Possibly to receive the laudable response from others that Barnabas did, “Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, sold [some] property.” (5:1) Although they were under no obligation to part with their property and to contribute the entire sum for distribution to needy fellow believers, Ananias and Sapphira decided to keep part of the proceeds but to represent themselves as giving the entire amount. Ananias then brought the amount he and his wife had agreed upon and “laid it at the feet of the apostles.” (5:2)
With God’s spirit operating upon him, Peter discerned that Ananias was acting out a lie and asked him, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the holy spirit and withhold part of the price of the field?” In his “heart,” meaning either in his thinking or his inmost self, Ananias revealed himself to be corrupt, pretending to be a generous giver to fellow believers. The source of that corruption stood in opposition to God and Christ. It stemmed from Satan, with whom lying had its start. (John 8:44) Therefore, Peter could rightly refer to Satan as the one who had “filled” the “heart” (either the mind or the inner self) of Ananias, emboldening him to lie. The question directed to Ananias related to how he could voluntarily have allowed Satan thus to fill his mind or inner being. God’s spirit was operating upon all believers. Accordingly, lying to the community of believers constituted lying to the holy spirit. (5:3)
By means of questions, Peter reminded Ananias that the unsold property was his own possession, indicating that he could do with it whatever he might decide. After it was sold, he still retained “authority” or control of the proceeds. Then Peter continued, “Why did you purpose in your heart [to do] this deed? You have lied, not to men, but to God.” The planning of the deed in the “heart” may either be regarded as having taken place in the mind or as the product of the inner self. While the lie was meant to impress men, it was really a lie expressed to God. Believers were his children and so lying to them was an affront to him. (5:4)
When Ananias heard these words, he dropped dead. The report about him and how he came to breathe his last prompted great fear among all who heard it, evidently impressing upon everyone the seriousness of this kind of lying within the community of believers. (5:5)
Probably at the request of Peter, young men wrapped the body of Ananias and then carried it away for burial. (5:6) After about three hours from the time that Ananias died, Sapphira came to the same location. She was unaware of what had happened to her husband. (5:7) When Peter asked her about the sum for which the field had been sold, she acknowledged that it was the amount he said. Like her husband who had acted out the lie, Sapphira chose to repeat it. (5:8)
Peter responded, “Why did you agree together to test the Lord’s spirit [or, according to a number of manuscripts, ‘the holy spirit’]? Look! At the door are the feet of those who buried your husband, and they will carry you out.” The young men were then just arriving. It must have been through the operation of God’s spirit upon him that Peter knew what would happen. Both Ananias and Sapphira had tested God’s spirit, for they had acted in a manner that revealed they did not really believe that divine power was at work in the community of believers and that, therefore, their lie would not be discovered. (5:9)
“Immediately she fell down at [Peter’s] feet and expired.” Thus Sapphira experienced the same judgment as befell her husband for the sin in which she shared with him. When the young men who had returned from burying Ananias entered and found her dead, “they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” (5:10; see the Notes section.)
As a consequence of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, “the whole congregation” and “all who heard about these things” came to have great fear. In the congregation, or the community of believers, all would have been moved by a wholesome fear, recognizing the grave nature of the sin Ananias and Sapphira had committed. Besides believers, others would have come to know what had happened, and they also would have come to have a fear of the consequences that could result from playing false in matters pertaining to God and his spirit. (5:11)
“And through the hands of the apostles, many signs and portents occurred among the people.” The expression “through the hands” points to the apostles as the agencies through whom miraculous works (including healing the sick, liberating individuals from demon possession, and restoring soundness of body to the lame) took place. These miraculous works were “signs and portents,” proving that the apostles had divine backing and that their testimony concerning Jesus Christ was trustworthy. In the temple area, the Portico (or Colonnade) of Solomon was the customary location where the apostles taught and where believers assembled with them. The Greek adverb homothymadón pertaining to all believers could indicate that they were all “together” in the Portico of Solomon or that they assembled there “unitedly” or “by common consent.” (5:12; see the Notes section.)
“But none of the rest dared to join them.” This could mean that, in view of what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira, mere pretenders were afraid to identify themselves with the apostles. Nevertheless, the people generally, evidently on account of the miracles they witnessed, highly esteemed the apostles and other disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. (5:13) The number of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, “both men and women,” continued to increase. (5:14)
As news about the miracles that were taking place through the apostles spread, many people would bring the sick into the wide streets or large public areas, where the afflicted would then lie on “beds and couches,” probably meaning mats and litters. They thought that if the shadow of Peter passed over the sick, they would be cured. (5:15; see the Notes section.)
As the news of what was taking place through Peter and the other apostles reached towns around Jerusalem, many people came from these places, bringing the sick and those whom they considered to be plagued by “unclean spirits.” All these afflicted ones were cured. (5:16)
The attention being given to the apostles greatly disturbed the “high priest and all those with him.” Those with the high priest could denote those who were on his side or his associates. It appears that the high priest was part of the sect of the Sadducees, as were his main supporters. Their “jealousy” or “envy” seemingly would have taken the form of ill-will, resentment, indignation or fury, the kind of intense emotions associated with jealousy or envy. (5:17)
They “laid hands on the apostles,” apparently ordering temple guards to arrest and imprison them. It may well have been to intimidate the multitude from listening to the apostles that the arrest was carried out openly in the temple area and that they were confined to the “public” or “common” prison. (5:18)
During that night, “the messenger [or angel] of the Lord” effected the release of the apostles, opening the prison doors and leading them out. (5:19) The angel told them to go to the temple and there to speak to the people “all the words of this life.” These “words” related to the new life as persons forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death. (5:20)
The account does not reveal as to when in the night the apostles were set free. Likely they were able to get some rest. Then, in obedience to the direction they had been given, the apostles headed to the temple early in the morning, positioned themselves in the temple precincts, and started to teach the people. (5:21; see the Notes section.)
Later that morning the high priest and those with him, either his associates or supporters, summoned the Sanhedrin, the members of the Jewish high court, “even” the whole “body of the elders of the sons of Israel,” to convene to deal with the apostles. In this case, the Greek conjunction for “and” (kaí) probably is to be understood to mean “even” and so identifies the Sanhedrin as being composed of a body of the nation’s elders. To bring the apostles before them, officers (likely attendants of the high priest) were sent to the prison. (5:21) Not finding the apostles there, the officers returned and related what they saw. (5:22; see the Notes section.) The prison was securely shut or locked, with the guards standing at the doors. “But,” the officers reported that, after opening the doors, “we found no one inside.” (5:23)
On hearing this, the “captain of the temple [the official in charge of the temple guards] and the chief priests” became perplexed about the apostles (“them,” in the Greek text), especially since the essential security measures had been put in place to keep them confined. Another possible meaning is that they became perplexed on account of these developments. They wondered as to “what would become of this.” (5:24)
Translators vary considerably when making the significance of the Greek text of verse 24 explicit. “They were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on.” (NRSV) “The controller of the temple and the chief priests were at a loss to know what could have become of them.” (REB) “They were completely mystified at the apostles’ disappearance and wondered what further developments there would be.” (J. B. Phillips) “They were perplexed, wondering where it would all end.” (NLT) “They were much troubled as to what might happen.” (NLB) “They were utterly at a loss with regard to it, wondering what would happen next.” (Weymouth)
Then someone arrived with the news that the apostles were in the “temple” (that is, the temple area) and teaching the people. (Acts 5:25) At that, the “captain” (the official in charge of the temple guard) and a number of subordinates left to bring the apostles before the Sanhedrin. They apprehended them “without violence,” probably only talking to them respectfully and not laying a hand on them. The words “without violence” also indicate that the apostles did not resist but willingly left with the captain and his men. He and his subordinates must have endeavored to be careful in the way they conducted themselves toward the apostles, for they feared that any mishandling could enrage the people and cause them to hurl stones at them. They did not want to risk death by stirring up mob violence. (5:26)
Once the apostles stood before the members of the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them. (5:27) He reminded them that they had been commanded not to teach “on the [basis of] this name,” that is, on the basis of Jesus’ name and, therefore, as his representatives when speaking about him. Yet they had disregarded the order they had been given. The high priest continued, “Look! You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you want to bring the blood of this man upon us.” The high priest’s comments reveal that the testimony of the apostles had become widely known throughout the city of Jerusalem. He, however, misjudged the purpose of the testimony, concluding that it was to hold the Sanhedrin responsible for the death of Jesus and to stir up the masses against them for what they had done. He may have felt considerable discomfort, especially since, in response to Pilate’s seeking to free himself from blame, all who wanted Jesus to be crucified cried out, “His blood [be] upon us and upon our children.” (Matthew 27:25) Apparently to show his disdain for Jesus, the high priest did not use the name but referred to him as “this man.” (5:28)
Peter, evidently representing all of the other apostles, boldly responded, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers [their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] raised Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a timber. This one God exalted to his right hand as chief leader and savior, to grant repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things, and [so is] the holy spirit that God gave to those obeying him.” (5:29-32; see the Notes section regarding verse 29.)
These words made it clear that the apostles’ loyalty to God came first, and that they would not obey the command of human authority to stop testifying about Jesus. They were witnesses to the reality that God had resurrected Jesus from the dead. (5:29, 30)
Members of the Jewish high court had handed Jesus over to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and demanded the penalty of crucifixion. While they did not personally suspend Jesus from the timber, they were responsible for what was done. (5:30)
The very one whom they rejected God highly exalted to his right hand, signifying the most favored and intimate position. With confidence, the apostles could say this, for they had received and been empowered by the holy spirit that Jesus had imparted to them upon his again being in his Father’s presence. (2:33) In his role as chief leader, Jesus led believers to the real life of an enduring relationship with him and his Father. Through him, deliverance from sin and the condemnation to which sin leads had been effected, making him the God-appointed savior. To Israel, the opportunity had been opened for all within the nation to repent of their sins and to be granted forgiveness. (5:31)
The apostles were not the only witnesses. The miraculous works accomplished through the operation of the holy spirit on the apostles verified that the message they proclaimed came from God, providing confirmatory testimony. (5:32)
Upon hearing the response, many of the members of the court became enraged and wanted to kill the apostles. (5:33) Apparently desiring to defuse the tense situation, the Pharisee Gamaliel stood up and called for the apostles to be taken from their presence for a little while. As a teacher of the law (the Torah), he was highly regarded among “all the people.” Therefore, his words would have carried considerable weight with the members of the Sanhedrin. (5:34; see the Notes section.)
It is commonly thought that Gamaliel is “Gamaliel the Elder,” regarding whom the Mishnah (Sotah, 9:15) says that, when he died, “the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died.” He is identified with the title “Rabban,” which designation was even more honorable than “Rabbi.” Among the legalistic rulings attributed to him are ones that reflect a more humane viewpoint than evident in that of other ancient teachers of the Torah. (5:34; see the Notes section for one example of Rabban Gamaliel’s reasoning.)
Addressing them as “men, Israelites,” Gamaliel urged them to beware respecting what they intended to do and reminded them of past developments. A certain Theudas had claimed to be a somebody and gained a following of about 400 men. He was killed, his followers were scattered, and nothing came of the movement. (5:35, 36; see the Notes section.) “After him, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the registration” and gained numerous followers. He also perished, and all those who had listened to him were scattered. (5:37)
Many have concluded that the account is in error in mentioning the situation involving Theudas as occurring before the time of Judas the Galilean. This is because Josephus (Antiquities, XX, v, 1) mentioned a certain Theudas who represented himself to be a prophet, persuaded many people to follow him to the Jordan River, and claimed that, at his command, the river would divide and make it possible for all who were with him to cross. The Roman governor Fadus, however, put a stop to this wild attempt. The horsemen he sent out after them killed many of their number and beheaded Theudas. The incident involving this Theudas occurred about five decades after the uprising of Judas the Galilean.
Josephus (Antiquities, XVII, x, 4) mentioned that there were 10,000 “disorders in Judea,” and so Theudas could have been a leader involved in one of these uprisings. Although Josephus (War, VI, v, 2) wrote that there were “a great number of false prophets” among the people before Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Romans, he does not name them. His not mentioning a Theudas from an earlier period, therefore, does not in itself prove that he never existed.
The case involving Judas the Galilean can definitely be linked to a much earlier time than the comments of Gamaliel. According to Josephus (War, II, viii, 1), “A certain Galilean, whose name was Judas, prevailed with his countrymen to revolt; and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans, and would, after God, submit to mortal men as their lords.” This occurred about 6 BCE, at the time Coponius was the Roman governor of Judea. Josephus, however, does not report just how Judas died and what became of his immediate followers then. The fact that the Zealots continued as a faction among the Jews would not preclude that Judas himself and those who were personally involved with him met a disastrous end.
Focusing on the situation involving the apostles, Gamaliel advised that they stand clear of them and leave them alone. “Because,” as he continued, “if this plan or this work is from men, it will be destroyed. But if it is from God, you will not be able to destroy them [‘it,’ according to other manuscripts].” Should that be the case, he warned the members of the court that they could be found “fighters against God.” (5:38, 39)
Depending on which manuscript reading is followed, either the “plan” or “work” of the apostles or they themselves could not be stopped if what they were doing had God’s backing. As Gamaliel’s reasoning implied, attempted severe action against the apostles meant risking the possibility of being found as persons fighting against God. Certain manuscripts contain an expanded reading of Gamaliel’s words. He told the members of the court to let the apostles go, “without polluting [their] hands,” and that they would not be able to destroy them, “neither you nor kings nor tyrants. Therefore, stay away from these men.” (5:38, 39)
Gamaliel succeeded in persuading them from putting a violent end to the work of the apostles. Nevertheless, after having them brought back before them, they ordered them to be beaten, probably with rods, and commanded them to cease speaking “on [the basis] of the name of Jesus,” or as his representatives and as acting under his authority. The apostles were then released. (5:40)
As they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, the apostles rejoiced that they had been deemed worthy to be dishonored for Jesus’ name or for being identified as belonging to him. They regarded it an honor to suffer for the sake of their Lord who had died for them. The beating to which they had been submitted was dishonorable treatment, but it was honorable for them to suffer for Jesus and for the right reason. Therefore, they were able to regard themselves as having been found worthy to be dishonored for his name. (5:41)
The beating and threats of the Jewish high court did not stop the apostles. Unceasingly, they taught and declared the good news about Jesus, identifying him as the Messiah or Christ. As the book of Acts reveals, the good news included the teaching that deliverance from sin and the condemnation to which sin leads was possible only through him and what he accomplished when dying sacrificially. Every day the apostles could be found in the temple precincts or in private homes, teaching and proclaiming the glad tidings about Jesus. (5:42)
In verse 10, Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) adds that the young men wrapped up Sapphira.
After “all” (hápantes), in verse 12, a number of manuscripts say, “in the temple.”
Fifth-century Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) concludes verse 15 with the words, “for they were released from every sickness as each of them had” (apellássonto gár apó páses astheneías hos eichen hékastos autón).
Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) concludes verse 18 with the additional words, “and each one went to [his] own [home]” (kaí eporeúthe eis hékastos eis tá ídia).
After mentioning that the high priest came and those with him (verse 21), Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) says that they had “risen early.” Then, in verse 22, it adds the detail that the officers “opened the prison.”
According to superior manuscript support, verse 29 begins with the words, “But in reply, Peter and the apostles said.” Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis), however, reads, “But Peter said to them.”
According to verse 34, the apostles were not present when Gamaliel urged the members of the court to leave them alone. This incident occurred very early in the history of the community of believers, and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus may still have been members of the court. Furthermore, Pharisees did become believers. (15:5) Accordingly, information about the discussion of the Sanhedrin could have become known to believers from various sources.
One of a number of examples of the manner in which Rabban Gamaliel reasoned is found in the Tosefta (Shabbat, 13:14). He and a number of Israelite elders were on a boat, and the time for disembarking had exceeded the Sabbath limit. They asked him whether they could disembark. He commented that they were within the Sabbath limit before dark but that the boat had often gone off course. His reasoning appears to suggest that the circumstances would allow them to disembark. While he was still speaking, “a Gentile made a gangplank” for disembarking. Again the elders asked whether they could disembark. Gamaliel indicated that they could do so, for the arrangement for disembarking had not been made in their presence, implying that the Gentile had not acted specifically for them. It would appear that a more legalistically minded Pharisee would have insisted that they not disembark.
In verse 35, many manuscripts introduce Gamaliel’s comments with the words, “And he said to them.” Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) contains an expanded reading that identifies those being addressed as “rulers and members of the Sanhedrin.”
Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis), in verse 36, says that Theudas “was destroyed by himself,” indicating that he committed suicide. If this preserves the record of what actually happened to him, it would indicate that there was indeed another Theudas, for the one whom Josephus mentioned was beheaded.