Was Socrates born before Jesus?
People with a passing interest in philosophy sometimes contrast that of the Greeks with Christian teachings.
Then they try to rank the two to find the better one.
And they’ll sometimes believe that the older philosophy is the greater of the two.
And people who loathe Christianity will try to pretend that it could not exist without certain early Greek thinkers.
While others are just plain curious.
But whatever the motive may be, they find themselves at the next question.
Was Socrates born before Jesus?
Socrates was born before Jesus. He was born around 470 BC in Alopece, outside of Athens. Christ was born in 1 AD in Nazareth, Galilee. They are separated by nearly 500 years. Socrates’ students developed the classic philosophy which most closely resembled Christianity.
So Socrates was born before Jesus. And his students prepared the way for the Greeks and Romans to accept the Christian religion.
How Socrates Prepared the Way
Introduction to Morality
A moral is a rule that you use to regulate your behavior.
These rules take one of three basic forms:
- “I will do X.”
- “I will not do X.”
- “If X, then Y.”
And most people do not have these. Most people lack morals.
This is true today, and it has been true for the entirety of mankind’s existence. The overwhelming majority of all the people who have ever existed simply did not have morals.
Now, if morals do not control the behaviors of most people, then what does?
Enslaved to One’s Feelings
Most people are controlled entirely by their feelings, and this has always been the case.
People who are controlled by their feelings:
- Say things they feel like saying because they feel like saying them
- Do things they feel like doing because they feel like doing them
- Eat what they feel like because they feel like it
- Lie, cheat, and steal whenever the feel like doing so
- Hurt anyone they don’t like so they can feel superior
- And then lie and say they are not controlled by their feelings because telling the truth about their lack of morals makes them feel bad
Now, the vast majority of all the people who have ever lived did not have morals, and they were controlled wholly by their feelings.
Yet people who are controlled entirely by their feelings tend to destroy both themselves and everything around them.
If their hedonic behaviors are not brought in line, then they destroy the civilizations in which they live. Civilizations require laws in order to exist, and hedonic peoples go against them whenever they do not feel like following the law.
How To Prevent Hedonists from Destroying Civilization
So civilizations need a tool for regulating the hedonism of the common person.
These tools take two forms:
- Military Might: “Follow the law because we’ll kill you if you don’t.”
- Religion: “Follow the law because God/gods want you to. It is moral.”
For most of history, the former was chosen as the tool for controlling hedonic people. They were made to follow the law out of fear of breaking it.
However, rule by military might is both expensive and dangerous for everyone involved. Nobody likes it. Even the people who exert their power dislike doing so because it causes people to hate them. It also tends to create powerful military factions which can threaten their rule.
So the religious method is preferred.
The religious method for controlling the barbarism of the common person is as follows:
- Say that a god exists.
- Attribute certain occurrences to it
- Claim the god wants things
- State that bad things will happen if the god is not followed properly
- Establish rules for following the god
- Transform these rules into laws
In this way, rulers have created gods and religions, these religions imposed morals mandated by the gods, and these morals were used to justify the rulers’ laws.
And the Greeks were among the peoples who did this.
Now, what does this have to do with Socrates?
Socrates Called Their Bluff
The rulers of the Greeks in the time of Socrates knew that their gods did not exist. Yet they used them as justification for their laws. Meanwhile, these same rulers would often behave in an unprincipled manner.
In one moment, they would order others to do a thing because the gods willed it.
Yet in the next, they would do something obscene themselves.
They were hypocrites.
And Socrates knew it.
So Socrates produced his own God and claimed to serve that one. He called this god his daemon and described it as an inner voice which told him right from wrong.
And his daemon told him to reject the malevolent practices of the Greek rulers and their abuse of the religious system they had made.
So he went about Athens questioning people about what they did and why they did it in order to expose the corruptions of their rulers and the polytheism which they had abused.
It was for this reason that he was accused of atheism and of corrupting the youth. Socrates was turning the common Greeks against their rulers by revealing the unworthiness of those in charge.
So he was placed through a sham trial and forced into death. The ruling Athenians needed him dead in order to suppress his mischief.
How Socrates Began to Approach Jesus’ Teachings
Christianity does not come from Greek philosophy. The religion is an extension of Judaism, and Judaism existed for a very long time before Greeks did.
Moreover, although the Greek philosophers influenced early Christian thinkers, they did not influence Jesus.
Jesus, being both God and overseen by the Father, did not need to draw from Greek thought in order to know His theology.
He produced it of Himself, and the effect Socrates and his followers had on Greek though prepared them to accept certain fundamental rules of Christian theology.
Socrates Was Born Before Jesus and Prepared the Greeks for Him
Here’s a list of some ways that Socrates and his students prepared the Greeks for the acceptance of Christian teaching.
- Aristotle advanced the idea of a prime mover. He asserted that there must be some thing which existed before all else, and that the actions of that thing set all other events into motion.
- Socrates’ daemon which told him right from wrong is analogous to the image of God which Christians believe men are made in. The daemon is the hidden part of image trying to communicate with the conscious mind.
- Socrates, a wise teacher who was sentenced to death by the powerful, lived a life which paralleled that of a Judaic prophet.
- Socrates’ teachings also recognize the importance of some higher thing than the pagan gods which must be listened to. Christians came later to say that the thing was Jesus.
- The events surrounding the trial of Socrates also shared many similarities with that of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. So when the story of Jesus was told to the Greeks, it sounded familiar.
- Socrates also positioned himself against the hedonic philosophers of the time and, in doing so, moved the Greeks closer to accepting views as the First Commandment.
- Socrates lived his life as a stonecutter, a trade profession along the same vein as a carpenter, so he made the idea that a great teacher could come from inauspicious background acceptable to the Greeks.
- The ardent defense Aristotle gave of the value of virtue ethics over consequential and deontological ones brought many Greeks closer to accepting the same virtue system that was being taught by the Christians.
An Early Christian Review of Socrates
The early Christians found themselves in a world in which Socrates’ teachings were widely known.
His followers had brought their own understandings of Socratic philosophy to many peoples.
These people were the same ones to whom the early Christians were trying to spread the Good News.
So much of the early defense of Christianity was made with the intent of showing the greatness of Christian doctrine relative to the Socratic.
Source – The Second Apology of St. Justin Martyr – Chapter 10: Christ Compared with Socrates
The Soundness of Christian Teaching
Our doctrines, then, appear to be greater than all human teaching; because Christ, who appeared for our sakes, became the whole rational being, both body, and reason, and soul.
The Failures of Past Philosophers
For whatever either lawgivers or philosophers uttered well, they elaborated by finding and contemplating some part of the Word.
But since they did not know the whole of the Word, which is Christ, they often contradicted themselves.
The Pagan Contempt of Philosophy
And those who by human birth were more ancient than Christ, when they attempted to consider and prove things by reason, were brought before the tribunals as impious persons and busybodies.
And Socrates, who was more zealous in this direction than all of them, was accused of the very same crimes as ourselves.
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.
This is because He is a power of the ineffable Father, not the mere instrument of human reason.
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