Answers to some of the charges that skeptics and atheist who allege contradictions in the Bible.
What was especially good was the way Dr. White dealt with the attacks on Acts 9:7 and 22:9.
” . . . while debating a representative of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Mr. Dan Barker. Mr. Barker called my explanation of the case “weak” (though he did not elaborate on that). During a break the subject of what might be the most well-known alleged contradiction came up – that of Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9. In October of 1986, I received a letter from Mr. Barker. He sent me a four page document entitled “Did Paul’s Men Hear A Voice?” In it he gave a great deal of information on the usage of the genitive and accusative cases relevant to the word akouo (to hear) and its direct objects, primarily phone (sound, voice) since these are the important terms in discussing Acts 9:7/22:9. Though not dealing with all of the issues involved (in my opinion), Mr. Barker did a fine job in stating his belief that the two passages are contradictory. To close our presentation of “Letters to an Anti-Theist,” we will examine this “contradiction.”
It is quite easy to see the supposed contradiction at this point. The King James Version reads:
9:7 – “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
22:9 – “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.”
Clearly the question is – did the men hear the voice or not? To answer that question, we must, obviously, deal with the text as written by Luke in its original languages. This is an excellent example of a situation where the original words must be allowed to be heard in the argument, for we could be charging Luke with a simple mistake that he did not make. Also, we need to notice that modern versions translate the passage differently. For example, the New International Version reads as follows:
9:7 – “The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
22:9 – “My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.”
Note that in the NIV the contradiction no longer exists; in the first passage the men hear a sound; in the second they do not understand the voice of the one speaking to Saul. Mr. Barker and other critics would assert that the NIV has translated in accordance with interpretation and convenience rather than according to language and usage. But is this so? Lets examine these passages and see.
First, before going into the text itself, we must address the issue of “what is a contradiction?” The law of contradiction, stated briefly, would be that you cannot have A and non-A simultaneously. You cannot have a chair in a room and outside the room at the same time. That would be a contradiction. But, is this what we have in this case in Acts?
The answer can only be no, we do not have a contradiction here. First, let’s transliterate the passages so that their differences can be seen:
9:7 – akouontes men tes phones
22:9 – ten de phonen ouk ekousan phones legouses moi
It would be good to list the differences between the passages:
1. In 9:7 akouo is found as a nominative plural participle; in 22:9 it is a plural aorist verb.
2. In 9:7 phone is a singular genitive noun; in 22:9 it is a singular accusative noun.
3. In 9:7 akouo precedes its object; in 22:9 it follows its object.
4. In 9:7 the phrase is not modified; in 22:9 it is modified by “of the one speaking to me.”
5. In 9:7 Luke is narrating an event in Greek; in 22:9 Paul is speaking to a crowd in Hebrew (or Aramaic).
Clearly the critic is placed in an impossible position of forcing the argument here, for the differences between the two passages are quite significant. Hence, the argument must proceed on the grounds of contradictory meanings only, for the grammar of the two passages will not support a clear “A vs. non-A” proposition.
We then must answer the question, are the differences between these passages significant enough to warrant the NIV’s translation? Do we have a solid basis upon which to assert that what Paul meant was that the men heard a sound but did not understand what the voice was saving? I believe we do, and I am not alone on this. Following are some of the comments made by some eminent Greek scholars about these passages:
Thus in Acts 9:7, “hearing the voice,” the noun “voice’ is in the partitive genitive case [i.e., hearing (something) of], whereas in 22:9, “they heard not the voice,” the construction is with the accusative. This removes the idea of any contradiction. The former indicates a hearing of the sound, the latter indicates the meaning or message of the voice (this they did not hear). “The former denotes the sensational perception, the latter (the accusative case) the thing perceived.” (Cremer). In John 5:25, 28, the genitive case is used, indicating a “sensational perception” that the Lord’s voice is sounding; in 3:8, of hearing the wind, the accusative is used, stressing “the thing perceived.” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W.E. Vine, pages 204-205).
Instead of this being a flat contradiction of what Luke says in 9:7 it is natural to take it as being likewise (as with the “light” and “no one’) a distinction between the “sound’ (original sense of phone as in John 3:8) and the separate words spoken. It so happens that akouo is used either with the accusative (extent of the hearing) or the genitive (the specifying). It is possible that such a distinction here coincides with the two senses of phone. They heard the sound (9:7), but did not understand the words (22:9). However, this distinction in case with akouo, though possible and even probable here, is by no means a necessary one for in John 3:8 where phonen undoubtedly means “sound” the accusative occurs as Luke uses ekousa phonen about Saul in Acts 9:4. Besides in Acts 22:7 Paul uses ekousa phones about himself, but ekousa phonen about himself in 26:14, interchangeably.(Word Pictures in the New Testament by Dr. A.T. Robertson, volume III, pages 117- 118).
The fact that the maintenance of an old and well-known distinction between the acc. and the gen. withakouo saves the author of Acts 9:7 and 22:9 from a patent self-contradiction, should by itself be enough to make us recognize it for Luke, and for other writers until it is proved wrong. (A Grammar of New Testament Creek by James Hope Moulton, vol I., page 66. Robertson quotes this approvingly in A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research on pages 448-449).
The partitive gen. occurs in NT with verbs of perception, especially with a personal object. For akouo,the class(ical) rule is that the person whose words are heard is in the gen. …but the thing (or person) about which one hears is in the accus., and akouo c. accus. may mean to understand…We have to ask whether the class, distinction between gen. and accus. has significance for exegesis in NT. There may be something in the difference between the gen. in Ac. 9:7 (the men with Paul heard the sound ) and the accus. in Ac 22:9 (they did not understand the voice). (A Grammar of New Testament Greek vol. III by Nigel Turner, pg. 233).
Basically, these writers are referring to the possibility that the difference in the case of the term akouo would in this instance (9:7, 22:9) point to a difference in meaning. However, as Mr. Barker points out in his letter to me, and as Dr. A. T. Robertson said above many years earlier, this distinction cannot be written in stone. Why then do we feel that we are correct in asserting this difference as the the “answer” to this supposed contradiction? Context. Though none of the above authors went deeply into the subject, an examination of the context of the passages in question here make it very clear that Luke meant a difference to be understood in what he was writing.
The key element in this investigation is pointed out by R. J. Knowling (Expositor’s Greek Testament vol. 2 ed. by W. Robertson Nicoll pages 231 -233) and by John Aberly (New Testament Commentary edited by H. C. Alleman page 414). In Acts 22:9 Paul is speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem. According to Acts 21:40 Paul addressed the crowd in Hebrew (NIV says Aramaic – exactly which dialect it was is not very relevant). He mentions to his Hebrew listeners that when Jesus called him, he called him in their own language – Hebrew. How do we know this? In both Acts 9:4 and in Acts 22:7 Saul is not spelled in its normal form, but is spelled in its Hebrew (or Aramaic) form Saoul.What does this tell us? It tells us that the “voice” spoke in Hebrew. Therefore, Acts 22:9 would he referring to the fact that the men who accompanied Paul did not understand what was said for they could not understand Hebrew! The text supports this very strongly, for Paul modifies his saying “they did not hear (understand) the voice” by adding the vital phrase, “of the one speaking to me (to lalountos moi).” The emphasis is on the speaking of the voice, which would indicate comprehension and understanding. Now, given the above scholar’s quotations, and the context of the passages, can anyone seriously deny that there is a perfectly plausible explanation for this supposed contradiction? I think not.
Finally, it must he stated that part and parcel of dealing with almost any ancient or even modern writing is the basic idea that the author gets the benefit of the doubt. It is highly unlikely that a writer will contradict himself within short spans of time or space. Luke was a careful historian, and it is sheer speculation that he would he so forgetful as to forget what he wrote in Acts 9 by the time he wrote Acts 22. Some critics of the Bible seem to forget the old axiom “innocent until proven guilty.” The person who will not allow for the harmonization of the text (as we did above) is in effect claiming omniscience of all the facts surrounding an event that took place nearly two millennia ago. Most careful scholars do not make such claims. The above presented explanation is perfectly reasonable, it coincides with the known facts, and does not engage in unwarranted “special pleading.” If a person wishes to continue to claim that Acts 9:7 contradicts Acts 22:9, there is little I or anyone else can do about that. But let that person realize that 1) his position cannot be proved; 2) he (or she) is operating on unproven assumptions (Luke was not intelligent enough to notice a contradiction in his own writing); and 3) there is a perfectly logical explanation, based on the original languages and contexts.”
Dr. James White