Thread: Acts 5 Board: Oblivion / Ship of Fools.

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Posted by pimple (# 10635) on :
Ananias and Sapphira. Hardly a new topic, but not (yet!) a dead horse.

Did Peter have the competence - I mean, was he authorised - to forgive Ananias (or Sapphira) for his/their transgression?
Posted by georgiaboy (# 11294) on :
One would presume so, based on the traditional reading of 'Whose sins ye forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins ye retain, they are retained.' This is still quoted in some ordination rites.

Of course, our emphasis is (usually at least) or forgiveness, but the retention (or non-forgiveness) is specifically quoted.

I'm coming from an Anglo-Catholic understanding of this; others may have different views.
Posted by Nigel M (# 11256) on :
The passage is in Acts 4 and 5, and the following is taken from the NET Version:

Acts 4: 32 - 5:12
The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common.

With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all.

For there was no one needy among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales and placing them at the apostles’ feet. The proceeds were distributed to each, as anyone had need. So Joseph, a Levite who was a native of Cyprus, called by the apostles Barnabas (which is translated “son of encouragement”), sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and placed it at the apostles’ feet.

Now a man named Ananias, together with Sapphira his wife, sold a piece of property. He kept back for himself part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge; he brought only part of it and placed it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!” When Ananias heard these words he collapsed and died, and great fear gripped all who heard about it. So the young men came, wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, but she did not know what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me, were the two of you paid this amount for the land?” Sapphira said, “Yes, that much.” Peter then told her, “Why have you agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!” At once she collapsed at his feet and died. So when the young men came in, they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear gripped the whole church and all who heard about these things.

Now many miraculous signs and wonders came about among the people through the hands of the apostles.

The way the author tells it, is does seem to read that Peter had authority. The section about the doomed couple is framed with references to the power of the apostles (in italics above). The fact that no one was in need is said to be a ‘grace’ – a validation of the work and teaching of the apostles.

The author also seems quite taken to Peter in these early passages of Acts. Pete gets a good write-up as a leader: his Pentecost speech is recorded in chapter 2 and his healing power and subsequent sermon in chapter 3. His court case speech is in chapter 4 as is his post-release speech to the believers, followed by the Holy Spirit’s work with them. All in all, the author is very positive about Pete, so I would think that he intended the judgment on A&S to be seen as being in line with the Spirit’s work.

It may be a separate question, I guess, but were A&S struck down by God/Spirit despite Peter, or was Peter’s accusation the proximate cause?
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
I don't have any answers to those excellent questions, but I always wonder if everyone else feels as uncomfortable about this story as I do. It's one of the very, very few examples in the NT of God behaving in good old OT fashion -- smiting people dead on the spot for what appears to be a fairly minor crime. Uzzah and the Ark comes to mind, but I think we kind of expect that sort of behavior from God in the OT. I would like to think that with the coming of Jesus, God's impulse-control issues have been solved (or, more seriously, the Biblical writers have a clearer view of God's love and mercy and no longer attribute random deaths to the smitings of His wrath). Then, BOOM! Right there at the beginning of Acts, with everyone full of the Spirit and practicing happy communal living, we get a good old-fashioned smiting of two people who (ISTM) might not even have had time to process or think about what they'd done wrong.

It's one of those passages I'd definitely cut out if I were editing the Bible, but of course, I'm not.
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
Sorry, I know that's a bit of a tangent from the well-posed question of Peter's authority in the OP, and as a Host I really should know better. But it's hard not to rant when I see this passage come up in discussion (or just in reading Acts). To tie my rant a bit better in to the question, I think my problem with the passage is that I'd like to believe that whatever authority Jesus gives Peter (which, being very Protestant, I'd say He's giving to the whole church, not just Peter) is authority to "forgive sins" ... but I'm much less comfortable with God giving any human being, or any human community, the ability to condemn and punish people for their sins.

Bad enough to have God going around randomly smiting people, but if the Church had the power to smite? Much scarier.
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
The question is whether Peter caused their deaths. I have heard the analogy that what Ananias and Sapphira did was the equivalent of touching a high-voltage wire.

At that time the church was so saturated with holiness that such a serious sin caused their deaths directly.

The nature of the sin was not simply lying; it was lying to gain the admiration of the other Christians. It was hypocrisy, which is a serious spiritual transgression.

Posted by pimple (# 10635) on :
I am not arguing with the seriousness of the sin, except in its labelling (by Peter) as a sin against the Holy Spirit. Generally speaking, Peter appears to have been given carte blanche in the matter of giving or withholding forgiveness. But there was one sin which Jesus himself described as unforgiveable (I'll post a link when I find the actual passage). That was a sin against the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes it clear that this is even worse than blaspheming Jesus himself.

It seems to be this prohibition to which Peter is referring when he tells Ananias that he didn't lie to the community, but to God (a false dichotomy if ever there was one).

If Ananias saw the implication, he must have been expecting excommunication and banishment at best, so perhaps what he feared was not God's punishment, but Peter's. Peter's soft approach in admitting that the property was Ananaias's to do what he like with is somewhat undermined by the crocodile tears implicit in the condemnation that follows.
Posted by Anselm (# 4499) on :
I hear echoes of Jesus' teaching (recorded in Luke's first volume)
Luke 12:15-21
15 And Jesus said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Posted by Martin60 (# 368) on :
Trudy Scrumptious and Moo in particular: you frame this starkly well.

As I ask in the Acts 21 thread how are we to take this?

Is postmodern de- and re-construction merely creating God in our own image? Did Jesus lay His cloak at Peter's feet in advance here, Mark 3:29 "but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.", regardless of context?

Are Jesus' hard sayings to be taken as literally as possible? Do we have to roll back 2000 years? Are we to be as I have been, non-involved, withdrawn, pacifist prophets of God's apocalyptic wrath? Was my former cult RIGHT?!

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