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Biblical Questions
Did Those with Paul Hear the Voice? (Acts 9:7 vs. 22:9)

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The Dilemma
It is alleged that the two accounts of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus contradict one another with respect to whether or not the men with Paul did or did not hear a voice. The verses of interest are found in Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9. The former reads:
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. (Acts 9:7, emphasis added)
The latter reads:
And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. (Acts 22:9, emphasis added)
And so it is often asserted that very plainly these two verses demonstrate an errancy of the scriptures (and therefore disprove the authenticity of the Bible).

Initial Considerations
It is universally acknowledged that the physician Luke (the same careful writer of the Gospel of Luke) is the author of the Book of Acts. The very claim that a single author (especially one as detailed and meticulous as Luke) would blatantly "contradict" himself in one single and relatively short writing should in the first place raise suspicion around the accusation. That is not to say that such errors do not exist by single authors in short writings; however, such claims should be well-substantiated to disprove the more plausible position that the author probably did not contradict himself. In the case of the two verses above, each is perfectly correct and complementary to the other when examined more carefully.

In both Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9, the same Greek verb for "hear" is used, akouo (the same root from which the English word, "acoustic," is derived). However, the word may be used in various nuances to indicate:

  1. "to hear a literal audible sound" (as in not being deaf, Mark 7:37); or,
  2. "to listen with attention" as in the KJV "to give audience to" (Acts 15:12); or,
  3. "to understand" (Matt. 13:15); or,
  4. "to obey" (John 5:25); or,
  5. "to have regard for" (John 9:31).
Not only are the above meanings valid in the Greek, but even the English word, hear, often takes on similar twists and variety. The two forms above of the word, akouo, that are relevant to the Acts passages in dispute are the first and third. Matthew 13:15 can serve as a perfect parallel verse to further understand both the first and third uses of the word, akouo, above:

For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them. (Matt. 13:15, emphasis added to denote the three occurrence of the same Greek word, akouo.)
As is most clear in Matt 13:15, the same word, akouo, is used to alternately refer to both literal hearing AND understanding. In fact, the third occurrence of the word in Matt. 13:15 that is translated as "understand," literally reads, "hear with their hearts." Certainly no one would insist that the heart serves a function of literal hearing. Instead, it is obvious from a single verse1 that the word, akouo, can vary in meaning2.

Not only does the above allow for the fact that the men literally heard the sound of a voice in Acts 9:7 but did not understand it in Acts 22:9, but the Greek implies it. Acts 9:7 uses the verb, akouo, with the Greek noun, phone (meaning voice), which is in the genitive case. Acts 22:9 uses the verb, akouo, with the Greek noun, phone, which is in the accusative case. The genitive construction carries with it the connotation that the men heard of the voice, while the accusative construction that the men did not hear the voice with definite understanding. Even the contexts of the verses support a distinction of interpretation. In Acts 22:9, Paul is speaking to the crowd in Hebrew (21:40) and adds to the "voice" a modifying prepositional phrase "of Him who spoke to me." The emphasis in Acts 22:9 is on the understanding of the speaker, who spoke in Hebrew3. Apparently, those with Paul did not understand the Hebrew being spoken (Acts 22:9), although they could hear the sound of a voice (Acts 9:7)4.

One final point worth mentioning is that this varying degree of understanding and perception between the men with Paul and Paul himself is not only emphasized by the sense of hearing, but it is also highlighted by their site. While those with Paul saw a light (Acts 22:9), they did not see the person manifested in the light (Acts 9:7). The point is that Paul's experience was unique and of special appointment, which no one else could equally claim to have been a part of.

1 The absurdity of claiming that Luke necessarily contradicted himself only 13 chapters apart becomes clear by examining the parallel claim that would have to be made of Matthew only a few words apart.
2 The non-literal use of the word is made further clear by John 5:25, as surely God can audibly hear everything, but certainly does not give ear (or regard) to all that he hears (see nuance #5 above). Everyday examples further demonstrate this point. The oblivious husband upon hearing his wife shouting something from upstairs will often hollar back, "Hang on, I can't hear you." His mere response indicates that he HEARD something but did not UNDERSTAND what was being said."
3 The fact that Saul is spelled "Saoul" demonstrates that the voice was speaking in Hebrew.
4 Compare this situation to that of the crowd in John 12:27-30, where the sound of the Father talking to the Son was perceived as "thunder."

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