Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. And a certain man called Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2. And he kept back part of the price, his wife knowing thereof, and bringing part, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3. And Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart that thou shouldest lie to the Holy Ghost, and keep back part of the price of the ground? 4. Did it not, remaining, remain to thee? and, being sold, was it not in thy power? How is it that thou hast put this thing in thy heart? Thou hast not lied to men, but to God. 5. And when Ananias heard these words, falling, he yielded up the ghost; and there came great fear upon all those which had heard these things. 6. Furthermore, the young men which were present gathered him up, and, carrying him out, they buried him.
1. Those things which Luke hath reported hitherto did show that that company, which was gathered together under the name of Christ, was rather a company of angels than of men, Moreover, that was incredible virtue, that the rich men did despoil themselves of their own accord, not only of their money, but also of their land, that they might relieve the poor. But now he showeth that Satan had invented a shift to get into that holy company, and that under color of such excellent virtue; for he hath wonderful wiles of hypocrisy to insinuate himself. This way doth Satan assault the Church, when as he cannot prevail by open war. But we must specially in this place have respect unto the drift of the Holy Ghost. For in this history he meant to declare, first, how acceptable singleness of heart is to God, and what an abomination hypocrisy is in his sight; secondly, how greatly he alloweth [approves] the holy and pure policy and govermnent of his Church. For this is the principal point, the punishment wherewith punished Ananias and his wife. As the greatness thereof did at that time terrify them all, so it is unto us a testimony that God cannot abide this unfaithfulness, when as bearing a show of holiness where there is none, we do mock him contemptibly. For if, having weighed all the circumstances, we be desirous to know the sum, Luke condemneth no other fault in Ananias than this, that he meant to deceive God and the Church with a reigned offering. Yet there were more evils packed under this dissimulation: the contempt of God, whom he feareth not, though he knew his wickedness; sacrilegious defrauding, because he keepeth back part of that which he professeth to be holy to God; perverse vanity and ambition, because he vaunteth himself in the presence of men, without having any respect unto God’s judgment; want of faith, because he would never have gone this way to work, unless he had mistrusted God; the corrupting of a godly and holy order; furthermore, the hypocrisy itself was a great offense of itself. 237 The fact of Ananias did bear a goodly show, 238 although he had given only the half of his land. Neither is this a small virtue, for a rich man to bestow the half of his goods upon the poor; but the sacrifices of the ungodly are an abomination to God, (Pr 15:8;) neither can any thing please him where the singleness of heart is wanting. For this cause is it that Christ maketh more account of the two mites offered by the widow, than of the great sums of others, who of their great heaps gave some part, (Lu 21:2.) This is the cause why God doth show an example of such sharp punishment in Ananias. Now, let us note every point by itself. He laid it at the feet of the apostles. Lo, what ambition doth! Ananias is ashamed not to be accounted one of the best; therefore, although he be greedy of money, yet to the end he may purchase a name amongst men, he depriveth himself of some part of his riches. In the meanwhile, he doth not consider that he lieth and deceiveth in the sight of God, and that God will punish this lie. So it is, that he honoreth the apostles’ feet more than God’s eyes. Wherefore, we must take good heed, that when we do well, we do not seek to be praised of the bystanders; 239 and it is not without cause that Christ saith, that it is profitable for us when we give our alms, to have the left hand ignorant of that which the right hand doth.
3. And Peter said. How did Peter know Ananias’ fraud (and purloining?) Undoubtedly by the revelation of the Spirit. Therefore, Luke signifieth unto us, that the apostles did after a sort represent God’s person, and supply his room. If the Spirit of God, by the mouth of a mortal man, do so sore urge an hypocrite, being otherwise painted with the beautiful color of virtues, how shall the reprobate abide the voice of God himself, with the sound of the trumpet, when they shall appear before his judgment-seat? Furthermore, Peter pointeth out the cruelness and horribleness of the offense 240 by his question, when he saith, that Satan had filled the heart of Ananias. For there is no man whose heart is not pricked with the pricks of Satan, and all men are also many ways tempted, yea, these temptations pierce into their minds; but where Satan possesseth the heart, he reigneth in the whole man, having, as it were, expelled God. This is a sign of a reprobate, to be so addicted and given over to Satan, that the Spirit of God hath no place. That which followeth afterward concerning lying may have a double sense; either that he did falsely bear a show of the Spirit, or that he lied against the Spirit. And, indeed, it is word for word mentiri Spiritum; but forasmuch as the Greek word [ψευδεσθαι] is joined with a double accusative case and that doth better agree with the text [context,] I am rather of this mind, that Ananias is reprehended, because he did lie falsely to the Holy Ghost. Which he confirmeth shortly after, when he upbraideth this unto him, that he hath lied unto God, and not unto men. Wherefore we must take great heed, that hypocrisy reign not in us, which hath this wickedness proper to it, to go about to deceive God, and, as it were cornicum oculos configere. To go about to make blind those which are most wise; 241 which cannot be without a disloyal and unseemly mock. Wherefore it is not without cause that Peter saith, that where this cometh to pass the heart is possessed of Satan. For who durst (unless he were void of reason) so blaspheme God? Therefore Peter asketh him as of some wonder, because such blindness is horrible.
4. Did it not remaining. This amplifieth the offense because he sinned, being enforced by no necessity. For seeing it is no just or lawful excuse to have been provoked by some other means, how much worse is it to run headlong unto wickedness willingly, and, as it were of set purpose to pull down God’s vengeance? We gather out of this, that no man was enforced to sell his goods or lands. For Peter saith, that Ananias had free liberty to keep both his land and his money; because in the second member, the field which was sold is taken for the price itself. Therefore he should nevertheless have been counted faithful, though he had kept that which was his own. Whereby it appeareth that they are men destitute of their right wits, who say that it is not lawful for the faithful to have anything of their own.
Thou hast not lied to men, but to God. Although the words be diversely construed, yet do I not doubt but that this confirmeth the former sentence. For hypocrites do so enwrap themselves in so many shifts, that they think they have nothing to do with God. And Peter speaketh thus expressly, because Ananias had deceived the Church. But he ought to have considered, that
“where two or three be gathered together in the name of Christ, he is present there as the chief governor,”
yea, he ought to have behaved himself no otherwise in that assembly, than if he should have seen God with his eyes. For seeing that God will reign in the Church, if we give him any reverence, we must reverence that rule and government religiously which he exerciseth by his Word. The apostles were indeed men, but not private men, because God had put them in his stead. Furthermore, we must note, that he saith that he lieth to God who doth lie to the Holy Ghost. For the divinity of the Holy Ghost is manifestly proved by this form of speech. In like sort Paul saith, “Ye are the temples of God, because his Spirit dwelleth in you,” (1 Cor. 3:16, 17, 1 Cor. 6:19.)
5. When Ananias heard these things. The death of Ananias doth, indeed, declare and prove the force of the word, which Paul cloth highly extol; to wit, that it is the savor of death unto death to those which perish, (2Co 2:16.) He speaketh, indeed, of the spiritual death of the soul, but there was a visible sign in the body of Ananias of that punishment which cannot be seen with the eyes of men. He was not slain with sword, by force, nor hand, but was stricken dead with the only hearing of the voice. When we hear this, let the threatenings of the gospel terrify us, and humble us in time, lest we also feel the like effect. For that which is spoken of Christ,
“He shall slay the wicked with the breath of his mouth.”
doth not only appertain to the head of the wicked, but also to every member. For those which refuse the salvation offered in his word, it must needs be deadly to them, which was naturally wholesome. But and if any man do think it an absurd thing that the apostle did punish Ananias bodily, first, I answer, that this was an extraordinary thing; secondly, that this was one of the gifts of the Spirit, as it appeareth by the 19th chapter of the First to the Corinthians, (verse 10.) After which sort we shall afterward see Elymas, the sorcerer, stricken with blindness by Paul, (Ac 13:8.) Therefore, Peter did nothing which was impertinent to his function, when he did in time shoot that dart which the Holy Ghost had given him. And whereas some think that this was too cruel a punishment, this cometh to pass, because, weighing Ananias’ sin in their own and not in God’s balance, they count that but a light offense which was a most great and grievous crime, being full of such heinous offenses as I have already declared. Other some do think that this was nothing so, because they see many hypocrites escape scot free daily, which do no less mock God than did Ananias; yea, because they themselves being most gross contemners of God, are yet notwithstanding unpunished for their wickedness. But as God hath poured out visible graces upon his Church in the beginning, to the end we may know that he will be present with us by the secret power of his Spirit, yea, he showed that openly by external signs, which we feel inwardly by the experiment of faith; so he declared by the visible punishment of two, how horrible a judgment remaineth for all hypocrites, which shall mock God and his Church.
And there came great fear This was the Lord’s purpose, by punishing one to make the rest afraid, that they might reverently beware of all hypocrisy. And that which Luke saith, that they feared, doth appertain unto us also. For God meant to give all ages a lesson at that time, that they may learn to deal sincerely and uprightly with him. In the mean season, the punishment of this wicked person ought to have encouraged the godly hereafter to consecrate their goods more freely to God and the poor; because they might gather how precious alms was in the sight of God, seeing the profaning thereof was so punished. 242
“Accedit huc quoque obstinata mentiendi audacia,” to this was also added an obstinate audacity in lying, omitted.
“Praeclarum in speciem et memorabile,” in appearance noble and memorable.
“Theatri plausum appetamus,” long for the plaudits of a theatre.
“Criminis atrocitatem,” the atrocity of the crime.
“Veluti cornici, uti proverbio dicitur, configere oculos,” and as the proverb says, “put out the eyes of the crow.”
“Tam graviter,” so grievously, severely.