Saturday, 3 March 2007

Saul, Saul, why getteth thee thou story wrong?

What is up with Christians and the story of Paul's conversion? Why do they throw this story up as 'evidence' or 'proof' of the Christian religion? As a Christian I always thought the story of Paul's conversion was relevant in that it was the conversion account of the most influential Apostle for the later Church, but proof or evidence? Why would a non-believer be moved by the account of an Apostle's conversion? I never used it in my witnessing as I could just hear non-believers saying, "So? How do we even know that is a true story?" or "Who cares? Who's he?"

Yet for many Christians this story holds water for some reason. Evangelists would sometimes preach the story and even get a response at the altar-call. I never understood that. As I ponder it I think that maybe it is the drama of it. The hard-ass persecutor gets zapped and becomes the hard-ass Apostle. I guess that much of it makes a good story. Perhaps there are some archetypes in there that resonate with us. Like Darth Vader's deathbed conversion at the end of Return of the Jedi, we all love it when bad guys turn good.

The story of Paul's conversion is told 3 times in the book of Acts (9; 22; 26). And yep, you guessed it, the stories don't match up. The accounts are not only different but in some places, irreconcilable.

After the light hits Paul and Jesus talks to Paul the stories conflict.

Act 9:7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
Act 22:9 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.

OK, so there we have the guys with Paul hearing the voice and then not hearing the voice. So which one is it? It can't be both.

Act 9:4, 7, 8 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?...And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless... And Saul arose from the earth
Act 22:7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
Act 26:14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And here we have Acts 9 & 22 saying it was only Paul who fell and then chapter 9 even saying that that the other men were standing, but chapter 26 says they all fell. Which is it? It can't be both. Either Paul fell alone, or they all fell together.

Go and read the NIV to see how the Evangelicals involved in that translation have amended this apparent error. They have changed the word 'hear' in Acts 22:9 to 'understand' which is something earlier and later translations including the KJV and RSV do not do for good reason. The Greek word for 'hear' in verse 9 simply shouldn't be translated as 'understand' (see here).

One guy fell, they all fell. One guy heard a voice they all heard heard a voice. How did I ever believe God had a hand in that book?


Moth said...

I love it how the Toronto Blessos use this as a springboard for falling over slain in the spirit, alongside the centaurians falling over.

all were enemies of jesus at the time of the 'falling'. Not the best company to have commonalities to share.

Troy Waller said...

I am all for Torrents. I use them to download all kinds of stuff. They are a total blessing.

Susan said...

I just looked up the verses about standing and falling in the Greek, and in Acts 9:7 , the word is , definitely standing. The word for fall in 9:4 and 22:7 is definitely singular, 3rd person in the former, 1st person in the latter. Both of those use forms of "pipto" (for some reason it won't let me copy and paste). 26:14 is definitely plural, and since he also uses "we" and "all," it seems like he is really emphasizing that they were all on the ground. 26:14 uses a form of "katapipto" rather than just "pipto." It doesn't seem like there is any getting around the fact that in one passage the others were standing up and in the other they were down on the ground. I'm going to check the NET Bible site which has 60,000 notes and see if it has anything to say about it. (

Susan said...

The NET Bible says nothing at all about why the others were standing in one place and falling in the other. I suppose they didn't notice or were hoping no one else would since there is no explanation for it. I also looked up Galatians 4:21, the one verse in which they say "akouo" should be translated as "understand" rather than "hear." The KJV has "do ye not hear the law?," the NIV has "are you not aware of what the law says?" the NEB has "do you not listen to the law?" the LB has "do you know what the law really says?" In this particular case, "understand" would make as much sense as any of the other translations, but hearing the law is really a different context from hearing a noise or a voice. And one thing that is interesting about the NET Bible notes is that apparently two people translated the book of Acts, on chapter 9 and one chapter 22. Chapter 22 has this note: "tn Grk “did not hear” (but see Acts 9:7). BDAG 38 s.v. ἀκούω 7 has “W. acc. τὸν νόμον understand the law Gal 4:21; perh. Ac 22:9; 26:14…belong here.” If the word has this sense here, then a metonymy is present, since the lack of effect is put for a failure to appreciate what was heard."

Chapter 9 has this note:"This is a parenthetical note by the author. Acts 22:9 appears to indicate that they saw the light but did not hear a voice. They were “witnesses” that something happened." This note sounds like a more logical explanation, but doesn't say much for inerrancy.