All or Nothing?

Yesterday, I told you that I have a hard time with black and white. Continuing in that vein, I’d really appreciate some perspective on a passage from Acts. I’ve included the scripture selection at the bottom of this post for reference.

First, a little background. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know that I started attending a Bible study that is reading through and discussing the book of Acts. Since I was a late-starter, I decided to catch up and read the first five chapters. Acts begins with Luke recounting the ascension of Jesus. He proceeds to give us the history of the early Christian church. After Jesus ascended, his disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out to teach and preach, performing good works and miracles. The number of followers increased rapidly and Luke tells us that Christ’s followers lived communally in that no ones’ possessions were their own. They divided all that they had amongst each other according to need and lived simply.

Acts 5:1-11 introduces us to Ananias and Sapphira. The couple sold a possession, but instead of dedicating all of the proceeds to the cause, they reserved some of it for themselves. Peter confronted them, saying that they lied not “…to men but to God.” When confronted, Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead.

So, what are we to take from this? Is “all or nothing” the moral of this story? I feel like there are a few things left unsaid here. Notably, what was their ultimate fate? Would it have been better for Ananias to give nothing? I wonder – can any of us truly say that we give our all – no holds barred – to anything? I don’t want to read something that isn’t there – the Bible never says that God struck them down or in any way directly caused their deaths, but I feel like that’s the implication. What do you think? I’m really very interested to hear some opinions or educated commentary. Thanks!!

Acts 5: 1-11

Lying to the Holy Spirit

 1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”
She said, “Yes, for so much.”
9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. 11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. 


5 thoughts on “All or Nothing?

  1. First of all – it is definitely implied that God struck them dead. It is not uncommon for God to make strong examples when he is establishing a new thing. (It shows the standard and how seriously God takes it). Such strong responses can be seen in the expectations God has for his covenant people in the exodus, in the establishment of tabernacle worship, and the treatment of the Ark of the covenant, and in the case of Ananias and Sapphira – the church.

    The behavior that is condemned here is not so much withholding as it is deception and lack of integrity. There was no expectation that they would give everything from the sale. That was up to them (v. 4). The problem was that they conspired together to lie about it. That shows a gross lack of respect for God and it is a horrible misrepresentation of him to the world. God seems to have wanted his new church to know just how seriously he takes such things. It was a vivid lesson, probably not necessary to be repeated.

    You are right that we are not told their ultimate fate. It seems most likely to me that they immediately showed up a little surprised and sheepish in the presence of Christ. Because they belonged to the community of believers and they were willing to give (even if not all 🙂 ), it is likely that they were true followers of Christ. There hadn’t been much time for discipleship and teaching on godly living at that point. One their first lessons was also their last (in this life)!

  2. Interesting! I find verses one through four a little ambiguous. I can absolutely see your take and think that you are probably correct. However, I can also read verse three to mean that keeping some of the proceeds WAS the lie, and verse four to mean that since Ananias was in control and was able, he should have given all. Even later in verse eight, when Peter questions Sapphira, we aren’t told whether she was honest or dishonest about the amount of the sale. Looking at it that way, the only thing we know absolutely that they “agreed together” about or that Ananias conceived in his heart was giving some money and keeping the rest. In the end though, I have to agree with your conclusion based on the fact that Peter indicated that the inclination to hoard the cash came from Satan. I think part of what caught me off-guard about this passage was that the punishment seemed so Old Testament. Make sense? I guess in the end they really did give everything they had. Thanks for the enlightening reply!

  3. Hi Daretodelve,

    I don’t think the exegetical point here is one of “all or nothing”. Consider Peter’s statement to Ananias, “While [the possession] remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

    To paraphrase, Peter is basically saying, “Look man, the property was yours to steward. You didn’t have to sell it and once you did you could have given any portion of it in anyway you wanted. So why did you go to all this trouble to make yourself look big in the eyes of men by lying about how you gave it all to God? It wasn’t really men you lied to at all, but God. That’s your real sin!”

    The sin here is not that he kept some of the proceeds and donated some of proceeds. Understanding the sin requires some context. The early church was full of people being persecuted, turned out of their synagogues, shunned in business and by family, etc. Some people had lost everything. Others that saw their brothers and sisters struggling really did give everything they had to support them. The atmosphere one in which everyone pooled what they had and took care of each other. Into this atmosphere of love, compassion, and unit (which not only set the tone for the Church in the first century but should have served as an example to all subsequent generations) came a lie that was destructive to the fledgling Church. Ananias and Saphira so wanted to look cool in the eyes of others that they conspired to lie about what they were really giving. They wanted their sacrifice to look much deeper than it was so that they would be esteemed in the eyes of others. They lied to God out of pride and vanity. That was the sin.

    The NT is pretty clear that if God is truly our Father than He will exercise discipline with His true children, up to and including taking us out of the way of what He is doing. Of course taking us out of the way is the harshest of all discipline and there are only a few examples of it. There is no indication that this couple were anything but true believers so there’s no reason to think they’re anywhere but with the Lord right now. They will be with Him for eternity, but you have to think they keenly feel the remorse of knowing that they could have been involved events and work on this earth which would have echoed through all eternity. There time on earth could have been worth so much more from an eternal perspective. Even though they are with Jesus, that must be a hard bit of discipline. It’s something for us to keep in mind. Even though God may not take us out of the way like this, we still can squander a lot of opportunities to be involved in that which has eternal value.

    1. Thank you so much for responding! I think you’re absolutely right in that I missed the point. 🙂 So much to learn! However, I also think there is more than one way to read this passage (see my response to Crystal below) and I hesitate to fill in any blanks. Taking the text at face value (and not just this passage!) is one of the things with which I have a hard time. I don’t know, for example, that I can support your supposition that Ananias lied out of pride and vanity. Even if that fits with the context, we’re not told the source of their motivation, except that it came from Satan. Had I given THAT verse more attention, maybe I wouldn’t have missed the point that you and Crystal so deftly annotated. Thanks again!

  4. If you go back and read the verses before this, starting in chapter 4:32-37: These people gave all they had, whereas Ananias and his wife acted like they gave all, but really kept some for themselves. I am going to use the quote from the commentary on these verses from the Zondervan NASB Study Bible, which is what I have been studying from as they say it better than I can: V. 1: “Ananias….Sapphire. Given as bad examples of sharing (Barnabas was the good example; Love of praise for (pretended) generosity and love for money led to the first recorded sin in the life of the church. It is a warning to the readers that “God is not mocked” (Gal. 6:7). Compare this divine judgment at the beginning of the church era with God’s judgments on Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:2), on Achan (Josh 7:25) and on Uzzah (2 Sam 6:7).
    V. 5:2: “kept back some. — They had a right to keep back whatever they chose, but to make it appear that they had given all when they had not was sinful. ” P. 1580 of the Zondervan NASB Study Bible.

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