By Norman S. Edwards
From SVM – Winter 2012
Ananias and Sapphira Struck Dead for Lying: Is the Story Fake?
My senses tell me that the real inventors of the Bible, sought to instill FEAR of religious and secular rulers in the minds of human beings. For example, in the story about Ananias and Sapphira supposedly being struck dead at the feet of Peter over lying and money matters, it is such a contradiction to what Jesus taught, that I have to regard it with total suspicion and, in fact, as pure fiction. How interesting that the Roman Catholic Church traces (falsely) its origin to Peter and no doubt whoever really “inspired” the Ananias and Sapphira fairy tale, had ulterior motives to cause people to FEAR the future coming “Popes” and “pastors” of the church world.
A: While the Catholic Church may claim to have an unbroken line of popes all the way back to Peter, the extensive writing of the “Ante-Nicene and Nicene Church Fathers” shows this not to be the case. There was no strong central control of the Christian Church during the first four centuries— indeed the Bishop at Rome had title “first among equals”. The “Supreme Pontiff” title and “infallibility” came much later.
But we have portions of manuscripts of Acts from as early as 250 A.D. The manuscripts we have do not show a gradual addition of stories, but a whole document that emerged, and then was copied—with only very minor variation. You can check this yourself in New Testament Greek Manuscripts: Acts by Reuben Swanson (1996, Paperback, ISBN 0865850550): This book contains every significant Greek manuscript, and you will find none without the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts. There are also ancient papyrus fragments, known as P8 (pictured here) and P57 which contain this exact story. The problem is not the Bible; the problem is people don’t believe it! Acts 5 does not say that Peter killed Ananias and Sapphira or that church leaders have authority to kill members. It says they died—an “act of God”. To which many people will say, “How awful of God to do that!” But was it? Ananias and Sapphira were not whole- hearted believers. They claimed they were giving their all to the church, like others, but kept some of the money so that they could both have their needs taken care of by the church, and have extra money on the side. This was the first “church corruption” and God “nipped it in the bud.” It stopped people from joining the church unless they were completely committed (Acts 5:11-13). But whether it is mankind’s complaints about God’s “awful” deeds or due to his own wisdom, God generally no longer strikes people dead who engage in “church corruption”. Church leaders, through the ages have oppressed the brethren and embezzled money—the very conditions which your letter acknowledges. “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil (Eccl 8:11). We can be strange at times: we do not want evil, but nor do we want those who do evil to be corrected.
Originally published in SVM Winter 2012