I was asked about the apparent contradiction in the Bible concerning the conversion of Saul, otherwise known as the apostle Paul. The seeming contradiction stems from the fact that in Acts 9:7 it is stated that the men with Saul heard a voice, while the same story recounted later in Acts 22:9 states that they did not hear a voice.
KJV : King James Version
TNIV : Today’s New International Version
ESV : English Standard Version
NET : New English Translation
Let’s first look at the Scriptures in question:
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
Now the men who were traveling with him stood there speechless, because they heard the voice but saw no one.
And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.
My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.
Those who were with me saw the light, but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.
These verses, in both chapters are a part of the story of the conversion of Saul. While I do not see in this case that the overall story itself helps us to solve the mystery, I think it important to at least be familiar with the context:
Acts 9:1-9 (TNIV)
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ 8 “ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. 10 “ ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
One thing that I would point out is that the writer of both these stories in Acts was a disciple of Paul–the Gentile physician, Luke. It would be rather odd that a man with an eye for the detail and accuracy that is displayed throughout his Gospel as well as the book of Acts, would include such a contradiction……if indeed there were one. This would lead us to look at the original language (as we are only reading translations).
The key to this mystery lies in the meaning and use of the Greek word for “hear”. This word is “akouo” (ak·oo·o). This word can mean both “hear a sound” and also “to hear with understanding”, depending on how it is used in the sentence. If you look closely at the above translations, both the TNIV as well as the ESV and NET (and others) translate the Greek word “akouo” properly as “understand” which removes the contradiction.
I would note that these travelers that were with Paul probably heard a sound, not a voice, much like the Gospel of John 12:28-29:
John 12:28-29 (TNIV)
28 ……Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Specifically, the Greek word “akouo” in Acts 9:7 is used in the genitive case meaning “to hear a sound”. In Acts 22:9, the word “akouo” is used in the accusative case “to hear with understanding.” So……the travelers with Saul heard the sound (Acts 9:7) but did not understand what Christ said (Acts 22:9).