Jesus vs. Confucius: Historical evidence comparison.


Who was Confucius?

It is generally held that Confucius was born around 551 BC (Creel 1949, 25) to his mother Yan and father Kong He, his father was an officer in the Lu military. Yan raised Confucius after his father died when he was just three years old, and when he turned 19 he married Qiguan, and within a year they bore Kong Li. Confucius was born into the class of Shi that was between the aristocracy and the common people. He is said to have worked as a shepherd, cowherd, clerk, and a book-keeper. When he was 23 his mother died, and is said to have mourned for three years.

Nevertheless, Confucius was a Chinese teacher and a philosopher. He lived within a tumultuous time in Chinese history where many wars were waged between states, a period known as the Spring and Autumn of the Zhou Dynasty. Confucius took it upon himself to try and bring order back to the people.

He also wanted people to think hard about the problems they faced as well as to learn from others, especially from what history showed. He thought that the common people should also have power because some of them were skilled and deserved it, hence people would not just come to power because they came from powerful families. Like Jesus, Confucius taught the golden rule that people should only do things to others if they would be okay with other people doing those things to themselves. Confucius died around 478 BC from natural causes and was buried at the Kong Lin cemetery which lies in the historical part of Qufu.

1. Total Textual Sources.

Confucius: There are three major works that tell us about the life and teachings of Confucius. These are The Analects, another text authored by the philosopher Mencius, and the Shiji biography of Sima Oian. Some other sources exist but their historicity is highly doubtful. From the Analects, Mencius, and the Shiji we can sketch out a portrait of the historical Confucius. Although we can sketch a portrait still much of what we know of him “…are pretty bare bones, and much of what is commonly reported about the man is based on legend and conjecture” (1).

Jesus: The textual evidence for the historical Jesus is varied, much of what has been collected and put into the New Testament. The New Testament is a library of 27 books written by 10 or more authors within the 1st century. These books are divided into the biographical gospels (Mark, Luke, Matthew, John), several Pauline epistles (1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon, Galatians, Romans, and Philippians), several non-Pauline epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians), and two debated books of Pauline origin (2 Thessalonians, Colossians). Other New Testament literature includes Acts, Revelation, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, and Jude.

Result: Based off the total amount of historical texts to learn about these two historical persons, the historical Jesus, by shear number, is more widely attested to than that of the historical Confucius.

2. Our Earliest Biography on Confucius & Jesus.

Confucius: The earliest known biography of Confucius is a short entry in the Shiji. The Shiji is a collection of biographies written in the 1st century BC by the Chinese historian Sima Qian. Sima had to use unreliable and late sources to compile his text on Confucius as four centuries had passed between the death of Confucius and the writing of his biography. Some scholars are uncertain about some of its contents especially regarding the historicity of legendary kings of the ancient periods (2). This text dates to around 380 years after Confucius’ life.

Jesus: Our earliest biography on the historical of Jesus is that of the Gospel of Mark. Mark, by scholarly consensus, is dated at 70 AD and is that of the genre of Greco-Roman biography. Considering that Jesus died around 30 AD, this leaves a small time gap of only 40 years. Historians, due to its earliness of composition, see Mark as an authoritative source alongside hypothetical Q, L and M. Scholarly consensus is that the author of Mark utilized a pre-Markan Passion Narrative that was likely based on eyewitness testimony. It is also worth noting that the Apostle Paul writes his first book mentioning Jesus some 20 years after Jesus’ life (1 Thessalonians), though it is not a biography.

Result: On the earliness of composition of our earliest biographies on the historical Confucius and Jesus, Jesus is much earlier attested to by a margin of several centuries. The earliest biography for Confucius, the Shiji, comes around +-380 years after his life, where as Mark is dated no later than 40 years after Jesus’ Earthly existence.

3. The Analects of Confucius.

Much of what we can known of Confucius, like Jesus, are from his teachings and words collected and preserved by his followers in the Lun Yu, which is known as The Analects of Confucius in English. Of all the historical sources we have on Confucius, The Analects are thought to be the most reliable although it remains questionable in some facets (3). The Analects is thought to have been written between 475 BC and  221 BC, a period known as the Warring States. It is also thought that they were finalized around 206 BC–220 AD. The finalized form of The Analects is dated to +- 270 years after his life.

Result: Our sources for the life and teachings of Jesus come from the New Testament literature (see point 1) that, in its entirety, can be dated from 20 – 60 years after Jesus’ life. This would make the teachings of the historical Jesus on average much earlier than that of The Analects of the historical Confucius.

4. The Philosopher Mencius.

This is an account of the philosophy of Mencius who was a devoted follower of Confucius; he added much to the total picture of what we call Confucianism (4). Mencius was not a contemporary of Confucius as he lived over 100 years later having been born around 372 BC. This time gap allowed for Mencius to have access to reliable information on Confucius.

Result: Although Mencius is a reasonably early source on Confucius all our authors of the New Testament literature existed within 100 years of Jesus’ life. There are +- 12 of these authors within 100 years of Jesus’ life as opposed to only one for Confucius that comes slightly over 100 years of his existence. Jesus is better attested to by more authors mentioning him within 100 years of his life than that of Confucius.


I think that it is clear that the historical Jesus is better attested to than that of the Chinese philosopher and teacher Confucius. We have seen that the total sources on the historical Jesus are much more varied than that of Confucius, that being 27 sources as opposed to only three (point 1). We have seen that our earliest biography for Jesus, Mark, far surpasses that of the Shiji in its earliness, that being a mere 40 years for Jesus as opposed to an enormous 378 years for Confucius (point 2). We saw that the earliest mention of Confucius is from his follower and philosopher Mencius who lived over 100 years later. This is in contrast to all the authors, +-12 of them, of the New Testament who all lived within 100 years of Jesus’ life and wrote on him (point 4).


1. Bresnan, P. Awakening: An Introduction to the History of Eastern Thought. Available.

2. Watson, B. 1958. Ssu Ma Ch’ien Grand Historian Of China. p. 16-17.

3. Rainey, L. 2010. Confucius and Confucianism: The Essentials. p. 10.

4. Kwong, S. 2000. Mencius and Early Chinese Thought.


19 responses to “Jesus vs. Confucius: Historical evidence comparison.

  1. Although I believe that Jesus existed I find that it would be a lot easier if he had just written a book. It seems like you are only favoring quantity over quality. I would say the historicity of Confuncius is much more evident than Jesus since people can eye witness everything, from what’s really there to what seems to be there.

    • Quantity is good, in fact excellent if we consider who Jesus was (a backwater preacher in a time and place where less than 3% of people could write anything at all). The quality is also good, having looked at them myself.
      So, the historicity of Confucius is much more evident, you say. Despite the fact our first text comes 108 years later by a non-eyewitness. And despite the fact that everything we have on Jesus was completed no later than 65 years (Revelation), and as early as 20 years afterwards (1 Thessalonians)? What about our creeds (1 Cor. 15:4-9) that get to within 5 years of Jesus’ existence? What about our hypothetical sources that date into the 40’s (Pre-Markan Passion Narrative). What about Q, L, M (50’s & 60’s AD.)? Even our first biography Mark was completed a mere 40 years afterwards? What about the many eyewitness details evident that seem so factual? (see in John the piercing of Jesus on the cross, and his sweating of blood in Gethsemane).

      How are you at all being consistent?

      • You fail to mention that the unknown authors of the presumed life of Jesus copied each other at verbatim and or elaborated on each other as time progressed.

        There is also the small detail, that most of what Jesus taugh was already known, while those from Confucius were fresh ideas.

        Additionally, there is no supernatural baggage in Confucius’s story, were as Jesus depends on supernatural to make it anywhere, since his teachings include horrible teachings as Luke 14:26 and the call for the sword and the enforcement of the old laws including slavery.

        People have cherry picked his legend to do both good and evil.

        Lastly, other mythological characters resemble Jesus in many ways. This alone casts a dark shadow of doubt on any credence to the historicity, specially when his teachings were second hand news, not the good news.

      • James Bishop it is interesting to see how you argue like a modern scholar/Skeptic. You never mentioned the testimony of the early church, the muratorian fragment, and patristic testimony in regards to the Gospels and overall the NT canon. In addition you appear to use skeptical dates for the NT writings. Papias, and Ireanaus both confirm that Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were written by them. There is reason to believe that Papias and Irenaaus knows better. In addition there is the Muratorian fragment. And the testimony of the early church and patristic testimony carries weight. I trust the testimony of the early church and patristic testimony better than modern scholars. They were in a privileged position to ascertain who the authors of the NT books were- Better than modern scholars 2000 years later. Now I do appreciate the information about the late dating and writing of Confucius as well as Buddha. This shows and proves that the sources are unreliable and untrustworthy. What we seek is early sources and eyewitnesses. We have this in the NT.

  2. It became very clear, very early, that you have a very limited grasp of Grammar and spelling. Anyone who is not prepared to check their own writing for error is utterly unable to offer serious comment about historicity. More than this, your biography of “Confucius” is simply a copy-and-paste from Wikipedia. You have nothing to offer the debate about historicity.

    • // you have a very limited grasp of Grammar and spelling.//


      //your biography of “Confucius” is simply a copy-and-paste from Wikipedia.//

      I did consult Wikipedia, and no I did not copy paste it. In fact, I followed the Wiki footlinks for authentication in the books & sites, researched the data for myself in Google books, organized and summarized it, and the after that contrasting them against each other. If you have an issue with any data presented, it would be more worthwhile discussing that, and not insulting me, and making accusations.

      • Hello James. I’m not aware that I made any personal insults. Questioning your arguments, or your attempts to make them is not personal ! Nonetheless, my argument stands. Why would a final testament, inviting all humans who experience it through the text it is presented in, be subject to historical doubt? Surely the historical veracity would be beyond doubt, and the choice given to God’s children ONLY based on the morality/religiosity?

  3. I also have to ask this. Why would God, in placing his final revelation in time and space through the teachings, life and death of “Jesus” in 1st century Roman Judea have left us doubts about his historicity? Why would the destiny of BIllions upon billions of souls be based upon contested authenticity as opposed to undeniable evidence of existence? An eternity of suffering for an Earthworm is too high a price to pay for this vague, confusing, illogical “testament”.

      • Let us accept the historic existence of Jesus. Why would God base the destiny of billions of humans on 4, often differing texts, rather than definitively provable evidence and our response to specific rules? Evidence provable as the existence of, say, the Atlantic Ocean, and only requiring that we accept the rules or deny them? Faith is a weak answer…children, for example, have faith in Santa Claus…but we know that Santa Claus is a human construct.

        • You said that I “have a very limited grasp of Grammar and spelling,” that would pass as an offish remark. It’s okay, it doesn’t matter.

          Regarding “differing” texts your conclusion doesn’t follow that somehow they must be suspect. There are many differences in the gospels. Yes. That is not a bad thing as we can know that the authors are not copying from each other. The documents are historical, and historical documents (of all stripes) differ. Eyewitness details differ, and in the gospels we have many eyewitness testimonies. The fact is that it is not the texts that matter, but rather Jesus’ act of his death on the cross. Even without the Bible Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

          Regarding the “Atlantic Ocean” versus the historical evidence for Jesus the two are just not in the same category. We can scientifically verify the Atlantic Ocean. We, ourselves, can even go there and swim in it. For historical figures we must rely on testimony coming in textual evidence (and if we are lucky archaeological evidence) that are passed down to us. Further, according to Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” In that sense the ocean would constitute evidence for God. So God has given us evidence for his existence in creation.

          • Actually, as I previously stated on a previous comment, the authors did copy each other even verbatim. And if you read all four of them at the same time, you will notice how they embellish each other, gradually.

            It’s the evolution of the Jesus myth.

      • That’s your opinion. Where did Jesus go for all his life? Appears as a child, his family disappears, and he esperas to get executed and die like many other man gods?

  4. Quite ridiculous anyway..first of all, dating of gospels and NT is much later, those “scholars” are much contested in the scientific community, especially since there is absolute no direct trace whasoever of those texts before the III century, so the composition in merels “thought” to come earlier, still lots date it not earlier then the II century (and let’s not go in the eyewitnessing, speculative and by reading it, quite contradictive). Second of all, Bible texts were written with a religious purpose (hence, the miracles, the divinity and so on to make it more shocking…), therefore their goal is not to be accurate in any way, but to convert people. So, talking about historicity about Jesus is, honestly, quite risible.

  5. this arguing is a little silly, so everybody… just take a big, deep breath and step back. if you’d like to know about the authenticity of Jesus Christ, yes, fine look to the bible. But that is not the only source proving Jesus’s existence. Several historians who were neither Christians or even Hebrews attested to the validity of Christ.
    this is a very good site, giving several historical examples.

    lastly, please do your research before you comment, and be kind when you do. We all have feelings. 🙂

    • Umm..all educated nonbelievers are familiar with evidence cited on that page. The author is not a serious thinker, at least based on his casual acceptance of the purported evidence.

      Why don’t you take each authority and think about why it is not dispositive of the issue?

      Btw, even if you were to get comfortable enough on the existence of Jesus, you have a long way to go before proving the miracles.

  6. I liked reading The Analects of Confucius and can see why so many people in Asia are being drawn to Jesus. God can use even a pagan Chinese philosopher to state some powerful truths before they even knew who the messiah was. I do not see Confucius as equal to Jesus, of course, he truly was just a philosopher and neither he or his followers like Mencius ever claimed divinity. However, Confucius was right about a lot of things that Jesus taught about, and long before Christianity ever came to that part of Asia. Having something in common does not mean Christians ripped him off, nor does it mean that Jesus was never revealed anything new of importance. It actually shows you how many cultures can acknowledge these things as true in their hearts without even having a full picture of who God is, unlike our confused and totally messed up post-modernist culture that can’t even tell wrong from right, and is asking some totally anti-common sense questions that the ancients, who were in some ways smarter, would have never dreamed of saying. Confucius obviously held to Chinese pagan views of spirituality, but he was right when he said that he had never known anyone who loved virtue so much that he was ALWAYS virtuous. C.S. Lewis mentioned the irony of people knowing guilt and yet violating their conscience willingly. All Confucius could say is that people are better at living up to their beliefs than others, but even he wasn’t entirely meticulous at being as good as he aspired to be, as is found in the Analects.

  7. Pingback: Famous atheist fails history (again) | The Simple Pastor·

  8. Pingback: Jesus vs. Confucius: Historical Evidence Comparison | David Jetre·

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