These two chapters of Acts tell the story of Paul's meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus but appear to be inconsistent:

And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. (Acts 9:7, KJV)

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, KJV)

Here is the question: are these human errors, such as copy errors or inconsistent translation, or is is this evidence of the Bible being errant?


3 Answers 3


The Idea in Brief

The Greek verb ἀκούω means to hear and/or to understand.


In the Greek New Testament, the verb ἀκούω means to hear and/or to understand. For example, in the following verse people can "hear" the voice but they cannot "understand" what the voice is saying.

1 Cor 14:2 (mGNT)
2 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ, οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει, πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστήρια:

1 Cor 14:2 (NASB)
2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.

In this verse, the verb ἀκούω is translated "understands" notwithstanding that the voice is audible. Thus the idea of ἀκούω not only includes "hearing" but may also include actual understanding of what is heard. So the best translation of the relevant two verses in the Book of Acts (following these guidelines for ἀκούω) would be as follows.

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

Acts 22:9 (NASB)
9 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.


In conclusion, the Greek verb ἀκούω means to hear and/or to understand. The nuance is also evident in modern colloquial English (viz., "Did you not hear me!?"). The translators of the NASB captured this nuance, and therefore the NASB provides the best translation of these passages in the Book of Acts.


There are several possible explanations. Your specific belief about the correctness of the Bible or its original sources may limit you to a certain set of these.

  1. Paul made a mistake. Chapter 9 describes Paul's encounter. Chapter 22 describes Paul describing the encounter. He mispoke or misremembered or offered his own incorrect understanding of his companions' experience, but the Bible is correct that this is indeed what he said. Biblical inerrancy doesn't mean everyone mentioned is inerrant in all the words they are quoted as saying (e.g. John 10:33 quotes a clear falsehood).

  2. Luke made a mistake.

  3. Someone between Paul and Luke made a mistake. Luke was a historian, and his histories were only accurate as their sources.

  4. Someone between Luke and now made a mistake. The manuscript was changed, purposefully or accidentally. Go to hermeneutics.stackexchange.com and you'll find that there are differing copies of the original texts.

  5. Both accounts are true. The first says they heard a voice. The second said they didn't hear the voice that talked to Saul. No contradiction.

  • 7
    A sixth possibility is that Luke used the same words with different meanings between the two passages. The Greek word for 'voice' can also mean 'noise'. Likewise, the Greek word for 'heard' can also mean 'understand'. Perhaps they heard a 'noise', but didn't recognize it was a 'voice'. Or perhaps they 'heard' a voice, but didn't 'understand' what the voice said. This is technically possible (though, I believe, extremely implausible), and is an argument used by inerrantists.
    – user2910
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 5:26
  • 1
    The NASB translates the portion of 9:7 as "The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one." and 22:9 as "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." (emphasis added).
    – mojo
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 11:31
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    @fdb ἀκούω can mean "understand," see for example Liddell & Scott definitions II.3 and IV. In 9:7 the writer (Luke) is using the term himself in narration, and in 22:9 it is apparently a quotation from Paul (thus Paul using the term), which can justify the differentiation. Numerous translations beside NASB use "understand" in 22:9, which is really saying that they could hear a voice, but not hear what the voice said (i.e. not understand the one speaking).
    – ScottS
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 13:08
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    @fdb, Does ἀκούει in 1 Cor 14:2 also mean "hear" or is there some contextual difference (compared to Acts 22) that allows "understand" to be a correct rendering?
    – mojo
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 13:09
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    @fdb You are entitled to your view of translation (I generally agree), but Scripture uses "hear" in many ways (e.g. Luke 8:8 and similar passages use the term twice in differing senses). I have no issue with the more literal KJV/NKJV rendering, but also none with 9:7 referring to hearing a sound of a voice, while 22:9 refers to hearing the speech that the one speaking was saying. I can hear someone's voice in the office next to me speaking, yet not hear the one speaking at a level to which I comprehend the speech itself. Both are literal uses of hearing, just with different senses.
    – ScottS
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:06

The first is a narration from a third party reporting what happened Acts 9. While in Acts 22 Paul was giving his own encounter about what he saw and experienced so the Bible did not contradict itself here. Thank you.


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