|A VOICE FROM HEAVEN
"And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man" - Acts 9. 7.
"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.
Luke's narrative of the event in Acts 9.7 seems to assert that Paul's companions heard the voice, while Paul's own account recorded in Acts 22.9 asserts that they did not hear "the voice of him that spake to me": The question is sometimes asked, are these accounts contradictory, and if so, can both have been given by Divine inspiration? The reader has good grounds to be assured that Paul does not contradict Luke, that neither was mistaken, and that both statements are true and consistent with the entire Divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
A careful comparison of these verses in Acts with John 12.28,29 is sufficient to remove any difficulty. "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 ... " Just as the people heard the sound of the voice that spoke words of consolation and assurance to the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet heard not the actual words, but thought that it thundered, or that an angel spoke to him, so also the men accompanying Saul of Tarsus heard the sound of the voice that spoke to Saul, but did not hear the articulate words. Luke records that they heard the voice, and Paul records that they did not hear what was actually spoken to him.
Different Senses of the Creek Verb "to hear"
Ancient Greek writers drew attention to different senses of the Greek verb to hear when followed by a noun in the genitive or accusative case. Ammonius wrote in the 3rd century on the account given in Acts 22, making it clear that one who hears (words spoken by) a voice - AKOUEI PHÔNÊN (accusative) also hears (the sound of) a voice - AKOUEI PHÔNÊS (genitive), but one who AKOUEI PHÔNÊS (genitive) hears the sound, does not necessarily AKOUEI PHÔNÊN (accusative)- hear the words spoken by the voice. The meaning is that when the accusative case is used, it implies that the hearer hears both the voice and the words, but when the genitive is used, the hearer does not necessarily hear the words that are spoken.
In Acts 9.7 the genitive is used, implying that the hearers heard only the sound of the voice, and not the words that were spoken. This is consistent with Paul's statement in Acts 22.9 "They heard not the voice" (accusative), implying that, while hearing the sound, they did not hear the words that were spoken to him.
There are occasional exceptions to these distinctions of meaning of the Greek verb AKOUÔ (to hear) according to the genitive or accusative case of the following noun, but there can be no doubt that this distinction accounts for the apparent disagreement between Acts 9.7 and 22.9. Prof. J. H. Moulton remarks, "The fact that the maintenance of an old and wellknown distinction between the accusative and the genitive with AKOUÔ saves the author of Acts 9.7 and 22.9 from a patent self-contradiction, should by itself be enough to make us recognise it for Luke and for other writers until it is proved wrong". (Grammar of N.T. Greek: Vol. I, Page 66).
Different Meanings of the Creek noun rendered "voice"
It should also be remembered that the Greek PHÔNÊ is used often to signify sound rather than voice. Examples are found in Matthew 24.31 "a great sound of a trumpet"; John 3.8 "Thou hearest the sound thereof ..."; 1 Cor. 14.7 "even things without life giving sound; Rev. 1.15 ;"His voice (PHÔNÊ) as the sound (PHÔNÊ) of many waters; Rev. 9.9 "The sound of their wings". These examples are sufficient to show that the Greek word for "voice" is also used to indicate a "sound" as distinct from the words actually uttered by a voice. The distinction between the genitive and accusative cases used with AKOUÔ may coincide in Acts 9.7 and 22.9 with the distinctions of meaning of PHÔNÊ, and the two verses should be understood thus:
Acts 9.7 - "Hearing a voice (i.e. the sound of the voice), but not the actual words (implied by the use of the genitive).
Acts 22.9 - "They heard not the voice (the actual words) of him that spake to me" (implied by the use of the accusative).
Did Paul's companions hear only the voice of Paul?
In his commentary on the Greek text of the Acts of the Apostles Prof. F. F. Bruce quotes from Prof. J. H. Moulton's Prolegomena as above, and adds, "A better suggestion was made in the Expository Times volume VI (1894-5) page 238, that TÊS PHÔNÊS here refers to Paul's voice; his companions heard him speaking, but saw no one to whom the speaking could be addressed". Prof. Bruce did not mention that this explanation had already been offered one hundred and fifty years earlier by Dr. John Gill in his Exposition of the New Testament, where Dr. Gill wrote: "They heard the voice of Saul, saying, Who art Thou? and, What wilt Thou have me to do?, but saw nobody that he spoke to, which surprised them; for it is certain they did not hear the voice of Christ, that spoke to him, ch. 22.9, or if they heard the voice of Christ, it was only the sound of his voice, but they did not understand what he said: but the former seems rather to be the sense, and the best way of reconciling the two passages".
If Dr. Gill's interpretation is correct, the two passages would be understood as follows: Acts 9.7 "and the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing Paul's voice, but seeing no man to whom he was speaking" Acts 22.9 "They heard not the voice of him that spake with me". This is quite consistent with the details given in 9.3-6, where it is recorded that Paul "fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" It is not specifically stated that Paul's companions heard that voice, but they must certainly have heard Paul's words addressed to one unseen. The light from heaven, and the spectacle of Paul falling to the earth and speaking to a person invisible to them, would sufficiently account for their speechless amazement.
Consequences of assuming "verbal discrepancies"
Dr. Christopher Wordsworth in his commentary on the Greek New Testament remarks: "To imagine, as some have done, that Luke, having given an account of Paul's conversion in the ninth chapter, puts into Paul's mouth in the twenty-second chapter a speech which, m an important point, contradicts that account; is to suppose - not only that Luke was not inspired - but that he was destitute of common sense ... If such suppositions as these are once accepted, then a door is opened to an inundation from the whole flood and torrent of unbelief, which commences its course with assumptions of what are called "verbal discrepancies" between Paul's account and Luke's, and then proceeds to deny the veracity of one or the other, or both, and then goes on to doubt the reality of Paul's miraculous conversion, and even the death of Christ, and the Atonement itself. "
"It would be endless and fruitless to recount the speculations of some expositors like Eichorn, who have endeavoured to account for Paul's conversion by ordinary physical phenomena, and to explain away all that is supernatural in Luke's and Paul's narratives of it; or such as Lange, who regarded it as a visionary reverie; or who, with Bretschneider and Emmerling, confound it with his rapture into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12.1-7); or with Bahrdt and Brennecke, venture to affirm that Jesus died only in appearance, and so presented Himself to Saul on his way; or of the Tübingen school of critics, who deny the fact altogether.
"These notions are the natural results of the criticism, which in a vainglorious spirit of spurious liberality, invents inaccuracies and discrepancies in the Word of God; but they are not without their use, as showing in undisguised features, the inevitable consequences of that criticism".
If aught there dark appear,
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