In the early scenes in Jerusalem, Luke tells us of the most unusual actions of the followers of Jesus who sold their property and gave the proceeds thereof to the community, not ten percent but all of the proceeds. Within the community, they fulfill the biblical ideal for Israel, as described in Deut 15:4, by their common life. C.S.C. Williams in his Commentary on Acts published in 1957 described this event as “extreme communism.” Yesterday, I noted that Luke is not reluctant to attribute to God the infliction of suffering or chastisement citing, inter alia, Acts 5:1-11.
Ananias and his wife, Sapphira sold a property and kept back a part of the price. After separate confrontations with Peter, Ananias and Sapphira died. They suffered the extreme sanction because they participated in the community and apparently made the representations that they would sell their property and give all of the proceeds to the community. We can only assume that the participation of Ananias and Sapphira in the community included some kind of vow of poverty whereby the member transfers all of their assets to the community. Thus in holding back part of the proceeds, they violated this vow of poverty.
Is there any other way to understand what happened to Ananias and Sapphira?
A number of commentators, including C.S.C. Williams, have noted this verb, “kept back” means “embezzled” and this same verb is used in the Septuagint in the story of Achan who “kept back” that which he looted in the aftermath of a battle in Joshua 7:1. Achan violated the Lord’s command not keep back any of the plunder. I understand the story of Achan. I do not understand the story of Ananias and Sapphira because it is not clear to me that they violated the Lord’s command unless they made some kind of vow.
I find it hard to believe that Gentiles understood “kept back” as an allusion to the story of Achan and his violation of the Lord’s command.
Gospel of Luke
Acts of the Apostles