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Acts 4 32

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3.     Ananias, a Christian of Jerusalem, appears in a story of a rule miracle of punishment (very similar to divine judgment) paralleled by that of his wife, SAPPHIRA (Acts 5:1–11). Luke portrays women as men to suggest equality (O’Toole 1984: 118–26).

Although they were free to do as they wished with their property, both before and after the sale, Ananias and Sapphira agreed to deceive the apostles and the community about the price of a field, and so Ananias places only a part of the proceeds at Peter’s feet. But Peter asks Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” and further describes his crime as lying to God, not to human beings. The victory of the Spirit and God, represented by Peter and the community, over Satan in Ananias and Sapphira is complete. When reproved by Peter, Ananias says nothing. Rather he falls down and dies, and others wrap him up, carry him out, and bury him. The resultant effect is that great fear comes on all who hear of the event.

What originally happened cannot now be deciphered. The names, Ananias and Sapphira, and the analogous story in 1 Cor 5:1–8 show the possibility of a historical kernel for Acts 5:1–11 (Lüdemann 1987: 71). Luke surely contrasts Ananias (Sapphira) and Barnabas of the preceding pericope (Acts 4:36–37); also the parallels to Judas, the condemnation of Simon (Acts 8:20–23), and the blinding of Elymas (Acts 13:6–11) come to the fore.[1]

GOD is concerned with the heart.               

SAPPHIRA (PERSON) [Gk Sapphira (Σαπφιρα)]. Convert to Christianity who, along with her husband, Ananias, is miraculously killed after lying to the apostles about turning over all their money (Acts 5).

The name is from the Aramaic šappı̄rā˒, “good” or “beautiful,” and both Aramaic and Greek forms of the name are found on ossuaries discovered near Jerusalem (BAGD, 742). Although there is no solid proof that Luke knew Aramaic and used the name for its meaning, Lake (1979:140) believes it is almost certainly historical that Ananias, at least, died suddenly, under circumstances which led the Church to see in his death the punishment of some offense. Lüdemann (1987:71) believes that the parallel to 1 Cor 5:1–8 demonstrates an earlier analogous story and thus an historical kernel for Acts 5:1–11. But neither of these positions nor the general tendency to doubt the historicity of Acts 5:1–11 explain the presence of the name “Sapphira.”

Sapphira appears along with her husband, Ananias, in this narrative of miraculous divine judgment which results in sudden death and fear (Weiser 1979:156–58). Noorda (1979:480–81) rightly advises us to take Acts 4:32–5:16 as a unit and to see at the level of literary composition by the final author a mixture of summary style and narrative scenes (4:36–37 on Barnabas; 5:1–11 on Ananias and Sapphira; 5:15–16 on Peter’s miraculous power which attracts wide attention). On the other hand, a number of scholars feel that the exact nature of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira is not easily determined.

To be sure, there is a lack of realism in the portrayal of Sapphira. She does not even know of her own husband’s death and burial, and Peter and the others sit and wait three hours for her arrival. Moreover, Luke in Acts 5:1–11 (cf. v 14) portrays a woman as he portrays a man, thus suggesting an appropriate equality (O’Toole 1984:118–26). Naturally this also allows him to stress his ideas through repetition. Consequently, Sapphira appears much like Ananias. She knew and had agreed to the unjust use of the money. However, handing over of the money was not part of an entrance rite for Christians as it was at Qumran (Klauck 1982:78). Sapphira does go beyond Ananias in that she tells Peter a lie about the price paid for the field, and both she and Ananias, in trying to deceive Peter, have acted against the Spirit. In fact, Mettayer (1978:419) sees a play of opposites in the text between Spirit and Satan, life and death, truth and lies, love and aggression, necessity and freedom, and confidence and fear. Luke 12:10, “. . . but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven,” may well apply here since Ananias and Sapphira were already Christians, and if so, the harshness of the penalty would be explained (Brown 1969:106–8). Peter’s prophetic statement is fulfilled when Sapphira falls dead at his feet where Ananias had earlier laid the money. Likewise, the Christians and Barnabas had laid the proceeds from the sale of their properties at the apostles’ feet in recognition of their authority (v 10; cf. 4:34, 37; 5:1–2). This irony continues that of Sapphira’s ignorance of her husband’s fate, despite her previous knowledge of everything else, and of her joining him in the grave (Johnson 1977:204–9). Her miraculous punishment and that of her husband recalls the threatened damnation of Simon (Acts 8:20–23) and the Lord’s blinding of Elymas (13:11). Sapphira’s death brings great fear on the whole Church and on everyone who hears of the incident. This is the first time Luke uses “church,” and that fact, joined with the first verse of the unit (Acts 4:32; “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed were his or her own”), reveals the centrality of community to the pericope. The immediate reference would be to the Jerusalem Church, but more obviously, it would be the whole Christian Church whose very unity was threatened by actions such as that of Sapphira and her husband.

Everyone calls attention to the contrast Barnabas presents by laying the true price of his field at the apostles’ feet. But Sapphira would likewise share in the parallel between her husband and Judas; in both cases Satan is the transcendent cause of the sin, the root cause of the sin is “unrighteous mammon,” the act is free, somehow property is involved, and the sin is punished with sudden death (Brown 1969:106–9).

Through his story about Sapphira and her husband, Luke reflects on a number of concerns. God and the Spirit work in the community and through Peter (and the apostles), and to sin against the community is to sin against them and expose oneself to divine judgment. Christians are encouraged to respect this reality: be fearful. Of course, God and the Spirit are opposed to Satan (cf. Acts 26:18). To suggest an appropriate equality, Luke pictures women as he does men, and, finally, he also presents a lesson in the Christian use of wealth.[2]

Accounted for our own sin and our own honesty

ANANIAS, Gk. form of Hananiah (‘Yahweh has dealt graciously’). 1. In Acts 5:1ff. a member of the primitive church of Jerusalem whose contribution to the common fund was less than he pretended; he fell dead when his dishonesty was exposed. 2. In Acts 9:10ff. a follower of Jesus in Damascus, ‘a devout man according to the law’, who befriended Saul of Tarsus immediately after his conversion and conveyed Christ’s commission to him. 3. In Acts 23:2; 24:1, Ananias the son of Nedebaeus, high priest ad 47-58, president of the Sanhedrin when Paul was brought before it, notorious for his greed; killed by Zealots in 66 for his pro-Roman sympathies. [3]

SAPPHIRA (Gk. sappheira, transliteration of Aram. šappîrâ, fem. sing., ‘beautiful’). In Acts 5:1ff. wife of *Ananias, a member of the primitive Jerusalem church. The name, in Greek and Aramaic, was found on an ossuary in Jerusalem in 1923, but J. Klausner’s theory (From Jesus to Paul, 1944, pp. 289f.) that the Sapphira of Acts is intended requires confirmation. [4]

ANANIAS [an uh NYE us] (the Lord is gracious) — the name of three New Testament men:

1. A Christian in the early church at Jerusalem (Acts 5:1–11). With the knowledge of his wife, Sapphira, Ananias sold a piece of property and brought only a portion of the proceeds from its sale to Peter, claiming this represented the total amount realized from the sale. When Peter rebuked him for lying about the amount, Ananias immediately fell down and died. Sapphira later repeated the same falsehood, and she also fell down and died. Apparently, their pretense to be something they were not caused God to strike Ananias and Sapphira dead.


SAPPHIRA [suh FIGH ruh] — a dishonest woman who, along with her husband Ananias, held back goods from the early Christian community after they had agreed to share everything. Because of their hypocrisy and deceit, they were struck dead by God (Acts 5:1–11). This may seem like a severe punishment for such an offense. But it points out the need for absolute honesty in all our dealings with God.



[1]Freedman, David Noel: The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York : Doubleday, 1996, c1992, S. 1:224

Gk Greek

BAGD W. Bauer, W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker. 1979. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 2d ed. Chicago

cf. confer, compare

[2]Freedman, David Noel: The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York : Doubleday, 1996, c1992, S. 5:980

Gk Greek

ff and the following (verses, etc.)

ad anno Domini

[3]Wood, D. R. W.: New Bible Dictionary. InterVarsity Press, 1996, c1982, c1962, S. 34

Gk Greek

Aram Aramaic

ff and the following (verses, etc.)

f and the following (verse, etc.)

[4]Wood, D. R. W.: New Bible Dictionary. InterVarsity Press, 1996, c1982, c1962, S. 1061

[5]Youngblood, Ronald F. ; Bruce, F. F. ; Harrison, R. K. ; Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville : T. Nelson, 1995

[6]Youngblood, Ronald F. ; Bruce, F. F. ; Harrison, R. K. ; Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville : T. Nelson, 1995

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