Even as a child, the "Bible Story" of a husband and wife in the early church under Peter being killed for "lying" about how much money they really had as opposed to what they gave to the church, seemed surreal. In the context, we are told the early church was more commune like and evidently shared with all that which each possessed to get them through.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
Nothing wrong with this I suppose, but one would think it was rather voluntary and something that people do when they wish to drop out of society and cling unto only those that see the world as they do. It's an early practice in any group like this which tends to break down after time and everyone goes their own way again, or at least does not feel the need to share their hard earned resources and support the loners forever.
The fact is that holding all things in common during those times was a temporary state fueled by the rabid belief in the early NT Church that Jesus Second Coming was imminent. Of course, it wasn't and this practice died very quickly for two reasons. 1. As mentioned, Jesus failed to return in anyone's lifetime and dealing with how to explain it became a function of later Epistles. 2. More wealthy folk came into the church no doubt who were critically thinking enough and independent enough to simply say no.
But one has to ask why this story was included in the Book of Acts? Ask yourself what might be the result today of this happening in your church! What's wrong with this story and I will call it a story as I do not personally believe it ever really happened, but I do believe it had the desired effect on the "Church."
1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
Comment: It was their property and they had the right to sell it for as much as they wished. It was nice that Ananias had such an open and trusting relationship with his wife, Sapphira, that he included her in how much he actually sold it for. While the "rules" called for everyone to share and share alike, no one has the right, save in that culture or in the "Church" it seemed, to demand ALL of it. Keeping your own money for yourself is no crime on earth or in heaven. And anyone has the right to change their mind about contributions to anyone. He brought "the rest" and that seems generous enough under any circumstances. "Putting it at the Apostles Feet" seems contrived, but if he literally did and Peter stood there whenever members brought in the goodies and shekels to be placed at his feet is this not an arrogant position that he has assumed for himself? I picture Peter standing at the front of the room standing like Mr. Clean, or Dave Pack, receiving these required contributions.
Remember, this is the Peter who denied Jesus three times with three lies of never having known the man and was forgiven in John 21, when John thought Peter was better left off the roster of Apostles worth anything to the Church. (In John's Gospel he equated with Judas as in "Judas betrayed, Peter denied. No difference. Don't follow Peter") Seems at this point of his career, Peter was not much in the mood to forgive as he had been forgiven or follow any of Jesus teachings on the topic. I'd say Peter had given Jesus lots of reasons to knock him off early in the disciple game too.
3 Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart (That's the only reason right?) that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." (So one can't just change their mind on such things?)
Comment: "Satan" could be anyone or anything. This can merely mean that Ananias made his own decision about how much he could afford to contribute. It's not like he was sharing his days wage for making pots down the street. This would have been a chunk of family change and perhaps land that had been in his family for generations. I once went to a store in Jerusalem that was in a cave of sorts and the owner said that the cave and using it for commerce had been in his family for over 800 years!
Whenever someone makes a decision the church or minister does not like or think is the right one, "Satan" often is named as the cause for this. It often means that the person simply does not see things the way the minister or church does on this topic. Besides if a literal Satan filled his heart, then forgive him and go after Satan! I always found it difficult to resist as a mere human when a rogue spirit that had access to God and was part of God's plan for testing humans was unleashed on me. I mean, come on here, human is human! I can't even resist chocolate. So at least we see it was their's to give, and somewhere along the line, what he said he would give and what he gave was the problem in Peter's mind. The lie is not in not giving it all, the lie seems to be in saying he'd give it all and then not doing that. Again, would Peter, who denied Jesus three times remember, with three lies, in a very short time, not understand his own past in this matter?
Also we have the problem of uping the ante to lying, not to Peter, or to the board, or too the treasurer. No, this young and successful couple had lied to the Holy Spirit! Yikes. One would think that lying once about how much money you had to give was like a normal lie between men. Lying three times in a short period of time about not knowing Jesus, so sure you can kill him, I don't know the man, seems more of a Holy Spirit lie, but evidently not. Peter cannot forgive what he had done himself. Maybe Peter felt he should have been punished for denying Jesus, and projected his shame and the sentence onto this poor couple, though I still doubt it ever happened in real time.
It is also interesting that Satan, an untouchable spirit caused him to lie and the Holy Spirit, an untouchable spirit strikes him down. This certainly leaves any human responsibility for these deaths in the pews out of the picture. So it's a story of church members dropping dead of no known humanly provable causes. We can hope Peter did not cut them down with a sword as he unsuccessfully tried to do in the garden lopping only the High Priests ear off in the attempt to cleave his skull.
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.(Or so they say)
No confidentiality here, or "we need to talk."
Bang...you're dead! It also says he fell down first and then died. I would think that having the Holy Spirit strike you down would be more of a "he died and fell down." Just a thought.
"And great fear seized all who heard what had happened."
Comment: WELL, THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT ISN'T IT? Even Peter understood that fear was the motivator even though something called "perfect love" had already been said to cast out fear. Fear is the opposite of Love, not hate. Peter evidently still had a lot to learn and this poor couple would pay for his ignorance. Peter only knew to cast out the person, not the fear, and that this example would lower contributions and donations to the "Work," if he didn't nip it in the bud. Or perhaps Paul, who said "perfect love casts out fear" had Luke tell this story to make a fool out of Peter. I mean, here is the Great Apostle Peter instilling fear when Paul instilled Love. Who would you follow?
6 Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
Comment: Now have this happen in your church and see if you just get to wrap him up and throw him in the dumpster. No one felt this was wrong. No one evidently would miss him or wonder why "he went to church, but never came home." His parents were either there agreeing to this or simply learned to live that their son and daughter in law, who had that nice piece of property just vanished and somehow now we find the Church has the property. This is contrived and Apostolic cruelty and abuse at it's worse, if it happened, which it didn't. But the story makes a nice motivator of the brethren to turn in ALL the goodies. In the modern Church, all the goodies would be you're complete tithe...10%, not 9%.
7 About three hours later (Gerald Waterhouse must have been preaching this day) his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?"
Comment: Three hours later than what? How long were church services anyway! Hmmm, he baits her, knowing that was not the price. Sounds like "Tell me my precious..." right out of Lord of the Rings.
"Yes," she said, "that is the price."
Comment: It would have been better to say, "we thought it over and this is what we agreed to give you." That would have put Peter on the defensive saying, "well why didn't HE say so! Oh damn, I just never asked him if maybe he told you he had agreed to something else and I just didn't know or that you both recalculated and I just phrased my question to him in a wrong way...oh my oh me." Well, no such luck.
9 Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."
Comment: I expect he meant the feet of those guys had dirt on them from the previous burial of her husband. I seriously doubt that this sweet couple said, "Hey, lets test the Spirit of the Lord and lie about this." Peter may have been meaning, "How could you lie to me." But then this is the same man who lied about even knowing Jesus, three times in a very short time, and to a little girl to boot! Peter denied Jesus and Judas betrayed him...what's the difference. Maybe this is the point of the story.
No...it is the point of the story. Luke was Paul's fan and not Peter's. Luke was promoting Paul and mocking Peter in this story. The original audience would have gotten that. "These two said they would do one thing, give all, and did another, held back. Punish them. The Great Peter said he would do one thing, never leave Jesus, and did another. Denied him. Ha ha... Don't follow Peter"
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.
Comment: Well so much for "come let us reason together."
Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
Comment: These young men are no doubt going to need some counseling of their own after this. Would you not love to have heard the talk while they dug the graves? "What the hell is this all about? I liked these people and they always gave more than any of the other sluggards in the group. Anyone here think Peter, who lied about even knowing Jesus, THREE TIMES, is nuts?" (Anyone think Dave Pack is nuts?)
11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Comment: Which is, again, the whole point of the story for the early church isn't it?
So here we have revenge killings in church of people whose hearts were filled by Satan to keep some of their own hard earned money and felled by the Holy Spirit as punishment. No chance Peter, WHO LIED ABOUT KNOWING JESUS THREE TIMES, could forgive them, or just say "thank you so much for your contribution and generosity to the Church."
No way this Peter was going to let the others think that they could get away with not having all things in common, and I mean all things. I wonder if Peter gave the Church the proceeds from his fishing boat and equipment? I guess if you said, "no way, that's my stuff," you were off the hook. The problem seems to be in saying you would and then not, but that is easily remedied by renegotiating the agreement, not MURDER!
The point is all about religious loyalty motivated by fear, guilt and shame again, isn't it? It's motivating you to stick with the church because if you don't then Satan will eat you alive or you will go to hell or burn in the lake of fire, none of which is verifiable in space and time. It's saying that hurricane Katrina was punishment on New Orleans for being full of humans who are just like the ones in Houston and Chicago and everywhere else including, of all places, Washington. It's the Rabbi saying that Bird Flu has come the the "UN-Holy Land" for that is what it is these days, because Israel allows Gay marriage, or even mixing cheese with hamburger to make a cheeseburger, when everyone knows that violates seething a calf in it's own mother's milk! No lie. I saw the posters condemning McDonalds in Tiberias...or was it McDavid's?
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a construct to instill fear of disobeying the Church and Church leadership. We should not miss the fact that this Peter, the impetuous disciple, the "let's kick their ass for not believing in you Jesus," the "oh yeah, well I'll split your skull with my sword," LIED THREE TIMES that he ever knew Jesus and then fled. This is a contrived story to produce the desired effect...FEAR in the Church. A motivator that I am sorry to say is all to much a weapon in the ministerial arsenal of far too many churches today still.
Still there is one other motive that there might be for this rather negative story about Peter in the book of Acts. It was no secret that Luke, the author of Acts was a man of Paul. He was the apologist link, so to speak between the Jewish Church under James and the Gentile Church under Paul. It was Luke's job to make it appear that Paul got along better with Peter, James and John than he really did or they with him. There was no love lost between Peter and Paul for sure as Paul, in Galatians places Peter along with James and John in the "Apostles so called" category and reminds his readers that "I learned nothing from them."
This Peter, this man who PROMISED Jesus that he would never leave him, only to deny him three times shortly after and flee has a history. This story of the Peter, who can't abide saying one thing and doing another from Ananias and Sapphira, who SAID he was in agreement with Paul about eating with Gentiles but then withdrew when the Jewish James showed up for dinner, just might be here to poke fun of Peter, whom Paul disliked. ( I personally believe Peter's being offended with Paul was that it was obvious at dinner Paul was eating meat offered to idols which he said in Acts 15 he'd not do and did. I Corinthians 8. It had nothing to do with pork or gentiles.)
Luke is chiding Peter for his duplicity in saying one thing, like Ananias did, and doing another, as the couple is reported to have done. In short, it may be that Luke was reminding the Gentile Church that Paul, not Peter was a better leader and more to be trusted. After all, the entire book of Acts is about Paul and others only as they lead up to and introduce Paul.
Peter can dish it out, but when push came to shove in his own life, he could not take it. Peter had a history of doing exactly the same thing that he is purported to have "killed" Ananias and Sapphira for; saying one thing, and doing another. The story might be a simple mock of Peter and his so called leadership in the Church. Leadership is something Peter, Paul, James and John seemed to fight over after Jesus is supposed to have left the planet.
Interestingly enough, every time John speaks of Peter in the Gospel of John, he makes a comment about Judas, then his point about Peter and then another point about Judas...every time.
Obviously John also felt Peter's denial of Jesus was the same as Judas betrayal. John however portrays himself in his book as being the "disciple Jesus loved," reclining on Jesus breast as his best buddy, with Jesus at his trial when Peter had fled, at the foot of the cross with Jesus mom and the only one who understood what the empty tomb meant. These guys were very human and took every advantage and opportunity to put each other down while trying to elevate themselves in the eyes of the Church.
Bible guys will do that to each other in the scripture when they have a chance to point out each other's faults and foibles. Thus, I doubt the real murder of Ananias and Sapphira because they kept some of their own money ever literally happened but is a slap, by Luke, at Peter for his own duplicity. Pretty common stuff between Pastors I might add.
"All things in common" was the temporary mindset of the early early NT Church due to Jesus imminent return. I suppose Dave Pack would say they were wrong but he is right about it all now and thus can demand it. But , like HWA, building God's College, again, gives lie to the actual belief. Secluded and beautifully built homes for the chosen ones, belies the belief in the imminent coming of Christ. It can only last so long before 1. Jesus doesn't return still and times goes long. 2. Wealthy converts show up, they won't, and say "WTF are you kidding me"