Question: Do we know for sure if Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 were believers?
There are actually several indicators in the context of Acts chapter 5 that Ananias and Sapphira were in fact believers in Jesus Christ. An added bonus is that finding these details helps us learn how to study the context of any Bible passage to discover truths that aren’t right on the surface.
The account of Ananias and Sapphira actually begins in chapter four. In Acts 4:32-37 Luke describes how “all the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” That statement is tied to the scene just before, where Peter and John shared the story with the church of their arrest and release following the healing of the lame man, and the believers joined in spontaneous praise and prayer. Then, in verse 33, we learn that the Lord answered their prayer for boldness to continue witnessing and, as a result, the body of believers grew not only in number but also in love and unity.
The general context is all about the body of believers in Jesus and how they responded to what God was doing through the apostles.
Then, to emphasize what God was doing among these new believers, Barnabas is highlighted as a good example of this agape love so typical among the early believers (Acts 4:36-37), and Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5 are highlighted as a glaring exception of what God was doing among these believers. But the point is, they were counted as among the believers.
In Acts 5:3 the apostle Peter is astounded at Ananias “that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…” Then in verse 9 Peter expresses the same surprise at Sapphira’s willingness to conspire with her husband and “agree to test the Spirit of the Lord…” If they had been unbelievers there would be no reason to be surprised at their selfish, deceitful behavior. There would be even less reason to be surprised at how they had lied to the Holy Spirit or had been manipulated by Satan. The reality is…
2Cor. 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
But as Christians—and especially as recently converted Christians—their behavior came as a shock.
Ananias and Sapphira’s tragic failure stands in Scripture as reminder that a born-again believer is not exempt from temptation and sin. It is also a reminder that God loves us so much that He will discipline His people, even publicly, that others might learn from their example.
1Pet. 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?