The Accountability of Eve and Sapphira

The Old Testament Law contains a few regulations where husbands can be liable for the actions of their wives (e.g. Numbers chapter 30, esp. Num. 30:15 NIV). Conversely, there are Old Testament narratives where whole families are punished for the sins of their fathers (e.g. Achan’s and Korah’s families). These laws and narratives reflect the patriarchal culture of ancient Israel. God’s prediction in Genesis 3:16, that man would rule woman, was being fulfilled, but patriarchy was not God’s original or best intention for his people.

In Genesis 1 we read that God gave men and women an equal status and authority (Gen. 1:26ff). In Genesis 2 we see that the first man and woman experienced a profound mutuality and affinity in their relationship. This mutuality, however, would deteriorate after the Fall.

But, immediately after the Fall and before patriarchy took hold, God spoke to the man and to the woman individually and held each accountable for their own disobedient actions of eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:9-19). The text nowhere indicates that the man was held responsible for his wife’s actions. They would experience the consequences for their own sins: each would die, and each would experience “painful, sorrowful toil” (itstsabon עִצָּבוֹן) in life (Gen. 3:16, 17). The man did not receive a greater penalty because he had a greater responsibility.

Does God hold men accountable for their wives' actions?Fast forward to the days after Pentecost. Jesus had paid the penalty for all sin—including Eve’s and Adam’s sins—with his death on the cross. Jesus had risen from death and returned to his glorious place with the Father, and they had sent the Holy Spirit as Jesus’ powerful replacement on earth. A new era had begun, and a new Spirit-led community formed. This community, the church, endeavoured to embody a new culture of equality and mutuality, irrespective of the ethnicity, gender, or social status of individuals (Gal. 3:28).

Patriarchy had no place in the ethos of Jesus’ followers, and husbands were no longer answerable or liable for the conduct or misdeeds of their wives, and vice versa.[1] The accountability of women is demonstrated in the example of Ananias and Sapphira. You can read their story in Acts 5:1-11 here.

Rachael Starke discusses the text in Acts 5:1-11 in a recent blog post entitled When Submission becomes Sinful.

The decision to sell the property was Ananias’ and Sapphira’s together. But the decision to keep back some of the profit was his, albeit a decision Sapphira knew he had made. Ananias chose his course, and Sapphira submitted to his choice.

Had Peter viewed Sapphira as simply a woman under her husband’s authority, he may not have felt it even necessary to ask after her involvement in her husband’s decision. But instead, in an interesting moment of pastoral acuity, after Ananias’ duplicity has been exposed, Peter actively inquires after Sapphira’s role in the matter. When Sapphira hides behind her husband’s lie, she discovers that, rather than being covered by her husband, she has become complicit with him.

Both Ananias and Sapphira were individually held accountable and responsible for their own parts in the deception, and they each received an equally severe punishment.

While we all have a responsibility for the welfare of others, especially of our families, capable men and women are answerable and liable for their own actions, actions that should reflect and promote the values and principles of Jesus’ kingdom.[2]


Endnote

[1] Part of a mistaken understanding of “male headship” is that husbands are held to a higher degree of accountability than wives, despite no mention of this accountability in the New Testament.

[2] One day each of us will give an account to God for our own actions about how we lived our lives and used the talents he has given us (Rom. 14:12; 1 Pet. 4:5-6; and Matt. 25:19; Luke 19:15). Hopefully we will be rewarded and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

Image Credit

The Death of Sapphira, Sebastien Leclerc (1676–1763) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Related Articles 

The Responsibilities of Husbands in Ephesians 5
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable of similar to the man?
The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community in Matthew’s Gospel