Did Paul’s companions on the road to Damascus fall to the ground?

Posted on Feb.25, 2009. Filed in Acts. Average rating: 4.5 / 10 (Rate It).

Paul’s conversion experience was dramatic. As he travelled along the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him, knocking him to the ground. The persecutor of the church then became the apostle to the gentiles, preaching the gospel no matter what opposition he faced.

There are several different accounts of precisely what happened on the road to Damascus. One inconsistency between them concerns whether Paul’s companions fell to the ground too, or stood there speechless.

When Paul gives his testimony to King Agrippa, he says that he and his companions fell to the ground:

‘… I was travelling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.”‘ [Acts 26:12b-14 (NRSV)]

In an earlier version of events, however, Paul’s companions didn’t fall to the ground but instead stood speechless:

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what to do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. [Acts 9:3-7 (NRSV)]

So did Paul’s companions fall to the ground or stand speechless when Jesus appeared to Paul on the Damascus road?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

: , , ,
2 Comments Ratings

Inerrantist Responses

To suggest a response to this claim of error, please use the comments section below.

Rate this Claim of Error

How serious a problem for inerrancy do you think this is?

Average rating: 4.5 / 10

You must be logged in to rate errors.


  1. 1

    Like Did Paul’s Companions on the Road to Damascus Hear the Voice?, this is a case where one of the problematic claims is reported speech. The passages can therefore be harmonised by saying that the reported speech was false, but that the Bible accurately records it and so is nevertheless true.

    If I were an inerrantist, though, then I wouldn’t want to rely on this too often. For one thing, Paul will start to look less credible if he can’t even get the details of his own conversion correct.

  2. 2

    Response 1: Even in English, the phrase “stood there” or “stood by” in Acts 9:7 does not necessarily mean that anyone is standing. I can stand by while I am upright, seated kneeling, prone or inverted. The term just means that I am waiting. The Greek word allows for that sort of meaning as well.

    I do not know whether the best translation of the entire passage allows that variation. Most translations I’ve looked at do say “stood there” or “stood by”. But that may only show that the translator chose to preserve the ambiguity of the Greek by translating it into ambiguous English. Preserving the ambiguity of the original is a very sound translational principle, so it would not surprise me to find multiple translators making the same move.

    Response 2: Let us assume that some of the men Luke refers to in Acts 9 _were_ standing. Notice still that in the one case, it is Paul-and-his-companions that fall to the ground (in Paul’s report in Acts 9). In the other case, it is the men-traveling-with-him who are standing (in Luke’s description in Acts 26). Paul may have been traveling with a small group of associates and servants in a much larger caravan of people.

    Now suppose that the entire caravan stops when the men in it hear the voice from heaven and see the light shining around Paul and his few companions. The men surrounded by light fall to the ground, but the other travelers stand amazed.

    So it might be that all that is happening here is that in his account to Agrippa Paul mentions himself and his few companions. In Luke’s description of the event, he mentions the large company of men traveling with Paul’s little group.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site: