“And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one” (Acts 9:7 NKJV). “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me” (Acts 22:9 NKJV).
These two verses in the Book of Acts are often said to represent a contradiction in the New Testament – with Acts 9:7 stating that Saul’s traveling companions on the road to Damascus heard a voice, while Acts 22:9 seems to state that they did not hear the voice.
The supposed contradiction is perhaps unlikely on logical grounds because the two verses occur in the same book by the same author, so we might expect that there is some explanation for the apparent difference in the accounts. Such an explanation is found in an understanding of the way the word “hear” was used in the Greek language.
Anyone who has ever said “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch what you said” knows it is possible to hear a voice without understanding what it said, and the ancient Greek language adjusted for that fact in its use of the word “hear” (akouō ). When a sound was heard as a meaningless or unintelligible noise, the verb “to hear” was used with a noun in the “genitive case.” On the other hand, when a sound was heard that conveyed meaning or a message, the same verb “to hear” was used with a noun in the “accusative case.”
In Acts 9:7 we are told Saul’s companions “heard” a voice (genitive case noun – hearing a noise only), whereas in Acts 22.9 Paul, in recounting the event later, tells us the other men did not hear the voice (accusative case noun – hearing something with meaning).
So there is no real contradiction between the two accounts in Acts. In fact, unlike the King James Version or its derivative New King James Version from which the verses above are quoted, most modern English translations understand this fact and translate accordingly. The NIV, for example, translates the two verses in the following way:
“ The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone” (Acts 9:7 NIV). “My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me” (Acts 22:9 NIV).
The English Standard Version (ESV) translates the latter verse perfectly in a marginal note: “Acts 22:9 - Or hear with understanding.”
Saul’s companions heard a voice, but did not understand it. The reason might have been as simple as that the voice was speaking in Hebrew, which Saul (but not all inhabitants of ancient Judea) understood (Acts 22:2). In any case, there is no contradiction in the fact that Saul’s companions heard but did not understand the voice that spoke to Saul.