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. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.Acts 4:36-37
Ananias & Sapphira
But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest. 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. 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!” As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?” “Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.” And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.” 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.Acts 5:1-10
Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened. 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. But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women.Acts 5:11-14
As I have told you before most of us don’t connect these two segments because they are positioned either side of a chapter break. Robert Estienne’s positioning of the chapter break fools us into separating these segments and not reading them together. However it was a teaching technique used in the ancient world to use contrastive positive and negative examples to heighten the truth taught. Often in the Bible both the positive and the negative are set alongside one another to highlight the differences.
I would be interested to know what questions you have come up with. So far I have received the following questions:
- Are the names of these people in the story significant?
- I thought Levites were not allowed to own land – why then did Barnabas have land to give?
- Are you sure all of this goes together in one unit Ian? It seems like there are some pieces that don’t go together. Like, no one else dared to join them cf more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord.
- Isn’t the judgment passed on Ananias and Sapphira too harsh?
- Why does God judge Ananias and Sapphira, so harshly?
- Surely they can choose how much they contribute or not? It is up to the giver how much they give.
- How was it that Sapphira didn’t know what had happened to her husband?
Ancient groups during this period of history which required members to turn over their possessions usually had a waiting period during which one could take one’s property and leave (recorded in the Dead Sea Scrolls and among the Pythagoreans). The Dead Sea Scrolls excluded such an offender from the communal meal for a year and reduced food rations by one-fourth for those people who wanted to leave the group and withdraw their contribution. However these early Christians acted not from rules and regulations but from love. That is what the preamble is all about. It sets the scene for us and the communal context as the setting for what happened.
Don’t forget to put the details into the context of the big picture. I have told you before that the length of these stories gives us a clue as to where the emphasis has been placed. It is clear that in Luke’s purposes or in accord with the Holy Spirit’s inspiration the major emphasis is on Ananias and Sapphira and not Barnabas’ reaction. Barnabas’ action is the glue for the setting which illustrates the principles and the practices of the new Christian community and contrasts those actions with that of Ananias and Sapphira. It is in that context that we must focus our attention. Barnabas is the appetiser and Ananias and Sapphira are the main course.
Remember the preparation for this story was laid with Luke’s description of what happened among the community when true Christian sharing and self-sacrifice kicked in. Those are the parameters which define this story of Ananias and Sapphira.
Non-Christians don’t read the Bible, they read Christians. Every minute of your life is a verse that others read.Yuliana Lesmana
Givers have to set limits because takers rarely do.Socrates
Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless.Anon
The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.Anon