I’ve heard Christians say that their religion is so durable and widespread because of the exceptionally profound things Jesus said. Personally, I think that Christianity’s success has more to do with the claim that Jesus was divine.
But why not judge for yourself? Here are some quotes from great thinkers who lived centuries or decades before the birth of Jesus, followed by quotes attributed to Jesus himself.
As you read these quotes, keep in mind two things:
1. I’m providing only a small sample of what these thinkers have said.
2. The only exception to the above point is Jesus. My aim was to find everything he had to say about how we should live our lives, or about human nature in general (please feel free to alert me to any I’ve missed). This does mean, however, that I have excluded what he said about the nature of God, or other supernatural matters. It is very difficult to know how profound these latter ideas are, since it’s not known for sure if the objects they refer to even exist.
Without further ado, then, here are the quotes, most of which come from Brainy Quote. Note how some of the ancient quotes say very similar things to what Jesus will say many decades later.
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth.
Self-conceit may lead to self destruction.
The gods help them that help themselves.
Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him.
Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.
All virtue is summed up in dealing justly.
Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
Courage is a mean with regard to fear and confidence.
Education is the best provision for old age.
For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.
Misfortune shows those who are not really friends.
No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world.
Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.
All men are by nature equal, made all of the same earth by one Workman; and however we deceive ourselves, as dear unto God is the poor peasant as the mighty prince.
All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue.
Courage is knowing what not to fear.
Love is the joy of the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the Gods.
Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.
No man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nature and education.
The greatest wealth is to live content with little.
The highest reach of injustice is to be deemed just when you are not.
The most virtuous are those who content themselves with being virtuous without seeking to appear so.
If a man is proud of his wealth, he should not be praised until it is known how he employs it.
It is not living that matters, but living rightly.
Our prayers should be for blessings in general, for God knows best what is good for us.
True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.
One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life. That word is love.
It is the task of a good man to help those in misfortune.
Look and you will find it – what is unsought will go undetected.
Men should pledge themselves to nothing; for reflection makes a liar of their resolution.
To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.
A free life cannot acquire many possessions, because this is not easy to do without servility to mobs or monarchs.
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
Justice… is a kind of compact not to harm or be harmed.
The greater the difficulty, the more the glory in surmounting it.
Cease to inquire what the future has in store, and take as a gift whatever the day brings forth.
The foolish are like ripples on water, For whatsoever they do is quickly effaced; But the righteous are like carvings upon stone, For their smallest act is durable.
Money is a handmaiden, if thou knowest how to use it; a mistress, if thou knowest not.
Carpe diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.
A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.
Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.
Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.
Heaven means to be one with God.
The firm, the enduring, the simple, and the modest are near to virtue.
To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.
Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.
Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.
You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.
Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.
Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.
There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
Judge not, that you be not judged.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.