This is a game of two halves, and the description of the good in the church in the first half makes the deception of Ananias and his wife all the more stark and surprising. But we start with the good.

v32, 34-5 show the general generosity of those in the church. 5:4 makes it clear that this giving was entirely voluntary, and the scope of it is impressive. Verse 33 seems a little out of place in this account of how things were shared, but the reference to the apostles’ teaching ministry immediately before the extra work required of them to distribute the wealth sets the stage for the beginning of chapter 6 where the apostles were overstreched. In v36-7, Luke singles out Barnabas – whether to further paint the contrast with Ananias, or to introduce one of the major characters of this book, or because he was exceptionally generous is unclear.

TNTC: “The ancient law forbidding Levites to own land (Numbers 18:20, Deuteronomy 10:9) seems to have been a dead letter (Jeremiah 32:6 onwards)” Here Jeremiah – a Levite (Jeremiah 1:1) bought a field at God’s prompting.

At the chapter break, the “but” in 5:1 introduces us to Ananias and Sapphira and warns us that they didn’t follow the pattern set by the church. Their crime wasn’t keeping some of the money – 5:4 makes it clear that they could have kept it all – but lying to the Holy Spirit (v3) (synonymous with lying to God, v4). Peter was given insight that this is what he had done and condemned him with the same language as Luke used to describe Satan’s control of Judas (Luke 22:3). Though Peter didn’t pronounce death Ananias died instantly, and the suggestion that it was just of natural shock at being discovered seems overruled by the fear which it brought to those present. God had punished the deception.

A similar event unfolded with Sapphira when she came in, but there were differences. Peter asked her how much they sold the field for. We don’t know the sum that Peter said – it could be that he said the amount which the apostles received, in which case Sapphira lied, or it could be that he knew how much the field had cost and Sapphira is now confessing the previous lie. Either way, we know from verse 4 that the crime wasn’t lying to Peter, and Sapphira also died for her previous attemp to lie to God. Again these events increased the believers’ awe and reverence for God, which is probably why they happened. There have been people since who have lied to God and survived, but at this critical time in the church’s growth it was essential for everyone to grasp the awesomeness of God.

This is the first time that Luke used the word church to describe the disciples. Whether they used it at this time or not is uncertain, but it seems Luke felt that from this time on there was enough organisation and unity to use the term – possibly since the sharing of goods began.

Heavenly Father, I praise you that your Spirit can prompt and inspire people to acts selflessly and like you. I know that there have been times I have lied to those around me and to you about my actions and intentions. Please forgive me. Please fill me with fear and reverence by your Spirit and let me follow your example in Jesus. Amen.


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