Acts 5 - I need some help making sense of it

Hi all,

I am trying to make sense out of Acts 5: the passage where God kills two people who have withheld money from the Church community. I have four major problems with this passage.

[1] In this passage, God acts in a way that is “apparently” inconsistent with how God acts in other sections of acts. And it also seems inconsistent with how Jesus approached sinners.

[2] In this passage, the Church community acts amazingly non-compassionate. Can you imagine if one of your Church members had just died, and the wife walks in to the Church. They seem much more interested in putting the woman on trial, without even informing her of her husband’s death. Again, very odd. And, it does not seem consistent with the Peter of the Gospels, who was graciously forgiven after his own denials of faith.

[3] Not only is this passage “apparently” inconsistent with the major thrust of the NT, it also seems inconsistent with our own experience of God’s economy. God does not just go around killing people in such a manner. If this were the case, collection time at Church would be the most dangerous event of our lives.

[4] Finally, this passage sits between some of the most important sections of the NT: Pentecost, the council of Jerusalem, the conversion of Paul, etc, etc. What does this mean for how we should approach Acts as a book of history. Should we really see Acts 5 as a divine action of God? And if so, in what respect?

I am just wondering if anyone has any insights as to how this passage can be made relevant to match common sense.



I believe the crime of Ananian and Saphira was that they violated their sacred vow of giving all their possessions to the community, reserving nothing for themselves. They were seen by their peers as sacrilegious and plunderers of sacred things.

The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira were not caused by the Christians, and is not fully clear because of the compressed narrative. What we can see is that it is not a problem caused by refusal to share in the voluntary system, but the hypocrisy with which they claim to have made a great sacrifice when they had not. Peter correctly sees this as lying to God (5:1-11).

The cause of their deaths is not clear… I don’t see why it is nessecary to attribute it to God, it could have been shock or guilt at being revealed in their horrible fraud.

I assume that you are writing about Ananias and Saphira. Their sin was not withholding part of the money from the sale, but lying about it.

Acts 5:4 (Amplified Bible): Peter said, “As long as it remained unsold, was it not still your own? And [even] after it was sold, was not [the money] at your disposal and under your control? Why then, is it that you have proposed and purposed in your heart to do this thing? [How could you have the heart to do such a deed?] You have not [simply] lied to men [playing false and showing yourself utterly deceitful] but to God.”

They were not obliged to give any of the money to the Church, but they had vowed to give it all, then attempted to gain the favor of men and of God by giving only part of the money, yet claiming the contribution was the total amount of the sale.

I believe the theological point is that God takes our words seriously. Ananias and Sapphira might have walked away, but chose to persist in a lie.

The Haydock Commentary lays out the crime and the punishment: “St. Augustine calls it a sacrilegious fraud, and St. Chrysostom, a theft of what was already made sacred to God. (Witham)” Haydock goes on to explain, “St. Augustine says,[3] this severe judgment was to strike a terror of such dissembling fraudulent dealings into the new Church. It was also to shew that St. Peter, and the apostles, had the gift of prophecy (Witham).”

Even then, Peter gave the couple the opportunity to admit of their broken promise, but both held fast to their deceit.

Finally, as Haydock points out, though of course we don’t know, the couple’s deaths may have been an act of mercy: St. Augustine wrote, “I can believe that God spared them after this life, for his mercy is great. … They were stricken with the scourge of death, that they might not be subject to eternal punishment.”

I did a catena on Acts 1-5 that is made up of quotes fro the Early Church Fathers, here is the link to chapter 5

I have answered your question on other threads, but to save you from reading all my posts I will give you my answer.

When a person is given the Holy Spirit and is then taught to know God, he or she tells the Holy Spirit that they love God and will let the Holy Spirit/Jesus guide them.

When that person deliberately commits a sin they are telling God that they love Satan. God said he would make a home in those who love him. When one sins they are inviting Satan into God’s home. That is lying to the Holy Spirit. That is blaspheming the Holy Spirit that is death.

(Hebrews 10:26-31) “If, after we have been given knowledge of the truth, we should deliberately commit any sins, then there is no longer any sacrifice for them. There is left only the dreadful prospect of judgment and of the fiery wrath that is to devour your enemies. Anyone who disregards the Law of Moses is ruthlessly put to death on the word of two witnesses or three; and you may be sure that anyone who tramples on the Son of God, and who treats the blood of the covenant which sanctified him as if it were not holy, and who insults the Spirit of grace, will be condemned to a far severer punishment. We are all aware who it was that said: Vengeance is mine; I will vindicate his people. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Hi all,

thanks everyone for their responses, particularly the compilation of quotes from Church Fathers.

But unfortunately, the responses did not seem to address my concerns (perhaps my concerns were not properly expressed).

My concerns were not to find the exact nature of the crime (regarding vows and such), but along the lines of the inconsistency of this passage with [1] the general thrust of Christ’s forgiving attitude.

[2] The odd behavior of the community. I never said that Peter himself condemned the person to death, I said that community acted in a highly non compassionate way. Again, imagine any community not consoling a wife after a husband dies (even if we know that the husband was guilty of a crime)… it just seems to go against common Christian behavior (and human behavior at that).

[3] Quite simply, God does not seem to strike down people in such a manner. Reading the passage, one could attribute the husbands death to some natural shock at his guilt, but the subsequent death of the wife implies something greater is going on. Again, we would all be dead if this is really how God deals with us.

[4] This passage is clearly not part of the general preaching and teaching of the Christian community. We have seemed to brush this passage aside and only deal with it when people (perhaps like myself) call it into question. Other passages that surround this one (Pentecost, selecting deacons, council of Jerusalem) are much more celebrated than this passage in Acts 5. I think innately we tend to move away from this passage and cling to other ones. My question is why is this so? And do we have such a right to do so?


[1] Christ’s forgiveness does not necessarily extend to persistence in sin. Ananias and Saphira were given multiple opportunities to withdraw their offer or reduce it. Before they died, Peter asked each again, is this the full offering that you promised? The couple persisted in their deceit, which Church fathers almost unanimously considered sacrilegious. The New Testament makes clear that confession of sin accompanied with repentance is forgiven, not persistence in sin.

[2] I interpret the community’s behavior when Saphira came along as their waiting for Peter to talk with her. As a matter of fact, Peter gave her the opportunity to withdraw her offer or repent. Like her husband, though, she chose to persist in her sin. Only then did Peter tell her that Ananias had died, and that she would join him.

[3] People die every day; death is a consequence of fallen people living in a fallen world. That Ananias and Saphira died at that particular time only helped to demonstrate God’s soveriegnty and justice through the representatives of His Church. Unless the Parousia occurs in our physical lifetimes, we will all physically die.

[4] This passage perfectly corresponds with Christian preaching and teaching. I believe the New Testament teaches that we are fallen people living in a fallen world and subject to the consequences of corporate and individual sin. Our acceptance of Christ justifies us at that moment, but from that point forward we must be open to the Holy Spirit, Who transforms our hearts, thoughts, words, and actions proportionately to our acceptance of God’s Word. Finally, after physical death, when believers join Christ, freed from the effects of sin, they enter perfect sanctification.

Ananias and Saphira had joined the Church, we hope sincerely. Somewhere along the line they lost the Way. They became subject to their carnal desires to the point of attempting to deceive the Church community and, as Peter pointed out, even God. They abandoned sanctification in pursuit the world.

“The wages of sin is death.”

I don’t believe that most Christians try to de-emphasize or overlook this passage at all. To think that persistence in sin results in anything but death and damnation is little more than wishful thinking.

As Christians, however, we can agree with St. Augustine that God always acts mercifully. Maybe God allowed Ananias and Saphira the opportunity to repent with their dying breaths, and they were saved.

People can’t you read? Peter said: “it is not to men that you have lied, but to God.” So you and your husband have agreed to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test!”

This is why they died. They lied to the Holy Spirit. They said they loved God, but showed they loved Satan by sinning.

(Acts 5:1-11) “There was another man, however, called Ananias. He and his wife, Sapphira, agreed to sell a property; but with his wife’s connivance he kept back part of the proceeds, and brought the rest and presented it to the apostles. Ananias, Peter said ‘now can Satan have so possessed you that you should lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the money from the land? While you still owned the land, wasn’t it yours to keep, and after you had sold it wasn’t the money yours to do with as you liked? What put this scheme into your mind? It is not to men that you have lied, but to God. When he heard this Ananias fell down dead. This made a profound impression on everyone present. The younger men got up, wrapped the body in a sheet, carried it out and buried it.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had taken place. Peter challenged her, ‘Tell me was this the price you sold the land for? ‘Yes,’ she said ‘that was the price.’ Peter then said, ‘ What made you do it? You hear those footsteps? They have just been to bury your husband; they will carry you out, too.’ Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in they found she was dead, and they carried her out and buried her by the side of her husband. This made a profound impression on the whole Church and on all who heard it.

(2) UNKNOWN She did not know yet …The Haydock NT Commentary explains "Ver. 7. Not knowing. Because no one durst tell her; so much did they honour, fear, and obey S. Peter. S. Chrys. hom. xii. — She came in; Peter did not call her, but waited, to afford her an opportunity of repenting. Œcumenius. "

(3) VOW Haydock NTC Ver. 1. It is believed by many of the Fathers, that the resolution which the faithful made of selling their property, and laying the price at the feet of the apostles, implied a vow of reserving nothing for themselves, but giving all to the community; and that the crime of Ananias and Saphira consisted in the violation of this vow;"
[size=]It would be foolish of us to make vows of this nature and break them - “Numbers 30:2 If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” Full Life Study Bible KJV.
(4) They lied in order to gain glory and recognition for themselves.
It is essential that believers recognize the importance of the Holy Spirit in God’s redemptive purpose - (Do we question the work of the Holy Spirit? :eek:):slight_smile:
.RESULT Acts 5:11 GREAT REGENERATION - FEAR CAME UPON ALL - God’s judgement upon the sin of these two people caused an increase in humility, awe, reverence and fear of a holy God. Without a proper fear of God the early believers would’ve returned to the ways of the world, cease to experience the outpouring of the Spirit of God’s miraculous presence and be cut off from the flow of God’s grace. The fear of the Lord is an essential element in the N.T. and in the Church today.[/size]

3 Peter asked, “Ananias, why did you let Satan fill you with the idea that you could deceive the Holy Spirit?
Acts 5:3 (GW)

…Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.:signofcross:

There is one sin which will be forgiven neither in this life or in the life to come: Blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And His name is specifically mentioned by Peter in this chapter. Ananias was given the opportunity to repent and confess his duplicity. He chose to be unrepentant. As well, Christ gave Peter and the twelve the power to forgive sins, or to hold them bound. This strikes me as an exercise of that power to hold their sins bound. Remember that our lives are not our own. They are a gift from God, and as He has freely given them to us, so also does He call them back to Him when He pleases. Job did not curse God when his children, servants and possessions were killed and plundered - but only spoke the truth that “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:20).

I think that compassion would be false and misplaced when applied to those who have both lied to the Holy Spirit and cheated the Body of Christ. Ananias and Sapphira were duplicitous, cheating their God and those whom they swore to love and sacrifice for. This is an example of God’s justice in action. Consider also that making a decision for Christ was not a lukewarm thing. It was all or nothing and they placed their faith not in God, but in their own wiles. They hedged their bet - and lost.

Since the bible is incomplete, we do not know the complete nature of, or depth of their vow to sacrifice all for the Body of Christ. There certainly was more than written.

Short answer: No. This is a disturbing text. The simple meaning for all of us is: Do not promise the Lord what you have already decided to withhold from Him. You may rest assured that this was a greater teaching in times past. Since the post-WWII era, Church teaching in this area has dramatically softened. When was the last time any one of us heard hellfire and damnation preached from the ambo? Yet, by the numbers, and by the Words of Christ, many more will experience damnation than salvation.

Matthew 7:12-14 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”.

God is love - but His justice remains and is a fearful thing.

Hebrews 10:31 “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

I pray to be given the words to let you all understand that a person who is spiritual knows God, and if people who know God deliberately commit sin they are dead. Not necessarily a physical death, but spiritually for sure.

(Hebrews 10:26-31) “If, after we have been given knowledge of the truth, we should deliberately commit any sins, then there is no longer any sacrifice for them. There is left only the dreadful prospect of judgment and of the fiery wrath that is to devour your enemies. Anyone who disregards the Law of Moses is ruthlessly put to death on the word of two witnesses or three; and you may be sure that anyone who tramples on the Son of God, and who treats the blood of the covenant which sanctified him as if it were not holy, and who insults the Spirit of grace, will be condemned to a far severer punishment. We are all aware who it was that said: Vengeance is mine; I will vindicate his people. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Do you even know what a person is? Could you please define for me what a person is according to the Bible.

What’s up?..1 A gentle answer turns away rage, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Prov 15:1 (GW) :o

24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:Heb 10:19-24 (KJV) :thumbsup:

The punishment of the presumptuous person
30 But the soul that doeth aught with a high hand, whether he be home-born or a sojourner, the same blasphemeth Jehovah; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he hath despised the word of Jehovah, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.
Num 15:30-31 (ASV)

I believe that he was referring to the currently fashionable neutered language. Jesus never once said “person” or “who do people say that I am?”. He was not afraid to use the term “man” or “woman”.

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