Confucianism and Christianity
Confucius and Christ
“As to being a sage, or a man of virtue, how dare I presume to such a claim? Striving thereafter unwearyingly, and teaching others therein without flagging – that can be said of me, and that is all.”
[Confucius, “The Analects” 7:33]
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Spring & Autumn Period China and First Century Palestine
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.”[i] These prophetic words of the Old Testament are taken by Christians to mean the foretelling of Jesus Christ’s birth and his subsequent message of salvation, not only for Israel, but for all mankind. Like Jesus, Confucius’s birth was prophesied. In Chinese legend, a Ch’i Lin (Unicorn) appeared with a jade tablet in its mouth, the following words being inscribed upon it: “A child as pure as crystal will be born for the continuation of the declining Chou[ii], to become a King without a kingdom.” Similarly, Jesus is reputed to be a direct ‘descendent’ of King David[iii], Confucius’s mother Yen Chêng Tsai is believed to have been descended from the Duke of Chou, thus giving Confucius an element of aristocratic blood. That said, both Confucius and Jesus were brought up in relatively poor families, neither being born into riches.
Both men showed a keen interest in religion at an early age. Confucius showed a keen awareness of the Rites at a very early age, and Jesus himself is recorded to have stayed behind in a temple on one notable occasion after his mother and Joseph had left. Neither took up high powered influential jobs, Jesus becoming a carpenter like Joseph, and Confucius turning his hand to shepherding and book-keeping. Both were aware of the sheer poverty of their respective nations, and Confucius learnt some of the harshest realities of life with his father dying when he was aged only three.
In terms of what is recorded about them both, the primary sources for Confucius’s sayings and those of Jesus are written down in books that neither of them had anything directly to do with, the Lun Yu (The Analects) and the Gospels respectively. The Bible itself was not fully canonized for many years after Jesus’s death, and the Lun Yu similarly was not compiled fully until around 206 BCE – 24 CE in the Han Dynasty by Chung Yu. Both men were to spend their lives teaching others in a somewhat nomadic fashion, Jesus travelling around Palestine, Confucius making journeys across numerous Chinese states. The times they faced were both chaotic. Confucius’s China had no Emperor, and Jesus’s Palestine had only a puppet ruler, the true authority lying with the occupying Romans. Thus, the messages that both men put across were listened to more readily with the hope for a better future. Though, as with Confucius, Jesus’s teachings were not to become an all-pervading, widespread, international force until some time after his death.
The religious atmosphere that both men entered into was not one of their own making. Confucius is oft quoted as saying that he was “a transmitter not an originator”[iv], by which he meant that his teachings were based on the ju chia (Class of Sages), a tradition that had long been in existence in China. Whilst it is true that he did indeed draw some of his teachings from this, as Dr. Yao points out[v], the majority of Confucius’s principles are his own. Jesus contended with the same existing religious order in...
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