The difficult story of Ananias and Sapphira

Estimated read time 3 min read

One of the most difficult New Testament stories is that of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. God’s judgment of a death sentence for fraud might seem extreme but were there mitigating factors?

Recently Truong My Lan, once of Vietnam’s most prominent business women was sentenced to death for committing fraud equal to about 12.5 billion dollars. In 2009 Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years, equivalent to a life sentence for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of retirement funds.

This two stores reminded me of the story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 (NRSVUE) The early Christians have been asked to donate what they can to help many in their group who are struggling to survive. Ananias and his wife are land owners who apparently promised to Peter they would sell their land and give all the money received to Peter to benefit the needs of the group. Ananias lays an amount of money that Peter somehow knows is less then was promised and confronts Ananias. He confronts Ananias that he has lied not only to his fellow Christians but also to God. All become fearful and Ananias immediately drops dead. He is buried and then when his wife, Sapphira comes she also claims the false proceed of the land sale and also drops dead.

This story for many is quite disturbing. For some it seems more like some of the Old Testament then the new. It appears in the Episcopal Lectionary in Lent 3 but I struggled to find any sermons or discussions about it online in the Episcopal Church. Many conservative Protestant churches talk about it in a simplistic way as the price of lying to God.

However perhaps it is a bit more complicated. One theory noted that at that time the Christians were converted Jews and not Gentiles. As such they were under the covenant of the Old Testament. Perhaps the covenant of dispensation did not apply to them? The concept of selling property for the benefit of the group is found in Leviticus 25. In Acts 4:36-37(NSRVUE) Barnabas sells his land and gives it to the church by laying it at the Apostle’s feet. Barnabas converted after Christ’s crucifixion and was mentored by Paul. Being a Levite implies he was of the Jewish priesthood.

Both Barnabas and Ananias no doubt knew the story of Jericho in Joshua 6 and 7 (NRSVUE).God gives specific instructions for the attack on Jericho. He orders that all proceeds obtained from the battle should be given to God. A combatant named Achan steals a wedge of gold, 200 shekels, and a garment. When confronted with his crime by Joshua, Achan confesses and the loot is found in his tent. God orders that Achan and his family be stoned to death and their remains burned.

Was Sapphira punished because she was family to Ananias? Or was she guilty by conspiring with her husband? Under old Jewish law land did not belong to women as noted in the story of Ruth. God is God we cannot judge his actions by our human reflections.

Professor Tony Magana https://myfindinggrace.com

Dr. Tony Magana is Professor Emeritus in Neurosurgery who spent many years doing international teaching and research including 10 years in Ethiopia. Over the past 15 years he concomitantly intensified his Christian faith through study and worship through the Episcopal Church. He grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Attended Texas A&M University, Harvard Medical School, and trained at the University of Miami. Additionally he took the University of South Education for Ministry as well as attending the Southeast Florida Episcopal Diocesan School for Christian Studies.
Professor Tony Magana, a seasoned neurosurgeon, has not only dedicated his life to medical practice but also embarked on a profound spiritual journey. Over the past 15 years, he has deepened his Christian faith through study and worship within the Episcopal Church. His experiences span international teaching, research, and a decade of service in Ethiopia
Dr. Tony Magana’s writings blend faith, compassion, and wisdom, inviting readers to explore the intersection of spirituality and the human experience. His journey serves as an inspiration for those seeking deeper connections with faith and humanity.

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