Question: Do Greek scholars solve the discrepancies in Paul's vision accounts?


Question: Do Greek scholars solve the discrepancies in Paul's vision accounts?

Latter-day Saints often point out that the Bible's accounts of Paul's vision on the road to Damascus appear to be contradictory

Joseph Smith left several accounts of his First Vision. None of these accounts is identical with any other. As the main page discusses, some critics wish to argue that Joseph's vision accounts are mutually contradictory, and thus that there was no vision.

Latter-day Saints often point out that the Bible's accounts of Paul's vision on the road to Damascus appear to be contradictory. Yet, the Church's sectarian critics accept Paul's account as true despite the Bible containing apparently frank contradictions in its accounts. While accepting or explaining away these discrepancies, the critics nevertheless refuse to give Joseph Smith the same latitude. Members of the Church have long pointed out that this is a clear double standard, designed to bias the audience against Joseph from the beginning.

Perhaps because of the force of this argument, some critics have begun to argue that no contradiction exists between the versions of Paul's vision.

Some critics have begun to argue that Greek scholarship has resolved the contradiction that exists between the versions of Paul's vision

Author Richard Abanes wrote that contradictions in the stories of Paul's vision were

"long ago resolved by scholars analyzing the Greek texts. The discrepancies in Paul's account involve modern ignorance of the Greek wording used."[1]

In support of this claim, Abanes cites W.E. Vine, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 544.

Despite Abanes' claim, Greek scholarship has not resolved this issue. In fact, his use of the scholarship is dated, he ignores contrary views, and does not seem to realize that the Bible text itself (including the Acts of the Apostles) violates his supposed 'rule' more often than it keeps it.

The two verses usually at issue are Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9. For example, one Wikipedia editor claims that

"There is no conflict in the three accounts of Paul's vision if you read Acts 22:9 in any version other than the KJV. For instance, in the New American Standard Bible and the New International version, it says that Paul's companions did not "understand the voice"--that is hear what was uttered with understanding."[2]

The debate centers on the word translated "hearing" or "heard" in these verses

Bible version Acts 9:7 Acts 22:9 Comments
Summary

Heard voice, saw no one?

Saw light, heard no voice?

  • Clear contradiction?
KJV

And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

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.

  • Clear contradiction?

Abanes' source

The work cited by Abanes is not a recent work of Greek scholarship—it was first published in 1940.[3] In the reference for ακούω, we read:

...the usual word denoting "to hear," is used (a) intransitively, e.g., Matt. 11:15; Mark 4;23; (b) transitively when the object is expressed, sometimes in the accusative case, sometimes in the genitive. Thus in Acts 9:7, "hearing the voice," the noun "voice" is in the partitive genitive case [i.e., hearing (something) of], whereas in Acts 22:9, "they heard not the voice," the construction is with the accusative. This removes the idea of any contradiction. The former indicates a "hearing" of the sound, the latter indicates the meaning or message of the voice (this they did not hear). "The former denotes the sensational perception, the latter (the accusative case) the thing perceived" (Cremer).

Abanes' claim

Thus, by this source, Abanes hopes to argue that there can be "no idea of any contradiction":

Factor Acts 9:7 Acts 22:9 Comments
Case

partitive genitive

accusative

  • "Case" is a part of speech, it indicates the role a noun (here, "the voice") plays in the sentence. English does not use cases.
Meaning

One hears the sound

One hears the message

--

Have modern Greek scholars anything to add to our discussion?

We have seen Abanes appeal to a source that was more than sixty years old at the time of his writing. Have modern Greek scholars anything to add to our discussion?

Daniel Wallace (a non-LDS, conservative Christian scholar) wrote of this same issue:

...There seems to be a contradiction between this account [Acts 9:7] of Paul's conversion and his account of it in Acts 22, for there he says, "those who were with me..did not hear the voice..." However, in Acts 22:9 the verb ακούω takes an accusative direct object. On these two passages, Robertson states: '...it is perfectly proper to appeal to the distinction in the cases in the apparent contradiction....The accusative case (case of extent) accents the intellectual apprehension of the sound, while the genitive (specifying case) calls attention to the sound of the voice without accenting the sense.'...

The NIV [a conservative Bible translation, the New International Version] seems to follow this line of reasoning....[thus the differences in case] can be appealed to to harmonize these two accounts...."(italics in original)[4]

Thus, Wallace is here dealing with the exact verses under discussion, and notes the exact argument which Abanes makes. Does he agree? Let us see:

On the other hand, it is doubtful that this is where the difference lay between the two cases used with ακούω in Hellenistic Greek: the N[ew] T[estament] (including the more literary writers) is filled with examples of ακούω + genitive indicating understanding[5]....as well as instances of ακούω + accusative where little or no comprehension takes place[6]}....The exceptions, in fact, are seemingly more numerous than the rule!

Thus, regardless of how one works through the accounts of Paul's conversion, an appeal to different cases probably ought not form any part of the solution (italics and bold italics in original).[7]

Thus, the New Testament itself does not agree with Abanes' reading. Far from supporting him, Greek scholarship argues against his solution—the Bible has more examples where his supposed "rule" is broken than when it is followed. (Even Acts itself contains three counterexamples!)

It would seem that this approach has been developed by those who wish to maintain the idea of biblical inerrancy in the face of the Greek evidence.

Notes

  1. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 42, 43 (sidebar). ( Index of claims )
  2. Comment made by Wikipedia editor John Foxe on "First Vision" talk page (17 Aug. 2006) off-site
  3. W.E. Vine's M.A., Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (1940). off-site
  4. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1997), 133. off-site
  5. Wallace gives as examples which contradict Abanes' model: Matthew 2:9, John 5:25, John 18:37, Acts 3:23, Acts 11:7, Revelation 3:20, Revelation 6:3,5, Revelation 11:12, Revelation 14:13, Revelation 16:1,5,7, Revelation 21:3. Note that two of these examples are even from the book of Acts!
  6. Wallace gives as examples which contradict Abanes' model: Matthew 13:19, Mark 13:7, Matthew 24:6, Luke 21:9, Acts 5:24, 1 Corinthians 11:18, Ephesians 3:2, Colossians 1:4, Philemon 1:5, Jas 5:11, Revelation 14:2.
  7. Wallace, Beyond the Basics, 133–134. off-site