Q: Why is it that the book of Acts seems to contradict itself, saying in one place that the men accompanying Saul on the road to Damascus heard the voice of the Lord speaking to Saul, and in another record saying they that did not hear the Lord’s voice?
A: It has long been recognized that there seems to be a contradiction in the book of Acts between Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9. The contradiction can be read in the King James Version below:
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
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.
How do we resolve this? We know that the original text of Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). The words in the Word did not originate in the mind of man, and the text was written down by holy men as they were given revelation from God (2 Pet. 1:20,21; Gal. 1:11).
There are no contradictions in the original text, and any that we see come from one of three sources: transmission (when the text was being copied from one language into the same language), translation (when the text was copied from one language into another), or in the misunderstanding of the one reading.
In regard to the apparent contradiction between Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9, the contradiction that occurs in some English versions is caused by a translation error. However, this is a more complicated translation error than most, because in order to correctly translate the word, one must understand some idioms of the Greek language. The Greek root word for “hear” is akouo. Most people who have their own research books, such as lexicons and concordances, or Bible software, can look up only the root word in the Greek, and thus see akouo both in Acts 9 and in Acts 22. There really is no easy way to “solve” this apparent contradiction without a much better understanding of the Greek language.
Scholars know the solution to the problem, and it is written in many commentaries and in the marginal notes of The Companion Bible by E. W. Bullinger. In Acts 9:7, the object of “heard” (i.e., what was heard) was a “voice,” and in the Greek text the word voice is in the genitive case. In Acts 22:9, the object of “heard” is also “voice,” but this time the word “voice” is in the accusative case.
It is a common idiom of the Greek language that when the word “heard” is combined with the accusative case, the meaning of “heard” refers not to just hearing a sound, but actually understanding the message. Thus, instead of being a contradiction, the Greek language reveals important truth. The men with Paul did hear a noise, they heard a sound, but they were unable to tell what was being said. They heard (Acts 9) but did not understand (Acts 22).
The fact that the men heard but did not understand more accurately is reflected in several other translations.
Acts 9:7 (NIV)
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
Acts 22:9 (NIV)
My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
Acts 9:7 (NASB)
And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one.
Acts 22:9 (NASB)
“And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.