Critics of the Bible suggest that Luke’s various accounts in Acts of Paul’s conversion are in conflict with each other and that either Paul had a bad memory or Luke failed somehow. Either of these notions cast aspersion on the scriptures which claim to be without error. How does one answer such accusations? The following commentary helps shed light on the subject:
Did Paul Have a Bad Memory?
One of the tools in Satan’s attempt to discredit the Bible is the weakness and transitive quality of human language. This seeming “contradiction” in the story of Paul’s conversion has been cited by Bible critics for many years as a mistake either in Paul’s recollection of the events or in the scriptures themselves (let me suggest that neither is the case for either is true, the credibility of God’s Word is in question). It does stand to reason though that if Luke is relating the events under divine inspiration, and later as Paul is speaking about such an important event as this (and being put on record for Luke to record under divine inspiration) that the accounts would be without error and not in contradiction with each other. So what is the problem then?
One rule of Bible interpretation is that if two verses as interpreted seem to contradict each other then there is an error in our understanding, not in the inspiration or in the translation. This rule when followed can help us when faced with critics of the Word and in understanding sound doctrine. For example, (though I do not have the time to address it in depth) the group of verses that support the doctrine of eternal security seems to have another group of verses that contradict it. There are only two possibilities; either the Bible contradicts itself, or I am misunderstanding one of the groups of verses. Since the former is impossible, the latter is the only choice.
Typically the root of the misunderstanding is due to transitive meanings of words. At Babel, God divided men up by languages. Since that time we have been attempting to reintegrate ourselves both culturally and linguistically. It seems clear that the languages that existed at Babel were not pre-existing languages. God undoubtedly authored and instigated all of the diverse tongues that men suddenly began to speak in on that day. I am sure that they were each and everyone grammatically and functionally perfect and free of expletives and perversions of meaning and pronunciation.
Over time of course, man’s hands, or tongues as it were, began to corrupt and damage that which God had designed. Language, like all of God’s creations, is not free from the effects of sin. The world is winding down (entropy) and language as a form of communication is subject to this force as well. Between the blending of cultures and the vulgarity of the human tongue, language has failed to remain pristine.
This entropy of language has been taking place as well since the KJV was translated and if any problems they exist, it is only because our own vulgarity and misuse of language have fostered them. Word meaning is transitive between contexts, between cultures and across time. The English word “stood” as used in Acts 9:7 (Greek histēmi) means to stay or cease from moving. Years ago I was intrigued by a street sign that said, “No Standing.” It meant that vehicles were forbidden to cease from moving. In my mind I had thought it was ridiculous that it was illegal to “stand” in that spot.
The translators chose the best word to signify that they “stood” or stopped dead in their tracks, not stood up (notice the word “up” can be used to differentiate from other references to standing such as standing down, standing by, standing in, etc.), but standing none the less, and as Paul clarifies in his own relating of the event in Acts 26, they were “fallen to the earth.” It is easy to see how the untrained eye will interpret it that in one passage they are standing up and in another they are on the ground.
As in all language the meaning of a word can be determined by its context. This is another rule for interpretation. Each word’s meaning can be determined by its context. In some cases, hearing means perceiving sound, and in other cases it means understood. Let the context determine the meaning. Again Paul’s explanation of the story clarifies, and his context specifies that they did not understand “the voice that spake unto me.” Yes, their ears picked up on a voice (Greek phone) as stated in Acts 9, but Paul’s language and context in Acts 22 lets us know that they could not comprehend what was being said.
Many times I have heard a voice, but did not hear what was being said. This is exactly what is being explained in the two accounts and they are not in contradiction to each other when the rules of Bible interpretation are applied. Both recollections are true and accurate. Like Paul, the translators used the context to clarify just what was meant by the word “hear” in the text, but over the last 400 plus years we have allowed language to corrupt through changes in use and instead of being students of the language, we assume either the scripture is in error or the translators made one.
This is one reason people try so hard to update the words of God, through modern translations. I for one choose the KJV over any modern language version.
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