One of the more common arguments against the inerrancy of Scripture is the supposed contradiction between Acts 9:7 and 22:9. The King James Version translates 9:7 as: “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.” But 22:9 says, “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 9:7 says that they heard a voice but 22:9 says they did not hear the voice. But this contradiction only exists in the King James Version of the Bible. The English Standard Version translates 22:9 as: “Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.” They heard a voice, but did not understand it. Critics will argue that modern translations are changing the meaning of the Bible to avoid this contradiction. So which translation is right?
Acts 22:9 is better translated as “understand the voice” because of the difference in the Greek case of “voice” between the two verses with regard to Paul’s companions. In Acts 9:4, the “voice” Paul hears is in the accusative case while in 9:7 it is in the genitive case with regard to those with Paul. In Acts 22:9, the “voice” they do not hear is in the accusative case. When the object of the verb “to hear” is in the accusative case, the sense of the verb is often “to hear with understanding.” One example of this is Galatians 4:21 where the verb “to hear” is translated as “listen” or “understand” because “the law” is in the accusative case. Since “the voice” is in the genitive case in Acts 9:7 while it is in the accusative in 22:9, the meaning of the passage is that while those with Paul heard a voice, they did not understand what it meant as Paul did. They heard the sound but could not make out the words.
The King James translators did not accurately translate the verb “to hear” in 22:9 because they did not understand that its meaning is often determined by the case of the object it is modifying. But Greek scholarship has advanced by leaps and bounds since then. A lesson to be learned from this alleged contradiction is that we need to look at more than just individual words when studying a passage of Scripture. Instead, we need to understand how the words relate to one another to see how the author is using them. Messages are communicated in phrases, not just words. Word studies can be helpful, but how a word is used always depends on the context.