As Paul relates his conversion experience to an audience in Jerusalem, he says, “They that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me” (Acts 22:9, KJV).
However, Luke, in relating the same event, says, “The men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man” (Acts 9:7, KJV).
So, which is it? Paul says “they heard not the voice,” and Luke says they were “hearing a voice.”
First of all, the word for “voice” in these verses is the Greek word phone, which means “a sound, a tone, a speech, a voice, or a natural sound.” With such a wide-ranging definition, the context must determine the most accurate meaning of the word. Most commonly, phone is applied to a voice from God, a human, or an angel. However, phone can also refer to sounds in general. It is translated “sound” in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound. . . .” Paul uses the word to refer to the “sound” of a trumpet in 1 Corinthians 14:8.
The flexibility of phone is quite evident in Revelation 1:15, “His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice [phone] was like the sound [phone] of rushing waters.” Here, the identical Greek word is translated two different ways.
These examples illustrate how confusion can arise in the comparison of Acts 9 with Acts 22. Paul heard a voice as Jesus communicated directly with him. The men with Paul heard the voice speaking to Paul but, to them, it was just an unintelligible sound. Did they hear the voice? Yes, in the sense that they heard something. But, since they could not understand what the voice said, it was nothing more than a sound—in other words, they couldn’t really “hear” Jesus.
The ESV clears up the seeming contradiction nicely: “Those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me” (Acts 22:9). And, “They heard the sound but did not see anyone” (Acts 9:7). Not understanding the voice—but hearing the sound—is a good description of what happened.
This difficulty is one of several minute problems that occur during the translation process. Praise the Lord, such difficulties are easily resolved and do not affect any major doctrine of our faith.