In Acts 9:4-6 what is meant by “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks”?
The phrase “kick against the pricks” occurs in Acts 9:4-6 in the King James Version and the New King James Version. Sometimes the phrase is translated as “kick against the goads”. The phrase does not occur in most of the other major translations. The phrase you refer to is found in Acts 9:5,
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. Acts 9:5 (KJV)
The English word pricks comes from the root Greek word kentron. Kentron is sometimes also translated as goads. This word has the idea of a “sharp, pointed projection used in stinging.” The prick or goad was a pointed stick that was used to urge some stubborn animal to move. The stick was made of wood or metal (Judges 3:31; 1 Samuel 13:21). Sometimes the animal refused to move and would kick back at the pointed object and as a result stab itself on the goad or prick.
The word kick is translated from the root Greek word laktizo which has the basic meaning of “to hurt by resistance” or “to kick.” Simply put – “to kick against the pricks” implies someone is resisting and in the process is hitting a sharp object. Ouch! A goad was typically a sharp stick or prod used to drive cattle. In the ancient Greek and Roman times, the phrase was a well-known expression indicating that someone was opposing a deity. If we put it all together, we discover that God told Paul that he was only hurting himself in his effort to eliminate Christians. He was unknowingly opposing God.
It should be noted that the phrase “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” does not occur in other translations in Acts 9:5 because the phrase is found in only two Greek manuscripts and some Latin and Syriac manuscripts. Someone may have added the phrase to make it harmonize with Acts 26:14.
As the early church was increasing in numbers in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders were debating what to do with the leaders of the Christian movement. A Pharisee named Gamaliel provided the following advice,
“So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.” Acts 5:38-40 (NAS95S)
Gamaliel warned the Sanhedrin Council against fighting against God. Saul (who became Paul) was fighting against God and the expression “kicking against the pricks” suggests that he was suffering in the process. There are those today who are fighting against God and they either do not care or do not know it. We can pray that they will understand and stop. They will feel better, live better, and hopefully discover new life with God.
1. Louw & Nida. Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament. United Bible Societies. New York. vol 1, 1989. p. 100.
2. Louw & Nida. Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament. United Bible Societies. New York. vol 1, 1989. p. 495.
3. Richard Longnecker. Acts. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Regency Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI. vol 9, 1981. p. 552.
4. F. F. Bruce. Acts. The New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI. 1988. p. 182.
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Acts of the Apostles