As we examine the life and impact of Socrates, we can see that there are many similarities between Jesus and Socrates. It’s not that the two men were on an equal plane, for Jesus is the Son of God and Socrates was a mere man. St. Paul states in his Epistle to the Colossians that “in Christ is hidden all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” So if Socrates was wise, and Christ is the embodiment of all wisdom, then Socrates must have derived his wisdom from Christ.
With that in mind, it makes sense that Socrates, the father of philosophy, would share similarities with Christ. In this sense, we could consider him an imitator of Christ.
Jesus and Socrates Compared
The Church Fathers called Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle “virtuous pagans.” They saw Socrates in many ways as a foreshadowing of Christ. In fact, Justin Martyr stated:
“We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them.”1
Here are just some of the similarities that I found between Jesus and Socrates:
1. Both were considered outsiders and were persecuted by the establishment.
2. Neither held public office.
3. Neither left writings, but their followers did.
4. Neither advocated violence, but rather worked through a peaceful grassroots movement.
5. Both polarized people by speaking the truth.
6. Both were uncompromising in speaking the truth.
7. Both willingly and resolutely faced death.
8. Both established a foundation that their followers built upon.
9. Both exposed hypocrisy among the ruling establishment.
10. Both ministered to the common people.
11. Both were unjustly accused of crimes against God and were condemned.
12. Jesus was sinless; Socrates had impeccable character.
13. Both were commissioned by God and were not believed by the authorities.
14. Both had their primary allegiance to God first.
15. Both had prophetic utterances spoken about them concerning their mission.
16. Both pointed out the evil of their accusers and called them to repentance.
17. Both could have escaped death but didn’t.
18. Their deaths were purposed for a greater good.
19. They corrected the wrongs of the Sophists/Pharisees.
20. Both taught to pursue the highest values of virtue/love.
21. Both criticized mindless ritual.
22. They cleared the way for a new philosophical system/ new covenant.
23. Both emphasized humility to know the truth.
24. Both discussed blessings of afterlife and warned of eternal punishment.
25. Neither sought fame, wealth, or popularity, but lived a life of deprivation.
26. Both used questions to expose their enemies’ ignorance.
27. Both taught not to return evil for evil.
28. Both submitted to the unjust governing authorities.
29. Both suffered for the truth.
30. Both live on after their death – Jesus literally and Socrates figuratively.
31. Socrates made a reasoned defense at his trial, whereas Jesus made no defense, but had faith in the one who could save his soul from death.
The wisdom of Socrates was the wisdom of Christ. Socrates did not know who Christ was personally, but that did not mean that he could not be enlightened by his wisdom. At about the same time that Socrates lived, other cultures around the world, including India and China, were also waking up to the fact that there was a certain order to the universe. They too started searching for this divine wisdom. Below I have a quote from chapter 10 of the Second Apology of Justin Martyr who lived in the second century A.D. where he compares and contrasts Jesus and Socrates.
Unlike the ancient cultures, we have the advantage of living on the other side of the divide of history. We live in a time where divine wisdom has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Like I mentioned in earlier posts, Socrates taught us that the path to wisdom is first admitting that we lack wisdom. As a modern society, the path to Christ begins with first admitting that we are lost.
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”John 9:14
The 5th century B.C. Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said:
“The wise man is the one who knows that he does not know.”
And the final quote is from Justin Martyr:
“For they said that he was introducing new divinities, and did not consider those to be gods whom the state recognized. But he cast out from the state both Homer and the rest of the poets, and taught men to reject the wicked demons and those who did the things which the poets related; and he exhorted them to become acquainted with the God who was to them unknown, by means of the investigation of reason, saying, “That it is neither easy to find the Father and Maker of all, nor, having found Him, is it safe to declare Him to all.” But these things our Christ did through His own power. For no one trusted in Socrates so as to die for this doctrine, but in Christ, who was partially known even by Socrates (for He was and is the Word who is in every man, and who foretold the things that were to come to pass both through the prophets and in His own person when He was made of like passions, and taught these things), not only philosophers and scholars believed, but also artisans and people entirely uneducated, despising both glory, and fear, and death; since He is a power of the ineffable Father, not the mere instrument of human reason.”2
What do you find most interesting about this comparison of Jesus and Socrates? Please leave your comments below and don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you!
From Amazon: “This book has been considered by academicians and scholars of great significance and value to literature. This forms a part of the knowledge base for future generations. So that the book is never forgotten we have represented this book in a print format as the same form as it was originally first published. Hence any marks or annotations seen are left intentionally to preserve its true nature.”
“This is a seminal work from from the brilliant English clergyman, chemist and political theorist Joseph Priestly.”
- Translation of an excerpt of chapter 46 the First Apology of Justin Martyr found at New Advent. Translated by Marcus Dods and George Reith. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
- Translation of an excerpt of chapter 10 the Second Apology of Justin Martyr found at New Advent.
Sources and Bibliography:
Grayland, A.C., The History of Philosophy, Penguin Books, New York, 2019
Hughes, Bettany, The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life Paperback – Illustrated, Vintage Publishers, 2012, New York City
Plato, Five Dialogues, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo, second ed., Translated by G.M.A. Grube, Revised by John M. Cooper, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Indianapolis/Cambridge, 2002
Plato, The Last Days of Socrates, Revised Ed., Harold Tarrant (Editor, Translator, Introduction) and Hugh Tredennick (Translator), Penguin Classics, New York, 2003
Priestly, Joseph, Socrates and Jesus Compared, Andesite Press, Gloucester, 2015
Voegelin, Eric, Order and History, Vol. 2: The World of the Polis, classic reprint hardcover, Forgotten Books Publishers, London, 2018
Wilson, Emily, The Death of Socrates, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007
Xenophon, Conversations of Socrates, Waterfield, Robin H, Editor and Translator; Tedennick, Hugh, Translator, Penguin Classics, Ney York, Revised ed., 1990