Saul spoke Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin (there are many references). Jesus spoke Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew (again there are many references). In Acts 26:14, Paul (who at this time was using his second name Paul, being a Roman, rather than his first name Saul), testified to Agrippa, possibly in Greek, that when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, Jesus spoke to him in Aramaic and said, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (KJV), or "it is hard for thee to kick against the goad" (in other versions), which is a Greek proverb.

Is there any significance or relevance here of Jesus speaking in Aramaic and using a Greek proverb to Saul (who became Paul later on), who spoke four languages?

  • Just out of curiosity, what references do you have that Jesus spoke anything but Aramaic? – The Freemason May 18 '15 at 14:40
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  • @TheFreemason - I think the "four languages" reference is to Paul. That Jesus spoke at least Aramaic and Greek, though, is highly likely, given that the lingua franca for communicating to anyone other than Jews would have been Greek. – warren May 20 '15 at 21:12
  • Christianity was built on Greek: Why was the New Testament Written in Greek? Not just the language, but the culture and thought too. – fгedsbend May 26 '15 at 20:19

Acts 25:14, "it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks," is a direct quotation from a play by Euripides (d. 406 BCE), the Bacchae, with Jesus speaking instead of the Greek god Dionysus. Euripides had used the plural ('pricks') for reason of meter, and Acts uses the same plural, although it would normally be a singular. In his own epistles, Paul never mentions a conversion on the road to Damascus; in fact he said that after "it pleased God to reveal his son in me," he conferred with no one but went immediately to Arabia (Galatians 1:16-17). So, this was a literary elaboration by the author of Acts, ostentatiously saying that Jesus spoke in Aramaic probably to draw some attention away from the popular Greek saying.

Uta Ranke-Heinemann says, in Putting Away Childish Things, page 163, the really strange thing is that with both Jesus and Euripides we have the same “familiar quotation” and the same situation. In both cases there is a conversation between a persecuted god and his persecutor. In the Bacchae the persecuted god is Dionysus and his persecutor is Pentheus, king of Thebes. Just like Jesus, Dionysus calls his persecutor to account, “You disregard my words of warning . . . and kick against the pricks a man defying god.” She says Jesus even uses the same plural form of the noun kentra ('pricks') that Euripides needs for the meter of his line.

To eliminate any doubt that this is just a coincidence, we can also look at Acts' story of Paul's release from prison (Acts 16:26). This also has reasonably close parallels to words in the same ancient play, the Bacchae, and there is no written or archaeological record of an earthquake powerful enough to have somehow released Paul and Silas from their chains.

Peter Kirby notes the parallels between the Bacchae and Acts, but says that the author of Acts need not necessarily have had the Bacchae in mind, since other ancient Greek works use similar phraseology and would also serve as sources for these two scenes in Acts. The Bacchae stands out as a single source that provides the potential source material for both the conversion (with the plural form of kentra) and the prison escape in Acts.

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    I think references for these points would be helpful. – DJClayworth May 19 '15 at 14:25
  • @DJClayworth - Reference added, as requested. – Dick Harfield May 19 '15 at 23:35
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    This is a fascinating answer! However, it needs references for the passages in the Euripides play also in order to verify its claims for those who might be skeptical. Quotations of the relevant passages would be even better. – Lee Woofenden May 27 '15 at 16:18
  • @LeeWoofenden Thank you for your suggestion. I have added a link to a translation of the Bacchae (although translations do differ, and I could not find one with verse/line numbers to point to) and an online citation from Peter Kirby. Although Peter's articles does not come from a published book, he is a serious scholar. – Dick Harfield May 27 '15 at 21:57
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    You bring up challenging ideas that shouldn't be ignored. I do think it's important to bring to light the latter part of Galations 1:17: "...and returned again unto Damascus." I don't think it unreasonable to understand this to mean that Paul was in Damascus (a place he was later to return) on or around the time of his conversion prior to leaving for Arabia. Perhaps Paul left out the details of such because they were already common knowledge. As for the phrase in Acts 26:14 itself, I believe it was a common adage used by those living in the area at the time. – Matt Cremeens Jul 11 '18 at 13:15

I don't see relevance here in that Jesus likely spoke Greek (as well as Aramaic and Hebrew), given by the Greek names of his disciples, the Greek manuscripts of the gospels, and the mixed Greek-Aramaic state of Israel at the time. If anything, speaking languages that Paul knew in order to communicate with Paul would likely just be the logical thing to do, and Jesus was mostly likely more experienced with Aramaic due to it being the first language of most people in that area.

http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/markdroberts/2010/07/did-jesus-speak-greek.html http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Greeks.html

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  • "the Greek manuscripts of the gospels" - there are no extant originals, so I don't see how the extant Greek manuscripts have any relevance to what language the originals would have been composed in. "the Greek names of his disciples" - and they also have Aramaic names - does that mean they have one Greek parent and one Aramaic parent? – user900 May 20 '15 at 0:46
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    They were in a bilingual area. Aramaic being regional and Greek being the common language of Roman-ruled areas. Moreover, the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament are all in Greek, as are mentions of the earliest writings. Greek names, Greek writing, Greek speech, Greek-speaking followers, Greek followup writing. biblica.com/en-us/bible/bible-faqs/… – user25296 May 20 '15 at 15:27

It is extremely unlikley that Jesus, talking to Saul from heaven in the Hebrew language [Act 26:14], would have actually said the Greek words that translate to "It is hard for you to kick against the goads".

Luke does not record these words in the Acts 9 (although they are added here in the Textus Receptus [KJV]) or in the Acts 22 account. In these two accounts it is more likely that Luke is recording the testimony of someone else, other than Paul, telling him about these events. Although we know that is is very likely that Luke was there to hear the testimony of Paul in Acts 26. Perhaps he even had access to the written court records.

I believe the best explanation is that what Jesus did say to Saul on that day was a Hebrew idiomatic expression, not the Greek one that Luke records in the Acts 26 account of Paul's testimony.

So what did Jesus actually say? That is, if He said any idiomatic expression at all; perhaps this is an embellishment that Paul made in his testimony or that Luke added for clarification or perhaps the "court reporter" added it as a translation of the actual Hebrew words that Paul actually did say in his testimony.

Of course we can never know, but what most likely happened is that Jesus did say Hebrew words that make up a Hebrew idiomatic expression that means the same thing as the Greek words that make up the equivalent Greek idiomatic expression.

The literal translation of an idiomatic expressions is sometimes very unclear to the true meaning. The meaning of what Jesus actually said (if He did actually use a Hebrew idiom) is, "your attempt to resist is futile".

Perhaps the Hebrew idiom (lost to history because it is nowhere recorded) was something like, "Saul, why are you spitting into the wind?" Perhaps in Luke's notes for what became Acts 9 & 22 he had written this Hebrew idiom, but not wanting to confuse people with a literal translation of an idiom, he decided to just leave it out.

However, when Paul, or the court stenographer, or Luke himself recognized that the meaning of what Jesus actually did say was appropriately conveyed by the well know Greek idiomatic expression "It is hard for you to kick against the goads", that is how we ended up with those Greek words in our Bibles.

I can picture Luke saying to Paul after the proceedings, "So that is what "enchsh amnshk aui lik" means!" Perhaps he even crossed out the Hebrew idiom in his notes for what became chapter 9 and added the Greek idiom with an arrow in the border, and that is why it got added to the Textus Receptus!

Blessings, I hope this is helpful. SalasinSalvation

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  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! Please be sure to take the tour, and find out how we differ from other sites. You make a fair point, but I wonder how far-fetched it would have been for Saul, natural of Tarsus in Cilicia, to have Greek for a mother tongue and thus Jesus, being God, speaking to him in his own language like the Apostles in Pentecost. It could, on the other hand, have been an adaptation by Luke, who had quite impeccable Greek style... – Wtrmute Sep 5 '17 at 16:40
  • Thanks for offering an answer here. For some tips on writing good answers on this site, see: What makes a good supported answer?. Meanwhile, I hope you'll browse some of the other questions and answers here. – Lee Woofenden Sep 5 '17 at 17:40

The Parallels are extensive.

-the philosophical point of the play is the question do the laws of the polis come from man's government or from the god's? King Pentheus or Olympus. So too Jesus confronts Paul using the law to persecute Christians with the author of the law itself.

-Is the ecstasy of the worshipers Divine? Are they filled with their God? or is it insanity that needs to be controlled by man's law? This is the question every Roman governor faced as did Pentheus.

-The representative of Man's law, King Pentheus, is seeking to control this outburst of divine glory since it is his job to enforce the law and by implication it is his law to enforce. As was Paul, as later was Felix.

-Paul when first confronted by Jesus is representing the law of Moses to prevent and root out blasphemy, as was Pentheus and no doubt making use of whatever aspects of Roman law he could to demonstrate the blasphemy against Caesar as well as YHWH since Rome had final Imperium.

-Jesus is not afraid of the obvious parallel between his divinity and humanity and the Demigod's. This story is designed to create in Greco Roman world, a culture that would understand what is at stake when God claims to be the source of law vs man claiming to be that source. It is since then an ever recurring theme in all subsequent cultures and a central theme in the Christianity vs Culture debate.

-Jesus is raising the same issue with Saul. Saul is righteously defending the people against incursions against the law using the law to suppress the divine ecstasy of Christians claiming to be filled with the Holy Spirit. As was Pentheus. As was Felix -Saul Repents Pentheus does not. -The story concludes with Pentheus being enticed by Bacchus to go out to spy on the naked ladies on the hillside. He is captured and brought to his mother who rips his head off saying, "What a lovely youth. Why does he look so familiar?" (the Brutality of Maenads is well attested in sober historical accounts.)

-Paul's story is last told in Acts to Felix Agrippa the Roman Governor who represents the king and the law of the land. He is warning Agrippa in the same terms he was warned years earlier and Pentheus was warned in the play that those who believe that God is not sovereign over the law and his people are to be persecuted await a certain fate. Agrippa knew the end of the story. He jumps up and says, "Your learning has driven you mad!" Paul was, with his story of his conversion through the lens of Euripides, threatening the Roman governor in front of the entire court with divine judgment.

How this is missed by scholars is entirely beyond me. The parallels and the response of the governor indicate he knew perfectly well what Jesus was saying to Paul and to Him. Repent or Perish. Its a simple message.

Jesus as usual brings together all of history to make his points through the ages to everyone he speaks to.

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