(An·a·niʹas) [Gr. form of the Heb. name Hananiah, meaning “Jehovah Has Shown Favor; Jehovah Has Been Gracious”].
1. A member of the early Christian congregation of Jerusalem. Following Pentecost of 33 C.E. the physical needs of the believers who remained in Jerusalem were cared for by mutual assistance among the Christians. A common fund was set up for this purpose. It was sustained by contributions representing the price of fields and houses sold by members of the congregation and then voluntarily donated. (Ac 4:34-37) Ananias sold a field and, with his wife’s full knowledge, presented a part of the money obtained, while giving the appearance of turning in the entire sum, no doubt to gain a measure of commendation and esteem within the congregation. However, through a special gift of knowledge by the spirit, Peter discerned his pretense, exposed him as ‘playing false to the holy spirit and to God,’ and Ananias fell down and expired. When the men who buried him returned in about three hours, they found his wife Sapphira also dead for having tried to keep up the same false pretense.—Ac 5:1-10.
2. A Christian disciple of Damascus. Following the conversion of Saul, Ananias was given a vision in which Jesus gave him Saul’s name and address with instructions to visit him. Though at first hesitant because he knew of Saul’s fiery persecution of the Christians, Ananias thereafter responded and went to Saul, caused him to recover his sight, informed him of his commission to be God’s witness, and arranged for his baptism. Saul (Paul), in a later defense before opposing Jews, referred to Ananias as a man “reverent according to the Law, well reported on by all the Jews dwelling there [in Damascus].” In view of his being a Christian, such Jewish commendation was indeed a remarkable testimony to his right conduct.—Ac 9:10-18; 22:12-16.
3. Jewish high priest from about 48 to 58 C.E. He was the son of Nedebaeus and was appointed to office by Herod, king of Chalcis, the brother of Herod Agrippa I. (Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities, XX, 103 [v, 2]) He was sent to Rome in 52 C.E. to stand trial because of certain difficulties that had arisen between the Jews and the Samaritans, but he was acquitted by Claudius I, the emperor.
In about 56 C.E., while presiding at Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin, Ananias ordered Paul to be struck in the face. Paul reacted to this by predicting that God would repay such wrong action, and he referred to Ananias as a “whitewashed wall.” Called to account for this, Paul excused himself as being unaware of the fact that the source of the order to strike him was the high priest and quoted Exodus 22:28 in acknowledgment of his obligation to show due respect. Some suggest that Paul’s plea of ignorance was because Ananias’ position as high priest was not legally certain after his return from Rome, but proof for this is not substantial. It could be simply an additional evidence of poor eyesight on Paul’s part, as appears to be indicated in other texts. Ananias’ command may have been brief enough and sufficiently charged with emotion to make it difficult for Paul to identify the speaker.—Ac 23:2-5.
Following the Sanhedrin trial Ananias, accompanied by certain older men and a public orator, traveled to Caesarea to press charges against Paul before Governor Felix. (Ac 24:1) No further mention of him is made in the Scriptural record. Secular history, however, represents him as a haughty and cruel person, whose conduct, both during his high priesthood and in the years following his removal, was marked by greed. Toward the beginning of the Jewish revolt of 66-70 C.E., Ananias was pursued by elements of the Jewish population because of his collaboration with the Roman authorities. Though hiding out in an aqueduct, he was discovered and murdered.