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What Did Paul’s Traveling Companions Hear on the Road to Damascus?

Q. On the road to Damascus, did Paul’s traveling companions hear the voice that spoke to Paul?
A. Yes, but they could not understand what the voice was saying.

Saul of Tarsus (more commonly known by his legal Roman name, Paul) was a Pharisee who persecuted followers of Jesus Christ (who were known for awhile as those “belonging to the Way”) until he had a life changing experience on the road to Damascus. According to what Luke wrote in Acts, this is what happened:

“As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’

And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.’ The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice [footnote: Or sound] but seeing no one.” (NASB)
– Acts 9:3-7

Later we are told more specific details via the record of Paul’s statement to the people of Jerusalem:

“‘But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus at about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus he Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’

And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.’” (NASB)
– Acts 22:6-9

There are two different Greek words used in these passages. In Acts 9 and Acts 22, the word used to mean “sound” or voice” is phone (Φωνη), which can mean: “through the idea of disclosure; a tone (articulate, bestial or artificial); by impl. an address (for any purpose), saying or language: – noise, sound, voice.”

Colloquially speaking, it could easily be used to refer to both a sound that was heard but not comprehended (as in Acts 9) and an address to Paul that wasn’t received by others (Acts 22).

The scenario is quite easy to understand through a simple example: Occasionally one of my siblings will mutter something from the distance and although I can clearly hear their voice, I can’t “hear” what exactly they are saying.
Just consider how often somebody says something in the middle of a crowd and another person responds, “What?” Evidently they hear enough of the person’s voice to know that something is being said, but they don’t clearly understand what the message is.

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4 Comments to “What Did Paul’s Traveling Companions Hear on the Road to Damascus?”

  1. I find it odd that Acts 9 says the men saw the light and heard the voice. Whereas, Acts 22 says they saw the light, but didn’t hear the voice. Some versions say they didn’t understand the voice; instead of, they didn’t hear the voice.
    Paul says in Acts 22 that Jesus spoke to him in the Hebrew tongue. Paul understood it because he spoke Hebrew; but, it’s likely the men with him didn’t. What is your view on this?

  2. Excuse me, in Acts 26, Paul says Jesus spoke to him in the Hebrew tongue; not Acts 22

  3. ALADE, Kehinde Peter

    Good Afternoon, am doing research also on this.
    Should we just conclude that the author of the book of Acts did not write it as it happened because he wasn’t present at the scene of the incident. He just gave the account.
    Apostle Paul’s statements on his own conversion did not contradict themselves. ( see Acts. 22:9; 26:14)
    He rather didn’t mention that aspect in his subsequent conversion story to King Agrippa and Governor Festus…
    Get it clear when you are giving an account of something, you might not remember to add some of those things that happened at times. Not that Paul lied but what he said in 22:7 was the same thing with 22:14.

    But 9:7 account was given by Luke who wrote the book…
    So the Bible does not contradict themselves.

  4. robert satterfield

    The comments I read were good explanations,I have a different take. I am a Jewish believer in yeshua/Jesus.It could be the men traveling with Sa’ul knew Aramaic,but not Hebrew.Hebrew was the language of the temple in the 1st century.when the Jews went into the Babylonian captivity the lagunia fracac (common tongues) were Aramaic.So that is a second possibility.

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