Paul's Conversion Experience

Did God audibly speak or not?

HUMANIST QUESTION: As a final example of a New Testament contradiction, the conflicting accounts of Paul’s conversion can be cited. Acts 9:7 states that when Jesus called Paul to preach the gospel, the men who were with Paul heard a voice but saw no man. According to Acts 22:9, however, the men saw a light but didn’t hear the voice speaking to Paul.

Let's look at what scripture says:

The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. - Acts 9:7 (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. - Acts 22:9 (NASB)

There is no problem. Scripture does not say what the humanists say it does. In Acts 9:7 the men who traveled with Paul heard a voice. Then in Acts 22:9 we learn that although they heard the voice, they did not understand what the voice was saying. Why would they say there is a contradiction here?

Maybe the problem is in the translation they were using. Let's look at Acts 22:9 in the King James Version:

And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of him that spoke to me. - Acts 22:9 (KJV)

Ah... there may be a translation problem. The Greek word translated as "hearing" in Acts 9:7 is the same Greek word in Acts 22:9 translated as "understand" in the NASB and as "heard" in the KJV. That word is "akouo" (Strongs 191).

But before we go further, is there really a problem? Is there any difference in meaning between the NASB and KJV? No. In both cases nothing was communicated to the men with Paul. Paul heard the voice and understood what it said. No one else did.

Before we start looking at how translation is done, we need to be reminded that the KJV was translated in 1611 and updated in 1769. Some of the words used in the KJV have different meanings than they have today. An English word that was appropriate in 1769 might not convey the full desired meaning today.

Translation of the Original Greek

First, if you are not familiar with translating languages, it is not always a word-for-word process. Depending on the language, translation may have some word-for-word aspects, or may require a thought-for-thought translation process. The result is that no two translations use exactly the same English words, although each translation communicates the same meaning.

Second, in translating you also need to be familiar with the culture of the people who speak the language being translated. The meaning of words is dependent on the culture. I'm reminded of a friend of mine who did translations from English to Russian. He was translating a sermon in which the preacher said, "It is like Grape Nuts, no grapes and no nuts." Translating those words directly into Russian made no sense. What my friend did was to translate "Grape Nuts" as "Bird's Milk." So, my American reader, does "It is like Bird's Milk, no birds and no milk." have any meaning for you? It does for a Russian. They have a popular candy called "Bird's Milk" that has nothing to do with birds or milk.

Third, just as in English, individual Greek words may have multiple meanings. What the word specifically means depends on the context. To learn more about "akouo" (Strongs 191) I turned to my copy of one of the most authoritative Greek dictionaries, "The Complete Word Study Dictionary (New Testament)" by Spiros Zodhiates. It gives seven definitions for "akouo." Here is a summary:

  • To hear in general
  • To hear with attention.
  • To have the faculty of hearing
  • To obey
  • To be informed by hearing
  • To hear in a forensic sense (such as a court hearing)
  • To understand or comprehend

Zodhiates lists a synonym as: to listen attentively to

So "akouo" can mean physically "hearing" and it can also mean "understanding." If you hear, but do not understand, it is the same as not hearing at all. In Greek thought this made sense. If you phyically heard something, but did not understand (it was in a language you did not know), it was just as though you didn't hear it, because there was no understanding.

With seven possible meanings, along with variations of those, what happened is that the translators of the KJV did not select the best translation for us today. BUT, it has no effect on our understanding of what scripture is saying. There is no contradiction here.

What did we find out here? There is no contradiction.

Next section... cruelties in the Bible. Here is the introduction to the next topic on the American Humanists web site. There is a fundamental error in what they say. Can you spot it?

Humanists also reject the Bible because it approves of outrageous cruelty and injustice. In civilized legal systems, a fundamental principle is that the suffering of the innocent is the essence of injustice. Yet the Bible teaches that God repeatedly violated this moral precept by harming innocent people.

Click here to learn what is wrong with the above.


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