What About Ananias and Sapphira?

The trajectory of Scripture takes humanity from seeing the Creator of heaven and earth as an angry, demanding deity to encountering him as a loving Father who seeks to rescue his children from the ravages of sin and shame. Knowing that will help you work through those moments in Scripture that have often been preached as if God is vindictive.

I get this question a lot from people who read He Loves Me, or even Live Loved Free Full. The latest came a couple of weeks ago:

Wayne, how do you handle people who say God is still angry and to be feared in the  New Testament. What about the story of Ananias and Sapphira facing swift judgment in the New Testament in the time of the New Commandment? (Acts 5:1-10)

My response:  

To answer your question, I think we make too much of an angry “Old Testament” God.  The overwhelming theme of the Old Testament is that God is gracious and “slow to anger,” “his lovingkindness is better than life” and “his love endures forever.”  That’s the message. When God is depicted as angry and vengeful by the OT writers, I suspect they were projecting their shame on God’s activity and interpret it as anger.

How do I know that?  Because Jesus was the exact representation of God’s nature, and he didn’t come among us as an angry, offended deity.  He came to love, to forgive, to heal, and to set free. That’s not to say he didn’t have those moments when he is also correcting some injustice, but we still tend to put more anger to his sternness than was likely there.

Even when Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16) is crushed, many see that as an angry God who lost control, rather than the surgical removal of a rebellious influence in the camp that would lead Israel astray if left unchecked.  Through Christ, I tend to see God that way now, not as an angry deity striking out against those who displease him, but a surgeon having to take extraordinary measures to keep the story of redemption alive in a fallen world.

And to the specific New Testament story you ask about, I don’t detect anger at Ananias and Sapphira in that account. For those who don’t know the story, this husband and wife claimed they sold some property and were giving all of the proceeds to help others. The truth, however, was that they kept some for themselves and when they presented their offering to Peter he told them that in doing so they had lied to the Holy Spirit, not just their brothers and sisters.  They were trying to buy spiritual status with money. God’s resolution for that was to end their lives and bring them home. I don’t think that mistake meant they lost their salvation or that he was punishing them, but simply that their influence among the early church would be more detrimental than helpful. This is a unique situation, of course, that we don’t see repeated. So it wasn’t just a matter of being deceptive, or so many more people would be dying today. Something else was going on that isn’t fully explained in the text. Of course, fear spread after that, but fear may not have been the response God wanted. We cannot be perfected in fear, but only in love. (I John 4:20)

In Jesus’s day, the Pharisees thought God far angrier and punitive than they found in Christ, which is why they rejected him as the Son of God. Those who see God as vengeful work hard to keep him at bay but never discover the transforming power of his love that sets us free to walk righteously without fear. Scripture takes us on that journey, from the Creation of the world until it is all summed up at the end of this age. In that story, we discover that God is not the angry deity that needs to be appeased by our good behavior. In many ways, that’s the story I grew up with, and I now believe it was a bit off the mark.  Shame-based people saw him that way in the Old Testament, but God sets that to the right in the New so that we no longer have to be afraid of him but can rest in his love. He has always been the gracious Father inviting his wayward children home to his love and care even when we couldn’t see it.

I know when I write like this people ask, “What about those who use the idea of a loving God to live wayward and indulgent lives?”  To them, love is only a concept, not a reality. Those who know him will want to be like him. If there’s no desire to be like him, I doubt they have ever experienced his love.  Real love will change us far more than any fear of him ever could.

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Some notes of interest:

  • If you want help exploring this redemption story in the Scriptures, I have lots of resources to help people engage the Scriptures through the revelation of Jesus. It helps us understand the story in the way it was intended for us.
  • My new book Live Loved Free Full can help your mind bathe in these realities every day. The emails I get from people reading it warm my heart. It seems to be doing what I hoped it would do in the world.
  • And, if you haven’t started listening to My Friend Luis, give it a try. It is a great story of redemption in the most desperate of circumstances.

10 thoughts on “What About Ananias and Sapphira?”

  1. I’m struggling with Leviticus 25:44 & 45 on God’s instructions to the Israelites on owning slaves (not indenture slaves)

    1. Hi Jay. Honestly, I don’t have an answer for everything, but one thing is clear in Scripture. God just didn’t spell out everything humanity should know and do from the start. God seemed to incrementally invite people out of the darkness and learn what it means to walk in the light. They were also dealing with very real and desperate circumstances in a dog-eat-dog world. It is only as you get to the prophetic books of the Old Testament do you get to weightier matters like justice and the evil of oppression and arrogance. People owning people is one of the most abhorrent things we can think of in our day, but that may have been a protection for some of the weaker people in that culture. Maybe. I dont’ really know.

      1. Good Morning,
        Thanks for your response. I pray your right about the possibility of protection for the weak. It appears that may be the case the war with Midian (Num. 31) for 32K women prisoners.

        Wayne, what is so frustrating is that I can’t find one “direct” Bible verse where anyone says, ” owning another human is wrong.” There is talk about it but not really directly against it. I wish God would of added one more commandment “Thau shall not own a human.” If so, I wonder if the world would be a better place today.

        1. Paul gets close to it, at least in Philemon where he makes clear that slavery incompatible with a life in Christ, but it is far too subtle for my tastes as well. One thing that helps me is realizing slavery in Biblical times was not what it became in the American South. That wasn’t just getting people for work, but a sadistic institution that dehumanized an entire race of humanity for economic can. And I wish Scripture would have been so loud and clear about it that those Southern plantation owners and preachers could not have found a way to legitimize it for those who called themselves Christians.

          1. Thank you for writing about Ananias and Sapphira. That one has always been a puzzler to me.

      2. I agree with you Wayne, throughout the OT and into the NT God seems to only reveal what is relevant or important according to the cultural times and what His people could bear. The Israelite’s themselves came out of 400 years of being enslaved and maybe one of the reasons was to protect them so that they could grow into nation according to God’s promises to Abraham. The Jews in Jesus’s day were the object of national Roman enslavement. He didn’t try and throw off the Roman oppression, but instead He taught His followers how to live out their lives in those circumstances. Also Jesus plainly tells his followers, John 16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth;” Today God’s people are in full agreement and understanding that the practice of slavery is not what God intends for anyone. That came about through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the application of the law of love. Having that spelled out clearly in Scripture would have made little difference with anyone who was incapable of fulfilling the simple commands of “You shall not murder, not steal, not commit adultery, not covet” down through the ages.

      3. Good answer, Wayne. Sixty years ago I lived in a large, 3rd-world city and met a little slave-girl. She came from an impoverished family and would likely have literally starved to death if she hadn’t been sold to a feeble old lady.

  2. Oh Wayne, how I love to always hear your perspective! It really does help to reframe the way we read and interpret these passages. Thank you!

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