an-a-ni'-as (Ananias; Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek, Hananias; chananyah, "Yah has been gracious"):
The name was common among the Jews. In its Hebrew form it is frequently found in the Old Testament (e.g. 1 Chronicles 25:4; Jeremiah 28:1; Daniel 1:6).
1. A Disciple at Jerusalem:
Husband of Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). He and his wife sold their property, and gave to the common fund of the church part of the purchase money, pretending it was the whole. When his hypocrisy was denounced by Peter, Ananias fell down dead; and three hours later his wife met the same doom. The following points are of interest.
(1) The narrative immediately follows the account of the intense brotherliness of the believers resulting in a common fund, to which Barnabas had made a generous contribution (Acts 4:32-37). The sincerity and spontaneity of the gifts of Barnabas and the others set forth in dark relief the calculated deceit of Ananias. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.
(2) The crime of Ananias consisted, not in his retaining a part, but in his pretending to give the whole. He was under no compulsion to give all, for the communism of the early church was not absolute, but purely voluntary (see especially
Acts 5:4) Falsehood and hypocrisy ("lie to the Holy Spirit" Acts 5:3), rather than greed, were the sins for which he was so severely punished.
(3) The severity of the Judgment can be justified by the consideration that the act was "the first open venture of deliberate wickedness" (Meyer) within the church. The punishment was an "awe-inspiring act of Divine church-discipline." The narrative does not, however, imply that Peter consciously willed their death. His words were the occasion of it, but he was not the deliberate agent. Even the words in Acts 5:9 are a prediction rather than a judicial sentence.
2. A Disciple at Damascus:
A disciple in Damascus, to whom the conversion of Saul of Tarsus was made known in a vision, and who was the instrument of his physical and spiritual restoration, and the means of introducing him to the other Christians in Damascus (Acts 9:10-19). Paul makes honorable mention of him in his account of his conversion spoken at Jerusalem (Acts 22:12-16), where we are told that Ananias was held in high respect by all the Jews in Damascus, on account of his strict legal piety. No mention is made of him in Paul's address before Agrippa in Caesarea (Acts 26). In late tradition, he is placed in the list of the seventy disciples of Jesus, and represented as bishop of Damascus, and as having died a martyr's death.
3. A High Priest at Jerusalem:
A high priest in Jerusalem from 47-59 AD. From Josephus (Ant., XX, v, 2; vi, 2; ix, 2; BJ, II, xvii, 9) we glean the following facts:
He was the son of Nedebaeus (or Nebedaeus) and was nominated to the high-priestly office by Herod of Chalcis. In 52 AD he was sent to Rome by Quadratus, legate of Syria, to answer a charge of oppression brought by the Samaritans, but the emperor Claudius acquitted him. On his return to Jerusalem, he resumed the office of high priest. He was deposed shortly before Felix left the province, but continued to wield great influence, which he used in a lawless and violent way. He was a typical Sadducee, wealthy, haughty, unscrupulous, filling his sacred office for purely selfish and political ends, anti-nationalist in his relation to the Jews, friendly to the Romans. He died an ignominious death, being assassinated by the popular zealots (sicarii) at the beginning of the last Jewish war. In the New Testament he figures in two passages.
(1) Acts 23:1-5, where Paul defends himself before the Sanhedrin. The overbearing conduct of Ananias in commanding Paul to be struck on the mouth was characteristic of the man. Paul's ire was for the moment aroused, and he hurled back the scornful epithet of "whited wall." On being called to account for "reviling God's high priest," he quickly recovered the control of his feelings, and said "I knew not, brethren, that he was high priest:
for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people." This remark has greatly puzzled the commentators. The high priest could have been easily identified by his position and official seat as president of the Sanhedrin. Some have wrongly supposed that Ananias had lost his office during his trial at Rome, but had afterward usurped it during a vacancy (John Lightfoot, Michaelis, etc.). Others take the words as ironical, "How could I know as high priest one who acts so unworthily of his sacred office?" (so Calvin). Others (e.g. Alford, Plumptre) take it that owing to defective eyesight Paul knew not from whom the insolent words had come. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Paul meant, "I did not for the moment bear in mind that I was addressing the high priest" (so Bengel, Neander, etc.).
(2) In Acts 24:1 we find Ananias coming down to Caesarea in person, with a deputation from the Sanhedrin, to accuse Paul before Felix.
D. Miall Edwards