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The Ananias and Sapphira Incident


The account of the Ananias and Sapphira incident found in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:1 - 11) has been poorly communicated in the contemporary church.

This shouldn't be the case since a proper application of hermeneutics quickly sets the record straight about the incident.


In studying the Bible, hermeneutics calls us to first pinpoint, as best as we can, what the narrator intended to be the beginning and ending of the narrative. Once this is done we are then called to exam the whole Bible passage of the narrative - from beginning to end - in such a way as to discover the theme of the narrative and the narrator's goal in presenting the narrative.

In the case of the Ananias and Sapphira incident the beginning and ending of the narrative is easy to spot as the narrator begins the narrative by introducing to us Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1) and then ends it by summing up the impact of the incident upon the church (Acts 5:11).


Now we read over the whole passage looking for its theme. Frequently the narrator in the Bible aids us in recognising the theme by repeating statements that are likely to reveal the theme. Indeed, where the narrative is centred around an incident in the lives of God's people then the narrator will quote something one of the key characters has said which points to the theme.

What then is said by a key character in this narrative of the Ananias and Sapphira incident that is repeated? Only two of the characters in the narrative are quoted, namely, Peter and Sapphira. All Sapphira says is a reply in the simplest of words to a question Peter puts to her. What is Peter quoted as saying? And what, in what he is quoted as saying, is repeated?

What he says is easy to spot but what he repeats is easy to miss. The only thing he repeats is "Why?" or, in its other verbal form, "How is it?" This is repeated three times. Peter's questioning as to why is, then, pointing us to the theme of this narrative.


We've come a long way with setting the record straight about this narrative but, before I look at the significance to determining the theme that comes out of Peter questioning Ananias and Sapphira as to why, let's look as something more basic, namely, the circumstances of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.

Two, and only two, direct statements are made about Ananias and Sapphira's death in the narrative. In recognising this we need also to acknowledge that this means that anything that is not made known in those statements remains unknown or has to be inferred from other things that happened or were said in the narrative.


The first statement is:

Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.

Acts 5:5 - NKJV


The second statement is:

Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.

Acts 5:10 - NKJV


You will see in those statements that we are only told three things; the timing of their death, that they died and that they fell as they died. We are not told in those statements why they died or even how they died. If we want to hazard a guess at why they died or how they died we will have to infer it from other things that happened or were said in the narrative.


Now the commonly held belief in the church is that they "dropped dead for lying to the Holy Spirit." That is how someone recently phrased it for me. However, are there really any grounds for this belief? Can this belief be given any basis through inferring it from other things that happened or were said in the narrative?

You might think so if you simply pick out one or two things Peter was saying immediately before they died. However, what happens when we follow a hermeneutic method of establishing both theme and goal of the narrative? Does the theme and goal that results support this inference?


Let me put it another way, is this narrative meant to be a lesson against attempting to lie to the Holy Spirit? That is to say, is the overt teaching of this Bible text a teaching against lying to the Holy Spirit?

Or, to look at this from another angle, is the narrator's goal in this narrative to scare the church into being wholly honest before God lest you be struck down?

I think not, and I'll explain why by returning to determining what the theme of this narrative is.


I said earlier that the Bible aids us in recognising the theme by repeating statements and that often where possible the narrator will quote something one of the key characters has said which points to the theme. We saw in this narrative that the only "statement" that provides us with both these aids at the same time is Peter's why-question which he repeats three times.

Peter kept questioning Ananias and Sapphira as to why they got themselves into this mess.

Here are his three why-questions:

"Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?" "Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?" "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?"


You will see in these questions that Peter was calling on them to reflect on and consider on how on earth they'd come to such a state.

On this basis then what should we say is the theme of this narrative? It is as follows, Those who try to bluff their way into the Body of Christ - the Church - without the revelation in their hearts that Jesus is the Christ and risen Lord get themselves into all sorts foolish and disastrous situations.


You can see what foolish and disastrous situations Ananias and Sapphira got themselves into - such as giving Satan place to fill their heart with an evil intention - because of the absence of revelation in their lives of the salvation and power of God among men through Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter put questions to them designed to reveal this sorrowful state to them.


What then killed Ananias and Sapphira? The answer is that they had no revelation of Jesus as personal Lord and Saviour and they had therefore no sense of forgiveness of sins or redemption, reconciliation, God's mercy and God's grace. They also did not have the Spirit of power, love and a sound mind. They had only a spirit of fear. It is very likely, therefore, that fear killed Ananias and Sapphira, a fear born of their sin and amplified by their ignorance of God.

We can well conclude then that the death's of Ananias and Sapphira happened in much the way Jesus revealed it would happen when He spoke of, "men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth." Luke 21:26.

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