Acts 5

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Ananias and Sapphira

Verse 1: But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; (NRSV)

  • this verse is in parallel to the story of Barnabas just before this. They both gave freely, but the question is the honesty that they did this with.
  • We don't know why they sold the property, but the implication is that the reason is the same ass in the previous passage, to help those who didn't have much.
  • Their names indicate that Ananias and Sapphira were both Jews, and not Greek or Roman converts.

Verse 2: with his wife's knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles' feet. (NRSV)

  • These people weren't hiding that they sold a property. They weren't trying to keep it all to themselves. They just lied about how much they were giving.
  • We need to make sure we don't jump immediately into assuming that they were horrible people. We need to ask why they held back. We can't know, but we can make some guesses.
  • That his wife knew about this is important to the story. This was not accidental, but a collusion to lie to the disciples.
  • ”Kept Back” is the same sort of wording as used in Joshua 7:1 when someone kept back piece of the spoils that were meant for God without telling anyone.

Verse 3: “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? (NRSV)

  • There is no lie involved unless we assume that when they presented the money to Peter Ananias implied or said that it was the full price.
    • The entire story is not told here, but much of it is implied so that the story is told quicker and more to the point.
    • This is directly connected with the previous story of Barnabas and the habit of giving that the community had. In fact, it only makes sense in context with the other passages.
  • Peter calls this deception lying to the Holy Spirit. Why?
    • Possibly because by lying to the disciples who had the Holy Spirit they lied to the HS.
    • Possibly also because they were claiming a spirit led action, and yet it wasn't spirit led at all. They lied about the Spirit.
    • Lying to the Holy Spirit is not limited to this act, but any time we pretend to be Holy and aren't.
  • ”Satan” literally is “deceiver” and it is interesting that this is exactly what they do to the disciples.
    • As it is deception that they were doing it is possible that it is wondering why they let deception fill their hearts instead of a person of evil.
  • Literally, it is “set apart for yourself” from the money of the house.
  • Peter recognized that he is being lied to, and we have no indication that there is any reason why he should have suspected anything. The assumption is that Peter's knowledge comes from the Holy Spirit and not from himself.

Verse 4: While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to usa but to God!” (NRSV)

  • This was not communal property, as the couple still had ownership of the house until they sold it.
    • Qumran and some other communities made it required to sell all property in support of the community (Fitzmyer 323), unlike the Christian community.
  • It is interesting that in verse three Peter says that Satan came in and led them to do this, but in this verse he asks what convinced them to lie. The blame here is not on Satan, but on the people themselves.

Verse 5: Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. (NRSV)

  • What is most interesting about this verse is what it doesn't say. It does not say that God killed him. It likewise does not say that Peter killed him. He simply died.
  • While there is understandable fear about Ananias dying, it is interesting to note that the wording is less emphatic about his death than the wording Luke uses to describe the angels appearing to the shepherds.
  • This is a disturbing verse because there is no mention of forgiveness.
    • Perhaps he could have apologized right away and been spared, but forgiveness was not offered.
    • There is some discussion about whether Ananias's death would have atoned for his sin because he died because of it (Marshall 112).
  • This is a fairly simple sin, and it resulted in death. Sin was a major issue then.
    • Early in the Church, it was thought that once you were baptized you could not be forgiven again and so you couldn't sin your entire life without endangering your salvation. That might be part of what is going on here.
    • Some people have made a case that Ananias and Sapphira died from shame, or from shock (Bruce 114) but that doesn't deal with God at all.
  • This might have been surprising to Peter. He might have been anticipating a more common punishment and when the man died was surprised (Bruce 115).

Verse 6: The young men came and wrapped up his body,b then carried him out and buried him. (NRSV)

  • Whether “young men” is a designation of a specific group within the early Church or is just an indication of those who can most easily carry a body away is unclear.
  • Why was he buried immediately? It was not common practice to bury someone instantly, and without ceremony.
    • Perhaps he was buried immediately because he was apparently struck down by God and therefore lost rights to a proper burial. We can't be sure.
    • There is no indication that his wife was notified of his death, either, or came for the burial.

Verse 7: After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. (NRSV)

  • That Ananias's wife came before the leaders of the Church without this being seen as odd or a problem from her perspective indicates a high level of involvement for women in the early Church.

Verse 8: Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” (NRSV)

  • Is Peter trying to trap her here or is he honestly giving her a chance to be honest? Either way, he is not condemning her just because of her husband. She has a chance to speak as well.
  • Getting to the root of Saphira's sins was more important to Peter than telling her that her husband was dead.
  • Her words condemn her. She sticks with the story she and her husband came up with.
    • Whether this is collaboration with her husband, or she is trying to defend him against Peter and God is up for debate.

Verse 9: Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” (NRSV)

  • In this verse, Peter appears to have the power that kills her as he predicts her death because of what she said, in contrast to verse five where Ananias dies on his own.
  • There is discussion about what “this” means in “is this the price”. Was Peter saying an actual number that we no longer have? Or was he pointing to the money that was already at his feet?
    • Some people think that he was quoting the actual price and she was confessing her guilt (Marshall 113).
  • Peter might have been surprised by Ananias dying, but he wasn't about Sapphira. He knew what had happened and that it would happen again if she too lied.

Verse 10: Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband (NRSV)

  • It specifically says that Sapphira fell at the apostle's feet. That is the exact place where the money was supposed to have been placed. She died in the place of her lie, literally.

Verse 11: And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things. (NRSV)

  • What were the people in the Church afraid of? Was it Peter, was it dying suddenly? Was it being afraid of God? That is unknown.
    • Perhaps fear is used here in the Old Testament sense of reverence and respect as well as abject terror.
  • This is the first use of the term “church” in Acts (Marshall 113). But what a bad context to have to use it in, where they came together as a Church for the first time in their universal fear.

Apostles On Trial

Verse 27: When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, (NRSV) Notice that there aren't just one or two disciples singled out in this narrative. It appears to be all of the disciples before the Sanhedrin.

  • It was common practice in the day for the defendants to stand and the judges be sitting (NAC).

Verse 28: saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,c yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us.” (NRSV)

  • The high priest seems really defensive. He objects to the teachings, but his main problem seems to be that the disciples are placing the guilt for Jesus' death firmly at the Sanhedrin's feet.
  • The disciples are in real trouble here as they are violating a direct order of their religious rulers, who also had great power in the rest of life.
  • The command not to teach can be found in Acts 4:18.
  • There is no mention of the disciples' escape from prison (NAC). Did the chief priest not know about it, or too embarrassed to mention it, or what?
  • ”Bringing someone's blood” is not just guilt, but accusing them of murder (NAC) so the priests appear to be worried that the disciples are seeking their deaths in retribution, perhaps divine (Tyndale 119).
  • Any attempts to understand seem to be missing here. Just condemnation, probably from the Sadducee leadership (EBC 116).

Verse 29: But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority (NRSV)

  • These were the accepted religious leaders of the day, but the disciples did not expect that the leaders were the representatives of God. They were still men and as such unworthy of dictating to them against what they thought God was saying to them.
  • There is no promise here that the disciples would be alright if they followed God rather than men. They just knew that was what they needed to do regardless of the consequences.
  • This statement should not be taken as a complete renouncement of all earthly authority, however. After all, the disciples followed the guards willingly and without force to appear before the Sanhedrin. It is just a matter of priorities. God first.

Verse 30: The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree (NRSV)

  • This isn't backing down at all. The disciples were brought up on charges that they were blaming Jesus' death on the Jewish leaders and here they go again.
  • The disciples make a point of saying “God of our fathers” which includes the leaders he is ripping on.
    • This is also a way of calming any fears that they are worshipping a different God than the one everyone knew.
    • In essence, Peter is saying “we both have this heritage, we both could have been a part of it, but you've gone one way and we've gone another.”
  • ”Hanging on a tree” is a reference to Deuteronomy 21:23 which says that anyone hanging on a tree is under a curse.
    • This is also possibly a snide reference to the Jewish custom of not referring to Jesus by name because they considered it blasphemy (this came about later than the events but possibly not later than the writing of Acts and so got included).
    • The Jewish leaders considered Jesus' name and death a curse, but he ended up on the right hand of God. Not a curse at all.

Verse 31: God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (NRSV)

  • The right hand, of course, was the seat of honor and a mark of power by the person sitting there.
  • Interesting that Jesus is called a prince here, and not a king. Perhaps because God is usually referred to as king, possibly indicating an understanding of Jesus that is not fully formed yet.
    • The term is not specifically for “princes” but a term from the root “beginning” or “head”. From this can come the terms “chief” or “leader” or “prince”.
    • Probably a more generic “leader” is intended here and not just prince as the word can mean many things with regards to power.
    • This word can also mean “creator” or “originator” and there is some sense where this is being purposefully drawn on as well. He is the creator of the forgiveness and repentance that we receive.
  • Israel is here specifically singled out as the recipients of these gifts from Jesus. The rest of the world is not yet mentioned. But this could be simply because the disciples are speaking with the Jewish leaders and so focus on their people.

Verse 32: And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (NRSV)

  • Literally, the word for “witness” in Greek is “martyr” though it got the connotation of dying later in time.
  • Remember, the disciples are on trial here. This isn't just a random statement of testimony, but a strict legal statement here. They are testifying to what they have seen, and calling on the Holy Spirit as their witness.
  • To bring God into the situation as a witness, and to implicitly claim the leaders of the Jewish faith didn't have him on their site probably would have been a tremendous insult.
  • This could also be construed at an attempted olive branch on the disciples part. “The Holy Spirit is for anyone who obeys, so come join us.”
  • The Holy Spirit was thought to be the gift of the Messiah, and so even saying that the Holy Spirit was around was making a testimony about who Jesus was (Tyndale 120).

Verse 33: When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them (NRSV)

  • The term “wanted” is a form of the verb “to will or desire”. It is imperfect tense which indicates a continual or repeated desire. Such repetition probably emphasizes the temr into something closer to “plot” or “plan”.
  • This does not appear to be a death threat to only Peter or John, but to all the disciples, wiping the newborn sect out before it could cause more problems for the temple.
  • The leaders were literally “torn apart” (Sacra Pagina 99) they were so angry, a very vivid description.

Verse 34: But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. (NRSV)

  • The Pharisees are sometimes seen as the enemies of Jesus, and they were very vocal in their differences. But Jesus had a lot more in common with the Pharisees than the Sadducees, and it was the Sadducees that were in charge of this gathering.
  • It is interesting that Gamaliel has enough power to order the disciples to be removed.
    • The Pharisees were the minority, but they had so much popularity that the Sadducee's needed their support, and in particular Gamaliel's support as an influential Pharisee (NICNT 123).
  • It is also interesting that Gamaliel didn't want to say these things in the disciples' presence. Possibly because he didn't want to encourage them or admit they could possibly be from God.
  • Gamaliel is very famous, and is mentioned in the Mishnah as being someone who when he died “there has been no more reverence for the law; and purity and abstinence died out at the sametime” (EBC 118).
  • Gamaliel is mentioned again in Acts 22:3, where Paul mentioned that he was trained under Gamaliel.
    • With Gamaliel advocating letting Christianity die out naturally, it's interesting that his student would take the fight to them and try and hunt them down and kill them all.
  • Pharisees were not technically the leaders of the Jewish people, but were very popular because they were trying to make the law contemporary and relevant.
    • They were the holy people of the day.
    • The Pharisees were also looking forward to the Messiah, which was particularly relevant to any discussion around Jesus.

Verse 35-37: Then he said to them, Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites,e consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. (NRSV)

  • Revolts against the Roman empire were common in Israel, it was one of the hardest provinces to control in the entire empire.
    • Jesus was thought to be a zealot and revolutionary as well from time to time.
    • The man released instead of Jesus was apparently a zealot and revolutionary leader, which goes to show how frequent and important these revolts and leaders were to the people.
    • The Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah, and most of them didn't exactly like the Roman Empire, so letting a revolt keep going if it might succeed wasn't really a bad thing for the Jewish leaders as long as the Romans don't bring the heat because of it.
  • The revolts mentioned here by Gamaliel are also mentioned by Josephus.
    • Josephus mentions Theudas as about 44 AD, and the events of this passage are about 34 AD(EBC 118). That is a problem.
      • This is explained through a variety of reasons. Perhaps Luke just remembers that hearing that Gamaliel said there were revolts and supplies his own name.
      • Perhaps Josephus remembered incorrectly or there were multiple Theudas's.
      • Some scholars have tried to show that Luke relied on Josephus because they need a paper trail of ideas, but do we really need to talk about “independent and dependent sources” with regards to a historical uprising that would have been well known? Besides, Josephus wasn't published until after Acts was written.
  • Judas is thought to be to revolutionary that rose up in revolt of the Roman census in 6 AD (Barrett 80). But as Gamaliel places Theudas before Judas we don't have a clue about Theudas.
  • Like all discussions among leading bodies it is interesting to note that they looked for precedence, and relied on precedence.

Verse 38-39: So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” They were convinced by him, (NRSV)

  • Gamaliel's statement “let them be” could be referring to letting the disciples alone, or letting them go but either works well (Sacra Pagina 100).
  • This is a radical departure from what the Jews later took on the Christians, perhaps because they didn't like the answer they got when Christianity kept growing.
  • I love the advice given here. God will have his way. That is a radical trust in God's ability to influence history and people on a large spectrum.

Verse 40: and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go (NRSV)

  • Interestingly, the people listened to man, and not to God, in order to avoid ticking God off. That is some serious irony.
  • They were terrified of fighting against God, as almost all servants are of fighting against their masters.
  • The disciples were probably expecting to be killed. There is no indication that they thought God would save them.
  • The disciples here probably received the 39 lashes, one less than a death sentence.

Verse 41: As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. (NRSV)

  • The disciples weren't excited because they were alive, but because they had been counted worthy of being beat up.

Verse 42: And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. (NRSV)

  • The disciples never gave into the pressure. They kept preaching no matter what.
  • Calling Jesus the Messiah is a big claim. It is stating that this is from God, that Jesus was the person the Jews had been waiting for, and is the one the Pharisees were expecting.