The Gospel According to Euripides?
Agrippa said to Paul, “It is permitted for you to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense… When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ (Acts 26:1, 14, HCSB)
After Festus refused to make a decision concerning Paul’s guilt or innocence, the Apostle was taken to Herod Agrippa. It is here we read one of the most familiar descriptions of Paul’s own conversion. I wanted to highlight two interesting (to me, anyway) facts you might have missed.
The first is found in verse one: Luke tells us that Paul motioned with his hand. This was a customary form of dignified oratory, designed to show the earnestness of the speaker. The orator stretched forth the right hand, with the two lowest fingers shut in on the palm of the hand and the other fingers extended. It’s said that Demosthenes was known for this in his eloquent speeches (by the way, you can find many depictions of Paul in this pose).
The second is found in Paul’s turn of phrase: “kicking against the goad.” Of course, it carries with it the idea of fighting against the inevitable – like an ox fighting against his prodding master. But “kicking against the goads” was a Greek proverb about fighting a god, possibly originating with the classical Greek playwright Euripides. It is not cited in the other accounts of Paul’s conversion, but it is appropriate in an address to Agrippa, who had a Greek education.
What’s the point of this? Context! Paul gave his testimony in a manner in which his audience would best understand. When he preached in the synagogue, he spoke from the Law and Prophets, according to the customs of the rabbis. When he spoke to Greeks he quoted their authors and followed their mannerisms. You can see my point if you look at Paul’s other description of his conversion in Acts 22. There he was speaking to Jews so he left out the quote from Euripides.
Missionaries call this “contextualization.” Of course we must never, never, NEVER water-down or change the content of the Scriptures. But we can change the manner in which we share it. Paul wasn’t the first to contextualize the gospel. Jesus was a master. He shared the good news sometimes through a straight-forward prophetic word…or simply by praying for a need…or through a parable…or through answering questions…or through a news story being discussed…or through a testimony…or through teaching. He shared the same message in different ways in different situations.