Contradiction in Acts

I was reading the daily readings today and could not help but notice a contradiction concerning Saul’s encounter with our Lord. In Acts 9:7 it states that: The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one. However, in Acts 22:9 it states the complete opposite: My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me. I understand that I may not be accounting for everything surrounding the understanding of these scriptures but I am curious as to why these verses contradict themselves?

The Bible can’t contradict the Bible. It is an apparent contradiction. I think you may need to ask an apologist on this one.

There isn’t a valid contradiction here, even just by reading the verses (some alleged contradictions take more knowledge about the actual language to address the issue, but in this case, even the English translation is not contradictory).

The first verse merely says that they did not see the person (they saw no one). It does not state that they didn’t see the light. The second merely adds to the detail given in the first, which is typical of people describing an actual event. For example, when testifying, I may mention that I saw the murderer kill someone. If I later say that I saw the murderer kill someone with a knife, I haven’t contradicted myself, I merely added information. Thus, no explicit contradiction exists (and, whatever anyone may think of the Bible, it would be shockingly weird to have a contradiction in the same book, which scholars think was written by the same person).

My research says that this is a minor translation error in the copy of the Bible you were reading that does not take into account the multiple readings of the Greek word used. Such problems are typical of translations from different languages – the words don’t match up one to one.

This explanation is offered in Catholic Encyclopedia ; Acts of the Apostles - you have to scroll almost all the way down the page to read it (the second to last paragraph located under the subtitle **Objections Against the Authenticity **).

They also include in their explanation , together with the two quotes from scripture whhich the OP is referring to (Acts 9:7 , 22:9), a third passage - from Acts 26:14.

It is urged that the three accounts of the conversion of St. Paul (Acts 9:7; 22:9; 26:14) do not agree. In Acts 9:7, the author declares that “the men that journeyed with Paul stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man”. In Acts 22:9, Paul declares: “And they that were with me beheld indeed the light; but they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me”. In 26:14, Paul declares that they all fell to the earth, which seems to contradict the first statement, that they “stood speechless”. This is purely a question of circumstantial detail, of very minor moment. There are many solutions of this difficulty. Supported by many precedents, we may hold that in the several narrations of the same event inspiration does not compel an absolute agreement in mere extrinsic details which in nowise affects the substance of the narration. In all the Bible, where the same event is several times narrated by the same writer, or narrated by several writers, there is some slight divergency, as it is natural there should be with those who spoke and wrote from memory. Divine inspiration covers the substance of the narration. For those who insist that divine inspiration extends also to these minor details there are valid solutions. Pape and others give to the eistekeisan the sense of an emphatic einai, and thus it could be rendered: “The men that journeyed with him became speechless”, thus agreeing with 26:14. Moreover, the three accounts can be placed in agreement by supposing that the several accounts contemplate the event at different moments of its course. All saw a great light; all heard a sound from Heaven. They fell on their faces in fear; and then, arising, stood still and speechless, while Paul conversed with Jesus, whose articulate voice he alone heard. In Acts 9:7, the marginal reading of the Revised Edition of Oxford should be accepted: “hearing the sound”. The Greek is akoyontes tes phones. When the writer speaks of the articulate voice of Christ, which Paul alone heard, he employs the phrase outer phrase, ekousan phonen. Thus the same term, phone, by a different grammatical construction, may signify the inarticulate sound of the voice which all heard and the articulate voice which Paul alone heard.

Hmmm . . .:hmmm:

“Thus the same term, phone, by a different grammatical construction, may signify the inarticulate sound of the voice which all heard and the articulate voice which Paul alone heard.”

. . . So , do you think maybe they all heard the phone , but only Paul answered it ?


Great replies everyone thanks for bringing this to light.


Hold the phone!

In the first passage, Acts 9:7, all of them were blinded, and all of them heard a sound.
But there is no discussion of intelligible speech.

That can mean they all heard a non-intelligible sound, and could see nothing at all.
Similar instances occur, where God speaks, and some people will hear the voice of God, and others will only hear thunder. See for example: John 12:27-31 which is very explicit about the nature of this kind of contradiction.

Don’t forget that Paul can only record from the other men what they tell him, not what they actually saw or heard. He depends on their honesty and memory at various times, in order to record what they told him. If their story changes, Paul’s would too. That doesn’t reflect on scripture’s inerrancy at all. It merely reflects human memory of un-inspired witnesses.

So, I take Acts 9:7 to be describing the equivalent of a near lightning strike as it would be interpreted at that time. Something that came from heaven, and which was like the stars (AstrE) or the sun (Heli), eg: a heavenly luminary. In Saul/Paul’s second account he uses a word which has stars as it’s root meaning, and in the third he says “of the sun”. So, he clearly isn’t sure of the source. (But then he was blinded…)

But, don’t forget, no one says that human speech was the first thing they heard; Still, the effect was so strong that they all fell down and no one could see anything at first.

So they are all blind, and that generally means that the light was so bright and intense that it momentarily depleted the eye of the chemicals needed to see. They needed to acclimate again in order to be able to see. All of them did, except Saul.

Likewise, a very loud bang can make a person momentarily deaf to quieter sounds.
eg: Phone means “sound”, and does not always mean clear and intelligent speech.

The idea of actual intelligible speech is not discussed in Acts 9:7.
Not to mention that there are minor variations in Greek manuscripts about the final words in the sentence of Acts 9:7. Therefore: I’m not absolutely sure the sentence as we have it in the Textus Receptus is genuine and not a copyist mistake.

But, in any event, when we get to Acts 22:9 and 26:14; I think we are talking about what happened after the initial clap of lightning and thunder (or something equivalent to that).

Saul did not regain his sight, but everyone else did.
Saul began to hear an intelligible voice, but no one else did.

The theme is a reversal of conditions. Saul gets the opposite of what all his peers do.

One other point to note: These were all the enemies of the church. If Paul’s testimony was false, then his companions who were persecutors of the church would have had every reason to condemn him in court. Paul would have no defense if he had lied.
Yet his companions clearly did not contradict him. That’s additional proof that what we have is an issue of interpretation, and not of falsehood on Paul’s part.

The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one.

My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.

They heard the voice in the sense of hearing a sound, similar to a voice, but they could not make out the words. Similarly, they saw light, but could not perceive the figure of anyone.

{12:28} Father, glorify your name!" And then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
{12:29} Therefore, the crowd, which was standing near and had heard it, said that it was like thunder. Others were saying, “An Angel was speaking with him.”

Some heard the voice, but could not make out the words; it seemed like thunder to them. Others heard the voice and perceived the words as well.

  1. The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one.

  2. My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.

It might be that there were divided into two groups travelling with St. Paul…(2)companions and (1)other men travelling with him.
They had different experiences. One group heard and did not see. The other group did not hear but did see.

Contradictions in Scripture- especially in minor details- don’t pose the same difficulties for Catholics as they do for fundamentalists or those adhering to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Scripture is inerrant in regards to that truth which God wishes to convey for the sake of our salvation. Consider the following teachings from the catechism:

**107 The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."72

108 Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living”.73 If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."74

In reference to this, it may have been that a group was riding in front of Paul, and they heard something but did not see the light since they were facing ahead.

There may have been another group riding behind Paul, and the saw the light in front of them but were not close enough to hear.

A less attractive option - Luke is right in his recording of Paul’s account of himself, but Paul is wrong in giving it, while Luke gives the right account. That protects the inerrancy of both passages. This wouldn’t be the only occasion in Acts where this would be a possibility - look at Stephen’s discourse and Peter’s account of Judas’ death.

There is a less attractive option - Paul’s recounts his story inaccurately but is recorded correctly by Luke, while Luke’s own account is correct. This protects the inerrancy of both passages. This would not be the only time in Acts where this might be a possibility - Peter’s account of the death of Judas, and Stephen’s discourse…

I don’t really see why we should bother with such an unattractive (and more importantly, implausible) option when a perfectly valid and reasonable explanation (that is accepted in other translations) exists. It casts unnecessary doubt on the writers (or at least, Paul) when no such doubt is warranted. It also seems unlikely that Paul would explain an event that happened to him as incorrectly as the KJV suggests he did – he could not possibly have been misinformed. :shrug:

I’m thinking this would have been a pretty memorable event.

Maybe just a little. :wink:

I’m thinking this would have been a pretty memorable event.

Certainly, but remember that Paul was the one being affected during that event the most… It’s the difference between being shot at and watching someone get shot, though Luke was not there when it happened, so that makes a big difference for figuring out what is going on “behind the page” as it were.

It’s just an alternate theory.

In any event, Luke was the author of Acts. If we are noticing it, he noticed it too (if there is “something” to notice, which, if the “phone” theory is correct, there is not).

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit