Monday, February 4, 2013

Ananias: Not An Apostle (Acts 9:10-19)

Who prayed for Saul when he was healed from his blindness? Ananias (Acts 9:18)

Paul, still known as Saul, begins his journey from persecutor of the church to apostle when he is famously blinded on the Damascus road during an encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:1-9). God enlists Ananias, a disciple from Damascus, to intercede on the still blinded Saul’s behalf (Acts 9:10-19). The man who persecuted believers is now dependent upon one.

In a vision, God instructs Ananias that Saul will be awaiting him as he too has experienced a vision (Acts 9:10-12). Citing Saul’s notorious reputation, an apprehensive Ananias voices his concerns (Acts 9:13-14). God does not refute the reluctant disciple’s assessment but overrules his objection, confiding that Saul will play an important role in the church’s future (Acts 9:15-16). Ananias relents and does as he is commanded (Acts 9:17-19).

So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. (Acts 9:17-19 NASB)
Ananias was a common name during the period. Harold S. Songer (1928-2005) observes:
Ananias is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Hannaniah (Hanni or Hanan) which means “God is gracious.” The name occurs frequently in the Apocrypha (cf. I Esdras 9:21, 43, 48; Judith 8:1; Tobit 5:12) and is used of three different persons in the New Testament [Acts 5:1, 9:10, 23:2]. (Watson E. Mills [b. 1939], Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, 28)
Rieuwerd Buitenwerf (b. 1973) researches:
See Tal Ilan [b. 1956], Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity Part I: Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE...On the list of most popular Jewish names...Hananiah (=Ananias) is seventh (pp. 56, 103-108). In Josephus [37-100]....are found...nine persons called Ananias. (Buitenwerf, Harm W. Hollander [b. 1949], Johannes Tromp [b. 1964], “Narrative History Based on the Letters of Paul”, Jesus, Paul, and Early Christianity: Studies in Honour of Henk Jan De Jonge [b. 1943] (Supplements to Novum Testamentum), 74)
Ananias proves to be the embodiment of his name. J. Bradley Chance (b. 1954) notes:
The name means “Yahweh is gracious.” Whereas the name is ironic when applied to the Ananias of Acts 5:1-11, it is fitting for this Ananias. Even more skeptical readers...acknowledge that Luke inherited this basic story from tradition, for he would not have “made up” a character with the same name as two other infamous characters in Acts (Acts 5:1-11, 23:2-5). (Chance, Acts (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 148)
Little biographical information is provided regarding Ananias but everything that is revealed is highly favorable. Tellingly, and unlike Saul in the preceding story (Acts 9:5), when Ananias is summoned he recognizes the voice (Acts 9:10). He answers the call with the stereotypical servant’s response (Genesis 22:1, 31:11; Exodus 3:10; I Samuel 3:4, 6, 8; Isaiah 6:8).

Ananias is deemed a “disciple” (Acts 9:10). Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) defines:

The term μαθητης is regularly used in Acts to refer to a Christian (cf. Acts 5:1, 8:9, 9:1, 10, 16:1), but it seems likely that Luke also uses the term of the followers of John the Baptist in Acts as he had in the Gospel (Acts 19:1; cf. Luke 5:33, 7:18). In this case it is clear enough that Ananias is a Christian disciple. (Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles : A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 317-18)

Ananias is well-informed as his assessment of Saul’s behavior is accurate (Acts 8:3, 9:1-2). Because he has only heard of Saul’s dealings and not experienced them first hand many have concluded that he is a native of Damascus and not a refugee who has fled persecution in Jerusalem (Acts 9:13-14).

Later in Acts, when Paul recalls Ananias’ intercession, he describes him as “a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there” (Acts 22:12 NASB). From this commendation it can be deduced that Ananias is a Jewish believer held in high regard in the Christian community.

Prior to Saul’s blindness, as a prominent Damascan disciple, Ananias was likely high on the persecutor’s hit list. Ananias is beckoned in a vision, a common medium for divine communication in Acts, especially when the Lord is doing something new (Acts 2:17, 9:10, 12, 10:3, 17, 19, 11:5, 16:9, 10, 18:9). He is likely in terror when informed that the man hunting down he and his friends is in town much less that he is to seek him out.

Ananias receives an assignment he clearly does not want. R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) compares:

The hunted do not usually minister to the hunter. Normally that would be as crazy as Peter Rabbit caring for Mr. McGregor or Golda Meir [1898-1978] nursing Adolf Eichmann [1906-1962]. But this is exactly what happened in Saul’s case. (Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire (Preaching the Word, 130)
For Ananias to entertain an idea this crazy, God had to be in it!

Being asked to intercede on Saul’s behalf is a severe test of Ananias’ faith. One of the ultimate measures of faith is how the believer responds to counterintuitive imperatives (Exodus 14:16; I Kings 17:3-14; II Kings 5:10; John 9:1-11). Ananias passes this test with flying colors.

Ananias goes to Saul and administers the laying on of hands (Acts 9:17). The ritual is commonly associated with healing in Luke-Acts (Luke 4:40, 13:13; Acts 9:17; 28:8).

Clinton E. Arnold (b. 1958) chronicles:

In the Old Testament, the laying on of hands is done in connection with a special commission (as Moses did when he conferred the leadership of the nation on Joshua; Numbers 27:23) or with the imparting of a blessing (as Jacob did on his sons just before he died; Genesis 48:14). Jesus often laid his hands on people as he healed them. (Arnold, John, Acts (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 78)
Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) adds:
The imposition of hands takes on a curative aspect...As a gesture of healing, it is unknown in the Old Testament or in rabbinical literature but has turned up in 1QapGen 29:28-20, where Abram prays, lays his hands on the head of Pharaoh, and exorcises the evil spirt afflicting him and his household for having carried off Sarai, Abram’s wife. (Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (The Anchor Bible), 429)
Darrell L. Bock (b. 1953) differentiates:
Ananias will be the mediator of the restoration of Saul’s sight and of the Spirit’s filling. At Qumran, 1QapGen 20:28-29 mentions the laying on of hands to drive a demon away from Pharaoh, but this Qumranic text is not technically an exorcism, as there is no possession here, only oppression and demonic presence...What Ananias does is not designated to send a force away but to associate Saul with God...The purpose of laying on hands in this scene is obvious. The Spirit is connecting Saul to his brothers, as Ananias’s opening address affirms. He also is empowered for witness, a Pauline “Pentecost” (William J. Larkin, Jr. [b. 1945] 1995: 143 see Acts 9:15). (Bock, Acts (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 362)
C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) clarifies:
The laying on of hands is certainly not a rite subsequent to baptism; as usual in Acts, it is a sign of blessing, to be interpreted as the occasion suggests. Here it is an act of healing. (Barrett, Acts 1-14 (International Critical Commentary), 457)
Ananias’ intercession accomplishes its purpose as Saul regains his eyesight (Acts 9:18). This marks the only New Testament story outside of the gospels where a blind person’s sight is restored. The return of Saul’s sight is signaled by “something like scales” falling from his eyes (Acts 9:18 NASB). A similar film is removed from Tobit’s eyes in the Apocrypha (Tobit 3:17, 11:13).

The event marks Saul’s physical and spiritual healing. Saul is eventually filled with the Spirit though there is some debate as to when this occurs. I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) rationalizes:

It is not clear whether in the present context it is also regarded as conveying the gift of the Spirit to Paul, and indeed this seems unlikely since here it precedes baptism, with which reception of the Spirit would normally be associated. At the same time Ananias indicated his commission from the same Lord who had already appeared to Paul to bring him healing and the gift of the Spirit. (Marshall, Acts (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 172)
Charles H. Talbert (b. 1934) counters:
The conjunction of regaining sight and being filled with the Spirit seem to be two sides of one coin here. Hence when Acts 9:18 says he sees, it can be inferred that he has been filled. The visible sign of his filling is his healing (cf. Galatians 3:5). If so, there is once again considerable variety in the arrangements associated with the reception of the Holy Spirit in Acts. (Talbert, Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 87)
Regardless of when he is filled with the Spirit, Saul is initiated into the Christian community.

Remarkably, the dutiful disciple not only follows orders but seemingly does so ungrudgingly. Ananias’ words match his actions as he not only touches Saul but establishes rapport by receiving him as a “brother” (Acts 1:16, 2:29, 2:37, 3:17, 6:3, 7:2, 9:17, 13:15, 26, 38, 15:7, 13, 21:20, 22:1, 22:13, 23:1, 5, 6, 28:17.) Often lost in translation, Ananias also greets Saul using the Hebrew or Aramaic transliteration Saoul. Taken collectively, these gestures add up to a warm welcome demonstrating genuine love and kindness and more importantly, acceptance as a member of the community.

What is absent is also meanningful: At no point does Ananias reproach Saul! Saul has been accepted by God and that is good enough for Ananias.

William H. Willimon (b. 1946) interprets:

No longer does Ananias speak about “this man” [Acts 9:13] but to “Brother Saul.” The despised enemy, the alien, has become a brother. Does Luke intend the phrase “on the road by which you came’ remind us of Acts 9:2 where the “way” refers to the believers? On the way to do in the followers of “the Way,” Saul was turned around and set on the way. (Willimon, Acts (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 77)
Lloyd J. Ogilvie (b. 1930) praises:
One of the most moving scenes in all of Scripture is what happened when Ananias went to Saul. He found the feared persecutor alone, blind, and helpless. All the hurt and fright Ananias had felt for what this man had done to his brothers and sisters in Christ drained away. The same Lord who told him to go to Saul lived in him and had given to him His own character traits of love and forgiveness. It was with the Lord’s deep compassion and acceptance that Ananias could say, “Brother Saul.”...How we need people to enact His love in a daring way by calling us by a name we have not yet earned or accepted for ourselves! (Ogilvie, Acts (The Preacher’s Commentary), 166-67)
The truce between Ananias and Saul represents the forgiveness possible through Christ, a reconciliation the would shape Paul’s ministry. Charles L. Campbell (b. 1954) connects:
There are few more dramatic pictures of the reconciling power of the risen Christ. The persecuted Ananias, in the power of the risen Christ, calls his former persecutor “Brother.” In Jesus, that is the kind of reconciled community that is possible. And for the rest of his ministry Paul will emphasize this reconciliation between “Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.” Not only Paul’s life is changed by his encounter with the risen Christ, but the very character of the community itself begins to undergo a transformation. (Roger E. Van Harn [b. 1932], The Lectionary Commentary, Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts: The First Readings – The Old Testament and Acts, 561-62)
Ananias’ response to Saul serves as a model for all Christians to accept new believers regardless of past actions.

Though Ananias plays only a cameo role in the New Testament, the part he plays is significant. Robert C. Tannehill (b. 1934) proclaims:

Ananias is an important figure in Acts 9. He is more than a messenger. His reaction to events is important. The narrator takes time to present this reaction and the Lord’s corrective response. Therefore, this episode is more than the story of Saul; it is the story of Saul and Ananias, a story of how the Lord encountered both and brought them together. (Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts, A Literary Interpretation, Volume 2: The Acts of the Apostles, 115)
Behind every great Christian is another who instructed them along their way. Warren W. Wiersbe (b. 1929) correlates:
On April 21, 1855, Edward Kimball led one of the young men in his Sunday School to faith in Christ. Little did he realize that Dwight L. Moody [1837-1899] would one day become the world’s leading evangelist. The ministry of Norman B. Harrison in an obscure Bible conference was used of to bring Theodore Epp [1907-1985] to faith in Christ, and God used Theodore Epp to build the Back to the Bible ministry around the world. Our task is to lead men and women to Christ; God’s task is to use them for his glory; and every person is important to God. (Wiersbe, Be Dynamic (Acts 1-12): Experience the Power of God’s People, 137)
Christian history is filled with lesser known disciples who influenced influential followers. Other such examples are Johann von Staupitz (1460-1524) and Martin Luther (1483-1546), John Egglen and Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) and Mordecai Ham (1877-1961) and Billy Graham (b. 1918).

Ananias leaves the Biblical text as abruptly as he enters it. His diminishing recognition begins in the Bible itself.

Mikeal C. Parsons (b. 1957) tracks:

In Saul’s autobiographical retellings Ananias’s role diminishes as Saul’s role expands (Ronald D. Witherup [b. 1950] 1992, 77). In Acts 22 Ananias tells Saul to receive his sight and that he will be a “witness” of all he has seen and heard. By Acts 26 Ananias drops out of the story completely. (Parsons, Acts (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 130)
Ananias is not referenced in any of the Pauline epistles. This is especially conspicuous when Paul writes the Galatians of his encounter with Christ and asserts that “I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:16 NASB).

There is little doubt that Ananias is one the Bible’s unsung heroes.

How hard must it have been for Ananias to help Saul? Who would you recoil from assisting? When has God asked you to do something that seemed illogical? How would Paul’s story have changed without Ananias’ intervention? Why do you think that Ananias fades from the forefront? If God wishes Saul’s sight to be restored, why does he wait for Ananias’ arrival for the scales to fall? What is accomplished by Ananias’ involvement? Why is Ananias chosen for this task?

To complete his mission, Paul will need the acceptance of the church and Ananias is a credible witness to an incredibly important event.

Derek Carlsen remarks:

The Lord did not need to use Ananias, but the church needed Ananias’ testimony and it also shows that the Lord uses people in bringing about the accomplishment of His will. This should encourage us to faithfully minister where we are, knowing that our labor is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58). (Carlsen, Faith and Courage: Commentary on Acts, 237)
On many levels, Ananias is an odd choice. Not only does enlisting Ananias break “apostolic succession”, he also has no official status within the church.

S. G. Wilson (b. 1942) discerns:

If the point of Acts 9 was primarily to show how Paul was absorbed into the Church’s tradition, or, as Ernst Haenchen [1894-1975] would have it, legitimised by the Twelve through their representative, then one might have expected Luke to have made a clearer line of contact between the Twelve or the Jerusalem Church and Ananias in Damascus. It is an oft-noted fact that Ananias, a Christian who apparently permanently resides in Damascus, suddenly appears in Acts 9 without any clue being offered how Christianity had spread from Jerusalem to Damascus. We are not told that the Twelve preached or legitimised preaching there as, for example, they did in Antioch and Samaria. (Wilson, The Gentiles and the Gentile Mission in Luke-Acts (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series), 64)
Loveday Alexander characterizes:
Formally speaking, the laying on of hands here (Acts 9:17) is not apostolic. Ananias was not one of the Twelve, and there is no record that he himself was ever commissioned by the Jerusalem apostles. He acts simply as a believer, responding directly to the vision out of the conviction that he too has been the same Lord Jesus who appeared to Saul on the road. For Luke...Paul’s apostolic commission came not from Jerusalem but direct from the Lord himself. So Saul’s Damascus road experience leads him into a transformative encounter with the risen Christ. Its results are vision restored, rising to new life, baptism and filling with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17-18), and renewed strength (Acts 9:19). (Alexander, Acts: A Guide for Reflection and Prayer (Daily Bible Commentary), 79)
F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) concludes:
The commissioning of Saul, and the part played in it by Ananias, must ever remain a stumbling block in the path of those whose conception of the apostolic ministry is too tightly bound to one particular line of transmission or form of ordination. If the risen Lord commissioned such an illustrious servant in so “irregular” a way, may he not have done so again, and may he not yet do so again, when the occasion requires it? (Bruce, The Book of Acts (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 189)
Apostle or not, Ananias is a believer, a representative of God. And clergy or not, that is all he needs to be commissioned to do great things by God.

Why did God choose Ananias and not an apostle for the task of interceding for Saul? Do you believe that “apostolic succession” is a requirement for clergy? Who was instrumental in your spiritual development? Who have you interceded for? Who can you be interceding for?

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.” - Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), The Note Book