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Golden Rule

Golden Rule [N]

The Old Testament. The term "Golden Rule" is not found in Scripture, but is the popular way of referring to the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:12 and lu 6:31. Jesus states, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." With regard to the Old Testament, two main points prevail. Matthew's citation presents the Golden Rule as encapsulating the teachings of the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12 reads, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Second, even though the Golden Rule addresses human interpersonal relationships, its message is essentially theo- logical. That is, the very character of God prescribes how we should relate to one another ( Matt 5:45 ; Luke 6:35-36 ).

Matthew 22:37-40 may serve as the "hermeneutical bridge" that joins the Golden Rule with the message of the Old Testament. For these two points, the sum of the law and the theocentric nature of the Golden Rule, are both found here. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus claimed that to love God totally and to love one's neighbor as oneself was the sum of the Law and the Prophets (cf. also Mark 12:30-33 ; Luke 10:25-28 ). So adherence to the Shema ( Deut 6:4-5 ) and obeying the mandate to love one's neighbor ( Lev 19:18 ) essentially conveys the Golden Rule.

The immediate context of Leviticus 19:18 is restricted to the covenant community. Impartiality in judgment and forbidding vengeance is applicable to a "brother" ( Lev 19:17 ). From a Jewish perspective the words "fellow covenant member, " "brother, " and "neighbor" were synonymous. Yet within the same chapter the injunction to love one's neighbor as oneself is directed toward noncovenant members. Leviticus 19:34 requires that the "alien" in Israel is not to be mistreated, but is to be regarded as a native-born Israeli. So Jews must love noncovenant members just as themselves. This is the Golden Rule, if only in embryonic form.

Such themes are present throughout the Old Testament. In the Exodus motif the covenant mercies of God came to Israel not because of her righteousness, but because they were "aliens" in Egypt. God loves the alien, the fatherless, and the widow ( Deut 9:5-6 ; 10:18 ), and the Israelites are to love the alien as well ( Deut 10:19 ). Impoverished aliens are to receive aid so that they might remain in the land ( Lev 25:35 ; Deut 15:7-8 ). Even the livestock of one's enemy is to be cared for and relieved of undue suffering ( Exod 23:4-5 ). Impartial judgment is to be meted out to both Israel and alien alike. There is to be no respecting of persons ( Deut 1:15-17 ). Likewise Exodus 34:6 represents an oft repeated theme in the Old Testament. God's love, mercy, and grace far exceed his desire to punish the wicked (cf. also Exod 20:6 ). The classic example of God's love for the alien can be found in the Book of Jonah. Jonah laments the extraordinary grace and love shown to the Godless Ninevites ( 4:2 ). Similarly, God's unfailing love is clearly evident throughout Hosea.

God's benevolence to Israel is paradigmatic of his goodwill toward all humans. His compassion for people is seen in his love for the aliens among Israel, pagan nations such as Nineveh, and sinful persons such as Gomer in Hosea.

Yet the Old Testament is replete with exhortations to hate the wicked. Jehu inquires, "Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this the wrath of the Lord is upon you" ( 2 Chron 19:2 ; cf. also Psalm 5:5 ; 26:5 ; 119:113-15 ; 139:19-22 ). The rabbis debated whether "neighbor" could ever be construed as "enemy." So the question of "Who is my neighbor?" was hotly debated in Jesus' day.

The New Testament. It is important to note that for both Matthew and Luke the broader context of the Golden Rule is the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), or in Luke's case, the Sermon on the Plain ( 6:20-49 ). And just as the Golden Rule is the sum of the law and prophets, it can be argued that it also summarizes Jesus' teachings here. In these passages the longstanding ambiguity surrounding the meaning of "neighbor" is resolved with force and clarity. Matthew speaks of the Father giving good gifts to those who are "evil" ( 7:7-11 ). Luke expands upon this principle by associating the Golden Rule with loving one's enemies, blessing those who curse you, turning the other cheek, and being gracious to those who borrow, expecting nothing in return (cf. also Matt 5:38-48 ). And with regard to the burning question, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responds with the parable of the good Samaritan ( Luke 10:25-36 ).

From these passages the following principles arise:

  1. The character of God serves as the paradigm for interpersonal relationships. The "Most High" is perfect, being kind and merciful to the ungrateful and wicked ( Matt 5:48 ; Luke 6:35-36 ).
  2. Since the standard for conduct is the benevolent heart of God, the moral condition or evil behavior of the neighbor is irrelevant ( Matt 5:44 ).
  3. Vengeance and retaliation are prohibited ( Matt 5:38-41 ; Luke 6:27-29 ).

Therefore the "Golden Rule" presents God as having unconditional positive regard for all human beings. In order to be perfect as he is perfect, and to be "sons of the Most High, " we are to emulate the purest altruism and uncompromising impartiality of the Father, who seeks only the good of his creatures.

William A. Simmons

Bibliography. W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, vol. 1; J. D. M. Derrett, NTS 11 (1964-65): 22-37; N. Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke; R. K. Harrison, Leviticus; I. H. Marshall, Commentary on Luke; R. H. Mounce, Matthew; M. Noth, Leviticus; O. J. F. Seitz, NTS 16 (1969): 39-54; G. J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Golden Rule'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.