We should note that Saul, who later became known as the Apostle Paul, was at first a persecutor and murderer of true Christians (Galatians 1:13-14). He was a Pharisee and strongly believed the teachings of the Pharisees (Acts 23:6). At that time, he was very zealous in hunting down and killing the true disciples of Christ. He was consumed with envy, because their new teaching was contrary to the teachings of the Pharisees. It was the religion of the “new Way,“ the Way of Jesus Christ, who was repeatedly and unjustifiably accused of blasphemy, because He claimed to be the Son of God. But Christ WAS and IS the Son of God (John 17:5)!
In his wrath, Saul went angrily before the High Priest and asked for letters of authorization to arrest Christ’s disciples, whether they were men or women, and to take them bound to the court in Jerusalem (Acts 9:1). For this purpose, Saul went with his companions from Jerusalem to Damascus. Let us read in Acts 9:3-7 what happened on the way:
“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Authorized Version throughout, unless otherwise mentioned).
Now note the remarkable passage in verse 7: “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.“
When we compare this passage with the parallel Scripture in Acts 22:9, it might appear that a contradictory version of the events is presented. Paul, by now an ordained apostle, made the following statement: “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.“
However, there is no “contradiction.” The Bible never contracts contradicts itself (John 10:35). Oftentimes an apparent problem may exist because of the interpretation or wording of the translator. This is the case here.
Let us begin to explain by answering this question: “Did Paul’s companions hear the voice of Christ, or did they not hear it?“
In both chapters, the Greek word “φωνην“ is used, meaning “voice.” In Acts 22:9, we find this clarification: “… but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.“
In an old letter of the Worldwide Church of God’s Letter answering Department, it was stated:
“In the original Greek language, the word akouo is used in these passages. This word like many others, has several meanings depending on how it is used in a sentence. It can mean to hear or to understand. In the following passage, for example, the latter meaning is obviously intended: ‘For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him’ (I Cor. 14:2, NKJ). His listeners hear him, but don’t understand. This is what happened with Paul and those with him on the road to Damascus. Paul both heard and understood. The men with him heard the voice but did not understand it.”
Saul’s companions obviously heard a voice, but apparently could not understand what the voice was saying.
The same phenomenon can be found in John 12:28-29, where Christ says: “Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him.“
In looking at other translations of Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9, we find a clear distinction and explanation, confirming what we have pointed out above.
The New Living Translation renders Acts 9:7 as follows: “The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one!“
The Orthodox Jewish Version translates Acts 22:9: “And the ones with me saw the… (light) but they did not have real hearing (understanding) of the voice speaking to me.“
Saul’s companions heard the voice, like Luke wrote in Acts 9:7, but Paul reveals in Acts 22:9 that they were not able to understand what was spoken, perhaps because they could only perceive it as a muffled rumbling or as thunder. They clearly did not understand WHAT the voice said. It appears that it was important for Christ that the companions were able to hear the sound of His voice, but not what was said.
Let us now discuss another question: “What did Saul’s companions see?”
Remember, we read in Acts 9:7 “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.“ In Acts 22:9, we read: “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.”
On the one hand, they saw “no man,“ that means no figure or person, but they saw a light. One could also say that they saw a brightness or a strong bright appearance.
When Saul saw Christ in this vision on his way to Damascus, it was such a bright appearance that Saul went blind (Acts 9:8-9). In Revelation 1:12-17, John saw the Person of the glorified Christ in a vision, and he fell at His feet as dead. Saul’s companions saw a light in this vision, but not the glorious manifestation of the Person of Jesus Christ.
Why was it so important for Christ that Saul´s companions heard something, although they could not understand it, just like they saw a bright light, but were not able to see the Person of Christ? The reason why Christ wanted the companions to hear a voice and see the light was that Paul later could not be accused of being a liar, but that he would be seen as a righteous and ordained apostle and faithful servant of God who spoke the Truth and could bring forth witnesses for what had happened to him and his companions.
Lead Writer: Thilo Hanstein