Home » Acts of the Apostles » Acts 5 (part 1)

Acts 5 (part 1)

Scripture: Acts 4:32-5:16

Highlights:

  • The early church is sharing everything with each other.
  • A guy named Joseph, who’s helpfulness had earned him the nickname Barnabas*, sells his land and hands over the money to the fledgling church.
  • Barnabas’ generosity seems to trigger Ananias (who’s possibly just trying to live up to his name, which means: “Jehovah has given” or “gift of Jehovah”) and his wife to sell their land and donate the money to the church.
  • It turns out Ananias and his wife had kept back some of the money for themselves.
  • They die as a result of “lying to God.”
  • Whoa.

Historical Context:

Ananias, the new Achan?

The story of God’s judgement on Ananias and Sapphira has echoes of the story told in Joshua 7 in which Achan takes some of the plunder from the fall of Jericho for himself (vs. putting it into the “treasury of the Lord’s house”). Achan’s sin is pinpointed as the reason Israel was unable to defeat the men of Ai and therefore continue making progress in taking over the promised land.  As a result of Achan taking “a beautiful robe from Babylonia,two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels” and hiding them under his tent, Joshua took Achan, “his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had” and stoned them all to death. Yikes. (Even the tent? Wow).

Joshua 7 is a story about a fragile time in Israel’s history, when their national identity was still forming, their liberator and leader, Moses, had just died, the promised land had yet to be taken, and they were about to enter a land in which there would be a multitude of alternate gods, cultures and authorities competing for their loyalty. Through the death of Achan God made it abundantly clear that he was to be Israel’s only God, that his laws were the only ones to be followed, and that for the community to succeed, they needed to be fully devoted to him. Devotion to anything else was a “devotion to destruction.” (Joshua 7:12)

Similarly, at an equally formative time in the early church, after the physical presence of Jesus was gone, and there was still many, many competing world views into which Christianity could easily blend into, God seems to use the death of Ananias and Sapphira to be making the same point about having utter devotion to him.

Observations:

  • The early church members were acting as if they were one big family, and as if they are celebrating the year of Jubilee (i.e. the 5oth year, a year in which slaves are freed and the land is acknowledged as truly belonging to God)
  • Once more, Peter makes a bold connection between himself, the church and God. When Ananias lies to Peter, he is lying to the church and therefore lying to God. Peter is taking Christ’s words seriously that “whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” He and the church are fully God’s representatives.
  • The believers met in the temple (Solomon’s Colonnade), a very public place that could accommodate large crowds.
  • Interesting contradiction of the people’s response mentioned in which “no one dared join them” after the Ananias and Sapphira incident, yet “more and more… were added to their number” (5:14).

Discussion:

  • What needs did the early church have that inspired this kind of generosity? Do these same needs persist today? Is there still a need for this same level of generosity? What other movements (charitable, religious or otherwise) have inspired this kind of giving?
  • Is this type of generosity and willingness to for believers to share their possessions a model the church should still follow today, or was this a reaction particular to first century circumstances?
  • Why did Luke feel this important to include in his narrative? What point was he trying to make?
  • How did Peter know they lied?
  • What did Ananias and Sapphira hope to gain?
  • If Ananias and Sapphira died from natural causes (like shock or guilt), does this story still carry the same meaning?
  • Why would God judge these people so harshly? Why did he forgive Peter for denying him yet apparently “strike down” Ananias and Sapphira? Surely there were worse sins going on around the city, if not the country, so why these people for this reason?
  • What are Christians generally most prone to hide from each other or lie about today?

Resources:

*Interesting side note on Barnabas: It is postulated that Barnabas and John Mark are cousins (based on Col. 4:10), and John Mark is likely the same Mark that wrote the Gospel of Mark. 

Post Discussion Perspectives:

  • Ananias and Sapphira is a story about God viciously defending his fledgeling church.
  • God is emotional. He has his own reasons for doing what he does. As C.S. Lewis had Mr. Beaver say about Aslan, “Safe? …Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
  • God has every right to strike us all dead. Don’t we all lie? Aren’t we all sitting on money we could give?
  • God tends to do miraculous things to indicate his seal of approval and that he is present. We most often think of those events as always being joyous (ex. Acts 4 the crippled man healed) and beneficial to the individual. However, most often the miraculous events are for the community to learn from, not just the individual.  Also, this story reminds us that that God’s supernatural interventions don’t always have an overtly positive result. God is just, not simply kind.
  • Where is the God of second chances? Where’s the grace?
  • These kind of stories make people think Christians believe crazy stuff.
  • The early church’s needs may have been more physically evident (housing, food, poverty, etc.) and the community closer (meeting everyday), but why can’t we be more proactive about helping each other? Do we need to be more vulnerable about our needs? Do we need to be more closely connected?
  • The early church was sharing everything because that’s what the world wold run like if God were in charge.
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