The Matter of False Brethren

05 Mar

The account of Ananias and Sapphira seems a bit strange to me. First of all, nothing is said to introduce the account. Who were they and why did they act in the manner in which they did? Secondly, what prompted Peter to question the sale? Why was he suspicious of them? Later, when Paul tried to join himself to the Apostles, the text said they viewed him with suspicion, and Barnabas had to step forward to alleviate the concerns of the believers at Jerusalem. But, in the case of Ananias, nothing is said to introduce them nor is it later revealed why they were held in suspicion.

I wonder if Ananias and Sapphira could be understood as a team planted by the Sadducees to infiltrate the group of believers in Jesus in an effort to gain information, and perhaps come to a position of honor or authority within the group in order to bring them under the control of the Sadducee authorities. One reason for my suspicion of Ananias and Sapphira as true believers is Luke’s wording. Notice:

Acts 5:13 NET.  None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high honor.

Who are the “rest”—the “rest” of whom? The second clause seems to indicate the “rest” does not refer to the people or the rest of the Jews. And, this seems to be substantiated by the following verse which indicates that a great number of people were added to the faith. Therefore, the  word “rest” couldn’t refer to the common people being in fear to join the ranks of the Messianic believers. So, to whom does the word “rest” refer? Who was afraid to join themselves to the Apostles after the incident of Ananias and Sapphira and why?

Certainly, we can conclude that the “rest” does not mean the common people were afraid to believe Jesus was the Messiah, so the word must refer to a group that did not believe and would not believe in Jesus. Since Gamaliel was of the Pharisaic party and defended the Apostles in the Sanhedrin, we can probably safely assume the “rest” does not refer to the Pharisees, especially since later a large group of Pharisees had become believers. The only logical conclusion seems to point to the only group that had shown itself to be the enemy of the Jesus Movement at this point in time, and as time would show, this group remained the enemy of the Messianic Jews and persecuted them to the very end. It seems to me that the only group within Judaism at that point in time that had shown themselves to be the enemies of the Apostles was the party of the Sadducees, which was headed by the High Priesthood families, particularly the Annas family. It also appears that Ananias and Sapphira were of the upper class in Judea. After all, if Ananias and Sapphira had possessions to sell, they evidently did not come from the poorer classes of Judea. This could mean they were themselves Sadducees or at least sympathetic to that party’s interests.

Therefore, I submit that Ananias was a Sadducee or an upper class Judean who was sympathetic to the interests of the Sadducees. Due to his manner, namely lying for advantage, and his association with the “rest” (Acts 5:13), Ananias and his wife were most likely false brethren who were probably planted within the Messianic group in an effort to control or destroy it. Certainly, false brethren did, in fact, infiltrated the group, because Paul refers to them (2Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 2:4). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says false brethren “slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves.” So, it is not as though an organized effort against the Jesus Movement was not under way. The question is, was Ananias one of the spies? I believe he was, and Acts chapter four implicates him as part of a party whose loyalties were not toward the believers in Jesus.

At this point, one might say: “Okay, so what? What if he was a spy from the Sadducees? What does this have to do with the chronology of Acts showing the death of Stephen occurred two or three years after the Pentecost of Acts 2? Well, how long would it take for the then present ruling class to consider a bunch of fishermen a threat to their position? Personally, I think people in the position of power are usually arrogant and often underestimate the influence of a movement developing from the non-ruling class. Originally, the Sadducees didn’t consider the Apostles much of a threat (Acts 4:13, 21). They were uneducated, but the rulers took note that they had been with Jesus and then released them.

Since the 5000 men of chapter four were converted through Peter’s miracle in chapter three, the timeframe of the Apostles’ first appearance before the High Priest was probably the season of Tabernacles of 31 CE or Passover of 32 CE. When the ruling of the High Priest was not observed (Acts 4:18; 5:28), the Sadducee party probably introduced a counter plan of infiltrating the ranks of the Messianic Jews in an effort to bring them under their control, because it seems evident that the rulers had no legal grounds to accuse them of any wrong doing.

Ananias and Sapphira would have been two of an unknown number of false brethren sent in to spy out the Apostles’ activity. The plan itself would have taken some time to initiate. Then volunteers would need to be gathered and the sale of the property itself would have taken some time to be arranged. This means that Acts 5 probably did not occur until at least one or two Holy Day seasons following the conversion of the 5000 in chapter 4. Why another Holy Day season? I think the mention of multitudes coming to believe (Acts 5:14) would logically refer to a great number of pilgrims at Jerusalem. Therefore, if it is logical to assume large numbers of conversions at one time indicate a Holy Day season when a great many pilgrims from the Diaspora were present in Jerusalem, then the multitudes who came to Christ after the 5000 (compare Acts 4:4 & Acts 5:14) must refer to the next or the second Holy Day season following the Apostles appearance before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4. If this seems logical thus far, this would put the Apostles’ second appearance before the Sanhedrin at another of the three Holy Day seasons in 32 or 33 CE, thus, about year and a half or more after the crucifixion and we still haven’t come to Stephen’s death and the persecution of the Hellenist Messianic Jews in chapter eight of Acts.

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Posted by on March 5, 2011 in Acts of the Apostles, Chronology


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