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Acts chapter 9 starts with Luke, the author, narrating Paul's Damascus Road experience. In Acts chapter 22 Luke reports Paul's personal account to the Jews in Jerusalem and in Acts 26, Paul's personal account to Agrippa. There are some omissions and differences between the three reports. In this essay, I will contrast and compare the three accounts, concentrating on the major omissions and differences. I am going to seek explanations for the differences in an endeavour to ascertain if there is harmony between the accounts or contradictions.
Hearing Jesus' voice
According to Acts 9:7 Paul's travelling companions heard the sound of someone's voice speaking to Paul but Acts 22:9 says his companions did not hear the voice. The Greek translation suggests that in the former chapter they heard the voice as a sound and in the latter, they did not hear it as meaningful words. Paul's companions may have heard the voice without understanding it since the vision was for Paul alone. The verb akouo used can be translated both 'hear' and 'understand'. In Acts 9:7, akouo is used with the genitive case, merely specifying that a sound was heard. In 22:9 akouo takes an accusative object, indicating that the meaning was not comprehended. Machen suggests that Paul's companions heard a voice but only Paul understood what was said.
Barker argues that Akouo does not mean 'understand'. He suggests that New Testament Greek has other words for understand, the main one being suneimi, whose noun counterpart is sunesi, meaning 'understanding'. He agrees, nevertheless, that 'hear' can be rendered loosely as 'understand' in some special cases, just as we say in English 'I hear you' meaning 'I understand you'. So akouo literally means 'hear' but can mean 'understand' by context. Baker gives the example of 1 Corinthians 14:2 where akouo is translated as 'understanding'. He also referred to John 12:28-29, where Jesus understood God's words while the people around him said it had thundered.
The Greek word for 'heard' used in this chapter is an idiom frequently used for 'understood' or even for 'understood and obeyed'.
I agree with the scholars who say that Paul's companions heard an audible sound without understanding what was said.
The Light from Heaven
Acts 9:7 says Paul's companions heard the sound, but they did not see anyone while in Acts 22:9 Paul says his companions saw the light. The two accounts can be harmonised by assuming that while everyone saw the light, only Paul saw the risen Christ. Hedrick concludes that Paul's companions beheld the light according to Acts 22:9 but did not see Jesus as Acts 9:7 says, just as they heard the voice without understanding it.
There is a parallel between the inability of Paul's companions to hear the voice as an articulated message and their inability to see the glory of the risen Lord in the blaze of light. Acts 22:9 makes it clear that they saw the light but Acts 9:7 says they did not see the Person displayed in the light.
It is safe to conclude that although the whole group saw the light, only Paul saw the risen Lord in that light.
Falling to the ground
Acts 9 implies that only Saul fell to the ground while his companions stood speechless. Acts 26 reports Paul saying "We all fell to the ground". Some scholars argue that initially everyone fell to the ground, but only Paul remained on the ground.
The word rendered 'stood' in Acts 9 also means 'to be fixed' or 'to be rooted to the spot'. Therefore Paul's companions may not have stood erect, but were rendered motionless, or fixed to the spot by overpowering fear. The expression 'stood speechless' has no reference to posture. One may stand in doubt, stand firm, stand in fear, stand speechless, or stand in awe while in any position of the body. Paul's companions, therefore, 'stood speechless' while flat on the earth, he reckons.
Paul and his companions saw the light, fell down, and then the companions got up and stood speechless as Paul conversed with Christ. This is because the vision was for Paul, so the others did not see anything beyond the light.
Paul's companions fell down with him, but they rose to their feet while Paul was talking to the person that they could not see or understand.
Acts chapter 9:8 states that when Paul got up from the ground he could not see although his eyes were open. In chapter 22 Paul says he could not see because of the brightness of the light but in chapter 26 he does not mention the blindness at all. In addition, Paul's companions were not blinded by the light.
The differences between the narration in chapter 22 and that in chapter 26 are mainly differences of emphasis. Paul emphasised aspects of the story which would be of interest to his audience. Bosch thinks that Paul was blinded by the glory of the light because the Christ he saw was not the post-resurrection Christ, but the Christ exalted at the Father's right hand.
Hedrick reckons that Paul's companions were not blinded because they had no reason to stare at the light since they did not see Jesus. It also seems that in Chapter 22 Paul received his sight upon entering Damascus but in Acts 9 he was blind for three days. Once again this apparent difference is a result of what Paul chose to highlight to different audiences.
In Acts 22 Paul narrates how Jesus told him to go to Damascus where he would be told what to do. His mission was then announced to him by Ananias. In Acts 26 however, Jesus Himself announced Paul's mission.
Paul gave a fuller account in Acts 26 of what Jesus said to him. He did not differentiate between Jesus' words to him and Ananias' words to him because he knew Ananias' words were the Lord's. In chapter 22, Paul was addressing Jews and he wanted them to know that his commission came from a respected Jew called Ananias. Some scholars believe Paul just mixed together Jesus and Ananias' words to him in chapter 26. It is also only here that Paul says Jesus told him it was hard to kick against the goads. This was allegedly a Gentile proverb not in use among the Jews, hence Paul used it when addressing Gentile rulers who would understand it.
Sanders explains that when Paul was speaking to king Agrippa, Bernice and the Romans, he focused on what high-ranking people like them would understand - a mission, a goal, a purpose and responsibility. They knew what it was to obey, so Paul tells them he was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.
It is only in Paul's account of Acts 26:19-21 where we get new information that he did not get his complete revelation at the time of his conversion. We are told here that the revelation given to him was progressive.
Paul carefully chose which parts of the conversion story to tell king Agrippa and the others. He picked parts that would interest them.
Scholars generally agree that while Acts 22:9 says Paul's companions did not hear the voice that spoke to him, what it really means is that they did not understand what was said. This is because the Greek verb used for 'hear' can also mean 'understand'. Although there are some who thought the Greek language had other words for 'understand', there are scriptures where 'hear' was translated 'understand. This agrees with Acts 9: 7, which reads that the men with Saul heard a voice. Saul alone understood what the voice said.
It also appears that Saul and his companions all saw the light that flashed from heaven. Saul, however, saw the risen Christ in the light while the others only saw the light because the vision was not theirs. There is a similarity between the companions seeing the light without seeing the Lord and their hearing the sound without understanding the words. Because Saul saw the glory of the risen Christ who had ascended to heaven, he could not see when he rose from the ground.
Acts 9: 7 implies that Saul's companions did not fall down, but it can be harmonised with Acts 22:14 in which Saul says his companions and him all fell to the ground. The others rose to their feet though, while Saul conversed with the Lord. There are scholars who expound that the Greek word translated 'stood' can mean to be fixed or rooted to the spot. This can apply to people who are in any position of the body, not just standing.
Acts 26 omits that Saul was rendered blind while both Acts 9 and 22 mention it. The explanation is that Saul only emphasised aspects of the story which would interest his audience. Although Acts 9 states that Saul was blind for three days, Acts 22:11-12 seem to suggest that he regained his sight soon after entering Damascus. Once more this apparent difference is caused by what Saul was highlighting at a particular time.
Paul explains in Acts 22 that Jesus instructed him to enter Damascus and wait for instructions on what he should do. The Lord then sent Ananias to Paul to announce Paul's mission. In Acts 26 Paul gives a full account of his instructions from the Lord Himself. Some authors think that Paul just blended Jesus and Ananias' words to him as he was sure that Ananias' words were from Jesus. Paul addressed Agrippa and the Romans by concentrating on what people of authority like them would understand. Since Agrippa understood obedience, Paul told him that he (Paul) could not disobey the heavenly vision. Chapter 26, unlike the other two accounts, tells us that Paul's revelation did not come at once, but gradually.