Acts 5:1-11 – Holy mackerel!

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira did not consist in the withholding of part of the money but in their deception of the community. Their deaths are ascribed to a lie to the holy Spirit (⇒ Acts 5:3, 9), i.e., they accepted the honor accorded them by the community for their generosity, but in reality they were not deserving of it.

Above is the NAB’s explination of the events in our reading … for some reason, I still feel pretty disturbed. I’m not the only one … the lectionary for the Catholic Church leaves out this reading … it’s never used in Mass. As I read at the American Catholic site …

Interestingly, while the Easter season readings emphasize this ideal picture of the early Church, Acts hints at times that all was not perfect. The framers of the Lectionary left out the curious story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). This married couple withheld from the common pot proceeds from the sale of some property. Peter confronts them and denounces their selfishness. Their punishment seems rather severe, for upon Peter’s interrogation about their evil deception, they both drop dead! Little wonder that this reading did not make it into the Lectionary! The message of instilled fear in the Church (Acts 5:11) goes counter to the hope-filled, joyful message of the Easter season. Yet perhaps the reading interjects a note of realism, namely, that it is not easy to fulfill the idealized vision of Church life presented by Acts.

It’s a sad commentary on human nature that this reading ends with a line that’s meant, I think, to reinforce our faith …. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. I prefer the line from 1 John 4:18 …. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.

– The Death of Ananias by Raphael


8 responses

  1. An excellent post, Crystal; it also seems to me very discordant. Unfortunately in spite of the love that fills the gospel, the O.T. fear crept into the N.T. very early and has too often dominated the polity of the church.

  2. Hi Larry :-). Yes, I think you’re absolutely right.

  3. Are we all that certain that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and “perfect love casteth out fear” are the same critter?How are we to understand “fear of God” — can it be a positive. Is it true to our experience? What do we lose by jettisoning it?

  4. David,I’d love to hear more of your thougths here. What is your experience of “fear of God”? And what do you feel people could gain by this view, that we should not jettison it too quickly?

  5. Yes, David, pleas write more on this. (Hi Meredith :-)Many people have expalined “fearing God” as similar to fearing one’s parents. But I must admit, I just don’t get it. I don’t want to be afraid of God. I was occassionally afraid of my parents, but I don’t think they were very good parents. Fear is not love, it is not respect, it is not awe … it is fear and, I think, it is detrimental to relationships based on love.

  6. Well we have a first class discussion going here: fear and love; I had not thought of it deeply, but it is a very deep question. My simple explanation was that the old testament God was one of fear and Jesus’ God one of love.But it isn’t that simple; there is lots of love in the O.T. (Look at Hosea for example.) And, as you’ve pointed out here, enough fear in the N.T. (You may have read this before from my keyboard, but…. As a young minister I preached love to a church that I finally came to believe one had to be born into to belong to.Down the road was Brother X, a converted sinner who said “you people are going to hell”. And his pews were crowded with recovering (they called them reformed) alcoholics. I went out to alcoholics and had dealings with quite a few, but only succeeded in getting two into our church.Is there a place for fear? Is there a place for law. In the 70’s we were working in the inner city D.C. when my friend Larry Mead told us that before people could receive grace, they must learn the law. An interesting point (apparently he’s still saying it).He may be right; I don’t know. Everyone knows of course about Jonathan Edwards whose sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is said to have precipitated the Great Awakening. That even probably shaped American religion more than any other one thing.I never have preached fear, and my father never preached fear. There’s enough of that in the world. My opinion is that fear is the primary thing keeping people from God.

  7. Marcion was an early Christian that rejected the OT in his first canon, around 140AD besause of this fear issue. To many, the tone of the OT and NT just do not match. The Gnostic believed in a God (Jesus’ Father) that was superior to the OT tribal war god of the Hebrews. Were they right? “By their fruits you will know them”One might argue that this branch died out, bearing no fruit.One might also argue that the fruit of Pauline Christianity lead to the Roman Imperial Christians whose ruled with fear and oppression..Take your pick.

  8. Acts 5:1-11 is the most disturbing passage i have come across yet. It has completely destroyed my faith in the N.T. I’ve studied other religions but nothing has clicked i’d love to have my faith back but i can’t believe in this and if you can’t believe it all you cant any of it. if you have any helpful comments contact me at

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