Who Killed Nadab and Abihu? Jesus or Satan?

Today’s Reading: Leviticus 8-10

Leviticus 10:1-7 records the unusual story of Nadab and Abihu. It struck me this morning that this story is very similar to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.

In the story of Nadab and Abihu, it appeared that it was the Lord that killed them. In the story of Ananias and Sapphira, we presume that it was the Holy Spirit that killed them. But, does the account in Acts ever say that the Holy Spirit struck them down? Or, do we just read that into the story because we project our violence onto God? And, if the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, did not kill Ananias and Sapphira, then who did? And, if we know who killed Ananias and Sapphira does that teach us anything about who killed Nadab and Abihu?


I think it is always important to know the meaning of names in the Bible. I have found that this provides context and clarity to what the Bible is trying to teach me.

Nadab means to impel or stir; to make a voluntary decision or contribution.

Abihu is comprised of two Hebrew words. The first means father. The second means he, it; this, that; this same; the same. One source says that the name means “the father of him”. But, by the end of this post, I think you might agree with me that the name might mean something like “the same as his father”.

Nadab and Abihu took their own censers and put fire in them and laid incense on the fire. The censers were their own and carried in their hands. It is quite possible that they took the fire and the incense from the altar in front of the most holy place inside the tabernacle.

The offering Nadab and Abihu made was said to be unauthorized or strange fire before the Lord. The Hebrew word for unauthorized here means to turn aside or estrange. In other words, it means to be a stranger. But, God did not command them to make this offering. Nadab and Abihu did it voluntarily. They were stirred or impelled to make this offering.

Leviticus 10:2 says, “And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” Based on this alone, it sure looks like the Lord killed them, burned them up with fire.

So, two nephews of Aaron carried Nadab and Abihu away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp. They carried them out in their coats.

So, Nadab and Abihu made a voluntary decision to make this offering. I believe they were stirred or impelled by the spirit that was the same as their father. The question is – who was their father?

I think looking at the story of Ananias and Sapphira will provide some clarity.


Like we did with Nadab and Abihu, let’s start with the meaning of the names Ananias and Sapphira.

Ananias is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Hananiah. Hananiah, and therefore Ananias, means Yahweh has been gracious or graciously given of the Lord.

Sapphira is related to the word for sapphire. Several times in the Bible sapphire is mentioned as the foundation of God’s throne or kingdom. And, it is sometimes related to wisdom. While, I don’t have an exact meaning of the name, I think we have a sense of its connotation.

So, in a sense, Ananias and Sapphira had graciously been given the foundation of the kingdom from the Lord. To me, this says that they had received Jesus and his fellowship.

In Acts 4, the disciples sold their properties and shared everything in common. What God had put into their hands they did not consider their own, but they brought the proceeds of what they sold, gave it to the apostles, and had it distributed to meet the needs of their fellow disciples.

Like the other disciples had done, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property. They brought the proceeds to the apostles. Except the two of them conspired to keep some of the proceeds for themselves. They wanted to have the appearance of giving all the proceeds for the use of everyone else, sharing all things in common, but in reality they wanted to keep some of what they had graciously been given by God for themselves instead of using it for the kingdom of God.

In Acts 5:3-4, 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? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

What happened to Ananias as a result? Acts 5:5 says, “When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last.” Now, right here almost all of us have assumed that the Holy Spirit killed Ananias. But, the text does not say that at all. Ananias heard what he had done and he fell down dead.

God is life. He is not a murderer. Satan is the murderer and has been from the beginning. It was Satan that had filled Ananias’ heart to voluntarily give part of the proceeds from the sale of his property. And, I would say that it was the overwhelming grief from serving Satan and lying to God that killed Ananias. It was not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, like God, gives life.

So, after Ananias died, young men arose, wrapped him up, and carried him away from the apostles’ feet where he had laid his offering.

A short time later Sapphira came in before the apostles. Peter asked her if she knew how much the land had been sold for. She said she did and gave the same amount as her husband. When she was confronted by Peter with her testing of the Spirit of the Lord “immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.” (Acts 5:10) Again, the text does not say that the Spirit of the Lord, Jesus, killed Sapphira. Rather, she was overcome with the grief of serving Satan and lying to God. Satan murdered her. Satan is the author of death. But, Jesus is “the author of life,” according to Acts 3:15.


Do you see the parallels between the stories?

  • Nadab and Abihu had censers with fire and incense in their hands and Ananias and Sapphira had the proceeds from the sale of their property in their hands.
  • Nadab and Abihu brought their offering before the Lord and Ananias and Sapphira laid their offering at the apostles’ feet.
  • Nadab and Abihu made an offering that was not commanded by God (it was voluntary) and Ananias and Sapphira had control of the property and the proceeds of the sale at their disposal at all times (in other words, their offering was voluntary).
  • Nadab and Abihu’s offering was unauthorized, making them strangers before God, which is to say it broke their fellowship with him, and Ananias and Sapphira’s offering was the product of their lie to the Holy Spirit, separating them from the God, which is to say it broke their fellowship with him.
  • Nadab and Abihu were impelled or stirred up to make this voluntary offering to the Lord by the spirit that was the same as their father and Ananias and Sapphira were filled by Satan in their hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit about their offering.
  • Nadab and Abihu were carried in their coats from the front of the sanctuary out of the camp by the nephews of Aaron and Ananias and Sapphira were wrapped up and carried out from the apostles’ feet by young men.

In John 8:44, speaking to the Jews who said they were of Abraham, Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Ananias and Sapphira had their hearts filled by Satan with a lie and were murdered by him. Satan is the murderer. God is the giver of life. The purpose of Jesus coming was to clearly show us this. In fact, Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan, which were lying and murdering. If Jesus came to destroy Satan’s work of murder, then how could Jesus be a murderer himself?

So, when we know the meaning of the names of Nadab and Abihu, we understand that they were stirred up to give this strange offering by the spirit that was the same as their father. Like Jesus said, their father was Satan, not God.


Jesus is the exact image of God. He is our clearest picture of who God is. The Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus to bear witness of Jesus. That is the Holy Spirit’s sole function. Therefore, he doesn’t do anything that Jesus would not do.

God is life, according to 1 John 5. Jesus is the author of life, according to Acts 3:15. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life, according to Genesis 2:7. In every possible way, with no exceptions, with no change, with no shadow of turning, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are life.

In John 14:30, Jesus said that the ruler of this world was coming, but he had nothing in Jesus. The ruler of this world is Satan. He has nothing in Jesus. Jesus is life and Satan is death. John 10:10 says that the thief, Satan, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Jesus came to destroy those works of Satan not to kill us.

Given that Jesus is the express imprint of God, the image of the invisible God, we need to interpret the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus and not interpret Jesus, and therefore God, through the lens of the Old Testament.

Leviticus 10:2 says, “And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”

So, knowing what we know about Jesus, knowing what we know about God, knowing what we know about who killed Ananias and Sapphira (that would be Satan), who really killed Nadab and Abihu?

Not God. Not Jesus. Not the Holy Spirit.


Sure, the death of Nadab and Abihu was attributed to God. But, God got the credit for their death unjustly and incorrectly. That’s not who God is as Jesus has shown.

We need to continually grow in our understanding of who God is so that we can rightly discern what God did and what God did not do in the Old Testament. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, there was a veil over the Old Testament that was removed by Christ but for those that are perishing that veil remains to this day. When we have the veil removed by Jesus, then we can see clearly. It is only through Jesus and the teaching of the Holy Spirit that we can rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). It’s Jesus and the Holy Spirit that renew our minds so that we can test and discern what is, and is not, the will of God in the Old Testament.

2 Replies to “Who Killed Nadab and Abihu? Jesus or Satan?”

  1. What do you make of the Bible saying Jesus destroyed those who did not believe…

    “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (Jude 5, ESV)

    Ὑπομνῆσαι δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, εἰδότας ὑμᾶς ἅπαξ πάντα ὅτι Ἰησοῦς λαὸν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου σώσας τὸ δεύτερον τοὺς μὴ πιστεύσαντας ἀπώλεσεν, (Jude 5, NA28)

    1. In Jude 5, “afterward” is the Greek “ho deuteros.” Out of 44 uses in the New Testament, it is translated “afterward” just this once. Forty times it is translated second. Also, in the Septuagint, it is overwhelmingly translated “second” or “a second.” I would read Jude 5 as “the second destroyed those who did not believe.”

      I would do this especially since destroying people does not line up with the character of Jesus in the gospels. And, Jesus said that the thief (perhaps the second) came to steal, kill, and destroy.

      Perhaps Jude was wrong. Paul credits the Destroyer with the destruction in 1 Corinthians 10.9-10.

      Further, I think Christ does destroy something. He destroys the flesh, which is to say are solely earthly way of living. But, that does not mean he literally destroys, as in kills, the person.

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