MBS162 The Story of Ananias and Sapphira: Acts 4:32-5:11

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THE STORY OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA: ACTS 4:32–5:11

By Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. THE COMMUNITY OF THE SAINTS—ACTS 4:32–35

A. The Characteristics of the Community—Acts 4:32a–33

1. Their Unity of Spirit

2. Their Spirit of Sharing

3. The Witness of the Apostles

4. The Grace of God—Acts 4:33b

B. The Evidences of Their Spirit of Community—Acts 4:34–35

1. The Provision by God

2. The Means of Provision

3. The Distribution

II. THE GOOD EXAMPLE OF BARNABAS—ACTS 4:36–37

A. The Background of Barnabas—Acts 4:36

B. The Work of Barnabas—Acts 4:37

III. THE BAD EXAMPLE OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA—ACTS 5:1–11

A. Ananias—Acts 5:1–6

1. The Deed—Acts 5:1–2

2. The Accusation—Acts 5:3–4

3. Ananias’ Death and Burial—Acts 5:5–6

B. Sapphira—Acts 5:7–10

1. Sapphira’s Sin—Acts 5:7–8

2. The Accusation and Judgment—Acts 5:9

3. Sapphira’s Death and Burial—Acts 5:10

C. The Result—Acts 5:11

IV. THE OBSERVATIONS

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 5:1–2

This section of the Book of Acts can be divided into four units: the community of the saints; the good example of Barnabas; the bad example of Ananias and Sapphira; and the observations.

I. THE COMMUNITY OF THE SAINTS—ACTS 4:32–35

While the story of Ananias and Sapphira proper begins in chapter 5, the concluding verses of chapter 4 present the background.

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need.

A. The Characteristics of the Community—Acts 4:32a–33

This unit reveals four characteristics of the community of the saints in Jerusalem.

1. Their Unity of Spirit

The first characteristic speaks about the saints’ unity of spirit in verse 32a: the multitude of them that believed. By this time, the number of Jewish believers in the congregation of Jerusalem was just that, a multitude. It included the hundred and twenty of the upper room in chapter 1; the three thousand, who were saved in chapter 2; and the five thousand men, not counting the females, who were saved in chapter 4. At this point, there was a minimum of eight thousand Jewish believers and, no doubt, the figure was considerably higher, because not every situation is recorded.

Although there were so many, there was unity among them. They were of one heart and soul; they were of one spirit. There was a unity among them, nothing negative had crept into the history of the Church up to this point.

2. Their Spirit of Sharing

The second characteristic we read about is their spirit of sharing in verse 32b. Not one of them said that all of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common; everything was held in common. In other words, they brought all their material wealth together into a “common pot.”

3. The Witness of the Apostles

The third characteristic of the community of saints is the apostolic witness in verse 33a: with great power gave the apostles their witness. The word power emphasizes the ability to perform miracles; this was the answer to the prayer they had made earlier in verse 30.

Furthermore, only the apostles are said to have had this power. It is an absolutely false teaching to propagate the doctrine that miracles, signs, and wonders were being done by the believers in general in the Book of Acts. It is simply not true. In the history of the Book of Acts, miracles, signs, and wonders were performed only by the apostles and their apostolic legates; that is, those upon whom the apostles laid their hands, as was the case with Stephen. It was not a power given to believers in general, even in the Book of Acts.

Only the apostles were said to have this power and they used it to witness. The content of their witness was: the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Earlier in chapter 4, it was the preaching of His Resurrection to the Jews that got Peter and John arrested. The Sanhedrin had threatened them and charged them to cease preaching in the name of Yeshua (Jesus), especially over the issue of the Resurrection. But they continued teaching the truth of the Resurrection of Yeshua.

The apostles had power because of two things. First, because of prayer; and secondly, because of their right to use the purse. While they did not try to become wealthy, they were the ones responsible for the distribution of the finances for the early Church.

4. The Grace of God—Acts 4:33b

The fourth characteristic of this community of saints is that they enjoyed God’s favor in verse 33b: and great grace was upon them all. The word grace teaches that the favor they were receiving from God was itself unmerited, because grace is unmerited favor.

B. The Evidences of Their Spirit of Community—Acts 4:34–35

Their spirit of the community is revealed in three ways.

1. The Provision by God

First, there was the provision by God in verse 34a: For neither was there among them any that lacked, because God provided for their needs.

2. The Means of Provision

Secondly, the means of provision in verses 34b–35a: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them … and laid them at the apostles’ feet. Wealthier believers sold their possessions, whether they were land holdings or houses. All the money realized from selling these things was laid before the feet of the apostles.

This was a clear recognition of apostolic authority. We do not lay these things before people’s feet now because there are no apostles today. The apostles had a unique authority and, in recognition of this, these things were laid at their feet.

The Greek tense allows for the translation to read, “Selling, they brought from time to time as it was occasioned by reason of need.” In other words, they did not necessarily lay all of the money they received from the sale at the apostles’ feet all at once. They would sometimes do it piecemeal as needs arose; as needs were made known, they would lay what they had from their profits at the feet of the apostles.

3. The Distribution

Thirdly, the spirit of community is shown in verse 35b in that distribution was made to each, according as any one had need. Some have tried to base a doctrine of communism upon this passage, but this was simply charity, based on the teachings of Yeshua. It was not communism for several reasons.

First, it was a voluntary act according to Acts 5:4.

Secondly, the Greek tense indicates that varying portions were sold according to the conscience of the individuals in Acts 4:34; it was not a one time act.

Thirdly, this action was largely based upon a misconception concerning the Second Coming. There were strong feelings that Jesus would definitely return in their lifetime, although He had clearly indicated that this would not happen. In fact, Yeshua prophesied that Peter would die before His Second Coming in John 21.

Fourthly, this practice was limited to the congregation of Jerusalem; it did not spread to the other churches.

Fifth, it proved to be a mistake, because it caused the Church of Jerusalem to become poverty stricken; after everything had been sold and distributed, there was nothing left in the common pot. Their poverty caused them to fall in need of help from Gentile churches that did not follow the procedure of having all things common. (Acts 11:27–30; 24:17; Rom. 15:25–27; Gal. 2:10).

Thus, there is no basis in this passage for developing the doctrine of communism.

II. THE GOOD EXAMPLE OF BARNABAS—ACTS 4:36–37

After giving us a general account of what the believers were doing in verses 32–35, Luke now focused his attention upon one special example: Barnabas. The example of Barnabas is not only special because of what was done here—although that is true enough—but because of the role he plays later in the Book of Acts. So Luke gives us the good example of Barnabas in verses 36–37: And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of exhortation), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, having a field, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

A. The Background of Barnabas—Acts 4:36

In verse 36, we are introduced to the man himself. His Hebrew name was actually Joseph,. But he was renamed Barnabas by the apostles. Barnabas is a Hebrew title that can be translated in one of two ways: Son of exhortation or “son of consolation.” Apparently, the apostles gave him this surname because they recognized that he had the gift of consolation, which he used for the purpose of consoling others. As for his tribal identity, he was a Levite. As to his race, or more properly, his nationality, he was from the island of Cyprus. So, he was a Jew, a believer in the Messiahship of Jesus, of the Tribe of Levi, and he was born and raised in Cyprus, although he was now living in Jerusalem.

We know some other things about Barnabas from other passages of Scripture. He appears twenty-four times in the Book of Acts, and this is the first time he is mentioned. Furthermore, he is mentioned five times elsewhere in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1, 9, 13; and Colossians 4:10. He was the cousin of John Mark, who was the author of the Gospel of Mark (Col. 4:10). He was the man who persuaded the Church of Jerusalem to receive Paul in Acts 9:27, when Paul returned to Jerusalem from Damascus, claiming to be a believer. Later, Barnabas was sent by the Church of Jerusalem to investigate Gentile salvation in Antioch in Acts 11:19–24. He was full of the Holy Spirit in Acts 11:24, which means he was a man who was controlled by the Holy Spirit. Also, he was the one who brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch to begin his ministry there in Acts 11:25–26. According to Acts 14:12, he was of commanding appearance, because he was taken by the people of Lystra to be the god Jupiter or Zeus. Finally, he also had the gift of apostleship according to Acts 14:14, and was of that second category of apostles, like Paul and James, the half-brother of Yeshua. The only prerequisite for this category of apostleship was that they had seen the resurrected Messiah. Apparently, Barnabas was among the five hundred who saw the resurrected Messiah.

B. The Work of Barnabas—Acts 4:37

Verse 37 emphasizes the work of Barnabas. He owned a field, but under the Mosaic Law, ownership of land was forbidden to a Levite (Num. 18:20–23; Deut. 10:9). Was Barnabas disobedient? The answer is “no,” because that stipulation only held true within the Land of Israel; Levites living outside the Land were not under that stipulation, therefore, Barnabas was not sinning in owning land.

Furthermore, after the Babylonian Captivity, this law was no longer applicable, since they were no longer settled by tribes. Originally, the Jews were settled by their tribes, and every tribe had its levitical cities in which the Levites lived. From these levitical cities, they were to go out to teach other members of the tribes of Israel the truth concerning the Law of Moses. However, after the Babylonian Captivity, the Jews were no longer settled in their tribal territories, and this law was no longer applicable.

So, Barnabas had a field and sold it. He then brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. This is a good example of one who possessed the love of the brethren.

III. THE BAD EXAMPLE OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA—ACTS 5:1–11

In the third division we have the bad example of Ananias and Sapphira. We can sub divide this section into two main parts.

A. Ananias—Acts 5:1–6

1. The Deed—Acts 5:1–2

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Like Barnabas, they sold something in verse 1. The man was named Ananias, a Hebrew name which means “Jehovah has graciously given.” But he did not live up to his name. His wife’s name was Sapphira, the Hellenized form of the Hebrew Shaphira, which means “beautiful.” This was a husband and wife team who sold a possession. So far, so good.

However, they then entered into a covenant of deceit in verse 2. The conspiracy was to keep back part of the price. In the Greek text, Luke used the same word that is used in the Septuagint version of Joshua 7:1, where Achan held on to something he was not supposed to have. What Achan was to Joshua, Ananias and Sapphira were going to be to the early Church. Just as Achan interrupted Israel’s process and progress in the conquest of the Promised Land, Ananias and Sapphira’s act of deceit interrupted the process and the progress of the Program of God. Suddenly, the first sin entered the local congregation.

While Ananias was the leader in it, his wife was party to the conspiracy. Ananias alone brought a certain part [of their money], and laid it at the apostles’ feet. This was the first internal problem for the Church. The first external problem was in chapter 4, when the Sanhedrin arrested Peter and John. Whereas Barnabas was a good example of love of the brethren, Ananias had a false profession of love of the brethren.

2. The Accusation—Acts 5:3–4

But Peter said, Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, did it not remain your own? and after it was sold, was it not in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? you have not lied unto men, but unto God.

In his accusation, Peter held two persons responsible for this act of deceit. The first one was Satan in verse 3. Speaking to Ananias, Peter said: Why has Satan filled your heart. This is the only mention of Satan by name in the Book of Acts. He is later referred to by the word “devil.” Peter also used the word filled. This is the same word used in Acts 4:31 and Ephesians 5:18, where filled means “to be controlled by.” Ananias was “satanized,” meaning he was “controlled by Satan from within,” he was under satanic control. Being under satanic control, he was filled with Satan. His sin was that he lied to the Holy Spirit; and the means by which he did that was to keep back part of the price he got for his land.

Peter also pointed out Ananias’ responsibility: While it remained, did it not remain your own? and after it was sold, was it not in your power? In other words, the selling of the land was not obligatory; it was purely voluntary. Ananias did not have to sell it. Even after selling it, he still did not have to give any part of it away. He had the right to keep all of it. He had a choice, either to give all of it to the apostles, or none of it, or only part of it. Giving only part of it was not the sin. The sin was that he gave only a part while claiming to have given it all.

Peter asked him: How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? Satan did not make him do it. Ananias chose to do it because of greed, and this greed led him to the conception of sin. Because of the conception of this idea in his heart, which led to the deliberate intention to deceive, Satan was able to gain control. Satan entered into Ananias because of the sin of greed.

Practically speaking, Ananias’ sin was: you have not lied unto men. Although this was his intention, audibly he did not lie to men: but unto God. This is a clear example that the Holy Spirit is God. Earlier, Peter said he had lied to the Holy Spirit in verse 3. Here, he is told that he had lied to God. To lie to the Holy Spirit means the same as lying to God. This shows that Peter had the gift of discernment of spirits.

3. Ananias’ Death and Burial—Acts 5:5–6

And Ananias hearing these words fell down and gave up the ghost: and great fear came upon all that heard it. And the young men arose and wrapped him round, and they carried him out and buried him.

Ananias’ sin led to his death in verse 5. While listening to what Peter was saying, he fell down and gave up the ghost. The result was that great fear came upon all that heard it. This is the only example of someone being “slain by the Spirit.” But Ananias did not get up again, he was dead.

Verse 6 records the burial of Ananias: And the young men arose. The word means “younger men,” as over against older men. They wrapped him round; they rolled him up in some type of shroud with bandages, and they carried him out and buried him.

B. Sapphira—Acts 5:7–10

1. Sapphira’s Sin—Acts 5:8

And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much. And she said, Yea, for so much.

In verse 7, Sapphira came in. As to the time: it was about the space of three hours after her husband had died that she came in. Literally, the text reads, “Now there came an interval of about three hours” or “three hours later, his wife, not knowing what had happened to her husband, came in.”

Then Peter asks her a question in verse 8a: Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much. With that question, Peter gave her an opportunity “to come clean.” But Sapphira answered in verse 8b: Yea, for so much. She did not take the opportunity offered to her, but chose to continue the conspiracy.

2. The Accusation and Judgment—Acts 5:9

But Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to try the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them that have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out.

In verse 9, Peter gave his accusation and judgment. The accusation was: How is it that ye have agreed together. This was a joint-conspiracy to try the Spirit of the Lord. This was sin against the Holy Spirit; it was lying to the Holy Spirit, and when they did that, they “tried” the Holy Spirit. The judgment was: behold, the feet of them that have buried your husband are at the door. These young men had just returned at that moment, and now they shall carry [Sapphira] out for burial as well.

3. Sapphira’s Death and Burial—Acts 5:10

And she fell down immediately at his feet, and gave up the ghost: and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband.

Then came the immediate death of Sapphira in verse 10a: she fell down immediately at his feet, and gave up the ghost. This was followed by the burial of Sapphira in verse 10b: the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband. The Greek states that she was buried “face to face” with her husband.

C. The Result—Acts 5:11

And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all that heard these things.

The first result was that great fear came upon the whole church. This is the first mention of church in the Book of Acts, out of a total of twenty-three times. The second result was that fear fell on those outside the congregation in Jerusalem as well.

IV. THE OBSERVATIONS

From what happened in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, four observations can be made.

First, we have an example of the use of Peter’s apostolic authority. In Matthew 16:19, he had been given the authority to bind and loose. One of the ways binding and loosing was used was in the realm of church discipline. To loose was to free from punishment, but to bind meant to bind for punishment In John 20:23, the apostles were given the authority to retain sin, and here Peter “retained” the sin of Ananias and Sapphira for punishment. The apostles had the authority to exercise discipline upon the Church, and that authority has not passed beyond regular church discipline. Today, we have to follow the four stage procedure of Matthew 18:15–20, but the apostles did not.

The second observation is that it seems to be a harsh treatment. But discipline is always stricter at the start of a new dispensation. A previous example of this was the death of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1–2.

The third observation is that there were four results: first, a recognition of apostolic authority; secondly, the purity of the Church was preserved; thirdly, there was godly fear; and fourthly, there was fresh apostolic power with new signs and wonders in Acts 5:12 in the next study in the Book of Acts.

The fourth observation is that there are three lessons to be learned from this account: first, even the early Church was not perfect; secondly, God will judge sin; and thirdly, as pointed out in 1 Peter 4:17: judgment must begin at the house of God.

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS BIBLE STUDY, DR. FRUCHTENBAUM RECOMMENDS:

MBS159, 160, 161, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175 and 190