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In Acts 4:32-5:11, Ananias dies when Peter asks him why he has held some of the proceeds of the sale of his property back from the communal pot. However, it is not made clear that he promised to give them all the money in the first place.

Is this simply implied by the later lie of Sapphira who claims that this was the whole price? Is there anything illuminating from tradition or external Biblical sources? Should this passage be interpretted entirely differently?

So, why did Ananias die?

4

The key to the answer to your question is in verses;

Acts 5:3 and 4 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."

So lets break it down and see if we can determine why Peter said ** You have not lied to men but to God** and why he dropped dead, and why Sapphira also died.

During that time period, converts were expecting Jesus to return during their lifetimes, based on:

Matthew 16:28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

They had determined this saying of Jesus to mean that he would return before some of those standing there would die. However that was not what Jesus was saying.

These commentary excerpts may help you to understand this more clearly.

From Matthew Henry:

any man will have the name and credit of a disciple, let him follow Christ in the work and duty of a disciple. If all worldly things are worthless when compared with the life of the body, how forcible the same argument with respect to the soul and its state of never-ending happiness or misery! Thousands lose their souls for the most trifling gain, or the most worthless indulgence, nay, often from mere sloth and negligence.

From The Peoples new testament:

Shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man. The reference is not to his final coming to judge the world, but to his spiritual coming to establish his kingdom. This was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. Mark (Mark_9:1) shows the meaning by substituting, "Till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." The "coming of the Son of man in his kingdom" means, therefore, the same as "the kingdom of God come with power." Compare Acts 1:8, and Luke 24:49. The kingdom came with power on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1).

So now let's see about Peter's statement that Ananias had lied to God;

Ananias had wanted that man should think he had put his full faith in God to provide for him, and had divested himself of all worldly wealth for the common good. This was belied by their keeping a part of the money, which indicated that he was not entirely sure that Jesus was telling the truth. To deny the truth of Jesus in any way is blasphemy, and it shows that Ananias and Sapphira were not accepting Jesus proclamation:

Luke 12:21 through 31 "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." 22 Then He said to His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. 23 Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? 25 And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 26 If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Luk 12:28 If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? 29 "And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. 30 For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

Had they been truly putting their faith in what Jesus taught they would have trusted him, and given all they had gotten for the land. Especially in light of:

Luke 12:32 through 34 "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Therefore the lie they told God lies in the fact that; they even though professing faith in Jesus, were in fact still laying up treasure on Earth, instead of fully believing in God to provide ALL of their needs.

So then the question becomes why did they die immediately? The answer to that then must be in:

Luke 5:20 When He saw their faith, He said to him, "Man, your sins are forgiven you."

The key to forgiveness of sin lies in our faith and:

Luke 13:2 through 5 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."

It can only be surmised that they had not truly repented (or turned their backs on sin), and so received the same fate as those eighteen at the tower of Siloam, or instant death.

As an added thought this is what fear of the Lord really refers to is his great wrath.

Hope this helps.

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  • "Ananias had wanted that man should think he had put his full faith in God to provide for him, and had divested himself of all worldly wealth for the common good." - what evidence, if any, is there for this? Is this based on Sapphira's later answer? – Reluctant_Linux_User Oct 15 '14 at 23:07
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    @Reluctant_Linux_User Actually it comes from Chapter 4 verses 4:34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and 4:35 and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. Although it is not said that this was their intent, it is apparent that they were seeking to be numbered with those doing it for the common good. – BYE Oct 15 '14 at 23:30
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Perhaps the first failure in the churches was that of hypocrisy (Acts 5:1-11). Hypocrisy is a matter of pretending to be somebody in order to get a name that they may have vainglory. It could be ambition was the seed of the failures in the churches.

Ananias and his wife Sapphira was probably seeking a position. They wanted to be somebody and to have a name so that they could enjoy vainglory. They did not offer everything to the church for the Lord’s sake but pretended to do this.

Acts 5:4 indicates that selling possessions and distributing them to others was not considered by the apostles a practice of legality. The believers were not required to have all things common. That was something that should have been done willingly.

If Ananias and Sapphira did not want to sell their property, they were not required to do so. It would not have been sinful for them to keep their property or to keep the proceeds from the sale of the property. Their sin consisted in lying to the Holy Spirit. Their intention was to cheat the church and to get a name for themselves by lying.

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Acts 5:3-4 state, "Then Peter said, 'Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.'"

Yes, the Bible does not quote Ananias saying these things. But the pretty clear implication is that he did. This is probably simply a literary issue. Sure, the Bible could have said, "And then Ananias said, 'Here is all the money that we got from selling the land. We are giving it all to the church. And then Peter said, 'Why have you lied by saying that this was all the money ...'" etc. But this would have been redundant and unnecessary. Peter says that this is what Ananias said, and God strikes Ananias dead. So either (a) Ananias really did say this lie, or (b) Peter was lying or mistaken when he accused Ananias and God got confused and punished Ananias for Peter's false accusation. Option (b) seems pretty unlikely.

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    Could I posit (c) Ananias died of fright/shock after being accused of doing evil by St. Peter? – Reluctant_Linux_User Oct 16 '14 at 9:42
  • Well, I suppose. Or (d) he died of a sudden heart attack that was a complete coincidence and had nothing to do with the real estate deal. Or (e) Peter had poisoned him. Or (f) Of course non-Christians would say that the text is inaccurate or misleading in one way or another. But if we take the text to be an accurate account of what happened, we have Peter's statement that Ananias told this lie, so if Ananias made no such claim than Peter is lying or mistaken. Such an interpretation would be highly strained. Surely if that was what the writer intended to convey, he would have included ... – Jay Oct 16 '14 at 13:42
  • ... SOME indication that Peter was, in fact, wrong. The plain reading is that Peter's statement is true. – Jay Oct 16 '14 at 13:43
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This story is a reminder "God isn't mocked" (Galatians 6:7) and sin is sin.

The problem isn't that they hold money for themselves, that would have been ok. Instead, their attempt to make themselves appear better misinterpreting the selling price when reporting to church was a lie to God.

That's why they are guilty of dishonesty and deceit and we all know "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). That's why Ananias died, he sinned.

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This is a good question because it is unusual to see this in the new testament. In the Old Testament things like this were often seen. Should the church in the dispensation of grace see judgment fall on God’s people, and so quickly? This must have been a very serious offense to God, which it is, and should be to all of us. Lying (no less to the Holy Ghost) is not righteous behavior and should not be condoned. Lying has become common place in society and has even been categorized as a white lie, and a black lie. The bible doesn’t suggest such a thing, and even states that they will be found outside the city of God, and will not be able to enter into her city. “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worth abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).

There is another factor here and that is deception, which is what I think they were both guilty. It is interesting that the one thing listed in those first thrown into the lake of fire was that they deceived others. (Rev. 19:20;20:10)

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The scripture is explicit, he died because he lied to the Holy Spirit.

Acts 5:3 and 4 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."

It is implied that the lie was a misrepresentation of how much they sold their property for.

When we look back to the book of Acts, there was Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife that coveted together to be deceptive. The Church had pledged all their excess possessions to be pooled and distributed to the needy. Then when Ananias and Sapphira who had also made such a pledge, sold a possession and secretly kept back a certain amount of the money they received; God would not let a lie like that go without Him dealing with it. When they came in unaware of what was about to happen, before the sun went down that day both Ananias and Sapphira were dead. God had men standing by to take them out and bury them. - Quoted from The Contender magazine

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But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2And 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

In verse 2 the words kept back in the Greek means, "middle voice from nosphi (apart or clandestinely); to sequestrate for oneself, i.e. embezzle:--keep back, purloin."

The word privy means, "to be conscious or (clandestinely) informed of"

The picture is that Ananias deliberately embezzled a portion with the intent to defraud and his wife was a complicit witness.

The Holy Spirit revealed this to Peter. He could have repented but chose not to. As a result God removed His mercy from Ananias and sin took its willing victim.

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We often forget that Scripture, especially New Testament Scripture, is written to address specific problems. So if we walk in late into the middle of a discussion of an ongoing issue, it's very likely we will miss out on what the problem is.

The background to this situation of Ananias is what follows baptism. The text records, in other places, a similar failure, with a few differences, by Simon the sorcerer. The latter was baptised on seeing the great works of God manifested through Philip's ministry.

Baptism into Christ is given when the candidate is motivated to express confidence that leaving selfish living to serve God through selfless living is a viable option, because God will reward such faith by rescuing when disasters resulting from selfless living occur, as well as recognise the believer as belonging to God, noted in the Book of Life.

Which in turn is how God makes a believer a blessing to the world, because when people see that believer living a selfless life and not suffering the inevitable consequences, they are also motivated to leave selfish living.

This mode of living a selfless life and not suffering the inevitable consequences, is called receiving the Kingdom of God.

Exodus 8 (NASB)

19Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

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Luke 11:20 (NASB)

20But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

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John 3 (NASB)

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.”

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Matthew 19

7Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” 28And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.

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Luke 12

32"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.

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Luke 10

20“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

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Exodus 32

32Yet now, if You would only forgive their sin... But if not, please blot me out of the book that You have written."

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Exodus 4

1Then Moses answered, “What if they refuse to believe me or listen to my voice? For they may say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’”2And the LORD asked him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. 3“Throw it on the ground,” said the Lord. So Moses threw it on the ground, and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4“Stretch out your hand and grab it by the tail,” the LORD said to Moses. So he reached out his hand and caught the snake, and it turned back into a staff in his hand. 5“This is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.”

All Scripture references are from the NASB.

So we know what Simon the Sorcerer, Ananias and Sapphira were trying to obtain, without leaving serving mammon, and without learning what was required to pass the test of the Holy Spirit.

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