Inconsistency in Paul's Accounts of Jesus' Appearance To Him
The Main Contradiction in Paul's Accounts of Jesus' Appearance
Paul claimed Jesus was present on the road to Damascus so that others could hear and see the same light coming from Jesus as Paul saw and heard. Isn’t this the story told in Acts three times that Paul obviously used to persuade others that he was somehow special even if Jesus did not use the word apostle? Is there something in this account that casts doubt on Paul’s story? Yes, and Luke faithfully left it for all to see, even as conservative proponents of Paul concede.
For Paul in one account claims that his companions did not see anyone but heard (Gk. akouo root verb) the voice (Acts 9:7 - see Greek Tab), but in the other account, it is directly contrary: they saw the light but did not hear the voice. (Acts 22:9 ekousin, from akouo.) Same Greek verb. Same form of the sentence. In one version, his companions hear the voice, but in the other version, his companions do not hear the voice.
Roberts, a Baptist scholar who authored a Greek commentary entitled Roberts Word Pictures, concedes the apparent “discrepancy.” However, he says it just goes to show how accurate Luke was trying to be.
“It is one of the evidence is of the genuineness of this report of Paul's speech that Luke did not try to smooth out apparent discrepancies in details between the words of Paul and his own record already in chapter 9.” Roberts Word Pictures Acts 22:9.
But what about this leaving Paul in a flat contradiction?
The inventiveness of the human mind, however, can find ‘loopholes’ to rationalize even a flat contradiction.
Roberts suggests that instead of it being a “flat contradiction” it could be one time it means they heard the voice and in the other account they heard the voice but did not understand what they heard.
“[I]instead of this being a flat contradiction of what Luke says in 9:7 it is natural to take it is being likewise... a distinction between the 'sound' and the separate words spoken.” Roberts Word Pictures Acts 9:7.
This is simply evasion. It is not a "natural" reading, but a forced one. So you will read in the NIV for Acts 22:9 another protect-Paul-by-inconsistent translation example -- "they did not understand the voice...."
The plain truth is the Greek words are identical on the hearing issue. One time they did not hear (Gr. akouo) the voice and the other they did hear (Gk. akouo) the voice. That’s a flat contradiction. Had it meant what Roberts suggests, other words would be used. They simply were not.
No one has ever suggested the reason for this contradiction is an errant manuscript.
Luke told three versions of Paul’s claimed conversion, and none of the three agree on the details:
Acts 9:3-17: "…[Saul] was approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'…The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.…there was a…disciple at Damascus named Ananias…laid his hands on Saul and said, `Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Acts 22:6-21: "While I was…approaching Damascus…a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying…Saul,Saul, why are you persecuting me?...those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice…I could not see because of the brightness of the light…those with me…led me to Damascus…Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there…said…get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name."
Acts 26:12-18: "…I was traveling to Damascus…I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrewlanguage, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads…the Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting…get up and stand on your feet…"
Which version should you believe? Saul alone fell to the ground; those with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one; Saul was without sight for three days; Ananias was a disciple who laid hands on Saul to restore his sight and fill him with the Holy Spirit.
Saul alone fell to the ground; Those with him saw the light but did not hear the voice; No mention of three days without sight or food; Ananias was "a devout man according to the Law and liked by the Jews."
Everyone fell to the ground; the voice spoke in the Hebrew Language; no blindness, no Ananias, no baptism, no restoration of sight, no “filled by the Holy Spirit”!
Problems With Paul Website
This website has an excellent article that also points out other inconsistencies in the appearance accounts. There we read:
We have three different accounts of Paul’s unsupported claim of conversion. Two of them are similar, Acts 9:1-18, 22:1-15 (except the part about him being sent to the Gentiles, 22:21), but not the third account, Acts 26:10-19. In the first two stories, Paul specifically asked the Lord what he should do and the Lord told him to go to Damascus where he would be told all things. In the third story, however, Paul received full revelation on the spot. Which one is it Paul? Paul is caught in a lie (there will be more).
In Acts 22:17-21, Paul ‘claims’ Yahoshua told him to “get out of Jerusalem, for they (the Jews) will not receive your testimony concerning Me (Yahweh)”. That indeed is an odd statement, as the Yahudim (Jews) were in fact receiving testimony from the real apostles.
Wikipedia's Article -- Clear Exposition of Inconsistency
The article The Conversion of Apostle Paul reads in pertinent part, and reveals the contradiction and the efforts to obscure this by translation:
An apparent contradiction in the details of the account of Paul's revelatory vision given in Acts has been the subject of much debate. Specifically, the experience of Paul's traveling companions as told in Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9 has raised questions about the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles, and generated debate about the best translations of the relevant passages. The two passages each describe the experience of Paul's traveling companions during the revelation, with Acts 9:7 (the author's description of the event) stating that Paul's traveling companions heard the voice that spoke to him; and Acts 22:9 (the author's quotation of Paul's own words) traditionally stating they did not.
Biblical translations of Acts 9:7 generally state that Paul's companions did, indeed, hear the voice (or sound) that spoke to him:
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one.
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
By contrast, Catholic translations and older Protestant translations preserve the apparent contradiction in Acts 22:9, while many modern Protestant translations such as the New International Version (NIV) do not:
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.
—Acts 22:9, King James Version (KJV)
My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
—Acts 22:9, New American Bible (NAB)
My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
—Acts 22:9, New International Version (NIV)
Critics of the NIV, New Living Translation, and similar versions contend that the translation used for Acts 22:9 is inaccurate. The verb used here — akou? -- can be translated both "hear" and "understand" (both the KJV and NIV translate akou? as "understand" in 1 Cor. 14:2, for example). It often takes a noun in the genitive case for a person is being heard, with a noun in the accusative for the thing being heard. More classically, the use of the accusative indicates hearing with understanding. There is indeed a case difference here, with Acts 9:7 using the genitive t?s ph?n?s, and Acts 22:9 using the accusative t?n ph?n?n. However, there has been debate about which rule Luke was following here. On the second interpretation, Paul's companions may indeed have heard the voice (as is unambiguously stated in Acts 9:7), yet not understood it, although New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace finds this argument based on case inconclusive.
A similar debate arises with the NIV's use of the word "sound" instead of "voice" in Acts 9:7. The noun used here — ph?n? — can mean either. By translating 9:7 as "they heard the sound" instead of "they heard the voice," the NIV allows for Paul's companions to have heard an audible sound in Acts 9:7 without contradicting the statement in Acts 22:9 that they did not hear a comprehensible voice .
The New American Standard Bible, New Century Version, and English Standard Version maintain the "hear"/"understand" distinction while using "voice" in both passages. On the other hand, the Holman Christian Standard Bible has "sound"/"voice" with "hear" in both passages, and The Message adopts a similar translation, but with "sound"/"conversation." The French La Bible du Semeur distinguishes between entendaient ("heard") and compris ("understood").
Although it is possible that there is a contradiction in these two passages unnoticed by their author, Richard Longenecker suggests that first-century readers probably understood the two passages to mean that everybody heard the sound of the voice, but "only Paul understood the articulated words." Similar comments have been made by other scholars.
- 13 Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A socio-rhetorical commentary, Eerdmans, 1998, ISBN 0-8028-4501-0, pp. 312–13.
- 14 Mike Davis, The Atheist's Bible Companion to the New Testament: A Comprehensive Guide to Christian Bible Contradictions. Denver: Outskirts Press, Inc., 2009, pp 169–70.
- 15 Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon: ?????
- 16 J. W. Wenham, The Elements of New Testament Greek, Cambridge, 1991, p. 203.
- 17 Herbert Weir Smyth and Gordon M. Messing, Greek Grammar, 2nd ed., Harvard University Press, 1956, ISBN 0-674-36250-0, p. 323.
- 18 Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights Into the New Testament, Continuum, 2004, ISBN 0-567-08198-2, pp. 87–90.
- 19 Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 2nd ed, Eerdmans, 1990, ISBN 0-8028-0966-9, p. 236.
- 20 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, 1997, ISBN 0-310-21895-0, p. 313.
- 21 Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon: ????
- 22 NASB: Acts 9:7 and 22:9.
- 23 NCV: Acts 9:7 and 22:9.
- 24 ESV: Acts 9:7 and 22:9.
- 25 HCSB: Acts 9:7 and 22:9.
- 26 The Message: Acts 9:7 and 22:9.
- 27 La Bible du Semeur: Acts 9:7 and 22:9.
- 28 Richard N. Longenecker, The Ministry and Message of Paul, Zondervan, 1971,ISBN 0-310-28341-8, p. 32.
- 29 For example, R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles 1–14, Volume 1, 1944 (reprinted 2008 by Augsburg Fortress, ISBN 0-8066-8075-X), p. 356; or the Ignatius Catholic study Bible on Acts 9:7.