The sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira are among the scariest events in the Bible, a terrifying reminder that God will not be mocked. While their penalties seem extreme to us today, God judged them guilty of sins so serious that they threatened the very existence of the early church.
Question for Reflection
One thing we learn from the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the Bible is that God demands total honesty from his followers. Am I completely open with God when I confess my sins to him and when I go to him in prayer?
The story of Ananias and Sapphira in the Bible takes place in Acts 5:1-11.
Ananias and Sapphira Bible Story Summary
In the early Christian church in Jerusalem, the believers were so close they sold their excess land or possessions and donated the money so no one would go hungry. This sharing of resources was not a formal requirement of the church, but those who participated were looked upon favourably. Their generosity was a sign of their authenticity. Barnabas was one such generous person in the early church.
Ananias and his wife Sapphira also sold a piece of property, but they kept back part of the proceeds for themselves and gave the rest to the church, placing the money at the apostles’ feet.
The Apostle Peter, through a revelation from the Holy Spirit, questioned their honesty:
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 to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4)
Ananias, on hearing this, immediately fell down dead. Everyone in the church was filled with fear. Young men wrapped up Ananias’ body, carried it away and buried it.
Three hours later, Ananias’ wife Sapphira came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her if the amount they donated was the full price of the land.
“Yes, that is the price,” she lied.
Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” (Acts 5:9)
Just like her husband, she instantly fell down dead. Again, the young men took her body away and buried it.
With this show of God’s anger, great fear seized everyone in the young church.
Lessons and Points of Interest
Commentators point out that Ananias’ and Sapphira’s sin was not that they held back part of the money for themselves, but that they acted deceitfully lying about the sale price as if they had given the entire amount. They had every right to keep part of the money if they wished, but they gave in to Satan’s influence and lied to God.
Their deceit undermined the apostles’ authority, which was crucial in the early church. Moreover, it denied the omniscience of the Holy Spirit, who is God and worthy of complete obedience.
This incident is often compared to the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, who served as priests at the desert tabernacle. Leviticus 10:1, says they offered “unauthorized fire” to the Lord in their censers, contrary to his command. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and killed them.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira also reminds us of God’s judgment on Achan. After the battle of Jericho, Achan kept some of the plunder and hid it under his tent. His deception brought defeat on the whole nation of Israel and resulted in the deaths of himself and his family (Joshua 7).
God demanded honour under the old covenant and reinforced that order in the new church with the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.
Was the Punishment too Severe?
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was the first recorded sin in the newly organized church. Hypocrisy is the most dangerous spiritual virus to infect the church. These two shocking deaths served as an example to the body of Christ that God hates hypocrisy. Further, it let believers and unbelievers know, in an unmistakable way, that God protects the holiness of his church.
Ironically, Ananias’ name means “Yahweh has been gracious.” God had favoured Ananias and Sapphira with wealth, but they responded to his gift by cheating.