The fifth century B.C. witnessed a flowering of culture in the city of Athens that has had an enormous influence on Western culture ever since. It was the Age of Pericles, the era of Athenian democracy, and the century that produced great Greek playwrights such as Aeschylus, Euripides, and Aristophanes. Among such giants of the theatrical arts, one stood above the rest in terms of the recognition he received during his lifetime, and that was Sophocles. Though only seven of his plays have survived, he is acknoewledged today to be among history’s greatest tragedians. More than any other, his play Oedipus Rex has stood the test of time to the extent that many consider it the greatest tragedy ever written – superior even to the finest of Shakespeare’s works. The play tells the tale of a noble ruler who has spent his entire life fighting against the oracles of the gods, who prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The extreme measures he took to avoid the fulfillment of that prophecy actually contributed to its fulfillment, and he winds up a blind outcast from his people. From a Christian standpoint, the foolishness of fighting against the gods is better illlustrated by the words of Jesus to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Saul, later the Apostle Paul, submitted to God rather than fighting against Him, and his end, though it involved martyrdom, was one of glory rather than shame.
Luke wrote a two-volume history of early Christianity – the Gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts. The latter surveys the growth of the church from 120 frightened followers of Jesus in an upper room in Jerusalem to the spread of the faith throughout the Roman Empire through the ministry of the apostles and others. More than half of the book of Acts is devoted to the ministry of the Apostle Paul, who is in a Roman prison when the book ends. I’ve divided the study of Acts into two portions. This first course covers the sections of the book that deal with Gospel messengers other than Paul, primarily Peter and John, Stephen, and Philip. My goal is later to add a second adult Sunday School course that covers the rest of the book, concentrating on the travels of the Apostle Paul.