Acts chapter 5         Next chapter           Back to Bible Studies    

The story of Annanias and Sapphira is known to most of us but there are certain facts that we need to study carefully in order to understand the passage and the message that it conveys. It is a frightful occurence, but one that must be read in context. At the end of chapter 4 we saw that the believers were of one 'Breath of Life' and shared everything. Annanias and Saphira obviously also wanted to be seen to be part of this and perhaps receive the honour and praise that went with bringing a gift. Upon being confronted by Peter regarding the full selling price of the land (remember, Annanias did not say a word, but God gave Peter insight) Anannias, falls down dead. Later on his wife comes in and upon being asked by Peter whether the amount was the full amount they received for their piece of land, she confirms that. Peter is distressed at her being willing to lie to the Holy Spirit, and a moment later she too falls down dead.

This passage must be understood against the background of this first gathering of believers being the birth of the Church. We see that satan even here at the very inception of the Church wants to try and get in, and he wants to try and get in by way of greed. However, God is extremely watchful over His precious Church and simply will not allow satan any access. In this way the absolute purity of the Church is maintained - a church that would soon be instrumental in spreading the Gospel far and wide. It is no wonder that the Church and all who heard about these things were seized with great fear. We too need to realise the gravity of having ourselves and our goods devoted to God. It is in the practical things like giving Him what is His, that our wholehearted devotion to God is tested. The passage reminded us clearly of the story of Achan in Joshua 7: 1 - 26 where, after he takes from that which was devoted to God, Achan and his entire household are obliterated. It may well be that what we read in v 13 as regards people being hesitant to join, is a direct consequence of this because people realised that becoming a Christian is no frivolous thing but very serious indeed!  

In verse 14 the Greek text makes a good contribution again because the phrase in the original text is 'added to the Lord' - 'Too Kurios' Most translations seem to have 'added to their number'. The phrase 'added to the Lord' implies specifically that the believers were added to Him and not to a church, organisation or whatever. We do not become a Christian by way of joining a Christian church or organisation, but by being 'added to the Lord!'

In verse 17 the motive in the hearts of the religious leaders is revealed: Jealousy. This was as a result of the preceding section which describes how the disciples healed many sick people and those tormented by evil spirits, healing every single one. It is interesting to consider that these religious leaders, even though they spoke about God and were involved in the worship of God daily, were not able to help the people as the disciples were. They were not able to give real, concrete help. They were nothing more than 'religious ceremony facilitators' - something that many ministers today are being. Religion has no power. The kingdom of God is not a matter of words, but of power'. 1 Corinthians 4:20

Verse 19 reminds us of what happens later in Acts to Peter and the angel freeing him from prison, but the most important aspect of these disciples being freed from prison by an angel of the Lord is the instruction they receive: 'Go, tell the people the full message of this new life'. It is clear that they are not released for their own safety or comfort, but to do God's work. This must have been very frustrating for the religious leaders when they found out what had happened! They subsequently warn them again and it is striking how they do not even want to say the name of Jesus. Instead they refer to Him as 'This man' and that the apostles should not teach in 'This Name'. Furthermore they make the statement '...you are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood'. This statement needs to be compared to Matthew 27:25 ' All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”  

The next section of scripture has been widely used, misused and misquoted in Christian history. (In recent years the Anglican church applied what they termed the 'Gamaliel principle' to guage whether a supposed revival in Canada was of Godly origin or not.) A very respected Pharisee (Rabban - teacher of all) spoke up and made quite an interesting speech. He refers to two other 'troublemakers' that they have had to deal with in the past and declares that if the activity of the apostles is of human origin, it will fail, but if it is from God, the religious leaders would not be able to stop them and only be fighting God.

We need to take a closer look at this statement, in its context, to come away with a better understanding of what Gamaliel is saying and how this principle can be applied and how not. First of all notice how he does not say that the activity of the Apostles is of Godly origin, neither does he say that it is not. Like all good politicians he chooses the middle road! We need to take his argument apart and examine the pieces to see what he is actually saying: If this activity is from God, it wil be successful and stand the test of time. If it is not of God, it will come to nothing. So what he is really saying is that everything that lasts and is successful, is of God. Success then, is the measure of whether something is of God. This is where we face a serious problem with much of what has happened throughout Christian history. Even Jesus, toward the end of his ministry, lost many disciples who found the teaching in John 6 too hard...Furthermore, we would have to say, if we were going to apply Gamaliel's argument correctly, that Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Islam and even Satanism is of God, because they have all lasted and have been successful. In the case of the Anglican church using this principle to see whether something is of God or not by giving it time, the flaw lies in the fact that they did not bother at all to check whether what the man was saying was Scriptural but just left it to 'time to sort out'. This means that ungodly, unscriptural teaching could be allowed to continue, to the severe detriment of the listeners.

Now, don't misunderstand me - yes, God's purposes, His work, His church WILL stand forever. The better thing for us to do is to approach any situation from the opposite end by checking whether it is in fact of God, and then we will be able to say "Yes, this will last, because it is of God". But HOW do we check whether something is of God? Our answer lies in Acts 17: 10 - 12: "As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men".  This is marvellous, the Bereans knew exactly what to do to see if something is of God - search the Scriptures. Here is Paul and Silas bringing very much the same message as Peter and the other Apostles before the religious leaders and the Bereans welcome them, but also carefully check the Scriptures to see whether what Paul is saying, is true. If only the religious leaders had done this! They would most certainly have realised that the Apostles were speaking the truth.

Success has never been the measure of whether something is of God. Many of the most Godly men of God were absolute failures in the eyes of the world. God does not call us to be successful but faithful, and leave the rest to Him. In the end Gamaliel's speech convinces the other religious leaders and after having them flogged, they let the Apostles go. What do the Apostles do? They go right back to spreading the Good News that Jesus is the Christ. What wonderful faithfulness!

© 2011 Werner Schreiber

You are free to download these study notes provided they remain intact without alteration. You are also free to use and transmit these notes with proper citation of authorship.