Question Box: "Kicking against the pricks"

Question or Topic Scripture
"Kicking against the pricks" Acts 9:5

Please explain the expression in the latter part of Acts 9:5, which reads: "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".


Researching this question, we were surprised to learn that in the initial account of the conversion of Saul, (as recorded in Acts 9) the expression in question does not appear in any of the original Greek manuscripts. We do find however, that when Saul (whose name was changed to Paul), related the story for King Agrippa in Acts 26:14, he included the proverb as quoted above. We will attempt to consider his addition of this proverb to the story, after we look at the proverb itself.


"It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks", is a proverb that was used often by both Latin and Greek writers. The word for "pricks" in the Greek is kentron {ken'-tron}, which means a point or goad. In fact, in other translations (such as the NIV) the word "goads" is used.

A goad is a stick with a pointed piece of iron fastened to the end of it. This instrument is used to prod the oxen on when they are plowing. When a stubborn ox attempted to kick back against the goads (pricks), he would actually wound himself. The proverb was often used to teach the lesson that it is foolish to rebel against a powerful authority. Any attempt to do so would result in much greater difficulties.

The Apostle Paul, in resisting the teachings of Jesus, was kicking against the goads. He was fighting against the man who would be the greatest authority on earth. His resistance actually resulted in greater suffering, demonstrating the lesson intended by the proverb. Annaias was told by Jesus that the converted Paul would be a chosen vessel. He added "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:16). His suffering was increased because he had been resisting the followers of Jesus with great zeal, persecuting them even to death.

Similar Proverbs

A modern equivalent might be the proverb "out of the frying pan into the fire". The lesson is similar. When we try to avoid a minor irritation, we must be careful not to find ourselves in even deeper trouble. This may also be somewhat related to the thought expressed in the words of one of our hymns which says: "Our cross and trials do but press, the heavier for our bitterness".

The Young Ox

We understand that these goads or pointed sticks were not used on young oxen who were in the process of training. The young animals were more likely to resist the prodding and they would often be hurt seriously in the process. Mature oxen, who were conditioned to being yoked, are more easily guided by the goads.

It is interesting that Paul himself appears to have been mature enough to respond almost immediately to his goading on the road to Damascus. Jesus was a wise Master and he knew how to guide this very special man that he had chosen for his work.

Our Lessons

As masters or even fathers, we may want to remember that there is a risk in using too sharp of a goad on a child or a novice in the Truth. Paul teaches in Ephesians 6:4, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord".

As young children or as developing servants of God, we are encouraged to reach out for the spiritual maturity that will allow us to be easily guided by both the direction of our elders and the trials of life. We would hope to be as responsive as Paul was, when we are presented with both challenge and opportunity for the service of the Lord.

Submission to Authority

The Apostle Paul taught - "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1). Peter added: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme" (I Peter 2:13). The teachings of the Master are also consistent: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21).

We are instructed therefore not to "kick against the pricks" We should learn the rather to have respect for all that are in authority. Early in our lives, we learn the importance of submission to our parents. Later, we learn to have respect for our teachers in school, our supervisors in the workplace and the authorities in the community and the state. If we resist and/or rebel against these authority figures in this life, we will have difficulty learning humility and submission for the authority of our Father in heaven.

During the process of our education in these matters, we are reminded of another proverb used by the Psalmist:

  1. Psalm 32:8-9
  2. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.
  3. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.

The lesson here is that we use our intelligence to graciously accept the chastening of the Lord.

Paul's Addition?

We had mentioned earlier that the account as recorded in Acts 9 does not appear in any of the original translations. The Lord Jesus does not appear to have actually used this proverb about the goads. When Paul related the story in the Hebrew tongue to the Jews, (in Acts 22:7) he did not mention the proverb. It was only when he was before King Agrippa, (as recorded in Acts 26) that he mentions the Proverb. (He indicated also that Jesus spoke to him in the Hebrew tongue).

Is it possible that Paul added this Greek proverb. It may have been a familiar one to Agrippa, and Paul thought that it would help explain his conversion in terms that the ruler could relate to. We would be interested if any of our readers have any thoughts or information concerning this.


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