Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Ananias and Sapphira

I have always been uneasy about the traditional interpretation of the incident with Ananias and Sapphira recorded in Acts 5. Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to call judgment down on people who rejected Jesus, yet this incident seems more like their behaviour than Jesus behaviour.

Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit. It is clear that Ananias lied to Peter, but why charge him with lying to the Holy Spirit. That would imply that anyone lying to a Christian is lying the Holy Spirit. That seems a bit strong.

Anyway, lying to the Holy Spirit does not justify death or we would all be dead. There is no place in scripture that specifies death for lying to the Spirit.

The situation with Sapphira is even more strange. According to Acts 5:2, Ananias made the decision to keep some of the money. His wife knew about it and went along, but she was just submitting to her husband’s decision. That was a sin, but it does not seem to justify the death penalty. So why did Peter put a curse on her.

The other interesting question is why the couple were under such pressure to give all their money to the apostles. An examination of the relevant verses shows that an interesting transition had taken place. In the beginning those, those giving away their possessions distributed their money themselves.

Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (Acts 2:45).
Within a short period of time, the giving was all going through the apostles.
Those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need (Acts 4:34-35).
The apostles had seized control of the giving process. This was a significant change that increased the power of the apostles. The apostles had committed to feeding a lot of people who were hanging around in Jerusalem, rather than being sent out as Jesus had commanded. This put tremendous financial pressure on the apostles.

Maybe this pressure caused them to begin putting pressure on the members of the church to give more money, which allowed sin to get in. Had Ananias and Sapphira succumbed to that pressure and then regretted it?

Did Ananias just die of shock? Did Peter reinforce the fear this produced, by declaring that the same thing would happen to his wife? I wonder if Peter was abusing the power of the Spirit in the same way that Elijah did when he set bears on the smart boys and got them killed (2 Kings 2:23-25)? I suspect Peter may have been abusing his power in an effort to get more money for the church?

Prophetic power must be used carefully. It should not be abused.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You are 'right on the money' Ron with your investigation into this event. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this was deliberate manipulation because the heart is forever deceitful, as we know, BUT there are several things you pick up on that are dead right:

1. The transition from giving to one another and giving THROUGH a leader is the first dead giveaway that a change was occurring. This is an astute observation and was a new one for me. Thanks.
2. The question around cause/effect in the sudden deaths. It is DEFINITELY out of kilter with the God I see presented in Scriptures and the one know personally. If it sets off alarm bells for you, and me, then this is good reason to consider the tradition teaching questionable. I have heard it said that this was "special circumstances" and other such logic.
3. The changing role of the apostles. One of the things that concerns me is the constant pressures on leaders that seem to increase as their ministry grows. Look around the world at those who have fallen - apparently good people slipping later. Removing leadership and reintroducing servant eldership of course removes this temptation.

The idea that because the disciples were called; that because Paul became an apostle; that because one wrote scripture that they were therefore immune from error or criticism is unrealistic but prevalent and is a subliminal error that I think is widespread, not just with me.

I find your observations and questions sound, but would hint that these leaders too were subject to temptation and thus their intent may have still been well-meaning, if unwise and of the flesh.

It's brave of you to tackle the subject. Don't stop with this one challenging event. There are many more!