December 15, 2017

Liturgical Gangstas 17: Preaching Ananias, Sapphira and the Gospel

gangsterWelcome to IM’s popular feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different liturgical traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Joe Boysel is an Anglican (AMiA) priest and professor of Bible at Ohio Christian University in Circleville, Ohio. (Ask him about famous alumni.)
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction.
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.
Eric Landry is the editor of Modern Reformation Magazine. In addition, he is a PCA church planter in southern California.

Here’s this week’s question: How do you preach Acts 4:32-5:11 (Ananias and Sapphira) without becoming an Old Testament legalist or obscuring the Gospel?

UPDATE: Commenter Louis says: “Fr. Ernesto sees God as above morality. Boysel interprets the event legalistically–God has the right to smite you if you sin once (or perhaps, sin against the Holy Spirit). Richardson thinks God smacked them down for getting too uppity (too Pharisaical). Cwirla brings up the issue of primitive communism–enforced, apparently, by the Holy Spirit–and thinks that such slayings were a regular occurrence. Landry blames their situation on the devil. May I suggest that none of these interpretations show Christianity, or God, in a particularly good light.” What do you think?

Father Ernesto/Orthodox: This question rather surprised me, as even before being Orthodox, I never saw the incident of Ananias and Sapphira as having anything to do with the Old Testament or with law versus grace. To me the key Scripture is “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”

First, Saint Peter states that the money belonged to Ananias and Sapphira. Second, even after they sold the property, Saint Peter says that it was their choice as to whether to donate the money or not. There is no Old Testament law involved in either of those statements. There also was no community mandate that had to be obeyed. It was a purely free-will decision. However, when they presented only part of the money as though it were the full money, they lied to the community and to God. What is the sermon lesson? If you lie to God and to His Church, God always has the option to execute judgment.

Saint Paul says, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

It is God’s choice when to have compassion and when not to have compassion. We are fearfully wrong if we forget that. There is a reason why it says that fear is the beginning of wisdom.
But, this brought another question up in my mind. Does the Reformation idea of Law and Gospel imply that God is not allowed to judge and to execute that judgment? And a second question, does the Reformation idea so separate the Old Testament from the New Testament that God is not allowed to set rules in the New Testament?

But, when we look at the New Testament, there are multiple examples that give evidence to the contrary. In Acts 13, Saint Paul pronounces judgment upon Elymas and he is struck blind by God. In 1 Corinthians 11, Saint Paul says that some are sick and some sleep because they misjudge the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. And, in that same chapter, Saint Paul makes clear that he does “not praise” them because they have failed to keep what Saint Paul has received and then delivered to them. That is, there are rules for worship which they were expected to keep. In 3 John, Saint John says that when he goes to visit, he will bring public correction to Diotrephes. These are but some of the possible examples.

All too often we emphasize the discontinuities between the Old Testament and the New Testament. But, this is one of the areas of continuity. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, God chooses to either have mercy or to execute judgment. It is certainly true that the proportion of mercy to judgment has apparently changed. But, it is not true in any way that the God of the Old Testament was a judgmental God while the God of the New Testament is a merciful God. That was declared to be a mistaken conception a long time ago.

There is no problem of Law and Gospel, nor any problem of Grace in this passage. It is the same God, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Joe Boysel/Anglican: My first reaction to Michael’s question is that my answer is going to be woefully inadequate. Frankly, this discussion requires more of me than I have time to give. And, since this is a question of Scriptural interpretation as a backdoor to expose my theological proclivities, it deserves ever more careful exegesis! You’re a crafty one, Michael Spencer, crafty I tell you! Still, even the most careful exegetical method will inevitably conflict with a myriad of theological positions (perhaps even my own!) and will likely raise the ire of many people. In other words, my answer is going to cause someone (probably many!) to get peeved, and I loathe the idea of getting into passionate debates on two fronts (theological and exegetical) with such inadequate preparation on my part. OK, disclaimer finished!

While I believe that exegesis should be free of theological input, this question presumes – as I intimated above – a doctrinal interpretation of the passage through the very nomenclature used to frame the inquiry. So, let’s start with theological predicates and face the real question head on. The basic assumption here rests upon the notion that conformity to some legal standard (even a biblical one, like the 9th Commandment) purports at least some conflict with the “gospel.” Indeed, the question assumes a very Lutheran framing of the categories of “law” and “gospel,” to which I do not necessarily ascribe. Accordingly, I believe that human beings are indeed culpable for their sins, and sin is by definition a violation of the moral law of God. Therefore, theologically speaking, I find no doctrinal tension in my affirmation that Ananias and Sapphira – both, presumably, baptized Christians – faced temporal and, likely, eternal punishment for their decision to lie to the Holy Spirit. In other words, I affirm that a baptized Christian may turn (apostatize) from the faith and face the judgment of God. Indeed, I see many contemporary instances of apostasy within my own Anglican tradition and, frankly, wonder how these persons can act with such bold disregard for the truth in light of Scripture passages such as this one!

So, does my interpretation dilute the nature of the gospel? I think not. I agree that an individual finds her or his place in God’s rescue plan only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. However, I do not think that it syllogistically (nor exegetically) follows that once someone becomes engrafted into the covenant community, that such membership permits (or even encourages) antinomianism. Indeed, once a part of the covenant community the individual finds a radical change already at work in their life, together with the means of grace which will lead him or her into a thoroughly transformed life. In fact, I think that this fundamental change (i.e. sanctification) is itself an integral part of the Good News; namely, that God’s salvation includes changing people from the inside out. Thus, while a person may, following baptism, turn from God and go back to a life of rebellion, I do not believe they are destined to do so.

Of course, this raises all sorts of questions about the security of an individual in God’s salvation, not to mention the obvious reality of sin in the life of a believer. Yes, I can already anticipate the pushback. Nevertheless, I guess I’m saying, perhaps it’s not such a good thing to be so presumptively secure. Perhaps Luther’s dictum: “Sin boldly, but believe more boldly still” is not such good advice after all. Rather, the security to which I would direct my parishioners is more like the security my children experience in our home: they know their parents will show an enormous amount of tolerance toward their errors and lapses of judgment based upon our love for them. However, that forbearance is not a license to disregard the rules of our home. Being a member of our family comes with copious amounts of mercy (as any house with four boys must!), but there is also an expectation of obedience. In fact, I think our sons well understand that love without law is not really love. Likewise, salvation without holiness is not really salvation.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: The story of Ananias and Sapphira does indeed present challenges to ministers and laypeople alike. It can, for instance, wrap us in a cloak of suffocating terror. R. Kent Hughes points out that Donald Grey Barnhouse would never let his congregation sing the third stanza of “At Calvary” (Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything / Now I gladly own Him as my King / Now my raptured soul can only sing / Of Calvary!) because of the story of Ananias and Sapphira! He also points out that Spurgeon skips the text in his “sixty volumes of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit anthology Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching.”

Yet, there is no reason for either evasion or legalism when dealing with this text. Furthermore, the story is not at odds with the gospel.

At its heart, the story is about pretention, pride, arrogance, and trying to appear to be more than you are in the economy of God and among the people of God. It was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira that smacked of Pharisaism: putting on a show when the reality of your heart is far from what you are projecting. It was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira that threatened to obscure the gospel: by pretending to give more than they had given they were trying to turn from grace and climb the ladder of ostentatious but empty works once again.

Above all else, the story is about the holiness of God. The gospel cannot be understood without the holiness of God and legalism cannot thrive under a proper understanding of it. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira trumpet the singular fact that God’s holiness will not be obscured by human posturing. I think we see the same reality at work in Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 where he says in v.30 that hypocritical posturing at the table of the Lord is so blasphemous it can lead to your being removed from the scene.

The gospel, properly understood, heightens our sense of the holiness of God, for God’s holiness lay at the root of the cross itself. Yet, so does His astounding mercy and grace, as evidenced, I would point out, by the countless episodes in scripture where those who committed worse sins than Ananias and Sapphira were spared the punishment these two received.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is an exceptional but nontheless consistent display of the holiness of God intended to remind the blood-bought church of the seriousness of sin. And, as Tom Oden has said, “only those who take sin seriously take forgiveness seriously.” Paradoxically, it heightens our understanding of mercy and grace by showing us that God restrains such punishments in the majority of cases, giving His people time to repent and call upon His name. The gospel is not antithetical to appropriate, reverential fear (“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”), only to the kind of fear that a slave might have towards a master he deems unstable, capricious, and cruel (“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons…”).

Indeed, I suspect our understanding of the gospel would be diminished somewhat without the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

William Cwirla/Lutheran: How to preach Acts 4;32-5:11, iMonk asks. It certainly is a challenge! This is perhaps one reason that the liturgical custom is to preach on the assigned Gospel text for the Sunday, thereby ensuring that the words and works of Jesus hold sway. Nonetheless, the text, as part of Holy Scripture, has been written for our learning and must certainly be taught.

The first thing to note is that Luke is writing a descriptive and selective history of the beginnings of the church. In fact, the word “church” is first used here at 5:11. It is descriptive of what happened not necessarily prescriptive for the church at all times. The early experiment in social communism on the part of the early Jerusalem church did not carry forward. Still, the care of the early Christians for each other certainly serves as a fine example of the love that flows from a living faith in Christ.

The generosity of Barnabas is set in sharp relief against the the duplicity of Ananias and Sapphira. Again, this is an accurate, descriptive account of what happened among the first Christians. The apostles are thereby established in their office. To lie to them is to lie to the Holy Spirit (5:3). “You have not lied to men but to God.” This is the same Spirit who guarantees the word of the apostles as the authentic Word of God and who works through the office of the holy ministry to deliver the gifts of Christ’s sacrificial death to the believer. It is consistent with Jesus’ own words concerning those He sent: “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). This obviously has a Law/Gospel polarity to it.

We should not presume in this episode that Ananias and Sapphira were damned. This is likely no different than those who “fell asleep and even died” in Corinth as a result of their inappropriate eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11). This was God’s temporal judgment (krino) to avert ultimate condemnation (katakrino) with the unbelieving world, a part of God’s discipline of His children whom He loves (Heb 12). We are here reminded that a healthy fear of the Lord goes hand in hand with a living faith in Christ. In this sense, 5:11 is key: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

One must wonder aloud today, considering what goes on in many of our Christian churches (Lutheran included!), whether the modern church has the same sense of holy fear as did the first Christians. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29).

ericlandryEric Landry, PCA Presbyterian: The New Testament is not without its warnings against unbelief and apostasy, and the church does well to heed them. In his commentary on Acts, Will Willimon helpfully points out the contrast between Barnabas and Ananias/Sapphira. Barnabas is filled with the Spirit to give of his possessions to the infant church. Ananias is filled with Satan. The same Holy Spirit who broke the bonds of death at Easter has broken the bonds of greed at Pentecost and beyond. The faithful preacher must present this narrative in all it’s Law-filled power. But the preacher cannot leave the text without returning to the theme of the Holy Spirit’s work in Barnabas’ life. The Holy Spirit enables Barnabas to do something that cuts against the grain of common sense and our natural inclinations. As we wrestle with unbelief and idolatry in our lives, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to unmask the idols of our own hearts–idols that are just as dangerous to us as they are to Ananias and Sapphira! The Gospel takes us by the shoulders and arrests us with the announcement that God in Christ has broken the power that wealth and security had over us. The question that each of us must answer is, do we believe? For those who do, the judgment of God against idols of every kind has been laid against Christ. For those who do not (even within the covenant community), the threat of judgment is real and oft-repeated in Scripture.

Comments

  1. Great question. I enjoyed reading the responses.

    I preached this text in October (in a whisper because I had just lost my voice). The discussion at the end of Chapter 4 concerns, at least in part, the proclamation and belief of the resurrection. I contrasted Barnabas with A+S by suggesting that what was different about them was belief in the resurrection. B and a whole slew of the community believed that Christ was alive, never to die again; and that they themselves would live forever. They have an astounding degree of confidence in Christ. They know they’re justified because Christ has been raised. And as a result, they are no longer obsessed with their portfolios, or with showing off that they’re just as generous as their co-religionists. A+S are, on the other hand, still enslaved with these things. They haven’t personally and deeply known the justifying grace of the risen Jesus.

    I preached it in a way that didn’t say: “if you really believed in the resurrection, you’d be like B. If you don’t, you’ll always be like A+S.” (I did allow that subtext to linger in the background, though, because it sure seems like Luke isn’t afraid of letting it linger.) Instead, my focus was “Christ was raised to give you eternal life and to free you from both the guilt and bondage of your sins. Trust in Christ. You’ll live forever, and in the mean time, you’ll begin to experience the joys of being free of the things that you usually obsess over, whether wealth, the esteem of others, or whatever.”

    Of course, you didn’t ask me! Good questions, thoughtful answers. Thanks.
    ARS

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      “They have an astounding degree of confidence in Christ.”

      Quoted in relief – this is it for us.

      Lets pray that those of us with fragile faiths will be amazed by the power of the living God, that those who are too tired to seek Him will be sought out by Him, that every knee will bow before a Lord they can, from their hearts, call great and good and holy.

  2. Some of us are fond of saying that for those in Christ, God isn’t angry with us anymore. But, I have trouble reconciling that with stories like this from Scripture. We can be angry with our children, and still love them. Can’t the same describe God? Otherwise, passages like this one, as well as Jesus’ words about spitting the lukewarm Laodecian Christians out of his mouth, don’t make much sense. While there is no condemnation in Christ, it would appear that Christ may still get pretty upset with us – and, for our own good, and/or the good of His Body He may judge and discipline us.

  3. Louis Winthrop says:

    This is why you need a Unitarian commentator–to remind everybody that this is a folk-tale (like our “urban legends” today), not something that “really happened,” and that no, God will not strike you dead for niggardliness during the collect. Really, this is just the sort of monstrous image that turns good, reasonable people away from theism. The natural suspicion is that the text was incorporated into the Bible in order to persuade people to (as the song goes) “Give me yo money!”

    Fr. Ernesto sees God as above morality. Boysel interprets the event legalistically–God has the right to smite you if you sin once (or perhaps, sin against the Holy Spirit). Richardson thinks God smacked them down for getting too uppity (too Pharisaical). Cwirla brings up the issue of primitive communism–enforced, apparently, by the Holy Spirit–and thinks that such slayings were a regular occurrence. Landry blames their situation on the devil. May I suggest that none of these interpretations show Christianity, or God, in a particularly good light.

    • Dude,

      You hope it’s a folk -tale…. We’ll see….

    • Tom Meacham says:

      Thank you for a fresh voice! Too much theologizing!

      I appreciated and enjoyed everyone’s commentary, and value the struggle each commentator went through. But I am more struck by our culture’s neurotic phobia of death than any law/gospel dichotomy.

      Everybody dies, often under strange circumstances. St. Stephen died preaching the good news to a mob. Did Stephen do something wrong? No, he died a hero. Ananias & his wife died trying to look more generous (more Christian?) than they really were. Were they heroes? No, the fledgling church decided this was a lesson in the seriousness of the Christian life. No fooling God!

      Luke the gentile did the best he could to interpret the deaths in Acts in a way consistent with the Hebrew God and the amazing person of Jesus.

      A lot of strange things (like the Resurrection) happen in the New Testament, and the church spends two thousand years trying to explain what happened in a way consistent with our worldview, rather than allowing our worldview to be shattered by them.

    • The natural suspicion is that the text was incorporated into the Bible in order to persuade people to (as the song goes) “Give me yo money!”

      Maybe, but remember that Peter said they were free to give or not give as much as they wanted. Verse 4 says: “While it remined unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold was it not at your disposal?” The problem wasn’t in the lack of giving. The problem was in the deceit.

      I can honestly say that I’ve never heard this passaged discussed or taught as a lesson on niggardliness or as an object lesson to be more generous when the collection plate comes around. What I’ve often heard, however, is that it’s a proof that the God of the NT still kills people, that lying isn’t a little matter, and that some of our NT/OT dichotomy isn’t as cut-and-dry as many of us would like it.

      Really, it’s the last matter that bothers me more than any of the other things.

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      “This is why you need a Unitarian commentator–to remind everybody that this is a folk-tale (like our “urban legends” today), not something that “really happened”

      Why would we want a non-Christian to contribute to a feature about –Christian liturgy–? Unitarians don’t believe in Jesus, dude…

      You have a very strange concept of what Christian belief and practice actually is.

    • Well, it’s nice to think it didn’t really happen. So do we take it that the healings of the sick, as mentioned in the following verses, didn’t happen either? That there was no arrest and imprisionment of the apostles? That Reb Gamaliel didn’t have his moment of fame?

      Once we start picking and choosing the parts we can believe (as recommending themselves to our advanced intelligence or as comforting ourselves that bad things don’t happen to people who are just like us), then we may as well call the whole thing a lovely metaphor for all of us having the capacity for the divine within, and have a sleep-in on Sunday mornings.

      I don’t know if God struck Ananias dead; it sounds as if he dropped dead at Peter’s feet through – what? fear? a guilty conscience? People do just suddenly drop dead, particularly if they are under great strain and stress.

      And was he struck dead for “niggardliness during the collect”? It sounds more like he and his wife were judged for lying to the Holy Spirit; Peter tells him ‘the field was yours before you sold it, the money was yours after you sold it; you could do what you wanted with it, so why lie and pretend you were giving all when you were only giving part? Do you think God doesn’t know?’ Sapphira in her turn continued lying, instead of admitting what they had done, and Peter tells her “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?”

      That seems to be the cause of their condemnation, not being stingy with their cash (though this would seem to make a good pendant for the Widow’s Mite, if anyone is preaching on this text.) It seems to me that this might be a case falling under blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, which is the eternal sin that will never be forgiven.

    • This is a good thought, Louis.

      Michael’s question made me think of one of Jonathan Edwards’ “reliable signs of true spirituality” from Religious Affections—“Attraction to God and His Ways for their Own Sake.” Edwards says that anyone (even non-Christians) can love the God of John 3:16, but that only a genuine Christian can love the God of Isaiah 63, who stomps on his enemies so that their blood stains the bottom of His garment. I think there is something to Edwards’ thought.

      If I were in a particularly saucy mood, I might preach a sermon on the holiness of God and how we worship a God who has killed people for lying about their income. Can you worship a God like that? That’s who Yahweh claims to be.

      The Book of Job is about a wager between God and Satan about the basis of Job’s faith. Satan says Job loves God because of what God can do for him. God disagrees. So God lets Satan strike Job with plagues, even though Job did nothing wrong. Job and his friends have no room in their theology for divine behavior like this. The drama of the story is about whether or not Job will curse God when God ceases to be and do what Job thinks he should be and do. Does Job worship God because God is good, or because He is God?

      Am I comfortable with the Ananias and Sapphira passage? Absolutely. I think a lot of people pause at this passage, which is why we can discuss it. But, there are a lot of passages in the Bible in which God doesn’t act the way I think He should act, and they remind me of why He’s God and I’m not.

    • Oh yes, let’s ‘interpret’ everything in scrpiture that makes us uncomfortable so that God can appear good in the world’ eyes.

      I like coach Jesus with some jedi force Holy Spirit please.

  4. “At its heart, the story is about pretention, pride, arrogance, and trying to appear to be more than you are in the economy of God and among the people of God. It was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira that smacked of Pharisaism: putting on a show when the reality of your heart is far from what you are projecting. – Rev. Richardson.

    I think that’s on-track. Ananias and Sapphira were not acting under the gospel but the law – hair splitting and rule bending, just like the Pharisees using “corbin” to neglect their parents. Because they acted under the law rather than grace, they placed themselves under the weight and burden of the law, rather than grace – sort of on the lines of what Paul is talking about in Gal. 5:3, where those trying to approve themselves through the law are obligated to obey the entire law. Those who self-righteously think they are justified by the law need their fill of the law until they run smack into the wages of the law. It’s still a harsh passage. I think Father Ernesto’s warning needs to be heeded. Being forgiving doesn’t mean that we are completely free of the temporal consequences of our actions.

    Sometimes, God is merciful, and we don’t have to own up to our mistakes; sometimes we do. I don’t know why that is. God’s grace can’t be tamed, but it also can’t be regulated.

    • Who are you? I always love your comments. Do you blog?

    • “Because they acted under the law rather than grace, they placed themselves under the weight and burden of the law, rather than grace…”

      I read, with great care, all of the resonses of “The Liturgical Gangstas” and all of the comments. Many interesting points and interpretations, however, this sentence stood out and resonates with my understanding of who God is.

    • Yep.

      The point of the tale seems to be that they were not acting out of love of their neighbours and fellow-Christians, but were trying to serve two masters (which we’ve been told you can’t do). They must have been people of some property or standing in the community, and maybe there was the expectation on them to do as the other better-off members were doing: ‘sell all you have, give to the poor, and come follow me’.

      For whatever reason – and it may have been nothing more sinister than worldly prudence, fear that if they gave all their money away, what would they live on? better hold a little back to keep them in their old age – Ananias and Sapphira wanted the name of generosity without the substance. They wanted to be seen as doing what the rest were doing, but they didn’t want to sacrifice everything. So they tried to have their cake and eat it, and failed.

      Their failure was a failure of love, of trust, and of hope. And we should be looking very hard at ourselves when we hear this story, because where is our treasure and our hope? We can be just as good (or bad) at excusing ourselves and trying to have the appearance of living the Christian life.

  5. Advent – A time when God breaks in on us.

    In an attempt to counter the general malaise and indifference within many evangelical churches to the traditional Christian calendar, Faith Interface blog will be celebrating Advent like this Australian Baptist has never celebrated it before. Come join us !!

    http://www.faithinterface.com.au/discipleship-spiritual-formation/celebrating-advent

  6. Don’t lie to God. don’t lie to His Bride. God does what He needs to do to build and protect His church.He always had, He always will.

    • I get the sense Willoh’s comment is a correct view of this passage; namely because it pays careful and measured attention to the passage’s redemptive-historical context. Christ loves his Church, gave his life as a ransom for her, is jealous for and yearns for her, and literally invaded earth to rescue her. If this is the Husband’s posture toward his Bride, how then would you expect him to respond when she is endangered by an existential threat from within? He will protect her at all costs… he will “give men’s lives in exchange for her…”

      Unfortunately for A and S, they commit their sin in an extremely sensitive period of time for the infant Church. Their deceit cuts at the very heart of the union, community, truth, and purity of the nascent church. While disease is never minor, a relatively straightforward pathogen that represents little threat to a healthy adult can destroy the life of a newborn. The same principle, I would suggest, is at work in this passage. The Church is a newborn here; A and S’s sin represents an existential threat. Jesus, through his Spirit, staves off spiritual disease by administering a potent Chemo instead of weak cold medicine.

      Application? *Humble sobriety* because of Christ’s fierce love for his Bride. *Marvel and security* because of Christ’s fierce love for his Bride.

      • I have a quick question. I have heard the interpretation before that the reason God’s response was so strong was that it was at “an extremely sensitive period of time for the infant Church.” But, that can imply that when the apostolic period was over then God stopped responding quite that strongly. It is a parallel to the argument that some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only “sign” gifts that stopped once the need for signs was done.

        Did God respond strongly to A & S and to the Corinthian believers (and others) only during the apostolic period or does He continue to work the same way today, as necessary?

        • That’s really hard to say. There was definitely something different about that first generation of the Church. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean that God doesn’t work in the same way as then (far be it from me to say what God does or doesn’t do let alone what God can or can’t do), I think it would be a mistake to not recognize the difference.

          To me the problem of “does he continue to work the same way today, as necessary?” lies in some of the potential conclusions of an affirmative answer. For example, I knew many Christians who said that Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 were God’s judgement against New Orleans, New York, America, etc. And often the Christians who said these things had very specific sins in mind for God’s judgement. I see this as being very presumptive, but they’re basing those presumptions on passages like the A & S incident.

          That’s problematic to me. Despite what TBN would have us believe, I don’t see a modern day Peter. Even if we believe in Apostolic Succession and the like, the evidence seems to be against there being the same kind of power and authority as that first generation. I don’t see any modern Christian leaders saying that because of a specific sin, a specific judgement will happen, and it happening. Usually, we see the reverse. Modern Christian leaders concluding a tragedy is a judgement in hindsight.

          • Todd Erickson says:

            The impression that I get from the passage is that Peter called for the death of them, and the Holy Spirit found it to be good.

            Which means that the same thing could happen today, would somebody who was so imbued with the Spirit to decide that various people needed to be removed for the good of the church.

            Should the members of the church A. not decide to invest so heavily in the Spirit, and B. not enter into accountability and discernment of their brothers and sisters, that is their choice in immaturity, not God’s.

          • Patrick Lynch says:

            “I don’t see any modern Christian leaders saying that because of a specific sin, a specific judgement will happen, and it happening.”

            Apostolic Succession has nothing to do with who comes up with Catholicism’s fring-y end-timian prophecies. We have TONS of predictions, from within the loonier faction of lay people and perhaps some of the saner clergy, a handful of which the church considers credible enough to investigate. Google ‘Maria Faustina’ and be thou puzzled – you may not feel the “power and authority” of this particular saint-prognosticator, but millions of others clearly do.

          • Google ‘Maria Faustina’ and be thou puzzled – you may not feel the “power and authority” of this particular saint-prognosticator, but millions of others clearly do.

            I’m not really seeing how that refutes my point, though. I’m not saying that God doesn’t do miraculous things these days. I’m saying that I can’t think of any modern leaders of the Church who have predicted specific judgement for specific sin and it’s come to pass. Theoretically, could it happen? I guess so. But I just don’t see it actually happening. What we instead have is laypeople and clergy being ‘armchair quarterbacks’ and saying that a specific tragedy is due to specific (or general) sins in retrospect. And that’s very problematic in it’s presumptive nature.

        • That I can’t recall a number of people becoming weak and sick and dying because they disrespected their fellow members of Christ’s body during the Lord’s Supper suggests to me that if the Apostle Paul correctly diagnosed and explained the situation, then God apparently does not continue to work the same way today.

          • Patrick Lynch says:

            Obed, it doesn’t refute your point per se, but I’m trying to counterpoint that the global church is full of unrecognized or minor authorities with vying with competing interpretations and personal revalations for command of the conversation of what the future will hold. The Catholic Church is lucky in that we, structurally, don’t have much of a pulpit to offer people who’d want to get on the stick and tell us all about the End Times, but they’re still out there, and in other churches (particularly Pentecostal ones), predictions for the future can practically replace the Gospel entire.

  7. This is the passage that so many gloss over. I mean, if God were wanting to attract millions to the New Body of Christ, this was not a great marketing tool.

    But it had the effect of purifying the Bride as we see in subsequent verses which say that ‘none of the rest dared to join them…but then we see that mulitudes were added.

    Often I have contrasted this passage to the letters in Revelation.

    • Lydia, I know you meant it hypothetically about this not being a great marketing tool–but I think it may have been one after all. And I think you covered that in your second paragraph.

      Today we rely on our legal contracts, bank accounts, constitutions, etc, to protect us and to define what is justice, but I don’t think the average person in first century Judea had that luxury.

      Many of these early Christians were poor, non-citizens of the Roman Empire; and now become outcasts of the local religion, Judaism, as well. They wanted their god to be a just god because government and society would not guarantee them justice. Seeing Ananias and Sapphira receive theirs had the effect not so much as putting the fear of God’s punishment into the people but to reassure them that this God loved justice and honesty and could be relied upon, unlike the many dysfunctional Roman gods.

      I think you are right that it had the effect of purifying the bride and I think it served to attract more into the kingdom too.

      • Not only that, but receiving a divination or blessing from roman temples involved ponying up. Haggling was involved, a lot of haggling. You could trick a priest into giving you a cheaper one if it was a slow day. God proved pretty precisely that he knew exactly what was going on and was more than capable of communicating secrets to his ministers. He established an understanding of just how real he was. Peter’s point about “hey, why lie, you never had to give it” only continues the point that you can’t buy God, and you most certainly can’t cheat him into being bought!

      • “Lydia, I know you meant it hypothetically about this not being a great marketing tool–but I think it may have been one after all. And I think you covered that in your second paragraph.”

        In my mind, I was contrasting it with all the marketing strategies we see today to get folks to come to church and join.

      • Patrick Lynch says:

        “They wanted their god to be a just god because government and society would not guarantee them justice.”

        You should read your Bible more; the whole of ‘Law and the Prophets’-Judaism is bound up in the One God being a God of Justice – how could you read anything after Genesis and not absorb this notion – and against which every prevarication, fable, example and testimony from Job to Ecclesiastes to Paul in Galatians) perplexes me.

        And actually, the earliest of early Christians weren’t rejected by the Jews – good theories suggest that Christians didn’t lose their ‘Jewishness’ until their evangelization efforts among the non-Jews began to heterogenize their movement even as they were gaining in the synagogues. Early church history is sociologically interesting.

        • Patrick Lynch says:

          weren’t rejected by the Jews*

          *to be specific, they weren’t excommunicated by the Jews – they, as a group and in some circles, may have had about as much credibility among the Jews as we’d account to Krishnas handing out flowers at the airport, and certainly they were certainly spontaneously persecuted for their opinions (I’d hate to be the uncircumcized kid of Christian parents in Palestine in 55AD!) and found an increasingly hostile climate among other Jews as they went about their lives, but as a whole, Jews did not ever formally and programmatically eject the Jesus-shaped Jews from their fellowship. I bet the arguments in the synagogues were thunderous!

        • Patrick,

          How much more should I read the Bible? My comment was in in the context of the dysfunctional Roman gods, not the Hebrew God. Many of the early Christians were gentiles who had no clue about the Bible.

          And the early Jewish Christians were indeed outcasts of the Jewish authorities, from day one–with notable exceptions such as Gamaliel. Read Acts, chapters 4 and 5 (the very chapter that includes the Ananias and Sapphira story).

          • Patrick Lynch says:

            “My comment was in in the context of the dysfunctional Roman gods, not the Hebrew God.”

            Really? My bad.

            “Many of the early Christians were gentiles who had no clue about the Bible.”

            This is, evidently, debatable, but not by me! I’ll leave it at this – I’m firmly convicted at least one of us is completely wrong about everything!!!!

            Or.. well, yeah. Sorry for my tone there.

  8. I know I was lame, as a Gangsta, and didn’t send in my answer to this. Too much goin’ on in my head to get deep into this one lately. But – no one’s said it in the comments yet, I wonder if anyone has ever thought of this passage as taking place in a “transitional” period. Someone mentioned the Church was sort of “in formation” at the time. Anyway – transitional.

    And here’s something sort of technical, as the words of the story go – it never says God did anything here. Ananias “fell down and breathed his last” – and she did too. Peter might have prophesied that she would also die, but he didn’t say “and now, the Lord will kill you like he did your lame, lyin’ husband.” So, it’s an interesting passage to interpret.

    • I think your point about the text never saying God did anything is interesting. I have thought that maybe the passage reveals the power that Peter and the apostles now wielded. Was this an appropriate response by Peter to their sin? Perhaps just getting such a severe rebuke from Peter was enough to give then both heart attacks (understandably). But where is the call from Peter for repentance? Where is the concern for the two lost sheep in his care? Where is grace in his words? I don’t see it.

      Is it possible that Peter maybe could have handled this better, but instead went a different route that resulted in a “great fear (that) seized the whole church and all who heard of these events”. I find that response something to ponder.

      I struggle with the lesson to be learned here on how we are to share the gospel.

      • Ah, but at what point do we allow the body as a whole to be corrupted by the needs of “two lost sheep in his care?”

        One of the key lessons we can take out of this is that while individual sheep are important, the overall health of the body is at least as important, if not moreso. I know this goes against the grain of our our American individualism, and the individualized foundation of Evangelicalism as a whole. But that’s why we need to live by the Scriptures, rather than trying to demand that the Scriptures conform to our culture.

      • I think Sapphira got her chance when she came in and Peter asked her about “was this the price you got for the field?” and she went “Yeah, that’s right, every penny!”

        She had the chance there to tell the truth but continued in the lie and Peter called her on it. We should all be worried about that – not that God will strike us dead, but that we constantly are getting second chances that we don’t recognise as last chances, and putting off repentence.

      • When the great prophet Elijah rode off into the sunset, he left behind his mantle for Elisha. Elisha had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. And therefore, Elisha had some of Elijah’s powers, like dividing water. And shortly thereafter, when Elisha was confronted by some youths who made fun of his baldness, he conjured up a she bear to maul them all.

        What does that mean? If the Law means anything, it means proportionality for the offense, and surely death is not the penalty for making fun of a prophet. Many scholars have analyzed that passage. One of the theories I like is the idea that Elisha had not yet realized his powers and the need to restrain himself from using them willy-nilly.

        Could this passage of Acts be a callback to 2 Kings 2?

  9. Interesting how most of the differing points of the Gangtas (and comentaters) all ring true, especially within the context of their differing beliefs. What an amazing gospel. Great question.

  10. Three pieces of the puzzle:

    FIRST PIECE:
    “‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
    18 And I tell you, you are Peter,* and on this rock* I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
    19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

    SECOND PIECE:
    Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unpardonable sin (Mt. 12)

    THIRD PIECE:
    “,“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit”

    How these pieces connect together, and they do, are keys to the meaning of the story of Ananias and Sapphira.
    Could it really be a story of the power and the authority of the early Church being demonstrated?
    Is there a connection between the sin of Ananias and Sapphira and the ‘unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit?
    Was an example made?
    Is the ‘fear’ upon hearing of what happened something we have lost today: a reverence and an awe for the power of the Holy Spirit?
    Is St. Peter’s role in this minimal or seminal in meaning?
    Many questions.
    Connecting the dots depends on which denominational lens you look through, I suppose.

  11. Maybe we should try to look at the Ananias/Sapphira incident from God’s perspective — keeping in mind that God is a real person with feelings, likes, and dislikes, and not some spiritual machine that functions along precise theological rules.
    Just think about it. For the first time in a very long time, God had managed to produce a people that were actually worshipping Him in Spirit and truth, that were unified in heart and mind, and who actually loved Him and each other more than they loved money, possessions, and their public image. And He had just recently purchased this people with His own blood and suffering. God was finally enjoying the sweet first fruits of His age-long striving with human hearts and minds, and I imagine that He was savoring every bite.
    In this Laodicean age of the church, what Ananias and Sapphira did would hardly raise an eyebrow, and if God dealt with the modern church in the same way, then I fear church buildings would be filled with more corpses than living bodies. These days, God is probably overjoyed to find a single Barnabas for every hundred Ananiases. But back then, during Jesus’s honeymoon with His bride, that couple’s little white lie was like a newly married wife cheating on her husband in the church bathroom during the wedding reception. And He responded as a jealous and betrayed husband.
    Now, I know this doesn’t exactly fit into any kind of systemized theology of the gospel or our modern expectation that God behave in a way consistent with our theological systems of thought, but maybe that’s one of the messages of this account in Acts — that, even though God has opened the door for loving relationship with Him, He’s still not a tame God, and He is not safely mocked or lied to.
    As to how we can line this piece of scripture up with the gospel of Jesus, maybe it teaches that while God once accepted ritual animal sacrifices and law-based observances, now that the true and eternal sacrifice has been offered on the alter of the cross, He is no longer interested in symbolic religious acts or in the mere physical appearance of righteousness, but only in Spirit-breathed realities — meaning genuine repentance, legitimate transformation, and honest, heart-felt service and worship, all initiated and inspired by His Spirit working inside human hearts, minds, and bodies. Ananias and Sapphira teach us the futility and ultimate peril of trying to pawn off fools gold as the real thing to the One who sees into the heart and accepts nothing less than the genuine article.

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      “Maybe we should try to look at the Ananias/Sapphira incident from God’s perspective — keeping in mind that God is a real person with feelings, likes, and dislikes, and not some spiritual machine that functions along precise theological rules.”

      Yep!

  12. I have thought of this for a while in light of Jesus words in Luke 12:47-48, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”

    In Acts 5, the Lord was moving on the Church in a very distinct and visible way. People were speaking in tongues they had never been taught. A lame man was walking. Buildings were shaking with the power of God. And that was the context in which Ananais and Sapphira thought it was a good idea to lie in front of the apostles and thousands of people.

    The Holy Spirit was clearly present. He was clearly moving in power. Ananais and Sapphira had to know that lying was a sin. And it wasn’t as if they had a momentary slip of reason and lied in the heat of the moment–they premeditated it and walked into it with full knowledge of what they were about to do. That’s a really, really bad idea in the presence of a holy God. They absolutely knew better, and proceeded to carry out their sin anyway. That’s one of the things that set them apart from, say, Simon the sorcerer trying to buy the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-24), sinning in ignorance and quickly repenting when his wrong was identified. It’s not nearly as much about the letter of the law as it is the hardness of heart from which it springs.

  13. I will take what may be considered the “cowardly” way out with these passages. As Alan has noted above, there is nothing that says God or Peter killed this couple. Perhaps they both dropped dead of heart attacks due to the shock of having their lie so publicly exposed. Again, Alan mentioned that Peter “saw” that Sapphira would die the same as her husband did before her, but she did not know until that time that her husband was dead and that could have been a major shock too. So, we can say that God is in control of everything and that, therefore, he had a part in these deaths but I will not say that. Sweet children also die of cancer. Did God want that? I hear and see what Jesus did and I have to say “no.” People die because we are living in a time when people do die. Some die tragically; some die in a way that people think, “Well, they got what was coming to them.”

    Nevertheless, I can appreciate what the responders have said for those who think my, “They may have died of heart attacks” is too simplistic or even stupid!

    • I’ve been sitting here reading through, thinking they may well have died from heart attacks or stroked out. Simple minded maybe? It wouldn’t be the first time (I mean, for me).

  14. I think the bigger picture here is that the early church cared about providing for the poor and downtrodden. The story of Ananias and Sapphira was that they were the exception, not the rule. Today the exception has become the rule in the church in America where we are more concerned with buildings and programs than we are with the world’s poor. Perhaps we too should be struck down and carried of of our buildings on stretchers.

  15. Lot’s of beating around the bush here. To me the elephant in the room is church authority and the use of power. Fr. Ernesto listed the pertinent NT verses. Yes it is God carrying out supernatural punishments and only around the major authorities of the early church, but there is this frightening aspect that a human church leader, no matter how flawed, is somehow the conduit for this divine wrath. I can’t read these verses without seeing this.

    While we are frequently encouraged to place ourselves into biblical stories, especially when Jesus is merciful, I can’t recall a time I was asked to imagine myself as Annanias.

  16. Well, I suppose I had better answer Louis. I think that in order to make the statement he did about my position, he would have had to make several assumptions, any several of which are questionnable.

    I suspect he assumed that the passage I quoted from Romans was to be applied to eternal salvation. But, the Orthodox specifically, and in writing, reject that interpretation of that passage. Rather, we see it at a strong statement of the free will of God in His actions. And, it is a statement that goes against a second possible assumption.

    That assumption would be that the only moral behavior would be behavior that was exactly the same, at all times, to every person. That is, it redefines mercy not as mercy, but rather as a compulsive behavior that God must exercise to each and every person in the same way. Saint Paul’s argument is that God has a free will that He may exercise as to when and how to have mercy, according to His best judgment.

    To put that in a more mundane context, one can see that argument whenever a person is granted some (or total) clemency by either a president, a governor, or a court. There are always those who try to argue that it is somehow unfair to those still in prison that anyone gets any clemency whatsoever. They claim that it destroys the system of justice. In effect, they would do away with clemency, parole, and probation, though they may not fully realize the implications of their argument.

    Therefore, in one sense that type of argument sees mercy as being immoral. Louis was actually rather diplomatic by saying that it puts God above morality. But, the weight of that argument would actually be to drive a definition of God toward complete and total “fairness”. God would only do what is exactly fair.

    Another way to put it would be that if we posit a God who is able to have mercy on everyone and does not have mercy on everyone–in exactly the same way–then that God is not a good God. But Saint Paul rejects that.

    Saint Paul argues two things. One is that God has already had incredible mercy on everyone. As Our Lord Jesus put it, he causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust. In Creation, he has even put evidences of Himself (Rom. 1) so that all might know something of God. Second, he argues that if God then chooses to have special mercy on some, then that is His choice and does not make Him unjust. That is the whole point of it being called mercy!

    Ultimately, the type of argumentation that would set mercy against morality or justice could also be used to declare any human being who gives mercy, of being immoral and unjust.

    • Louis Winthrop says:

      God’s flexibility doesn’t bother me, it’s just that I’m not seeing the “mercy” here. (Other posters have suggested that the benefit went to the early church, not the dead couple!)

      However you parse it, we come down to the issue of God slaying the Ananiases prematurely (if it was indeed God that did it–another poster points out that this is never actually said) for some combination of lying and miserliness. The lesson I’ve always heard drawn from it is that it is dangerous to lie or be miserly where God is concerned. I’ve never heard anyone interpret the story as a wonderful, uplifting example of God’s great (if inscrutable) mercy.

      I do appreciate that theodicy is never going to be easy, and that Christian tradition is kind of stuck with the story.

      • Was it premature, though? This could have been the moment of their deaths (if they did drop dead of stress-induced heart attacks or stroke) foreseen from always.

        I know of people who were fine one minute and literally dropped dead the next. People who were sitting in their chairs by the fireside and five minutes later dead. One instance happened in my own family.

        None of us know when we’re going to die, and it’s hard to forecast what we’ll be doing when it happens. I’d like to think we’ll all die in bed in the odour of sanctity, but – ! 😉

      • I am not sure why we are stuck with the story. You seem to be arguing that God must always enforce his decrees in exactly the same way each and every time. But, when one looks at human jurisprudence one sees that every culture has built in allowances for differing circumstances and has allowances for pure and unadulturated mercy. It appears to me that you are trying to impose a definition on God that is not found in normal jurisprudence.

        Frankly, provided I can provide the definition, I can prove anything. But, your second argument also tries to define a standard of mercy that is most interesting. You, again, seem to be arguing for a mercy which must be the same to all people at every time, in which case this is not mercy but another form of legalism. And, uhm, yes God had the right to execute judgment on them for inappropriate lying and does have the right to guard his community. Theodicy is about the God that is not about the god that American culture would wish were God.

        And, uhm, where have I argued that what happened to Ananias and Sapphira was mercy?

    • I love the way you think and the way you express yourself, Father Ernesto! I have to wrestle with these ideas myself. I tend to want God to think the way I think sometimes. But…I am actually VERY glad that he does not! I really know next to nothing about how God thinks, works, plans. I guess the best way of getting an understanding of what God is like is to encounter a human being who appears to be living a life filled with love. I say “appears” because even then I may say a person is living a life filled with love and someone could disagree with me. What then? I don’t know. I trust that God will work it all out in the end.

  17. Regarding the update and the comment about God being above morality. A common theme in a lot of the discussions ultimately comes down to how we view God. In my opinion, God is not “above” morality–God “is” morality. I know that might sound trite, but my point is that I see God as the ultimate standard of what is right and wrong, and for us to try to judge whether what God is doing in any particular circumstance seems right to us puts us above God (or at least tries to create some sense of right/wrong which is actually greater than God Himself). I think much of the point of the book of Job is to show that we must defer to God as being the ultimate standard in and of Himself. If God were like any human being, that would be a scary thought, but I myself, in contrast, take comfort in knowing that God is a trustworthy standard who will always do what is ultimately for the greatest good for His people, even if I can’t understand what’s going on or why God is behaving a certain way.

    I know that’s not an easy idea to swallow, but in my opinion, it’s a key question to which one’s answer will have a huge impact on one’s big picture “worldview.”

    • Louis Winthrop says:

      In that case, what is the essential difference between God and the devil? Power…?

      • Patrick Lynch says:

        Sovereignty over His creations…

        • Louis Winthrop says:

          If I create a living thing, do I have the right to be cruel to it?

          • Patrick Lynch says:

            You can’t create a living thing.

          • Granted the context of the passage is on a national level, not an individual one, but Jeremiah’s analogy of the potter and clay in Ch 18 seems to say that God does have the right to do what may be perceived as cruel by virtue of being the creator:

            And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
            Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

            That’s just one of the numerous times the potter/clay analogy comes up in Scripture. Really, it seems to me that the real issue is who gets to define what is just and unjust or cruel and uncruel. To paraphrase Dan Allender: God may give us a say, but he doesn’t give us a vote.

  18. Lying and hypocrisy are not just any old sin. We are not talking about plain morality.

    (I am glad Pastor Cwirla mentioned it does not mean necessarily that they were damned, because we all have attacks of the same kind. And I do believe God takes people home before it’s too late.)

    But,–lying — is an abuse of the “word”, an abuse of the “spirit” who uses the word, the spirit of circumcision of the heart, of defenselessness, of honesty, of being that beggar, of trust, of transparency, of relying only on God. It destroys what has just been made right–the relationship of utter trust and only trust.

  19. C.S. Lewis says that “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” Is it possible that what seems to us, or may have seemed to some at the time, straightforward anger and judgment to inspire fear was actually an act of God’s love and mercy?

    I’d especially like to hear what Alan (and Fr. Ernesto, although I don’t know if there’s any such distinction in the EO Church) has to say in terms of the following question: Is it possible (only possible) to believe that the severe temporal punishment may have spared them eternal punishment?

    Even if one doesn’t hold to the idea of those distinctions in punishment, is it still possible that what seems anger is just incorrectly interpreted love?

    I’m really curious.

    • Just to be clear, I mean love and mercy toward Ananias and Sapphira specifically, not the church as a whole.

  20. Re: the Louis comment

    To tackle this one I think I’m going to have to go back to that great and wonderful man who suffered so much unjust slander, willingly suffered the indignity of a very public and trumped-up trial, and was put to death some two millennia ago for trying to bring some truth and light to the world. Of course I’m referring to Socrates.

    Socrates raised the issue of if something is right because the gods say it is, or do the gods say that something is right because it is right. The one hand makes truth and goodness a bit arbitrary; the other hand makes the gods themselves slaves to The Good. This paradox, as far as I can tell, is resolved in the Christian scheme of things because after some analysis it amounts to establishing a formal causality toward God’s justice from either / or God’s omnipotence / goodness. But by the very fact that God is an irreducibly simple being we have to accept through faith that God’s omnipotence and God’s goodness are not separate categories as far as God’s inner workings go, or at the very least that they are in no way in opposition to each other. Problem is you and I are not irreducibly simple beings and “goodness” and “omnipotence” are distinct concepts with no mutual implication. So we naturally tend to talk like, “This is right because God said so,” or, “God said this because it is right.” Each manner of talking is correct, but often one manner will shed more light or be more helpful in a given context than the other.

    NOW… I’m going to suggest that much of what made His Monkness hold up Winthrop’s comment is the understanding, held particularly by evangelicals but to a lesser extent by all of us, at least unconsciously, that Old Testament = “This is right because God said so” / New Testament = “God said this because it is right.” Something similar to the Law / Gospel dynamic.

    In as much as this dynamic is addressed by The Gang, they typically have taken the “this is right because God said so” approach and I’m guessing that Monk is not quite satisfied with this approach because it seems, to him and to evangelicals at least, to shirk the question of how to integrate this passage in the context of the New “God said this because it is good” Testament.

    I would work with Richardson’s reply and add that there is an element of, for lack of a better way of putting it, “passivity” of the part of God’s actions here. In the Old Testament, God would smite people directly. Richardson is right that the type of sin committed by the couple seems to have a strongly “Pharisee” resonance to it. They died because they stepped out of the Spirit, which is opposed to the Law in a manner of speaking and certainly opposed to Pharisee-ism, self-aggrandizement, churchy ambition, et al. This probably sounds nit-picky or like sophistry, but think of Peter on the water. God didn’t sink him, but he began to sink as a natural and inevitable result of his stepping outside of trust in Jesus. Wearing my evangelical hat, I would say that we all step out of the Spirit when we sin, but that the couple had done so in such a way that articulated a direct opposition to the Spirit (and to the Gospel), and this withdrawal led to death, and to whatever extent the Spirit is understood to be “active” it served as an example to posterity given out of love.

    I do believe that God probably took more drastic intervention with the early church, and that this was necessary for its development. Still, I think this mainly took the form of exceptional gifts of wisdom to Paul, a few others, and the church fathers. This passage is one of the very few examples of direct intervention. But if direct intervention was ever needed for the early church this passage illustrates a good case of Christians doing exactly what they are not supposed to do and are in every danger of doing.

    Finally, at least in my Catholic tradition, there’s a general understanding that Ananias and Sapphira obtained salvation. I think we get it from a church father or two so it’s probably tenable for all Christianity. Anyway, just think of it as God ruffling their hair and pulling them in for a big hug.

    • Louis Winthrop says:

      Besides Euthyrphro, we could also think of Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling.” Christians want to say that God is “good,” but then there’s this well-established biblical tradition of God doing things that would be called “evil” if done by anybody else. It’s possible to assume that God’s “evil” acts are just forms of good that we don’t understand (rather like the time-traveler who kills Hitler as a baby!), but there is also a long tradition to the effect that God is beyond all that, and should not be judged by human ethical standards. In that case, when we call him “good,” we mean something different than the ethical quality, perhaps something we can’t even explain.

      This makes the Sermon on the Mount and the Farewell Discourses look like spin, though–especially if God is going to go around offing people for petty theft. Of course God arranges or allows for everybody to die eventually, often in ways that are neither pretty nor just.

      Jung would say that the OT God integrated good and evil, but unconsciously, while Christ represents a conscious manifestation of good. This caused evil to manifest as a separate projection (the devil), to be integrated into a *conscious* unity at the end of time. (Christ at the Last Judgement will use one hand to save, and the other to damn.)

      • True dat, but I’d like to make the distinction that Kierkegaard is solely critiquing the ethical paradigm, not God or really even reason. I think you grasp that, I just want to make it clear. A lot of bleeding-edge contemporary secular critical ink has been spilled singing Christian discourse’s praises for its subversive stance against Law, and I think we owe a lot to Mr. Kierkegaard for that. Though I’m sure the more conservative-minded among us see it as a mixed bag at best.

    • “To tackle this one I think I’m going to have to go back to that great and wonderful man who suffered so much unjust slander, willingly suffered the indignity of a very public and trumped-up trial, and was put to death some two millennia ago for trying to bring some truth and light to the world. Of course I’m referring to Socrates.”
      You sly dog, you! And here I was thinking about someone else. Very clever.

      “…that Old Testament = “This is right because God said so” / New Testament = “God said this because it is right.” Something similar to the Law / Gospel dynamic. ”
      Huh? How is that similar to Law/Gospel? You have me confused now, Mr. Daniel.

      • Okay. I’m trying to draw an analogy between the age-old and still talked-about Socratic paradox and the Law / Gospel dynamic. I’m a non-evangelical and everything I’ve ever heard about this Law / Gospel thing is from this site, so I may very well be a little out of my depth. The voluntarist, omnipotent conception of God is one of “might makes right” where things are made good or just simply by God saying so. This conception of God is presented in greater proportion in the Old Testament, where his people were young and, like children, had to be dealt with harshly sometimes in order to solicit obedience. This is the God of the Law. The good, loving conception of God is of a God that infallibly does that which is for his creatures’ greatest good. He infallibly does the most loving action possible at all times. He encourages obedience through positivity and creativity rather than through the proscriptive measures of crime and punishment. He does not hold the threat of punishment over his lovers’ heads. This conception of God is articulated in greater proportion in the New Testament– where in the fullness of time we were ready to accept such a God– and is the God of the Gospel. Both conceptions of God are completely true, though they seem dissimilar. He is beyond us, and these conceptions are like two pictures from different angles of the same house, which cannot be completely represented in a mere picture.

        These views are in tension with those expressed by Fr. Ernesto in his comment a few inches above. I read his comment after I wrote my own. What he articulates there is very interesting and worth a careful read. He and I are dealing with the same problem, in different ways.

        • Daniel-

          I don’t have the time at the moment, but I promise to respond your response.

          Thank you for responding, btw.

          Ok, enough of confusing and tongue-tying grammar…

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      “This probably sounds nit-picky or like sophistry, but think of Peter on the water. God didn’t sink him, but he began to sink as a natural and inevitable result of his stepping outside of trust in Jesus.”

      I think this is a lovely observation. It has that kind of “who could hear this?” dynamic to it – if Peter hadn’t turned to Jesus, he would have gone from walking on water to drowning in a very short order. And why not?

  21. Dishonest giving shows up even at the beginning, with Cain and Abel in the fourth chapter of Genesis. God was pleased with Abel’s offering, not because He likes meat better than fruits and vegetables, but because Cain tried to give inferior product and pass it off as select quality–in the same way that Ananias and Sapphira tried to give a portion and pass it off as the whole parcel.

    While the text isn’t explicit, it says that Cain brought merely “some of the fruits of the soil” while Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock”. God preferred Abel’s offering, and the language, using superlatives to describe Abel’s and not Cain’s, reflects that.

    Although Cain wasn’t stricken dead as Ananias and Sapphira were (rather, Abel was killed by Cain shortly afterward) God chastised Cain for jealousy: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

    Anyone out there think that these stories are related? God tells Cain that “sin is crouching at your door,” and Peter tells Sapphira, “The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

    Sorry to get off-topic.

    • Louis Winthrop says:

      That’s a real possibility. Acts, like Luke and the other synoptics, seems to have been composed around early church calendars, with an eye to the Torah readings for that week. Unfortunately I don’t have Spong’s “Reclaiming the Gospels” at hand (or the book Spong got the idea from), or I’d be able to look up what the matching Torah portion was. Anybody have this?

      • Louis, thanks. I may be over-interpreting your interpretation of Spong’s interpretation of the Bible, so forgive me. 🙂 But I”m coming at this as a means to support the connection between the Old and New Testaments and to shed some light on the Ananias/Sapphira story, not to explain anything away. In my observation, Spong uses one thing to discredit the other and I’m wary of any book that he has titled “Reclaiming the Gospels”. Sorry. And sorry also because this is really starting to get off-topic.

        • Louis Winthrop says:

          I realize that a lot of people tune out as soon as they hear the name “John Spong” (I don’t like the title much either), but this book has an entirely different tone than, say, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”. Anyway, the basic idea came from somebody else (whose name I can’t remember). Does it “explain things away”? Well, it proposes that the stories from the synoptics (and Acts) were organized around a framework of Torah readings, if not entirely composed under its inspiration. Spong goes farther and considers the gospels a form of midrash, implying that their truth or falsity is beside the point (just as it would be with jokes). If he is right on either count, then this adds as much as it takes away. Anyway, since I’m not about to believe that God goes around killing people for not giving him their lunch money, this offers an alternative way to make sense of the passage.

  22. I think I Corinthians 10 may need to be considered, because Ananias and Sapphira engaged in a very, very premeditated act, which I think would be tempting God’s wrath. I also think of the numerous places where the Old Testament prophets condemned those who pridefully believed that their sins were hidden from God. Anyone trying to use the blood of Christ to hide sin from God is not seeking grace but deciept. God isn’t fooled.

    The broken sinner who calls out to God for salvation should not look at this story in fear that God will not faithfully answer that cry.

    I would also worry about the person caught up in a habitual sin who might read this story and lose hope. Habitual sin is premeditated, but it is also a devilish, spriraling trap filled with guilt and despair. Such a person needs to know that God and His church are there holding out grace, forgiveness, and encouragement.

  23. During this time in the early Church, there must have been many injustices happening to the newly converted. They and their children were, no doubt, mistreated, beaten, robbed, raped and even murdered whether for the faith or not. What would they have thought of this story, now circulating around? How would a mother who lost her innocent child to some senseless act by a soldier deal with this story? No doubt she would ask how could God punish with death or blindness, someone for withholding money or interfering with Paul’s preaching, while not protecting her child from from evil. It would be a particularly hard reconciling with God.

    I guess God’s church is more important than any individual.

  24. I may be reaching on this……….The set-up to this story occurs at the end of chapter 4. It smacks to me of charitable endowments: I sell my property and give it to the apostles; they, in turn, distribute it to those in need, including me, if I have disposed of my property in its entirety. There is a clear quid pro quo in such situations. It may be that A+S engaged in a deliberate fraud: that is, by purportedly giving the apostles the entire amount, the church was now obligated to support them even though they had deceptively retained half the proceeds. God will not be mocked! And they were dealt with immediately.

  25. I’ve noted a couple of responders who suggested the importance of the church/body/bride/etc might be greater than the individual. I just finished a great book that has changed my conception of Christ’s church. I can’t recommend it too highly.

    Joseph H. Hellerman
    When the Church Was A Family

    Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. But as the modern cultural norm of what social scientists call “radical American individualism” extends itself, many Christians grow lax in their relational accountability to the church. Faith threatens to become an “I” not “us,” a “my God” not “our God” concern.

    When the Church Was a Family calls believers back to the wisdom of the first century, examining the early Christian church from a socio-historical perspective and applying the findings to the evangelical church in America today. With confidence, author Joseph Hellerman writes intentionally to traditional church leaders and emerging church visionaries alike, believing what is detailed here about Jesus’ original vision for authentic Christian community will deeply satisfy the relational longings of both audiences.

  26. To me, the really jarring aspect of the words at Acts 5:3-4, where we hear about how bad Ananias’s lie is, is that these words are being said by Peter. Peter! Who told what seems to be a far worse lie, and told it again–and again; indeed, from a Christian point of view, one of the worst lies imaginable: “I don’t know the man,” said of Jesus, by someone who knew him best, at about the most crucial time imaginable! Peter was not struck down, of course. Perhaps just after Ananias told his lie, a rooster should have crowed, to remind Peter of what happened not too long before.

    • Margaret Catherine says:

      No…Christ only turned and looked at him. To me, that’s the most terrible line in all of Scripture. No plagues, no snakes, no earthquakes, no pillars of salt…but just being looked at in silence. Peter certainly never needed a reminder, would you?

      Interesting pairing of verses, it definitely helps to fill in the background of the scene. Peter was absolutely the chief of sinners when it came to that, and it must have been in his mind.

  27. I appreciated the perspective of each of the liturgical gangstas. I think those who pointed out that A and S’s real sin was intentional and premeditated lying to God and the body of believers with an intent to deceive and as a result gain (hypocritical) status and power for themselves were right on target.

    What wasn’t brought out fully was just how destructive to God’s kingdom this kind of deceit and hypocrisy are. The combination is a cancer, and one we sometimes still see. Given all this, one analogy from our times that comes to mind is that of treason against an earthly kingdom, many of which institute the death penalty for this crime and many lesser crimes as well (not arguing in favor of that, just using it as an analogy). I think A and S’s crime rises to the level of treason against God’s kingdom: willful pride and deceit from within, betraying one of the foundations of that Kingdom (truth), to the great harm of the Bride of Christ.

    If earthly kingdoms can institute the death penalty for such an offense, how much more right does the God of the Universe and the Creator and Sustainer of all life have to take the life of such an offender? Sobering thoughts to be sure, but in the end if God is truly God, He has the power of life and death to enact justice and his purposes if He so chooses. Does that make me uncomfortable? Absolutely. Yet at the same time the assurance of God’s just nature and love and mercy that stays His hand more times than any of deserve gives me great comfort. Welcome to yet another paradox of the faith. Peace.

  28. Wow, 5 men of the robe take this story literally and are comforted that the Holy Spirit will kill you for lying both now and in the old days. They enjoy having a god they can fear.
    But more importantly, these guys feel lying to Peter is like lying to God.
    So they see themselves as Gods voice.
    Thus THEY want to be feared and honored.
    I posted a little cartoon on this Christian story.
    I am surprised that no one thought it was an exaggerated story with the simple object lesson of “don’t lie”.

    • Sabio,

      I’ve read your summary of our positions and I’ve reread our positions. I see no connection in reality between what you’ve summarized and what was written here. You might want to re-read these. But if you’ve just got an axe to grind and are going to make these say what you want, then there may be no real point.

      Wyman

    • I’m with Wyman. Sabio, what’s with the cartoon? You know very well what the text from Acts says about the sin–you even include it in your blog. But thanks at least for including a link to the original cartoon. Here is its original caption at Ananias’ death:

      ‘“You did not need to lie,” said Peter, “The money was yours.
      You could have kept all of it.
      But you kept half, and lied to me and to God!”
      And as Peter spoke, Ananias dropped dead to the ground.’

      I mean, I can appreciate a little honest atheism, but let’s be consistent with the facts.

    • Sabio, the trouble was that Ananias and Sapphira didn’t “sell a piece of land and give part of the money”; they pretended that this was *all* the money they got for the land. Sapphira flat-out lied to Peter’s face about it – ‘yeah, this is the whole amount we got!’

      They could have given all; they could have kept all; they could have given part and said this was part. They wanted the reputation and praise for giving all while keeping some (how much we don’t know, whether it was part or even the most of it) back for themselves.

      Now, if you don’t mind someone deceiving you over how much money is owed you – if you’re perfectly happy to be charged extra for goods, or to receive less than the going rate for your job – then that’s fine. But if you get cross when you find out that your boss is paying you three-quarters of your wages and keeping the remainder for himself…

    • Sabio

      “But more importantly, these guys feel lying to Peter is like lying to God.
      So they see themselves as Gods voice.
      Thus THEY want to be feared and honored.”

      I’ve enjoyed your posts and responses, but you’re out of line on that one. That was a personal shot impugning the motives of the respondents with nothing more to inform your assessment than your own prejudice.

      • You are right, it might be stated harshly. I could have couched it more.
        My thought is that ideas are used as tools. They are used with a purpose in mind. I just wonder why those verses was put in the book of Acts. I was thinking sociologically and functionally, I guess.

        You could see how fear of God’s punishment is one thing, but fearing it through a corporeal agent adds another level of fear and control for a community.

        Don’t you sometimes think that being straightforward with one’s thoughts is better than hiding it (couching it) in rhetoric? It is a delicate line to be straightforward and not “out of line”. Thanks for the chiding, though.

        BTW – I can’t discover how to follow comments on this blog — it does not e-mail me responses. There appears to be no check box for “follow by e-mail”. Also, layered hierarchical comment are very hard to look back and follow. IMHO

  29. I’ve been following this discussion with some real interest and while it has probably already completed its course, it has me wondering, “Do Protestants still think Marcion was a heretic?”

    • This one certainly does. I actually spoke about Marcionism last night in our service. Many Baptists are indeed functional Marcionities, but I do think the answer to your question is “yes.”

      • “Functional” is right throughout today’s church about a number of ancient heresies. Part of that seems to be a lack of theological foundation among the laity (and clergy, in some circles). Part seems to be a very widespread ignorance of Church history. Part of it seems to be a failure to work through some of the logical conclusions of our assumptions.

        As far as Marcionism is concerned, what reader and/or student of Scripture hasn’t struggled with the tension between the OT and the NT, especially in the area of God’s attitude toward sinners?

        To me, that’s the essence of cross-Testamental faith: God doesn’t give us all the answers. And no matter how hard we try to figure it out, there comes a point when we just have to trust him.

        • Joe Boysel says:

          I guess I’m saying, in a backhanded way, that many Protestants (as is evident by the above postings) read the New Testament as God’s “do over” (as if God said, “Well, that first plan didn’t work, so I’ll go with this other thing.”). I have to agree with Tom Wright and say that such a theology so radically misinforms NT exegesis that what Protestant theologies often end up doing is interpreting the Gospels THROUGH Luther’s understanding of Paul, which was itself formed THROUGH his misunderstanding of the Hebrew Scriptures/religion.

          In other words, I think that many Protestants can live comfortably with Paul and Luke (like Marcion could), but the rest of Holy Writ remains somehow superfluous at best or dubious at worst (save of course for the parts that tell us the age of the planet! haha!).

    • Easy answer, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants all think that Marcion was a heretic.

  30. @ Wyman & Ted

    (1) So why do you think “Great Fear Seized the Church”?
    Did they think, “Gee, if I lie, I might die of a heart attack?” or did they think “God will kill us if we lie to him”. I put in the cartoon what I think was the implied message — I put the actual words below, as you see. So I don’t think I was being dishonest. Does that make sense?

    (2) Concerning my accuracy to the men in robes:

    (a) Father Ernesto

    If you lie to God and to His Church, God always has the option to execute judgment.

    “execute judgment” — sounds like God kills to me.

    (b) Joe Boysel

    I find no doctrinal tension in my affirmation that Ananias and Sapphira – both, presumably, baptized Christians – faced temporal and, likely, eternal punishment for their decision to lie to the Holy Spirit

    Sounds like being killed by Holy Spirit again.

    (c) Wyman Richardson

    I would point out, by the countless episodes in scripture where those who committed worse sins than Ananias and Sapphira were spared the punishment these two received.

    Sounds like he is saying God did it here too !

    No need to go on. You see my point. Or am I missing something or did I do something else that you feel is deceptive?

    All of the guys above said why we learn something from God killing these people for their lies. Wyman speaks about holiness, Joe speaks of expectation of obedience and Ernesto speaks of judgment.

    I hope I answered your accusations.

    @ Martha — but did they deserve death? And why, since I doubt it actually happened, was this included in the scriptures? I think it is simply saying “God is watching, don’t lie or risk death”. You can cover it with layers of theological justification and lofty words, but the message is simple. I think we all know that.

    • I’m not altogether sure of your angle here, Sabio. So you think Christianity is (and Christian ministers are) controlling and manipulative, eh? That’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion. The problem you seem to be having – at least as far as I can tell – is that you have a hard time dealing with the concept of the judgment of God. Moreover, it seems doubly difficult for you to consider the apparent caprious nature of God’s judgment (i.e., Can God really show mercy to some and yet be justified in his quick condemnation of others?)

      These problems, however, are theological and philisophical, not exegetical. Your difficulty – as I see it (and maybe I’m wrong here, so feel free to offer pushback) – is that you object to me (et al) trying to form a theology based upon a biblical text.

      So, while your assessment of my position is clearly intended to be provocative (painting me as an extremist?), I willingly concede the point: I understand the biblical passage to indicate that the Lord struck A & S down as punishment for their deceit. Twice St. Luke notes, “great fear” came upon the church and all others (presumably those not part of the church) who heard the report. Yes, I think it happened just like that.

      Frankly, the fact that you find my theology too harsh or laughable is ok with me. I think it’s a theology formed through exegesis. Like Luther, I am constrained to understand God through the Bible. So, “my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” If you find that silly or naive or, more cynically, manipulative and self-serving, that’s fine. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to convince you anything to the contrary.

      May I ask a favor? Will you tell me why you hang out here?

      • @ Joe

        First, you must smilingly admit that discussion threads always carry the potential confusion of mixing up who is speaking to whom. For instance: Note that Wyman accused me saying, “I see no connection in reality between what you’ve summarized and what was written here.” So, I then addressed Wyman’s objection and showing he was wrong, which you have confirmed. I was not addressing you per se. But here we are and now hopefully I can address your questions.

        I actually know versions of Christianity that are not controlling and manipulating — instead, focused on service. So actually, Joe, that is not my point. I am exploring that passage and how it can be use. I am addressing the kind of Christianity I saw here — not Christianity in general or Christian ministers in general. If I implied that, I apologize.

        I don’t think I painted you as an extremist. I think I just made clear exactly what you were saying without all the word padding. And finally you did agree with my characterization and I appreciate you conceding the point.

        Yes, I think that there is no God that strikes down evil or liars. I understand how the myth can be highly function in helping to control behavior in the believing community. The Acts story is built to serve that exact function — and thus when I see all you boys supporting it, I just wanted to point out what was going on. I saw it as no different as saying “The King has no clothes”. Our difference is that you believe the story literally and believe it confirms your theology.

        So we differ here, obviously. But I feel it is important to be clear about what we believe, and I was simply trying to do that. So, I don’t “have a hard time dealing with the concept of the judgment of God.” — I totally understand that concept. So I don’t have a “hard time with it” — instead, I just disagree that such a god exists. But further, I am trying to illustrate how such a myth could be used.

        As for why I “hang out here”, I have written this post addressing that question if you are truly interested.

        Thank you for your reply. I would imagine we understand each other, no?

        • Joe Boysel says:

          Yes, we do understand each other. One caveat: I really don’t read the text through my theology, as you say. I try, as I said earlier, to develop a theology from the text (although, I admit it sometimes becomes a tenuous relationship between text and theology). Furthermore, I do understand how myth functions and the way in which Scripture often employs myth. I just don’t think the A & S narrative is one of those such cases. In any event, thanks for your input. I really do appreciate the conversation.

          Peace,
          Joe+

        • Joe Boysel says:

          BTW, just read your “trolling” blog post. Interesting. Happy … uh … trolling? Well, you know what I mean! 😉

          • Sabio,

            You showed that I was wrong? Sorry, but wrong. I never disagreed that God struck A&S dead. He did. But this is what you typed:

            Wow, 5 men of the robe take this story literally and are comforted that the Holy Spirit will kill you for lying both now and in the old days. They enjoy having a god they can fear.
            But more importantly, these guys feel lying to Peter is like lying to God.
            So they see themselves as Gods voice.
            Thus THEY want to be feared and honored.
            I posted a little cartoon on this Christian story.
            I am surprised that no one thought it was an exaggerated story with the simple object lesson of “don’t lie”.

            Just a few thoughts then I’ve got to get back to other things.

            1. I’m not “comforted” by it. I’m terrified of it. Thus, you are wrong.
            2. I don’t “enjoy” having a God I can fear. I merely recognize that God, in a sense, with the distinction I made in my post between reverential fear and the fear of a slave, is to be feared, and that doing so is the beginning of wisdom. Thus, you are wrong. (It is ironic that you raise the issue rhetoric, when using the word “enjoy” here is clearly a rhetorical ploy to gain cheap points and not respect the nuance of the positions expressed.)
            3. I feel that “lying to Peter is like lying to God” only when Peter is accurately speaking the words of God (a pretty important distinction all Christians would make). But not always. Again, it is not that simple. Thus, you are wrong here too.
            4. “So they see themselves as God’s voice.” I don’t claim to understand where you got this, but, no, you are wrong here. I merely claim that when the people of God speak in accord with the revealed word of God they are relaying divine truth. So, in that sense (and in that sense only), to speak against relayed truth is to speak against what God has revealed.

            So, I’m sorry, but you are reading these responses through an extremely obvious grid of suspicion and pessimism. I do not ask that you agree, only that you fairly represent what people have said. Charity dictates that we let people say what they have said. That’s how communication works. I have tried to do the same with you, and I do apologize if I’ve misrepresented anything you’ve said.

            God bless!
            Wyman

          • @ Wyman

            (1) Why would you end a note, “God Bless !” to an atheist? Seems a little reflexive — more for the other audiance you expect to read your note than for me. Unless, of course, it is a magical incantation that you are trying to favor me with and don’t care what my beliefs are. I’ve always found such greetings odd. But I am sure you can must a great reason.

            (2) Feels like kind of a wrestling match with you, eh? Very male — very “You ain’t right, I am !! Nah, nah, nah , nah, nah !” Maybe we both have that in us. My encounter with Joe doesn’t have that feel. Funny how that sort of thing goes.

            (3) Being a former Christian and knowing many Christians, I really don’t know anyone who is truly
            “terrified” of their God. Sure, they may say it, but they don’t act it. I know “terrified” and have seen it. Yes, yes, I understand you must paint him as terrifying, but you’ll have to excuse my skepticism — not something we can settle in typing. Ther reason I said you “enjoyed” having a god who kills because you are on his side and that means fearful power is on your side. Again, I will have to remain skeptical that you don’t get something out of all that construed theology. I do suspect you make it work for you.

            The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira trumpet the singular fact that God’s holiness will not be obscured by human posturing.

            It is you cheerful choice of “trumpet” and other tone in your writing that makes you appear to me (I realize that is subjective) to be proud of your god’s fearful holiness. Lots of folks are like that, I realize it. Many Muslims have the same sentiment. But not all Christians. So I just don’t value your type of Christianity and wanted to point out that it is not the only option out there.

            (4) I don’t think I see something that is not there — though of course I am never positive. I think I have identified your type of spin on the Bible. Lots of folks agree with you. But I don’t think it is through a grid of “suspicion and pessimism”. I actually have very pleasant and uplifting talks with many Christians on-line and in person, but you are right, their theology differs from yours considerably.

            Have a fantastic December, Wyman !
            — Sabio

    • By saying “execute judgment” I was not trying to avoid saying that God killed them. I was using the more judicial phrase to indicate appropriate execution as versus murder.

      So, let me ask you, is God allowed to kill? And, if so, under what circumstances? There is an old philosophical argument, a theodicy, that says that this is not the best of all possible worlds, but this is the best of all possible ways to get to the best of all possible worlds.

      If God would never execute judgment, then his justice would amount to a mere “in the sweet by and by.” If God would only execute judgment in a very exact way, then neither mercy would exist not–in all probability–would there be any humans on earth.

      But, if his mixture of judgment and mercy gives us just enough judgment to make it clear what God is about and just enough mercy to assure us of his love, then this may indeed be the best of all possible ways to the best of all possible worlds.

  31. oooops, forgot a forward slash in one of the bold hypertext codes — feel free to fix. Sorry.

  32. Hmm, *I’d* like to hear this preached with: First, Peter’s lie: “I don’t know the man!,” said of Jesus, by someone who knew him best, at crunch time. Then Peter’s restoration. *Then* Peter’s dealing with A&S’s lie. Then, to tie it all together, Matt 18:21-35, the parable (told to Peter!!) of the unforgiving servant.

  33. Excellent, Keith.
    I would love to hear how the theologians try to make the Bible a one-theology book given those examples. What percent of the readers here buy into the notion that (A) the Bible has one consistent theology — one, consistent message given by the Holy Spirit. Versus the view that (B) the various documents brought together to make Christian Canon are often not only written by several authors, but authors with significantly differing theologies — not to mention the theologies of the redactors after them.

    That plus, I doubt most writers came in with systematic theology practice but were mainly trying to get a point across here and there and thus the contradiction in themes (this being view B, of course). In view B, the A & S story does not have to be true.

    • Joe Boysel says:

      You’re right, Sabio. There are – at the very least – theological tensions in the Bible (which the writers themselves clearly recognize but make no attempt to harmonize). What’s really unfortunate is that among modern readers all theological motifs must be homogenized into one theology, and among post-modern readers the Bible offers a theological smorgasboard from which one may pick and choose what to believe. I think there’s a better way, but…I have to go give a lecture on the Holiness Code in Leviticus!

      • OK, Joe, you have us sitting on edge… What is the better way?
        I am actually curious how you will handle not being an errantist (is that a word)?
        You called them “theological tensions”, but I would call them “theological contradictions”. Mind you, I still think it is possible to be Christian and hold the Bible errant and having theological contradictions. After all, the early Christians didn’t even have a Bible.
        I look forward to your theology of scriptures.

        • I don’t think it’s possible to hold the Bible to be inerrant and still have outright theological contradictions—that would undermine the notion that one God was the ultimate source behind it all. That being said, “tensions” certainly exist. God is a person just like you and just like you can’t be boiled down to a pat description that says you always have to behave in a certain way and that’s that, neither can God. It goes deeper than that, in that God transcends our ability to even understand Him fully, so that “apparent” contradictions from our perspective are just a matter of our being so utterly miniscule in our understanding by comparison. Parents show love to their children and children understand that. Parents also sometimes sternly rebuke their children, maybe at a moment’s notice with no explanation or argument—the child may not understand why they can’t do what they wanted to do and be angry at the parent and accuse them of being mean. The child doesn’t have the understanding to realize that the parent was trying to prevent the child from walking into an oncoming car or putting their fingers into an electrical outlet. The point is that God is a person and acts differently at different times like any other person and that sometimes seeming contradictions in His actions are the fault of our limited understanding just like a child can’t always understand why his or her parents act in certain ways. I don’t mean these simple anwers to be somehow theologically complete and tie up every possible loose end, but I think they address the heart of the matter.

          • OK, These threads get confusing when someone answers for someoneelse.

            Jeff answered for Joe, it seems.

            Jeff, your first sentence did not make sense to me. The rest of you view of scripture is very familar to me. I am hoping Joe’s surprises me, though.

  34. Sabio,

    I pinkey promise I’ll give you the last word on this one after this. 🙂

    I said “God bless you!” because I very much hope He will. Your reaction to that is exactly what I’m talking about here. Take it as I meant it. I’m not playing to the choir here, just hoping God will, indeed, bless you. Your disbelief in God doesn’t mean that God therefore ceases to be and His name therefore ought not be invoked over you. On the contrary. Take it as a message of hope, but certainly nothing sinister, for I didn’t mean it as such.

    To “trumpet” something is simply to state it with singular force, not to take any kind of shallow “joy” in it. That’s the common usage. Again, thou dost protest too much.

    Finally, Sabio, you (not me) initially raised the the image of “showing he was wrong” in your response to Joe. I was merely echoing your choice of words. I do suspect I’m “very male”…because I am male, but I daresay that has little to do with me simply using your words. If you don’t want a conversation to go in a certain direction, by all means don’t steer it there.

    I stand by my original statement – a statement that has been nothing but reinforced by your words – that your take on these responses does not match what was originally written, but rather betrays an a very fundamentalist grid of uncharitable pessimism and eisegesis.

    So God ble…oh, sorry. 😉 Now, take that last word and we’ll let it stand.
    Wyman

  35. I am thinking that if there is not a place on the internet where Christians/atheists/agnostics can debate, there ought to be. I know Michael certainly does not forbid atheists to question things on this blog, but that is not his main purpose for the blog. If there was a blog out there dedicated to debating, then the folks doing that could know that they won’t be out of line unless they start personally attacking in a mean way. I realize that for some folks, it is FUN to debate. So I understand Sabio saying (on the post on his own blog) that if he only commented on other atheists’ blogs, it would be boring. For myself, I was on a debating team one year in high school and I didn’t like it. I am more of an “encourager” and not a “debater” I guess.

    To be perfectly clear…I am not saying that anyone was out of “out of line” during this discussion. But I think maybe at times it got close to being uncomfortable for some folks who were reading and/or responding.

    Thinking about “debaters” and “encouragers” got me to thinking about the types of Christians that are out there. Here is a beginning of a list:

    1. Debater (nothing better than a good debate to get the adrenaline flowing!)
    2. Encourager (Is happy pointing out the good things others do, sometimes as a way to deflect from self.)
    3. Teacher (Is thrilled to bring new, better information to people)
    4. Lover (Just wants to “love Jesus” and gets uncomfortable hearing big words within Christianity. I may need a better word than “Lover!”)
    5. Wallflower (No one, including the wallflower, really knows what they are thinking)
    6. Pray-er (Needs lots of quiet time in order to function and points out that we must always pray.)
    7. Student (They have hundreds of books and more on the way.)
    8. Worker (Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc.)

    I realize most of us will have some of a number of these characteristics.

    Gee, how it that for getting off-topic!

    • I enjoy debating, but I think it can be done respectfully. I agree that this particular discussion seemed very uncomfortable at times—I think it got to the point that it discouraged rather than encouraged constructive debate.

    • One common phenomena I see on Christian site is that no Christians jump in there and either defend the Atheist when he/she makes a good point, nor correct their fellow Christian when he/she is out of line. But there are the Christians who love ganging up and going in for the group kill — or at least they view it this way. It is ugly.

      I have defended Christians on my site against atheists — I think it is a good practice. If Christians did the same, it would make the look, well…., “Christian”. (ooops, I said it) 🙂

      • Hey, Sabio, sometimes it’s hard to know how to defend people on these blogs, because people start taking sides and then it can get uglier and uglier. I did notice where someone on this blog called you a “name” and that made me uncomfortable. BUT…knowing how the internet is, I thought you and that person could have had prior encounters on other blogs in which he viewed you as giving him a “hard time” and thus he responded harshly to you on this blog. So not knowing the ins and outs of it all, I stayed out of the fray.

        But I will say that if an atheist shows up on what he or she knows is a Christian blog, that it certainly behooves that person to come in gently and with respect for those people’s beliefs. If the point of posting is to point out how the Christians are wrong, then you have to ask yourself what is the purpose of doing that on the blog. Chances are very good that you will not change their point of view. I think that if a Christian is considering that his or her faith is unfounded and they are moving towards atheism, they will find atheists to talk to or write to when they need to do that. BUT…there is a lot of action on Michael’s blog here and it can be interesting to be a part of it, so I can understand your wanting to jump in here. And obviously when you see things that you think are not well thought-out, you are going to want to point those out. But I think you need to be prepared for the fall-out…people will feel attacked or they will feel Christianity or Jesus is attacked and they WILL defend.

        I read your bio on your blog and know that you are a VERY well-educated man. But ask yourself…are you offering something better to the Christians that you think are wrong? I think you want Christians to be more open-minded (or gentle?) and as you know, not all Christians are alike. But I have never seen people become more gentle unless they are gently moved in that direction. You cannot push people to be gentle. It just doesn’t work.

        Anyway, I hope you are enjoying this blog. Michael is a prolific writer and you will find fantastic writing in his archives. I wish you and yours all the best!

      • Sabio,

        Since the term “out of line” has been invoked a couple of times, and I’m the one that dropped it the first time, I’ll own it. My apologies if you felt I was ganging up or piling on. That was not my intention. I was hoping to “hear” an interesting discussion, and was hoping to calm the rhetoric a little. Perhaps I made it worse. The Gangstas are big boys and I should’ve stayed out of it.

        Eric