So what do we do with the different accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts? Fist we need to read the different stories. But here are the key verses:
Acts 9:7--The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. (NASB)
Acts 22:9--And they who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid. But they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. (MKJV)
I quoted two different translations to show the supposed contradiction. Usually in the Gospels it is easy to harmonize divergent details by explaining how different authors explain the same thing in different ways. But obviously Acts was written by Luke. But this goes to my first point. Do we really think that Luke was so careless about minor details? Well scholars like Peter Enns does. He says, "For one thing, biblical writers shaped history creatively for their theological purposes." (Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, 101). Really?!?! Would he take that hermeneutic and apply it to Jesus' miracles or, dare I ask, his resurrection? I sure hope not!! I think there are good reasons to think this isn't a contradiction or a lapse on Luke's memory. Luke was a man who paid attention to detail and would not have made such a careless mistake on such an important event. Here are two reasons why I think Luke gets the details right.
- Luke tells us he set out to give an orderly account (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2). I understand the ancients didn't write history like we do but that doesn't mean they weren't concerned with truth. Peter Enns is dead wrong when he thinks that the Biblical writers were so flippant to alter the details in order to put a spin on the story. Does he think they were the pioneers of modern media?
- Luke, as well as the other New Testament authors, paid great attention to minor details of minor stories in Acts. I wrote a whole blog on that and you can read it by clicking here. In fact historians and archaeologists have confirmed at least 84 historical details in the book of Acts that Luke got right. Things he had no possible way of knowing unless he was an eye-witness. For example, he got weather patterns, names of obscure rulers, correct travel routes, titles of rules in remote areas, and many other things right. If he paid such close attention to those details why would he make a mistake about Pauls' conversion?
What is the issue? The same verb is used both in Acts 9 & 22. In Acts 9:7 it says they heard (ἀκούω) the voice but in 22:9 it says they did not hear (ἀκούω) the voice. So the question is whether they heard or did not hear. The Greek language is a lot more flexible than this sort of literalistic approach. That is, just like in English, the same word can mean many different things depending on context. We must remember the Greek of the NT, yes even the higher greek of Luke, was still a street language. Therefore, words have a variety of meanings. I would contend that the NASB and ESV translators got it right by translating ἀκούω as understand in Acts 22:9. Peter Enns argues, "Of course, hearing implies comprehension." (ibid, 99). But wait a minute, that isn't true. Luke actually tells a story at the beginning of Acts that contradicts Peter. Luke tells us in Acts 2:6 that the crowds, when the Apostles were speaking in tongues, heard (ἀκούω) them but they did not all understand. How do I know that? Because each man only heard in his own language. That means that I could only understand the Apostle speaking my language. The miracle was the Apostle speaking different languages not in the hearing. So if the 12 were speaking 12 different languages then someone in the crowd heard 12 languages but probably only understood one.
In conclusion, the harmonization of Pauls' conversion story is simple. The men following Paul heard a sound but could not comprehend what was being said. Please excuse me if I am not willing to reinterpret my entire view on inspiration and inerrancy due to this minor detail.