How Acts 9:17 Teaches Us Not to Commit a Very Common and Serious Interpretational Error

January 9, 2015

Acts 9 is the first of three accounts in the book of Acts that relate the conversion of Saul. After Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul was temporarily blinded, and as a result, other people had to lead him into the city of Damascus (Acts 9:8). He then spent three days there in his sightless condition (Acts 9:9).

During that time, the Lord appeared to Ananias, a devout disciple (Acts 9:10; cf. Acts 22:12), and commanded him to go minister to Saul (Acts 9:10-12). After having his objections answered with firm insistence by the Lord that he yet must do what the Lord had directed him to do (Acts 9:13-16), Ananias came to where Saul was staying and ministered to him (Acts 9:17-18).

As part of that ministry, Ananias laid hands on Saul and said to him, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 9:17). This statement provides us with some important information about Ananias that even many otherwise careful readers often overlook.

When Ananias said to Saul that he knew that the Lord had appeared to Saul on the way as he was coming, Ananias testified to his knowledge of something that he could not have known as an eyewitness because he was not present when the Lord appeared to Saul. How then did Ananias know that the Lord had appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus?

Based on the information supplied by Luke in Acts 9 and 22, we have no indication that any of the other people that were with Saul when the Lord appeared to him had come before Saul did to Ananias and told him what had happened to Saul. The only way that Ananias, therefore, could have known that the Lord had appeared to Saul on the way as he was coming to Damascus was for the Lord Himself to have informed Ananias about His doing so.

The report of the Lord’s appearing in a vision to Ananias (Acts 9:10-16), however, does not say anything about Jesus’ having told Ananias about His appearing to Saul on the road to Damascus. Because Ananias nevertheless testified to Saul of his knowing about that event, we must conclude that Luke has not provided us with an exhaustive record of what the Lord said to Ananias when He appeared to him to direct him to go to minister to Saul.

This observation is critical to keep in mind when we make statements about what was or was not said by people in other events recorded in Acts (as well as also in the rest of Scripture). We learn from this analysis of Acts 9:17 in its larger context that it is a serious error to assert that something was not said on a particular occasion just because a brief report of that event in Scripture does not say anything about such a statement.1

Let us learn from this study not to commit this very common and serious interpretational error!

1Here are four examples of false conclusions that people have come to by committing this error:

—Philip did not preach about the Resurrection of Jesus to the Ethiopian official, and he was saved without testimony to the Resurrection (Acts 8)

—Paul did not preach about repentance in Damascus (Acts 9)

—Paul and Silas did not testify to the Resurrection of Jesus to the Philippian jailor, and he was saved without hearing about the Resurrection (Acts 16)

—Paul failed to preach the gospel in Athens because he did not preach about the Cross or about the name of Jesus (Acts 17)





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