira’s deception destroyed their relationship with God, others, and themselves. They lied not to humans, but to the Spirit and “put the Spirit of the Lord to the test” (Acts 5:3-4, Acts 5:9). The decision to lie to and test the Spirit was an egregious act against God. As a result, their actions incurred their own deaths (Acts 5:5, Acts 5:10). In this, the episode echoes the story in Num 16 when a group of people spurned the Lord and died (Num 16:29-35).

Here, Sapphira followed her husband’s lead in giving the rehearsed account to the apostles (Acts 5:2, Acts 5:8-9). Yet, Ananias and Sapphira were both responsible for their own actions, and Sapphira should have obeyed the Spirit instead of obeying her husband. Luke suggests that every believer is responsible to God for what he or she does. He implies that believing in Jesus and being filled with the Spirit supersedes cultural expectations, even within marriage.

Anna Giovanetto, Sylvie Raquel, "Ananias and Sapphira", n.p. [cited 25 Jun 2022]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/people/related-articles/ananias-and-sapphira

Contributors

Giovanetto-Anna

Anna Giovanetto
graduating student, Trinity International University

Anna Giovanetto is a graduating student at Trinity International University, receiving her undergraduate degree in Bible and Ministry, with an emphasis in biblical studies.

Raquel-Sylvie

Sylvie Raquel
Professor of Biblical Studies, Trinity International University

Dr. Sylvie Raquel is Professor of Biblical Studies. She has taught at Trinity International University for almost two decades. She enjoys mentoring her students academically by involving them in research and academic presentations.

A group of people attending religious services, worshiping.

Associated with a deity; exhibiting religious importance; set apart from ordinary (i.e. "profane") things.

Acts 5:1-11

Ananias and Sapphira
1But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property;2with his wife's knowledge, he kept back some of ... View more

Acts 5:1

5 But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property;

Acts 9

The Conversion of Saul
1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest2and asked him for letters ... View more

Acts 4:31-32

31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with ... View more

Acts 4:32

The Believers Share Their Possessions
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any posse ... View more

Acts 4:34-35

34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apo ... View more

Acts 4:36-37

36There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”).37He sold a field that belong ... View more

Acts 5:1-2

5 But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2 with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds and b ... View more

Acts 5:3-4

3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unso ... View more

Acts 5:4

4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this de ... View more

Acts 5:2

2 with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 5:5

5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it.

Acts 5:11

11 And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.

Acts 5:5

5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it.

Acts 5:7

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.

Acts 5:9-10

9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husba ... View more

Acts 5:3-4

3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unso ... View more

Acts 5:9

9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husba ... View more

Acts 5:5

5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it.

Acts 5:10

10Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

Num 16

Revolt of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
1Now Korah son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—descenda ... View more

Num 16:29-35

29 If these people die a natural death or if a natural fate comes on them, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates something new and the groun ... View more

Acts 5:2

2 with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 5:8-9

8 Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said ... View more

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