In Acts 5:3-4, did Ananias "lie to", "fake" or "pretend"?

Act 5:3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? Act 5:4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God."

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] Acts 5:3-4 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Πέτρος Ἁνανία, διὰ τί ἐπλήρωσεν ὁ Σατανᾶς τὴν καρδίαν σου ψεύσασθαί σε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον καὶ νοσφίσασθαι ἀπὸ τῆς τιμῆς τοῦ χωρίου; οὐχὶ μένον σοὶ ἔμενεν καὶ πραθὲν ἐν τῇ σῇ ἐξουσίᾳ ὑπῆρχεν; τί ὅτι ἔθου ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου τὸ πρᾶγμα τοῦτο; οὐκ ἐψεύσω ἀνθρώποις ἀλλὰ τῷ θεῷ.

It seems to me that the middle voice (ψεύσασθαί) combined with σε precludes the idea of "lying" because with σε in the middle voice would mean that he was "lying to himself". The same construct is used in Psalm 66 LXX to translate "feign obedience":

YLT Psa 66:3 Say to God, `How fearful are Thy works, By the abundance of Thy strength, Thine enemies feign obedience to Thee. [See also http://biblehub.com/hebrew/yechachashu_3584.htm]

Psa 66:3 (65:3) εἴπατε τῷ θεῷ Ὡς φοβερὰ τὰ ἔργα σου· ἐν τῷ πλήθει τῆς δυνάμεώς σου ψεύσονταί σε οἱ ἐχθροί σου·

This is further confirmed in my mind by the fact that τὸ

πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον is in the accusative and τὸ ἅγιο is attributive ("the breath that is holy".

So which is it?

  • The middle voice is not equivalent to a reflexive.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 13, 2016 at 12:57
  • @curiousdannii I'm not suggesting that it is. I do however note that translators (though not Susan) do regard the middle. For example: 4Ma 5:34 I will not belie thee, O law, my instructor! or forsake thee, O beloved self-control! (see merriam-webster.com/dictionary/belie) Even BDAG says "deceive by lying" for usage 2 but "lie" for usage 1. "Belie" suits the context perfectly.
    – user10231
    Jun 13, 2016 at 14:06
  • I don't think "belie" generally takes an animate subject in modern English (Brenton notwithstanding), nor does it have an accusative object = the one deceived. More on mysterious middles (spoiler: he calls ψεύδεσθαι a "speech-act middle".... several planes of terminology starting to blur together here...).
    – Susan
    Jun 14, 2016 at 10:52

3 Answers 3


In Acts 5:3, ψεύσασθαί means "to lie to", or as BDAG has it:

to attempt to deceive by lying.... Ac 5:3

Note that this definition (2) is given separately simply to point out that it is a transitive verb that takes a direct (accusative) object. BDAG indicates this by the accusative pronoun τινὰ after the gloss. This contrasts with the usage of ψεύδομαι in 5:4, corresponding to definition 1:

to lie.... Ac 5:4

and taking a dative (οὐκ ἀνθρώποις ἀλλὰ τῷ θεῷ).

As pointed out in BDAG, the verb is always used in the middle in Koine literature. As with most middles in that phase of the language, it is not reflexive. The idea is that the subject is somehow involved in or the beneficiary of the action, which follows from the semantics of English verb used to translate it and doesn't require an English reflexive object such as "perjure oneself".*

Psalm 65:3 is not the same construction. Acts 5:3 reads:

τί ἐπλήρωσεν ὁ Σατανᾶς τὴν καρδίαν σου ψεύσασθαί σε τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον
Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?

The Greek verb ψεύσασθαί is an infinitive, appearing here with two accusatives. The first (the pronoun σε = you) is actually the subject of the verbal idea, so inflected because the infinitive can not take a true (nominative) subject. It is not a reflexive pronoun or even a direct object. In contrast, Psalm 65:3:

ψεύσονταί σε οἱ ἐχθροί σου

Here we again have a form of ψεύδομαι and a pronoun σε, but in this case ψεύσονταί is a finite verb with a nominative subject (οἱ ἐχθροί σου) and a direct object (σε). It again falls into BDAG 2 due to the direct object. It means:

your enemies will lie to you.

The YLT's different take on it arises due to the Hebrew כחשׁ being translated. It normally means something similar to the Greek -- "to deceive" -- but due to the context the Hebrew is stretched in some translations (by emendation to nifal or tugging at the definition of MT's piel) to "feign obedience." Whether this more accurately reflects the Psalmist's meaning is of little consequence for translator of the Greek Psalms who, characteristically, chose the basic sense of the Hebrew in front of him without expending much energy trying to make sense of it.

*The word is also found on at least some lists of NT deponents, among those who appreciate such terminology, although the active is well enough attested elsewhere.

  • I'm afraid I'm not convinced that they are identical. BDAG's example from 1 Clement clearly shows "fake love": 1 Clem. 15:2 For He saith in a certain place This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, 3 and again, they blessed with their mouth, but they cursed with their heart. 4 And again He saith, They loved Him with their mouth, and with their tongue they lied [pretended] unto Him; and their heart was not upright with Him, neither were they steadfast in His covenant.
    – user10231
    Jun 12, 2016 at 23:30
  • Not sure what you mean by "two constructs" -- you mean the two definitions in BDAG? The first is absolute/intransitive, and the second requires an object -- the difference is one of valency. ("Deceive" takes an object in English whereas "lie" does not, hence the glosses.) The two are being used in vv. 3 and 4 to describe the same action, so I think it's unlikely a distinction is being drawn apart from the syntactical one.
    – Susan
    Jun 12, 2016 at 23:40
  • According to BDAG definition #1 is "lie to" and definition #2 is "deceive by lying to". To your mind are these identical? Or is BDAG, as I am suggesting, distinguishing the two?
    – user10231
    Jun 14, 2016 at 10:58
  • 1
    Obviously they're distinguishing them; I just think the primary difference is transitivity, or valency, or however you want to call it. Note immediately after the gloss, for def. 1 (not "lie to" but "lie") it says "abs." (= absolute) and for def. 2 it says "τινὰ" (= "someone", accusative). That's the point.
    – Susan
    Jun 14, 2016 at 11:12

It has become clear to me that a proper Biblical Hermeneutic (the one employed by the writers of the NT) involves intertextuality to such a degree that I have come to believe that there is an OT passage at the heart of every NT passage. And it seems evident that the background of Acts/Ananias is the pretense of Jeroboam's wife when she "pretended to be another woman":

1Ki 14:6, 17 NASB - 6 When Ahijah heard the sound of her feet coming in the doorway, he said, "Come in, wife of Jeroboam, why do you pretend to be another woman? For I am sent to you with a harsh message. ... 17 Then Jeroboam's wife arose and departed and came to Tirzah. As she was entering the threshold of the house, the child died.

In both cases both the husband and wife are attempting to deceive the prophet by pretense. The author of Acts (IE: Luke) used the form of 1 Kings 14 to shape his account. Ananias and Sapphiras were co-conspirators of pretension.

Unfortunately the extant koine versions of the OT do not include 1 Kings 14:1-20.

1Ki 14:6, 14-17 NASB - 6 When Ahijah heard the sound of her feet coming in the doorway, he said, "Come in, wife of Jeroboam, why do you pretend to be another woman? For I am sent to you with a harsh message. ... 14 "Moreover, the LORD will raise up for Himself a king over Israel who will cut off the house of Jeroboam this day and from now on. 15 "For the LORD will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the LORD to anger. 16 "He will give up Israel on account of the sins of Jeroboam, which he committed and with which he made Israel to sin." 17 Then Jeroboam's wife arose and departed and came to Tirzah. As she was entering the threshold of the house, the child died.

So in Acts, Annanias and Sapphiras were pretending to be wholly devoted to God by holy speech but their hearts were far from God.


There doesn't seem to be any indications that Greeks reading the passage understood ψεύσασθαί σε τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον to mean anything other than to lie to the Holy Spirit, despite how the phrase might be literally dissected. In his commentary on the passage, Theophylact doesn't hesitate in paraphrasing the literal Greek text ψεύσασθαί σε as simply ψεύσασθαί:

Ὁρᾶτε πόσον μέγα ἁμαρτήμα ἐστὶ ψεύσασθαι τῷ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι. ὡς γὰρ ὁ θεὸς λυπεῖται βλασφημούμενος, οὕτως καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα λυπεῖται ψευδόμενον

See how great a sin it is to lie to the Holy Spirit . For as God is grieved when He is blasphemed, so also is the Holy Spirit grieved when He is lied to (PG 125:224-225)

Something similar can be found in Chrysostom's commentary (PG 60:121-122).

Regarding Psalm 65:3 LXX (65:3 in the Masoretic Text), the Brenton translation out of the Septuagint reads:

Say unto God, How awful are thy works! through the greatness of thy power thine enemies shall lie to thee.

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