Paul's Conversion Experience
Did God audibly speak or not?
HUMANIST QUESTION: As a final example of a New Testament contradiction, the conflicting accounts of Pauls conversion can be cited. Acts 9:7 states that when Jesus called Paul to preach the gospel, the men who were with Paul heard a voice but saw no man. According to Acts 22:9, however, the men saw a light but didnt hear the voice speaking to Paul.
As we have been doing, the first step is to look at what scripture actually says:
The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. - Acts 9:7 (NASB)
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. - Acts 22:9 (NASB)
There is no problem. Scripture does not say what the humanists claim it says. In Acts 9:7 the men who traveled with Paul heard a voice. Then in Acts 22:9 we learn that although they physically heard the voice, they did not understand what the voice was saying. Why would the humanist say there is a contradiction here?
Maybe the problem is in the translation they were using. Let's look at Acts 22:9 in the King James Version:
And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of him that spoke to me. - Acts 22:9 (KJV)
Ah... the problem is that the way people speak (in English) has changed with time. In a more current translation, the NASB, the Greek word translated as "hearing" in Acts 9:7 is the same Greek word in Acts 22:9 that is translated as "understand." In the KJV it is translated as "heard" in both verses. That word is "akouo" (Strongs 191). Why does the NASB use two different words to translate the same Greek word?
The answer is, to make the meaning clear in English the way we speak today.
So what is with the KJV? Is there a difference in meaning between the NASB and KJV? No. Paul heard the voice and understood what it said. Others heard the voice, but did not understand what it said. Recall that the KJV was translated in 1611 and updated in 1769. Some of the words used in the KJV have different meanings than they have today. An English word or phrase that was appropriate in 1769 might not convey the desired meaning today.
Translation of the Original Greek
First, although ancient Greek usually can be translated word-for-word, there is not always a perfect word-for-word correlation. As in any language, some words have nuances and variations in meaning. The same is true for English words, and those nuances change with time. The result is that no two translations use exactly the same English words, in particular if there is a significant time gap between two translations.
Second, in translating you need to be familiar with the culture of the people who spoke the original language. The meaning of words is dependent on the culture. I am reminded of a friend of mine who did translations from English to Russian. He was translating a sermon in which the preacher said, "It is like Grape Nuts, no grapes and no nuts." Translating those words directly into Russian made no sense. What my friend did was to translate "Grape Nuts" as "Bird's Milk." So, my American reader, does "It is like Bird's Milk, no birds and no milk." have any meaning for you? It does for a Russian. They have a popular candy called "Bird's Milk" that has nothing to do with birds nor milk.
Third, just as in English, individual Greek words may have multiple meanings. What a word specifically means depends on the context. To learn more about "akouo" (Strongs 191) I turned to my copy of one of the most authoritative Greek dictionaries, "The Complete Word Study Dictionary (New Testament)" by Spiros Zodhiates. It gives seven definitions for "akouo." Here is a summary:
- To hear in general
- To hear with attention.
- To have the faculty of hearing
- To obey
- To be informed by hearing
- To hear in a forensic sense (such as a court hearing)
- To understand or comprehend
Zodhiates lists a synonym: "to listen attentively to"
SThe Greek word "akouo" can mean physically "hearing" and it can mean “to understand." " If you hear, but do not understand, it is the same as not hearing at all. In the Hebrew way of thinking this made sense. If you physically heard something, but did not understand (for example, it was in a language you did not know), it was just as though you did not hear it, because there was no understanding.
At the time the KJV was translated, to “hear” also carried the meaning of understanding. At that time, it was the appropriate word to use. Today we use the word “hear” in a more limited sense, so current translations use the word “understand.” The men with Paul did hear with their ears, but they did not understand what they phys-ically heard.
What did we find out here? There is no contradiction.
Next section... cruelties in the Bible. Here is the introduction to the next topic on the American Humanists web site. There is a fundamental error in what they say. Can you spot it?
Humanists also reject the Bible because it approves of outrageous cruelty and injustice. In civilized legal systems, a fundamental principle is that the suffering of the innocent is the essence of injustice. Yet the Bible teaches that God repeatedly violated this moral precept by harming innocent people.
Click here to learn what is wrong with the above.