Thus far in the Acts of the Apostles the narrative has primarily been concerned with the formation of the Messianic community that would eventually become known as the Christian Church and the opposition to this community by the Jewish leaders and some of the Jewish people. This theme will resume shortly, but in the meantime we encounter an incident that demonstrates not everyone within this community truly belongs to this community; outwardly they are part of it, but they are not truly part of it because their hearts are different.
Before I begin discussing the incident I wish to point out that this is the first time an incident does not fall neatly within a chapter. Chapters and verses were added much later to the Bible and were not present in the originals, nor for several centuries thereafter. Thus when reading the Bible it is best to simply ignore them and focus on the flow of thought within the text because the thought may not be complete until somewhere within the next chapter. This passage is an example of this.
32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
36 Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
This incident can be divided into two halves. This is the first half of the incident and describes for us how a particular practice functioning within the newly formed Christian community. If someone owned land or a house, and they desired to sell it, they would sell it and lay all the proceeds from the sale at the apostle’s feet so that it could be distributed to those who were in need. This was not something they were required to do, but was a consequence of the community being “of one heart and soul” and no one claiming anything as his own, but instead recognizing it as belonging to the entire Christian community (v.32). Joseph, also called Barnabas, follows this practice and gives all the proceeds from the sale of the tract of land he owned.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes,that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
The second half of this incident begins with “but.” Most of the time when you see the word “but” used what follows is being contrasted with what was said before it. So in this case these next verses are in contrast to what has been described previously in 4.32-37.
In the previous verses we saw that the accepted practice was for someone to lay the entire proceeds from a sale of land or a house at the apostle’s feet. In these verses we see Ananias and Sapphira keep back a portion of the proceeds (vv.1-2). Peter’s words in v.4 are indicative that Ananias and Sapphira were under no obligation to sell the land (“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?”) and even after it was sold they were under no obligation to give the proceeds to the apostles (“And after it was sold, was it not under your control?”). Because the money they laid at the feet of the apostles they claimed was the entire price is why Peter asks in v.3, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” In v.8 Sapphira agrees that the money she and her husband laid at the feet of the apostles was indeed the price of the land.
Ananias and Sapphira were both struck dead in judgment for their actions. But why? At first glance it seems like a relatively minor offense to be struck dead for. However if we take a closer look perhaps their offense is not so minor. Recall that at the beginning of this passage the community of believers were of one heart and soul and no one claimed anything for themselves, but considered their possessions to be common property to the entire community. Because they had this attitude they gave all the proceeds from a sale of land to the apostles so that it could be distributed among the rest of the community. This act is in keeping with the attitude of claiming nothing for themselves, but considering their possessions, including their money, to belong to the entire community.
So if someone sold some land and laid all the proceeds at the apostles feet so it could be distributed to the rest of the community they were “of one heart and soul” with the community. Barnabas did this, but Ananias and Sapphira did not since they held back some of the proceeds; they were not of one heart and soul with the Christian community.
However in selling their land and claiming to have donated all the proceeds from the sale to the apostles they claimed to belong the Christian community. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be considered as part of the Christian community, but demonstrated by their actions that they were not. They were not struck dead in judgment because they sinned, but because they were not of one heart and soul with the rest of the community and were a threat to it.
In the previous passage we saw an example of God’s protection of His Church from the outside threat of the Sanhedrin. Here we see an example of God’s protection of His Church from the inside threat of Ananias and Sapphira. Were it not for God’s protection over His Church it would not have survived to this day. And should God cease to protect His Church, His Church will cease to exist.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.