112 B Who Killed Ananias and Sapphira?
When we take a close look at the character of God we realize there is much in the Bible that needs to be better understood. Today we look at a story in the New Testament that when understood in the traditional way, gives a picture of a scary god that will lash out with vengeance over a rather trivial indiscretion. Yet there are many people in Biblical history that are far more wicked than Ananias and Sapphira. Nothing happens to them. They are allowed to live out their lives with no repercussion. So how fair is that? What we discover is that perhaps the one who is the author of death causes more people to die than meets the eye. It would be impossible for the One who is the author of life to cause their death because that simply goes against His very being.
Ananias and Sapphira
The story of Ananias and Sapphira’s demise is a favourite story of readers and especially teachers of the Bible. The story is used to convey the stern, violent response of God to the evil of dishonesty. Few who write or speak on the possible kinder character and nature of God comment on this incident and so it is time to comment on this story.
It will be demonstrated that Ananias and Sapphira were not the most deserving of death in the Bible. There are many wicked people who deserved death far more than this couple did and yet they lived long and sometimes prosperous lives.We will also show that executions, supposedly by God for transgressing the law, are arbitrary and unpredictable. Righteousness is one of God’s primary characteristics, this means at least that he is fair, and predictable. If a righteous God is executing people, we would be able to determine the pattern and be able to predict who will be killed and for which transgressions. The punishment of sin will then not be chaotic and random. The randomness of supernatural executions in the scriptures suggest their origins are not from God.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira, when read casually, leaves the impression that they lied to the Spirit and so the Spirit struck them dead. However, Paul lists the influence of the Spirit as follows: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Killing people does not seem to fit this job description of the Spirit.
This podcast will also give a short description of God’s character which demonstrates that execution is not one of God’s responses to evil.
Here is the story of Ananias and Sapphira.
Acts 4:32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was uponthem all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. 36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.Ananias and Sapphira 5 But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. 2 He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”
5 As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6 Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him. 7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?” “Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.” 9 And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit ofthe Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.” 10 Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened. The Apostles Heal Many 12 The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. 14 Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women.
Fear is mentioned three times in this account (vss. 5, 11, 13). Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God does not manipulate us with fear. That is from the devil and evil people. Fear is not an emotion which produces lasting change in people. It is a poor motivator. We know that the strongest motivation in the universe is the attraction of love.
Notice that no attribution of causation for their deaths is made in the story of this couple.
How did Peter know they were lying?
As a professional you often know about the lives of other people because of your interaction with many people. AS a pastor I was often in the know because of conversations Ihad had with friends of someone who came to speak to me. It was often best that I pretended this was new information so as not to reveal my source of information. Peter had probably heard from someone else that Ananias and Sapphira had sold land and also the amount. This is one possibility. Another possibility is that Peter could read body language and could tell they were lying. Another possibility is that the Holy Spirit revealed this information to Peter.
There is so little information about the incident that it is difficult to be dogmatic about one of the above, some of the above, all of the above or none of the above.
Traditional interpretation of the necessity for their deaths
The traditional explanation of what happened is well summarized as follows.
Some speculate that these two deaths were from natural causes. Perhaps Ananias died from shock or guilt, but Peter pronounced Sapphira’s death before she died, and the coincidental timing and place of their deaths indicate that this was indeed God’s judgment. The question is why. Why would God kill two people for lying? God’s reasons for bringing about the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira involve His abhorrence of sin, the hypocrisy of the couple, and the lesson for the rest of the church, both then and now.
The sudden, dramatic deaths of Ananias and Sapphira served to purify and warn the church. “Great fear seized the whole church” (Acts 5:11). Right away, in the church’s infancy, God made it plain that hypocrisy and dissimulation were not going to be tolerated, and His judgment of Ananias and Sapphira helped guard the church against future pretense. God laid the bodies of Ananias and Sapphira in the path of every hypocrite who would seek to enter the church.
The sad story of Ananias and Sapphira is not some obscure incident from the Old Testament regarding a violation of Mosaic Law. This occurred in the first-century church to believers in Jesus Christ. As Jesus told the compromising church in Thyatira, “All the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds” (Revelation 2:23). (www.gotquestions.org/Ananias-and- Sapphira.html)
The problem with this explanation is that there are thousands, if not millions, of people who have committed similar transgressions who were never supernaturally executed. If they had been—the world would be certainly a more honest place.
How did Peter know Ananias would die?
Here are some familiar options which are given. God told him in the same way he told Noah of the coming flood with universal death, or told Isaiah of the coming Messiah and his death. Peter, familiar with the story of Achan, anticipated his death. Peter cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear. Like Moses and David he was a violent man and saw death as a solution even though his hero had taught and lived the opposite.
Here is what a careful reading of the story indicates. Peter did not know that Ananias was going to die. He confronted him about lying. The author draws attention to the fact that Satan had entered Ananias’ heart. The implication being that Satan was actively involved in this incident. Ananias’ death was a surprise to Peter. Satan has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). Jesus has the power of resurrection and life (John 11:25).
There are many sinners who are more deserving of death than Ananias and Sapphira
Here is an ancient story of a far more wicked man than Ananias and Sapphira. Manasseh was the most wicked king of Judah. He commits the following abominations:
2 Kings 21 NLT 3 He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had destroyed. He constructed altars for Baal and set up an Asherah pole, just as King Ahab of Israel had done. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them. 4 He built pagan altars in the Temple of the LORD, the place where the LORD had said, “My name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” 5 He built these altars for all the powers of the heavens in both courtyards of the LORD’s Temple. 6 Manasseh also sacrificed his own son in the fire. He practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics. He did much that was evil in the LORD’s sight, arousing his anger. 7 Manasseh even made a carved image of Asherah and set it up in the Temple, the very place where the LORD had told David and his son Solomon: “My name will be honored forever in this Temple and in Jerusalem—the city I have chosen from among all the tribes of Israel. 8 If the Israelites will be careful to obey my commands—all the laws my servant Moses gave them—I will not send them into exile from this land that I gave their ancestors.” 9 But the people refused to listen, and Manasseh led them to do even more evil than the pagan nations that the LORD had destroyed when the people of Israel entered the land. 16 Manasseh also murdered many innocent people until Jerusalem was filled from one end to the other with innocent blood. This was in addition to the sin that he caused the people of Judah to commit, leading them to do evil in the LORD’s sight.
God did not kill Manasseh. How can this be with the accumulated wickedness of his life and the awful results it brought for Judah? Some, claim that it was because Manasseh repented when the Assyrians carried him off to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:12-20). The Lord then restored him, and Manasseh broke down the pagan altars he had built. We could ask if Ananias and Sapphira had not died could they perhaps have also repented?
Here is a list of wicked people associated with the death of Jesus.
None of them are killed by God. Of all people they offered the most personal insult to God in person. If ever God was going to kill people for their wickedness it would have happened at this time. Some argue that it was God’s plan for Jesus to die and so he was glad for their help. While this is not true, if it was true, they could have been eliminated after they had accomplished their part.
Judas betrayed Jesus. Pilate condemned the innocent Son of God. The soldiers tortured and ridiculed the Saviour of the world and then crucified him. Three disciples, Jesus closest friends whom he took up the mountain of transfiguration, slept during Jesus extreme emotional suffering in Gethsemane when he most needed comfort and encouragement.
There are many other wicked beings who have not executed by God.
The bright angel who originated sin in the cosmos. Surely, he deserved death if anyone deserved it. The Assyrian, Babylonian, Roman oppressors of Israel who killed people by the millions. The dishonest, tax collectors Matthew and Zacchaeus.
Genghis Kahn, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot to name a few mass murderers.
The computer salesman who creamed off a million dollars while installing an accounting program for an Adventist University.
The Adventist Record, the official paper of Adventists in the South Pacific, lists the following ten most wicked people in the Bible.
1. Delilah Deceptive and cunning, Delilah tricked Samson into revealing the source of his strength. She then betrayed him into the hands of the Philistines and walked away fromthe whole debacle rich with gold. (Read Judges 16)
2. Haman What goes around comes around: Haman conspired a plot to wipe out an entire nation, simply because Mordecai the Jew refused to bow to him. However, Queen Esther foiled his evil plan and Haman ended up on the gallows he’d designed for Mordecai. (Read Esther 3)
3. Jezebel, You know you’re evil when you have a World War II missile named after you. Jezebel was a heathen princess who married Ahab, king of Northern Israel [plot twist: he turned out to be just as evil] and was heavily involved in idolatry and wicked schemes. (Read 1 Kings 18, 19, 21)
4. Abimelech This guy really wanted to rule over the citizens of Shechem, but he had a slight problem in the form of his brothers—70 problems, actually. Taking matters into his own hands, Abimelech slaughtered all 70 of his own brothers and was promptly crowned king. (Read Judges 9:1-6)
5. Athaliah Proving that two wrongs don’t make a right, Athaliah was the daughter of the
evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Ruthless and wicked, she destroyed the entire royal family of the house of Judah and forced herself onto the throne to rule for six years. Like mother, like daughter? (Read 2 Chronicles 22:10-12)
6. Cain The Bible’s first murderer, Cain wasn’t happy when God favoured his brother’s offering over his. Even after being rebuked by God, Cain let his jealousy take over, killed Abel and then lied to God about it. (Read Genesis 4:1-12)
7. King Herod Paranoid, cruel, and barbaric, this king was so jealous of Jesus’ birth that he ordered all babies under the age of two to be slaughtered. His name means “heroic”, though he was anything but. (Read Matthew 2:1-16)
8. Pharaoh of Egypt The Pharaoh who Moses confronted, probably Rameses II, had one of the hardest, most stubborn hearts in the Bible. He repeatedly challenged God’s authority and refused to release the Israelites from slavery. (Read Exodus 5-12)
9. Herodias Another mother-daughter tale with a tragic end. Herodias was the woman responsible for the death of John the Baptist, ruthlessly sacrificing her daughter’s
modesty to plot the murder of the person she most hated. (Read Matthew 14:3-12)
10. Satan The true definition of a villain: Satan tried to capture the attention for himself, take over the world and circumvent the plans of the Hero. But when the Hero is Jesus, we definitely know this villain’s plans are all in vain. (Read Revelation 12:7-9).
None of these villains were supernaturally executed by God for their wickedness. Is the moral of the story of Ananias and Sapphira that if you lie to God, you will drop dead on the spot? If we follow this line, what about the many church treasures who have stolen money from the congregation or a church organization? None of the ten listed above were supernaturally executed.
Supernatural executions in the scriptures are random and chaotic. There is no pattern to them. Relatively minor infractions can result in instant death while far reaching evil is tolerated. Here are some examples.
Uzzah touches the ark of the covenant and died instantly ().
50 men and their commander died instantly for attempting to arrest Elijah (2 Kings 1:9- 16). Elijah calls down fire from God or heaven to destroy them. This happens twice. Was God part of this power play between Elijah and king Ahaziah? Is the reason Elijah was taken to heaven at this time because he was suffering from PTSD which was clouding his picture of God?
The firstborn of the Egyptians and their cattle were killed on the Passover night when the Israelites left slavery in Egypt.
Korah, Dathan and Abiram are swallowed up by the earth for their rebellion ().
5. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu are “burned up” by the fire of God (Leviticus 10:1-2,4-5)
6. Achan is supernaturally identified as a liar and executed by stoning.
7. Ananias and Sapphira died after they lied to Peter (Acts 5).
8. Moses kills an Egyptian and there is no punitive response from God (Exodus )
9. The LORD plans to kill Moses on his way to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-25).
10.David has an affair with Bathsheba and has Uriah killed and the only possible active response is that their child dies.
11. Manasseh, Ahab and many other kings of Judah and Israel are idolaters and aid and abet gross evil with no supernatural executions.
In Luke 22:3 we read that Satan entered Judas. The same happened to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3). Judas’ death followed at his own hand. God did not kill him! God did not strike down Jesus= executioners! God did not kill Peter for denying Jesus! Can we not expect some consistency from God if he is doing the executions?
If God is in the business of executing evil doers, he is not doing very well. There are drug dealers, scoundrels selling children into sexual slavery, dishonest police and more wicked people who then deserve to be executed but are alive and well.
This is what we can say about God and violence as revealed to us by his Son, the only eyewitness of God (John 1:18).
1. The devil is the source of “stealing killing and destroying” (John 10:10)
Matthew 13:25 NLT But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. (This explains the many strange stories we have in the Bible about the harshness and cruelty of God.)
Matthew 13:37-39 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels. Luke 10:18 NLT “Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!” 2. God does not resist evil people or angels
Matthew 5:38-39 NLT “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’[a] 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.
3. The devil has the power of death (John 10:10 confirmed by Hebrews 2:14).
Hebrews 2:14 NLT Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who has the power of death.
4. God is the source of abundant life (Genesis 1:1; John 10:10-11).
John 10:10-11 NLT The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. The bad shepherd sacrifices the sheep for his life.
5. God desires the salvation of all people (John 3:16-17 confirmed by 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). 1 Timothy 2:3-4 NLT This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 2 Peter 3:9 NLT The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
6. God is never the source of evil. Death is one of the evils that sin brought to the planet.
John 1:4-5 NLT The Word gave life to everything that was created,and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
I John 1:5 NLT This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.
7. Here is the most definitive definition of the character of God. It is given by Jesus Christ, the only eyewitness of God.
Luke 6:27-35 NLT “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you. 32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only tothose who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.
We can expect no less from God all through history. We must take the witness of Jesus Christ seriously. We cannot interpret stories to suit our own vindictive natures when Jesus taught the complete opposite and demonstrated the truth of his teaching in his own life, death and resurrection. A believer is one who believes the witness of Jesus Christ. God is and always had been kind to his enemies. He has treated the devil and his supporters with the utmost kindness. The way Jesus treated his torturers and executioners is compelling evidence of the kindness and gentleness of Jesus who is the splitting image of his Father.
Who killed Ananias and Sapphira? First of all the text does not say they were killed. It says thatthey died. God was not involved from the evidence we have of his character. Satan did. How he did so is not revealed but he certainly made their deaths attributable to God.
Thus, he maligns the character of God. This he accomplished in many stories in the Old Testament and a few in the New Testament. Jesus came to set us free from these wrong conclusions that we have made for millennia. Its time to tell the truth about God as revealed by his Son.
The man born blind went to the pool called “sent” and washed the mud off his eyes and could see (John 9). The mud of the blindness of our misapprehension of God needs to be washed away by the One who was sent so we, who are blind from birth, can see clearly what God is like!
Ian Hartley, August 2022
“Rebellion was not to be overcome by force. Compelling power is found only under Satan’s government. The Lord’s principles are not of this order. His authority rests upon goodness, mercy, and love; and the presentation of these principles is the means to be used. God’s government is moral, and truth and love are to be the prevailing power.” The Desire of Ages, 759. “Earthly kingdoms rule by the ascendency of physical power; but from Christ’s kingdom every carnal weapon, every instrument of coercion, is banished.” The Acts of the Apostles, 12. “God does not stand toward the sinner as an executioner of the sentence against transgression; but He leaves the rejecters of His mercy to themselves, to reap that which they have sown.” The Great Controversy,36.