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The Visions of Stephen and Saul

“The Lapidation of Saint Stephen,” by Rembrandt, 1625, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France

Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson July 10-16: Acts 6-9

We read of Stephen’s vision, in which he testified with his dying breath, of the physical reality of God, our father, and Jesus Christ His begotten and resurrected son, in Acts 7:54-58, “When they [the council] heard these things [Stephen’s testimony of the risen Lord], they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.”

Not long after these events, that very same Saul had his own vision of the risen Lord. We read his story in Acts 9:1-9, “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And 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. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.”

Last week I talked briefly about radios and speaking in tongues. This week, I will elaborate more on hearing voices and seeing visions. The account of Stephen’s vision, as recorded in Acts 7:54-58, does not include any audio, only video, therefore, I will focus my discussion more on Paul’s experience, which included both audio and video. The audio part of Paul’s vision is described plainly in the whole account, beginning with Acts 9:3-4: “…suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice…”

From a scientific perspective, how might Paul have “heard a voice?” As regular, mortals, we can hear voices pretty much any time we want—we only need to turn on a radio or other device. Since Christmas Eve 1906, voices have been transmitted by radio waves—now every second of every day. There are numerous radio waves passing through your head right now. Radio waves were not invented; they have existed, for us here on earth, since the origin of the universe. All astronomical bodies emit radio waves, even asteroids, which do not generate heat themselves but are warmed by the sun; that heat is then given off, in part, as radio waves. Lightning is also a natural source of radio waves.

Although radio waves were not invented, they were discovered. They were first predicted in James Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism in 1867 and then were demonstrated experimentally by Heinrich Hertz in 1887. Hertz apparatus generated a standing spark across a gap between two wires. He then had a receiver, consisting of a wire ring with a gap at one spot, placed about five feet away from the generator. Radio waves from the generator caused sparks to cross the gap in the receiver. Hertz had proven Maxwell’s theory, but he had no idea what the practical application may be for his experimental apparatus.

In 1894, twenty-year-old Guglielmo Marconi built a device that could detect radio waves from lightning and cause a bell, set up to a receiver, to ring. The following year, he invented a telegraph key that would change Hertz’s continuous spark into a series of long and short-duration sparks that could be picked up by a receiver placed quite some distance away—eventually all the way across the Atlantic. The receiver would tap out the same series of dots and dashes produced by the generator. Those could then be translated from Morse code into words.

Theoretically, if a person speaks into the gap between the wires of the transmitter, the shape of the spark across the gap is modified to match the sound waves. Likewise the shape of the spark across the gap in the receiver loop is also modified. Reginald Fessenden discovered this principal in the 1890s, and in the fall of 1900, applying this theoretical principal, he was able to transmit a garbled message across a distance of one mile. However, in practice, the normal spark is way too messy, with way too much background static for the voice to be understood. Fessenden worked for the next six years on a method for cleaning up the voice transmission. He modified the messy spark pattern in the transmission gap into a smooth, continuous wave of energy by developing a high-speed alternator, known as an alternating-current dynamo, which generated precise waves of electric current and produced a specific, continuous train of emitted radio waves. By the winter of 1906, his invention was ready for testing, and the first radio broadcast in history occurred that year on Christmas Eve. Fessenden played O Holy Night on his violin and read some passages from the Bible, broadcast from his home in Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Radio operators on nearby ships at sea picked up his broadcast on their loop receivers intended to receive the dots and dashes of Morse code messages. (Davis, H P, The Early History of Radio in the United States, In, Harvard University. Graduate school of business Administration, The Radio Industry: The Story of its Development, Shaw, Chicago and New York, 1928, p. 190; reprinted by Palala Press, 2018)

Later discoveries allowed those transmitted waves to be more precisely tuned by modifying the amplitude (AM) or frequency (FM) of the waves into very tight ranges. This allowed multiple stations to broadcast at the same time at different frequencies.

When I was about ten years old, I was given a Cub Scout crystal radio set for my birthday. That radio consisted of four simple parts: an antenna, tuner, crystal diode, and an earphone. The antenna picked up transmitted radio waves. It was no longer a loop as in the old receivers but was simply a piece of wire. The antenna was attached to a length of copper wire wrapped around a tube and a small, flat piece of metal, attached to the radio base at one end and the other end was free to move back and forth over the wire coil to tune the radio to the frequency of particular near-by AM radio stations. A thin wire from the piece of tuner metal touched a lead sulfate crystal diode, which converted alternating current (AC) of the radio wave, which periodically reverses direction, to direct current (DC), which flows in only one direction, the first step in converting radio waves back into sound waves (today this same function is accomplished by a silicon semiconductor diode). A wire from the crystal then ran to a tiny earphone (today we would call it an earbud), the DC current in the earphone caused a tiny membrane to vibrate, thus converting the electric current into sound waves that could vibrate the eardrum. Some earbuds now vibrate the bones of the ear directly.

It turns out that radio receivers are so simple, a person can become one. The normal electrical conductivity of the human body can act as an antenna. The tuner is not a necessary part of the radio, without which, the body can pick up radio waves from a nearby and/or powerful transmitter. A metal filling in a tooth can act as a diode, and a loose filling or bridgework may vibrate like a headphone. Thus, a person with loose fillings or bridgework may pick up nearby radio stations through his or her mouth. (Hunsucker, Robert,; retrieved 7 July 2023)

If the DC current went directly to the audio cortex of the brain, then no conversion of the current to sound waves and then to neuro-electrical currents would be necessary. Now the signal is down to only two components: the antenna, for which the human body may function, and the diode, for which a number of minerals may function, all of which the body contains in various amounts.

Video images are likewise carried by radio waves, but at higher frequencies from much more powerful transmitters. In the receiver, the electric signal was originally (in analog TVs) converted to lines drawn on a video (cathode-ray) tube, much like a person plowing a field—as discovered by the Idaho farm boy, Philo Farnsworth. Conversely, digital images are made by electronic signals lighting up tiny squares (pixels) on the TV or computer screen. The light strikes the retina in the back of the eye, and the retina cells convert the light image into a neuro-electric signal that passes to the thalamus and then on to the visual cortex, where the image is “seen.” As with audio signals, if video radio signals were passed directly to the visual cortex, the image could be “seen” without all the translational steps.

It is amazing that today, with our modern understanding of radio waves and how both audio and video information can be transmitted, the revelations of Stephen and Saul are now much more easily comprehended than they could ever have been a couple of hundred years ago. Here, science is able to open windows of understanding as to how revelation might work. We have been only aware of radio waves since 1887. God has always been aware of them. We understand in simple terms how radio waves may be used for communication; God knows the full spectrum of that communication. As our understanding of telecommunication continues to progress, we will gain ever more knowledge of God’s divine abilities.

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD

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