Do the accounts in Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9 contradict each other?


Sometimes, when looking at various “parallel” Scriptures, one may find at first glance an apparent contradiction. Some feel that the accounts in Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9 contradict each other.

To begin with, let us consider the context in Acts 9.

Saul, who is later called Paul, persecuted true Christians seeking their death (Galatians 1:13-14). Saul was a carnal-minded Pharisee, who embraced the teachings of the Pharisees (Acts 23:6). At that time, he was very eager to kill genuine followers of Jesus Christ, because they had a different doctrine that, from the Pharisaic point of view, was contrary to their teachings. It was the religion of that “new way,” the Way of Jesus Christ, who was time and again wrongfully accused of being a blasphemer, because He claimed to be the Son of God. But Christ has always been, and still is, the Son of God!

Saul, furious in his anger, went to the high priest and asked letters which he wanted to carry to the synagogues of Damascus, affirming that he had the authority to bind and deport the disciples of that new Way, whether women or men, to Jerusalem, in order to accuse them of death in court (Acts 9:1-2).

Now let us read Acts 9:3-6:

“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’”

Verse 7 then says, “And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.

Now, comparing this verse with the parallel Scripture in Acts 22:9, it appears that two different statements are being contrasted, when Paul says in his later account of the events:

“Now 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.

How can this apparent contradiction be explained, since we know that the Bible does not contradict itself? Therefore, when Jesus Christ appeared on the way to Damascus, did Saul’s companions hear a voice but see no one, or did they see the light but did not hear the voice?

Let’s first explore the first part of the question, “Did Paul’s companions hear the voice of the Lord, or did they not hear it?

In both chapters, the Greek uses the word “phóné” which indeed means “voice.” But Acts 22:9 concludes: “… but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.”

Hence, it seems that we are dealing here with a special kind of hearing or understanding. That is, Saul’s companions heard a voice, but apparently could not understand what it was saying. The Greek word for “hear” is “akouo.” Its meaning can be “to hear” or it can mean “to understand.” It is used in the second sense in 1 Corinthians 14:2: “For he who speaks in a tongue [another or a different language] does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.”

A similar expression is found in John 8:43: “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.” The German Luther Bible 1984 renders the second part as: “…Because you cannot hear My Word.”

The Living Bible renders the passage as follows: “Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It is because you are prevented from doing so!” Christ thus states that even if they could hear the word, without God the Father opening their minds, they would not be able to understand the words He spoke (compare also Deuteronomy 29:4).

Let us also compare Christ’s statement in John 12:28-29: “‘Father, bring glory and honor to your name.’ Then a voice spoke from heaven saying, ‘I have already done this, and I will do it again.’  When the crowd heard the voice, some of them thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him” (Living Bible).

This is another case of some hearing a voice, but they did not understand what was being said. Others heard only thunder as in a thunderstorm.

The two statements about Christ’s appearance in Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9 are rendered as follows in different translations.

Acts 9:7: “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice…” (Authorized Version).

Acts 22:9: “The men with me… didn’t understand what was said” (Living Bible).

We see that Saul’s companions heard the voice Luke wrote about in Acts 9:7, but in accordance with Acts 22:9, they could not understand what was said because they might have perceived it only as thunder.

Therefore, it is not a question of whether Saul’s companions heard the voice, but rather, what was spoken that they heard but did not understand. Paul heard and understood Christ’s words; his companions heard a voice but did not understand what was said.

The German Schlachterbibel comments: “‘…the voice they did not hear.’ This [Acts 22:9] does not contradict [Acts] 9:7. Since Jesus spoke solely to Paul, only he understood what the Lord was saying; his companions heard the sound of a voice but did not understand the words.”

Let’s move on to the second part of the question: “Who or what did the companions see when Christ appeared to Saul?

The Authorized Version renders Acts 9:7 as follows: “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.”

Consider also how Acts 22:9 is rendered in the Living Bible: “The men with me saw the light but didn’t understand what was said.”

So, they saw “no one” or “no man” (compare again Acts 9:7), that is, no figure or person, but they did see the light (compare Acts 22:9).

The German Schlachterbibel comments, “Paul’s companions saw the light, but only he saw the Lord Jesus Christ.” Compare also Paul’s further account in Acts 26:12-14.

It was very important to Christ that the companions heard a sound and saw a light surrounding Saul, so that Paul could not be accused of being a liar, but a righteous apostle and God’s faithful servant who spoke the Truth and could present real witnesses testifying to it.

As we have shown in this Q&A, the Bible does not contradict itself, though it is important to clarify apparent contradictions in the right way (Isaiah 28:10; Ecclesiastes 12:11; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

Lead Writer: Thilo Hanstein

Initial Translation from German: Daniel Blasinger

©2024 Church of the Eternal God