And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Ananias hearing these words fell down.—It is to be noted that St. Peter’s words, while they press home the intensity of the guilt, do not contain any formal sentence. In such a case we may rightly trace that union of natural causation and divine purpose which we express in the familiar phrase that speaks of “the visitation of God” as a cause of death. The shame and agony of detection, the horror of conscience not yet dead, were enough to paralyse the powers of life. Retribution is not less a divine act because it comes, through the working of divine laws, as the natural consequence of the sin which draws it down. It was necessary, we may reverently say, that this special form of evil, this worst corruption of the best, should be manifestly condemned on its first appearance by a divine judgment. And we must remember that there is a silence which we may not dare to break as to all but the visible judgment. The dominant apostolic idea of such punishments was that men were delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1Corinthians 5:5). St. Peter himself speaks of those who are “judged according to men in the flesh,” who yet “live according to God in the spirit” (1Peter 4:6).Acts 5:5-6. And Ananias, hearing these words — While the sound of them was yet in his ears; fell down and gave up the ghost — Εξεψυξε, expired. It does not appear whether Peter designed or expected this event to follow upon what he said, though it seems probable, from the sentence he denounced on Sapphira, (Acts 5:9,) that he did. It is likely that Ananias’s own conscience smote him with such horror and amazement at the sight of his guilt, that he sunk down and died at the sense of it. Or, perhaps, he was struck by an angel, as Herod was, Acts 12:23. This punishment of his sin may seem severe, but we are sure it was just, considering that complication of vain glory and covetousness, of fraud and impiety, which, as several writers have proved, his action contained. It was also wise and gracious, being designed, 1st, To vindicate the honour of the Holy Spirit, lately poured out, in order to the erecting of Christ’s kingdom, and now grossly affronted by an attempt to impose on those who were so eminently endued with his influence. 2d, To deter others from such presumptuous conduct, now at the beginning of this new and divine dispensation. Simon Magus afterward was not thus punished, nor Elymas; but Ananias was made an example now at first, that, with the evident proofs given, what a blessed thing it was to receive the Holy Spirit, there might be also sensible proofs afforded of the awful consequences of resisting or doing despite to the Spirit. Thus the worshipping of the golden calf, and the violation of the sabbath day, were severely punished among the Israelites, when the law of Moses was newly given; as also the offering of strange fire by Nadab and Abihu, and the mutiny of Korah and his company, when the authority of Moses and Aaron was lately established. Add to this, that by this punishment of Ananias and Sapphira, hypocrites and dishonest persons were deterred from joining the Christians, merely for the sake of a present alms, or any temporal advantage, to which, by a fraud like this, many might, on easy terms, have purchased a pretence, who would also, no doubt, have proved a great scandal to a profession taken up on such base motives. This likewise was a very convincing attestation of the apostles’ most upright conduct in the management of the sums with which they were intrusted, and indeed, in general, of their divine mission; for none can imagine that Peter would have had the assurance to speak as he did to Ananias, and much less would such an awful sanction have been given to his words, if he had been, at the same time, guilty of a much baser fraud of the like kind, or had been belying the Holy Ghost, in the whole of his pretensions to be under his miraculous influence and direction. And great fear came on all that heard these things — That heard what Peter said, and saw what followed: or upon all that heard the story of it: for, doubtless, it was much spoken of in the city. See on Acts 5:11. And the young men — Some, probably, appointed in the church to the office of burying the dead; or some that attended on the apostles, perceiving there was no room to hope for the recovery of one who was struck dead by such an immediate act of the divine power; bound him up, and carried him out to burial — Without any further circumstance of mourning or delay.
Fell down - Greek: Having fallen down.
Gave up the ghost - This is an unhappy translation. The original means simply "he expired," or "he died." Compare the notes on Matthew 27:50. This remarkable fact may be accounted for in this way:
(1) It is evidently to be regarded as a "judgment" of God for the sin of Ananias and his wife. It was not the act of Peter, but of God, and was clearly designed to show his abhorrence of this sin. See remarks on Acts 5:11.
(2) though it was the act of God, yet it does not follow that it was not in connection with the usual laws by which he governs people, or that he did not make use of natural means to do it. The sin was one of great aggravation. It was suddenly and unexpectedly detected. The fast that it was known, and the solemn charge that he had "lied unto God," struck him with horror. His conscience would reprove him for the enormity of his crime, and overwhelm him at the memory of his wickedness. These circumstances may be sufficient to account for this remarkable event. It has occurred in other cases that the consciousness of crime, or the fact of being suddenly detected, has given such a shock to the frame that it has never recovered from it. The effect "commonly" is that the memory of guilt preys secretly and silently upon the frame, until, worn out with the lack of rest and peace, it sinks exhausted into the grave. But there have not been missing instances where the shock has been so great as to destroy the vital powers at once, and plunge the wretched man, like Ananias, into eternity. It is not at all improbable that the shock in the case of Ananias was so great as at once to take his life.
Great fear came ... - Such a striking and awful judgment on insincerity and hypocrisy was suited to excite awful emotions among the people. Sudden death always does it; but sudden death in immediate connection with crime is suited much more deeply to affect the mind.Fell down and gave up the ghost; expired and died. Some instances of God’s extraordinary judgments upon sinners were in the beginning of the Jewish church; as upon the man that gathered sticks on the sabbath day, Numbers 15:35, and upon Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 10:1,2; and so here in the beginning of the Christian church; to be as marks to teach us to shun such sins, and to teach us that the God with whom we have to do is greatly to be feared. And this miraculous way of punishing notorious sinners in the church, was accommodated to such a time, in which magistrates were so far from defending the church, that they themselves were the greatest enemies unto it.
And great fear came on all them that heard these things: let others also hear, and fear, and do so no more.
he fell down and gave up the ghost; which is an instance of what the Jews call death by the hand of heaven: and this was done either by an angel; or rather by an extraordinary gift bestowed on Peter, being such an one as the Apostle Paul had, and used, when he smote Elymas the sorcerer with blindness, and delivered the incestuous person, and Alexander and Hymeneus to Satan.
And great fear came upon all them that heard these things; both upon the members of the church, and so was of service to make them careful of their words and actions, and cautious and circumspect in their lives and conversations; and upon those that were without, and might be a means of making them fearful of speaking against them, or mocking at them, or of joining themselves to them, without being thoroughly satistied that they should, and had a right, and were meet for it.And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Acts 5:5-6. Ἐξέψυξε] as in Acts 12:23; elsewhere not in the N. T., but in the LXX. and later Greek writers. Comp. Acts 20:10. ἀποψύχειν occurs in the old Greek from Homer onward.
ἐπὶ πάντας τοὺς ἀκούοντας] upon all hearers, namely, of this discussion of Peter with Ananias. For Acts 5:6 shows that the whole proceeding took place in the assembled church. The sense in which it falls to be taken at Acts 5:11, in conformity with the context at the close of the narrative, is different. Commonly it is taken here as in Acts 5:11, in which case we should have to say, with de Wette, that the remark was proleptical. But even as such it appears unsuitable and disturbing.
οἱ νεώτεροι] the younger men in the church, who rose up from their seats (ἀναστάντες), are by the article denoted as a definite class of persons. But seeing that they, unsummoned, perform the business as one devolving of itself upon them, they must be considered as the regular servants of the church, who, in virtue of the church-organization as hitherto developed, were bound to render the manual services required in the ecclesiastical commonwealth, as indeed such ministering hands must, both of themselves and also after the pattern of the synagogue, have been from the outset necessary. See Mosheim, de reb. Christ. ante Const. p. 114. But Neander, de Wette, Rothe, Lechler, and others (see also Walch, Diss. p. 79 f.) doubt this, and think that the summons of the νεώτεροι to this business was simply based on the relation of age, by reason of which they were accustomed to serve and were at once ready of their own accord. But precisely in the case of such a miraculous and dreadful death, it is far more natural to assume a more urgent summons to the performance of the immediate burial, founded on the relation of a conscious necessity of service, than to think of people, like automata, acting spontaneously.
συνέστειλαν αὐτόν] means nothing else than contraxerunt eum. Comp. 1 Corinthians 7:29. We must conceive the stretched out limbs of him who had fallen down, as drawn together, pressed together by the young men, in order that the dead body might be carried out. The usual view: they prepared him for burial (by washing, swathing, etc.), confounds συστέλλειν with περιστέλλειν (Hom. Od. xxiv. 292; Plat. Hipp. Maj. p. 291 D; Diod. Sic. xix. 12; Joseph. Antt. xix. 4. 1; Tob 12:14; Sir 38:17), and, moreover, introduces into the narrative a mode of proceeding improbable in the case of such a death. Others incorrectly render: they covered him (de Dieu, de Wette); comp. Cant.: involverunt. For both meanings Eur. Troad. 382 has been appealed to, where, however, οὐ δάμαρτος ἐν χεροῖν πέπλοις συνεστάλησαν means: they were not wrapped up, shrouded, by the hands of a wife with garments (in which they wrapped them) in order to be buried. As little is συνεστάλθαι in Lucian. Imag. 7 : to be covered; but: to be pressed together, in contrast to the following διηνεμῶσθαι (to flutter in the wind). The explanation amoverunt (Vulgate, Erasmus, Luther, Beza, and others) is also without precedent of usage.
 Comp. Laud.: collexerunt (sic); Castal.: constrinxerunt.Acts 5:5. ἀκούων, “as he heard these words” = μεταξὺ ἀκούων, so Weiss, Blass, Rendall.—ἐξέψυξεν: only found here, in Acts 5:10 of Sapphira, and Acts 12:23 of the death of Herod, in the N.T.; not found in classical writers, and only twice in the LXX, Jdg 4:21 where A reads it to describe the death of Sisera, but = a Hebrew word which may only mean to faint, to faint away; Ezekiel 21:7 (12) where it translates a Hebrew word כָּהָה meaning to be faint-hearted, to despond, to be dim. But as Blass points out it is used by Hippocrates; indeed it would seem that its use is almost altogether confined to medical writers (Hobart, Zahn). It is therefore a word which may probably be referred to St. Luke’s employment of medical terms; Hobart, Medical Language of St. Luke, p. 37, for instances of its use not only in Hippocrates but in Galen and Aretaeus (Lumby refers to Acta Andr. et Matth. Apocr., 19, where the word is also used of men suddenly falling down dead). In classical Greek ἀποψύχειν (βίον), or ἀποψ. absolutely is the term employed. There can be no doubt that the narrative implies the closest connection between the guilt of Ananias and his sudden death. It therefore cannot be regarded as a narrative of a chance occurrence or of the effect of a sudden shock caused by the discovery of guilt in St. Peter’s words. No one has shown more clearly than Baur (Paulus, i., 27–33, especially against Neander) that all such explanations are unsatisfactory (see also Zeller and De Wette). In the early history of the Church, Origen, Tract. ix. in Matt., had espoused the view that Ananias had died overcome by shame and grief at the sudden detection of his sin. But no such explanation could account for the death of Sapphira which Peter foretells as about to follow without delay. That the narrative is not without historical foundation is frankly admitted by Wendt, and also by Baur, Zeller, Overbeck, and most recently by Weizsäcker, Holtzmann, Spitta. But this stern condemnation of any attempt to lie unto God is a stumbling-block even to those who with Wendt recognise not only some historical fact underlying the narrative, but also the danger and culpability of the action of Ananias and his wife. It may however be justly observed that our Lord Himself had condemned no sin so severely as that of hypocrisy, and that the action of Ananias and Sapphira was hypocrisy of the worst kind, in that they sought by false pretences to gain a reputation like the Pharisees for special sanctity and charity; the hypocrisy of the leaven of the Pharisees had entered the Church (Baumgarten), and if such a spirit had once gained ground in the Christian community, it must have destroyed all mutual affection and all brotherly kindness, for how could men speak the truth, every one with his neighbour, unless their love was without hypocrisy? Romans 12:9; how could they claim to be citizens of a city, into which none could enter who “made a lie”? Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:15. The sin before us was not one sin but many (Chrys., Hom., xii., on Acts 5:9), and in its deliberateness it came perilously near that sin against the Holy Ghost which, whatever else it may mean, certainly means a wilful hardening against divine guidance. For further considerations on the necessity of this unhesitating condemnation of such a sin at the outset of the life of the Church, see St. Chrysostom’s remarks. We must guard against supposing that St. Peter had imprecated the death-penalty upon Ananias (as Porphyry asserted, see against such a view, Jerome, Epist., 130). St. Jerome speaks of Ananias and Sapphira as not only deceitful, but also as timid stewards, keeping back a part of the price “through fear of famine which true faith never fears”. On his judgment that the avenging stroke was inflicted, not in cruelty to them, but as a warning to others, see below.—καὶ ἐγένετο φόβος μέγας κ.τ.λ., i.e., upon all who were present, as distinct from Acts 5:11—but see Page’s note. Overbeck, with De Wette, regards the remark as proleptical, as if the writer hurried to describe the impression made—but why should the words not include the judgment uttered by St. Peter? for the construction see Luke 1:65; Luke 4:36. On the characteristic reference to φόβος as following upon the exhibition of divine miraculous power both in St. Luke’s Gospel and the Acts, see Friedrich, Das Lucasevangelium, p. 77, and above on Acts 2:43.5. And Ananias hearing these words fell down] Smitten through the power of that Spirit whom he had intended to deceive. Here is no description of a death from apoplexy or mental excitement under the rebuke of the Apostle, but a direct intervention of the Divine power.
Terrible as this Divine judgment was, we cannot wonder that it should be inflicted, for it was so done to check that kind of offence which brought in all the troubles of the early Church, and which though they be not so punished now, when Christ’s Church has attained more firm hold on the world, yet would, if not terribly visited in these earlier days, have overthrown the whole work of the Apostles. Of a like character is the apparent severity of the penalty inflicted on Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, at the commencement of the Jewish priesthood (Leviticus 10:2); and the way in which Aaron and his family are forbidden to mourn for those whom God so punished may teach us what interpretation to put upon the judgment inflicted on Ananias and Sapphira. For they were of the members of the infant Church; they had presumed to come nigh unto God and in a wrong spirit. On them, we may conclude, some gifts had been bestowed, and in this they differed from Simon Magus (Acts 8:20) and Elymas (Acts 13:11), with whom they are sometimes compared, so that the words which God spake of Nadab and Abihu may be used of these offenders, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me.” We see what evils the spirit of greed and hypocrisy wrought in the Corinthian Church, even to the profanation of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-21). Every good institution would have been thus perverted and, as is said of some in later times (Judges 4), they would have “turned the grace of God into lasciviousness.” The very community of goods which here was instituted for a time, was in this way perverted and turned into an argument for a community of all things, which resulted in the vices for which the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:15) are so severely censured in the Scriptures. The death of Ananias and his wife is the finger of God interposed to save his Church from danger, just as He interposed to build it up by stretching forth His hand to heal, and that through the name of His Servant Jesus mighty works might be wrought by the first preachers.
and great fear came on all them that heard these things] In the best MSS. these things is omitted. Read “that heard it.”
This fear would deter for a while all who were not thoroughly in earnest from making profession of Christianity, a profession which the favour that had been shewn towards the society (Acts 4:33) might have induced many to make who would have been rather a hindrance than a help to the cause.Acts 5:5. Πεσὼν, having fallen down) The terror of Ananias is a specimen of the terror wherewith the ungodly shall be struck in the judgment, without being bereft of life, as he was.—ἐξέψυξε, was deprived of life, gave up the ghost) By this verb a miserable death is denoted; Acts 5:10; ch. Acts 12:23, Herod; Jdg 4:21, Sisera, (in the Alex. MS. of LXX., ἐξέψυξεν, for ἀπέθανεν). You may ask why so heavy a punishment and so sudden a death was inflicted at this time of the New Testament, which was so full of grace? Comp. 9:55, 56, where Jesus rebukes John for desiring fire from heaven, “The Son of man is come not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” The answer is, I. The disciples of their own accord had demanded fire to fall on the Samaritans: whereas in this case the Holy Spirit directs Peter. II. Jesus, in His then existing state of humiliation, had been unknown to the Samaritans, and was afterwards to be preached to them: Ananias and Sapphira had most evidently known the glory of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and had had most abundant means of salvation afforded to them. III. Ananias and Sapphira sinned most heinously, most unscrupulously, and by mutual consent, and suddenly filled up the full measure of their sin. IV. At the beginning of that dispensation, a salutary example was given in their case to many, and fear was the result of it. V. What was added to the severity of the punishment in respect to the body, may have been taken off from it in respect to the soul.—φόβος, fear) Counteracting the force of the very bad example.—τοὺς ἀκούοντας, them who heard) Not merely upon those who saw what was done. So in Acts 5:11.Verse 5. - Upon all that heard it for on all them that heard these things, A.V. and T.R. Gave up the ghost (ἐξέψυξε). The same word as in ver. 10 and Acts 12:23, but found nowhere else in the New Testament. Great fear, etc. We have here an example of punishment which is remedial, not to the person punished, but to others, by displaying the just judgment of God as a warning against sin.
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