Question: What are the ‘goads’ mentioned in Acts 9:5 and 26:14, and why is the reference to goads in Acts 9:5 not found in most modern translations?
A goad is a long, pointed stick used as a prod to keep oxen plowing in the fields. One of Israel’s judges, Shamgar, used an oxgoad as a primitive weapon:
Judg. 3:31 After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.
Because the goad was used in biblical times as a tool for encouraging the ox to move forward it became a natural metaphor for guidance and instruction:
Eccl. 12:11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd.
So when Jesus says to Saul on the Damascus road, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads’ (Acts 26:14), He is comparing Saul to a stubborn ox that refuses to be prodded in the right direction.
The reason that most modern translations do not include this sentence in chapter 9, verse 5, is that the most reliable manuscripts of the Greek New Testament (as far as a literal translation from the earliest sources of Acts is concerned [The Alexandrian text]) do not have these words of Jesus to Saul. The manuscripts that do contain these words in chapter 9, verse 5, belong to the group of manuscripts known as the Western Text.
The Western Text has great value for Bible translators, but it is also known for its tendency toward paraphrasing and embellishing the ancient Greek sources for the purpose of trying to clarify the meaning. In that sense, the Western Text is often similar to the modern translation called The Amplified Bible, which adds words in parenthesis to help clarify a passage.
It is important to understand that the “Western Text” and the “Alexandrian Text” are a way of identifying two large collections of Greek manuscripts and portions of manuscripts. The following four paragraphs reproduced from my earlier blog post—Biblegems #60. “Can I trust My Translation?”—may shed some light on this:
There is a common misconception that there is one single Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) manuscript of the Bible. That is not the case. The truth is there are literally thousands of ancient manuscripts and portions of manuscripts of biblical texts spanning 2,000 years in composition and copying over countless languages. All agree in content and meaning and prove the reliability and accuracy of Scripture!
Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest OT manuscripts available were from about 900 AD (the OT was completed about 1300 years earlier!) The translators developing the KJV had available to them an edited Greek text from the 5th century A.D. They relied upon this and the Latin Vulgate (383 A.D.) to bring to English speaking people a new, dependable translation which the average person could read.
Now, through archeological research, we have discovered OT manuscripts dating from before the time of Christ. We have also discovered manuscripts of the Greek New Testament that are far older than anything previously available. These confirm the accuracy of the texts we already had. Where there are differences, these older manuscripts often help provide greater accuracy in determining a specific word or phrasing. Translations that take full advantage of these ancient manuscripts help bring us closer to the inerrant originals as composed by Moses, Paul, John, Isaiah, etc.
The best manuscript evidence for Acts 9:5 does not include the sentence, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads’” that is found later in Acts 26:14. As is always the case in the difficult process of Bible translation, God has preserved the integrity of His Word.