Q: #558. Are Ananias and Sapphira in Hell (Acts 5:1-11)?
A: Without studying this in-depth, I have just always assumed that Ananias and Sapphira were indeed in Hell. However, in the process of expositing the Book of Acts for a Bible study that I am teaching, I began a fresh new look at this section of Acts. In doing so, I have come to the conclusion that it is very possible Ananias and Sapphira may have been “Christians.” How have I reached this conclusion? Let me share!
First, though, I want to start by saying that NO ONE can judge the salvation of another person. This is God’s realm, and not ours. I do not know if Ananias and Sapphira were Christians, and therefore went to Heaven when they died, or non-Christians, and went to Hell. I am simply trying to show that there is solid evidence that they “may” have been Christians.
I also have an underlying reason why I am interested in presenting this evidence. That reason is because I often hear pastors teaching that God does not “punish” Christians. That God does not take the lives of Christians, or make them sick. Most will concede that it happened in the Old Testament, but not the New Testament (as if God has somehow changed). I argue here that God does indeed “punish” Christians, but I did not use these verses in Acts because I didn’t think Ananias and Sapphira “were” Christians. However, “IF” they “were” Christians, I don’t think anyone could argue that God taking their lives was “punishment.”
Ok, now having said that, let’s look at the evidence.
First, we must remember that verses and chapters were not originally in the Bible. They were added centuries later, in the 13th century. Keeping this in mind here is very important, because we need to look at the previous chapter in Acts, starting with (Acts 4:23-31) to understand what is going on in Chapter 5. In these verses, we see Peter and John (see: Acts 4:1-22) with “their own companions” praying for “boldness.”
At the end of their prayer, we see in verse 31: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” So, ALL of those who were there were “filled with the Holy Ghost.” This means they were Christians.
Next, we need to look at the verses which follow in (Acts 4:32-37). The people that were “filled with the Holy Ghost,” (called “those who believed”) “were of one heart and one soul.”
They “had all things in common” (Acts 4:32).
“Great grace was upon them” (Acts 4:33).
“Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:34-35)(NKJV)
In the last two verses of Acts Chapter 4, we are told about one specific man (of the people who “were of one heart and soul”) named Barnabas, who “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37).
While that is the end of Chapter 4 in our Bible, this story does not end there. Since there were no chapters and verses originally, we need to keep on reading as if Chapter 4 has never ended. So, everything we have said to this point: i.e. “filled with the Holy Ghost,” “of one heart and soul,” “great grace upon them,” “sharing all things,” still applies to the people (including Ananias and Sapphira) who we now see in Chapter 5. Therefore:
Barnabas, who “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the proceeds for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?”
Without listing the rest of the verses in Chapter 5 to verse 11, we see that because of their “lie to the Holy Ghost,” the lives of both Ananias and Sapphira were taken by God (Ananias lied and died first, then 3 hours later, Sapphira lied and died, repeating the same lie).
After seeing what happened to Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit, “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (Acts 5:11).
So, when we tie Chapter 4 to Chapter 5, it seems pretty clear to me that Ananias and Sapphira were Christians. A few other things in these verses also lead me to think this. For example:
1. If Ananias and Sapphira were “unbelievers,” why would they want to give “any” money to the Lord’s work.
2. If an “unbeliever” doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, or know the Holy Spirit, can he “lie” to Him? (Yes, before the comments start coming, I do believe that “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” is different.)
3. Finally, if the “church” thought that Ananias and Sapphira were “unbelievers” that “lied to the Holy Spirit,” and were killed for it, why would they have “great fear?” God killing an unbeliever wouldn’t apply to them. However, if they knew Ananias and Sapphira “were” Christians, just like they were, and God killed them for lying to the Holy Spirit, doesn’t it make more sense to see why they had “great fear?” “If God killed them (as believers) for that sin, He could also kill US!”
So, doesn’t it seem a bit harsh for God to kill them for a “lie?” Why did He do this? Obviously, we cannot know the answer to this with certainty. However, this is my “simple” theory.
I believe it is important to realize that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira is the first recorded “sin” that was committed after the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given to all believers (to live inside of them permanently), which brought them into the “church” (made up of all believers in Christ). Then, the first (recorded) “sin” that the “church” committed after Pentecost was to “lie” to the One (God / the Holy Spirit) who started “the church.” I believe that God took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira as a “lesson” to the “church” that they should not underestimate the importance of the Holy Spirit, and what happened at Pentecost. They needed to understand that the Holy Spirit “IS” God (verses 3-4), and omniscient.
***Note: Commentators draw parallels to the sin Ananias and Sapphira, and the sin of Achan in (Josh Ch. 7), as well as the first sin of Adam and Eve in (Gen Ch. 3) (Adam and Eve the first sin, Ananias and Sapphira the first sin in the “church.”).
Therefore, while I believe that while Ananias and Sapphira “may” have been Christians that God “punished” as an example to the “church” (including us today), I also believe that we need to look at God’s grace in relation to this. How many of us Christians today have done dumb stuff, just like Ananias and Sapphira did, to impress fellow Christians, or to make ourselves look better? Yet, God has not given us the punishment we deserve. If He did, many of us might receive the same fate that Ananias and Sapphira did. Thank you for your mercy and grace Lord!