Ananias and Sapphira - Bible Story Summary

God Struck Ananias and Sapphira Dead for Hypocrisy

Ananias and Sapphira
Barnabas (in background) giving his possessions to Peter, Ananias (in foreground) being struck dead. Peter Dennis / Getty Images

The sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira are among the scariest events in the Bible, a terrifying reminder that God will not be mocked.

While their penalties seem extreme to us today, God judged them guilty of sins so serious they threatened the very existence of the early Church.

Scripture Reference:

Acts 5:1-11.

Ananias and Sapphira - Story Summary:

In the early Christian church in Jerusalem, the believers were so close they sold their excess land or possessions and donated the money so no one would go hungry.

  Barnabas was one such generous person.

Ananias and his wife Sapphira also sold a piece of property, but they kept back part of the proceeds from themselves and gave the rest to the church, placing the money at the apostles' feet.

The Apostle Peter, through a revelation from the Holy Spirit, questioned their honesty:

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 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.” (Acts 5:3-4, NIV)

Ananias, on hearing this, immediately fell down dead. Everyone in the church was filled with fear.  Young men wrapped up Ananias' body, carried it away and buried it.

Three hours later, Ananias' wife Sapphira came in, not knowing what had happened.

Peter asked her if the amount they donated was the full price of the land.

"Yes, that is the price," she lied.

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.”  (Acts 5:9, NIV)

Just like her husband, she instantly fell down dead. Again, the young men took her body away and buried it.

With this show of God's anger, great fear seized everyone in the young church.

Points of Interest From the Story:

Commentators point out that Ananias' and Sapphira's sin was not holding back part of the money for themselves, but deceitfully acting as if they had given the entire amount. They had every right to keep part of the money if they wished, but they gave in to Satan's influence and lied to God. 

Their deceit undermined the apostles' authority, which was crucial in the early church. Moreover, it denied the omniscience of the Holy Spirit, who is God and worthy of complete obedience.

This incident is often compared to the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, who served as priests at the desert tabernacleLeviticus 10:1 says they offered "unauthorized fire" to the Lord in their censers, contrary to his command.  Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and killed them. God demanded honor under the old covenant and reinforced that order in the new church with the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.

These two shocking deaths served as an example to the church that God hates hypocrisy.

  Further, it let believers and unbelievers know, in an unmistakable way, that God protects the holiness of his church.   

Ironically, Ananias' name means "Jehovah has been gracious."  God had favored Ananias and Sapphira with wealth, but they responded to his gift by cheating.

Question for Reflection:

God demands total honesty from his followers. Am I completely open with God when I confess my sins to him and when I go to him in prayer?

(Sources: New International Biblical Commentary, W. Ward Gasque, New Testament Editor; A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, J.W. McGarvey; gotquestions.org.)