There are three accounts of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts, and all three accounts are different. It’s not just a simple case of a different viewpoint. Each account mentions things that contradicts the other two. This should raise a flag to someone who takes the Bible seriously.
6And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
7And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
In the first account, we have the men that journeyed with Saul stood speechless, hearing a voice, but saw no one. He is also told to go into the city before he is told what he must do. The four things I want to emphasize here is 1) the men stood on their feet, 2) heard a voice, 3) didn’t see anyone and 4) told the mission once he is in the city.
9And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.
10And I said, What shall I do, LORD? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.
In the second account, 1) the men saw the light, 2) were afraid because they saw the light, 3) they didn’t hear a voice, and 4) told the mission once he is in the city.
14And 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? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
15And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
16But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
17Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
18To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
In the third account, 1) everyone fell to the ground and 2) he was told his mission while he was still on the ground.
- 1. Were those with him all standing or all fallen on the ground?
- 2. Did they hear the voice or not hear the voice?
- 3. Did the men with him see the light or not? If they did, why weren’t they blinded like Paul?
- 4. Was Paul told about his alleged apostolic appointment in the desert or in the city?
- 5. Why would Yashua utter in the Hebrew tongue a Latin and Greek proverb? (“It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks”)
All three events cannot be true no matter how you slice it. This is like telling someone that for your 25th birthday, you had a party, had cake, blew out candles and opened up presents. Then telling someone else that you had a party, but there were no presents. And telling another person that there was no cake, but there were presents. When all three come together it just doesn’t fit and therefore this one event cannot be called truth. If someone told this to you, you would call them a liar. This defies logic and reasoning. If someone asked you to give them a detailed account of what transpired on Saul’s journey on the Damascus road, what would you tell them? Which version would you use? How can one resolve these blatant contradictions? In any case, one can only conclude that the book of Acts is not “God-breathed.” There cannot be contradictions and at the same time be called divinely inspired truth. Anyone that believes the Holy Spirit authored the Book of Acts has to ask themselves, “Why isn’t the Holy Spirit consistent?”
“In Acts 9:5 we find a remark that Jesus is supposed to have made to Paul as he lay on the ground: ‘It hurts you to kick against the pricks.’ This is a quotation from The Bacchae by Euripides (d. 406 B.C.). It’s no surprise to find a quotation from ancient literature; the only peculiar thing is that Jesus should quote a Greek proverb to Paul while speaking Aramaic (‘in the Hebrew language’). But the really strange thing is that with both Jesus and Euripides we have the same ‘familiar quotation’ and the same situation. In both cases we have a conversation between a persecuted god and his persecutor. In Euripides, the persecuted god is Dionysus, and his persecutor is Pentheus, king of Thebes. Just like Jesus, Dionysus calls his persecutor to account: ‘You disregard my words of warning and kick against necessity [literally ‘against the goads’] a man defying god’. . Jesus even uses the same plural form of the noun (kentra) that Euripides needs for the meter of his line (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 163).”1 In Acts 26:24, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” I speculate Festus was familiar with the Greek tragedy and aware of Paul’s knowledge of ancient literature; Festus immediately recognized the familiar quotation Paul was using, which prompted him to tell Paul he’s nuts. His remark would make complete sense if, in fact, he was alluding to this very story.
Luke investigated and conducted his research, reporting everything he knew to the best of his knowledge based on first-hand accounts and eyewitness testimonies. (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1) He didn’t come down a burning mountain after forty days with two tablets etched with words by the Almighty Himself. He was a regular guy who set out to compile an account as accurately as he could for Theophilus. He makes it clear in his writing that he was a physician by profession, not a professional investigative reporter. (Some even claim he is Plutarch based on the similarities of their writings.) Luke only writes what he heard, or repeats what was told to him, most probably by Paul himself. It is also my belief that he gathered his information on Stephen the martyr from Paul himself. He would’ve been the only logical and accessible choice Luke would’ve gone to for this information.
Religious tradition and mainstream Christianity holds to the view that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are the inspired words of God. However, there are more discrepancies and contradictions in the New Testament that a faithful believer will dare to admit. The three contradicting accounts of the Damascus road event alone are enough to put the traditional view of canonical inspiration to rest. The letters and epistles during the early centuries were used for edification, encouragement and addressing problems within the church. The Book of Acts is not divinely inspired. It is exactly what Luke said it was, an account compiled by him (not the Holy Spirit).
If the sovereignty of God oversaw all the books of the Bible, then why weren’t the other books, like the book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18), the book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14), the book of the acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), the book of Enoch (Jude 1:14), etc., included in the canon? Were these not inspired? And why weren’t Paul’s other missing letters part of the canon (1 Corinthians 5:9, Colossians 4:16, 2 Corinthians 2:3-4)? If these books are supernaturally bound together then where are the missing letters? If these books are truly the inspired word of God, supernaturally kept together for us, then why for eleven centuries did God allow the Apocrypha to be part of his inspired word? People during this time would have been misled into thinking that all those books including the Apocrypha were “God-breathed.” We would have no need to test the prophets if God were to oversee the inclusion of all the books of the Bible. The truth is that we’re the ones responsible for testing the validity of a prophet and his words. The apostle John tells us we must test these spirits because there are many false prophets out there with false doctrines floating around the landscape (1 John 4:1). We can’t and should not accept blindly the books that are packaged for us. The stakes are too high. We are commanded to examine and scrutinize each book we find. The Torah also commands us to test the prophets before they can be accepted (Deuteronomy 12:32-13:5, 18:21-22). When the early believers received their very first letter from the apostles, do you think they all raised the hands in the air and praised God saying that the received the very words of God? No, absolutely not. They accepted the letters as, get this, regular letters! They knew it had good advice and instruction coming from apostles who walked with the Lord, but that’s about it. Not one of the letters makes the claim to be the divine words of God. It’s very clear that these are just letters, the letters say so, but people want to make more out of it than it really is.
It is man who decides what is canonized, not God. 2 Timothy 3-16 is also in the Bible that the Roman Catholics use and they have 73 books. So if I happened to meet a Catholic and he or she quotes me 2 Timothy 3:16, and tells me all scripture is inspired, am I to believe all 73 books are the very words of God? Of course not. The KJV Bible of 1611 has a total of 78 books, not to mention a good part of the middle ages the common people didn’t have direct access to these books. Did God not love them enough to grant them access to the correct number of books? Of course not. Even the Ethiopian Christian Orthodox Church included the Book of Enoch, (quoted by Jude) for 2000 years as part of their canon. So everyone has a different number of books in “their” canon. If it was God’s responsibility to keep these books for us then he’s giving everyone a different set of books. There would be no need to test for these books’ validity as John suggests. There would be no need to test if these prophets were really messengers of God or if their message was actually from God. There were many pseudigraphias floating around the landscape and could have been passed as inspired.
Next >> The False Apostle
1 Excerpted from Treading the Winepress.