‘Do as you would be done by’, or ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you’.
Apart from the New Testament (Matthew 7.12) the rule occurs as far back as Confucius (551-479 BC) in his Analects (15.23; compare 5.11).
The term “Golden Rule”, or “Golden law”, began to be used widely in the early 17th century in Britain by Anglican theologians and preachers; the earliest known usage is that of Anglicans Charles Gibbon and Thomas Jackson in 1604.
Possibly the earliest affirmation of the maxim of reciprocity, reflecting the ancient Egyptian goddess Ma’at, appears in the story of “The Eloquent Peasant”, which dates to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1650 BCE): “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to make him do.” This proverb embodies the do ut des principle. A Late Period (c. 664–323 BCE) papyrus contains an early negative affirmation of the Golden Rule: “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”
In Mahābhārata, the ancient epic of India, there is a discourse in which sage Brihaspati tells the king Yudhishthira the following
One should never do something to others that one would regard as an injury to one’s own self. In brief, this is dharma. Anything else is succumbing to desire.— Mahābhārata 13.114.8 (Critical edition)
The Mahābhārata is usually dated to the period between 400 BCE and 400 CE.
In Chapter 32 in the Part on Virtue of the Tirukkuṛaḷ (c. 1st century BCE to 5th century CE), Valluvar says:
Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself.— Kural 316
Why does one hurt others knowing what it is to be hurt?— Kural 318
Furthermore, in verse 312, Valluvar says that it is the determination or code of the spotless (virtuous) not to do evil, even in return, to those who have cherished enmity and done them evil. According to him, the proper punishment to those who have done evil is to put them to shame by showing them kindness, in return and to forget both the evil and the good done on both sides (verse 314).
The Golden Rule in its prohibitive (negative) form was a common principle in ancient Greek philosophy. Examples of the general concept include:
- “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.” – Thales (c. 624–c. 546 BCE)
- “What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either. ” – Sextus the Pythagorean. The oldest extant reference to Sextus is by Origen in the third century of the common era.
- “Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you.” – Isocrates (436–338 BCE)
The Pahlavi Texts of Zoroastrianism (c. 300 BCE–1000 CE) were an early source for the Golden Rule: “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself.” Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5, and “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.” Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29
Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BCE–65 CE), a practitioner of Stoicism (c. 300 BCE–200 CE) expressed the Golden Rule in his essay regarding the treatment of slaves: “Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you.”
According to Simon Blackburn, the Golden Rule “can be found in some form in almost every ethical tradition”.
A rule of altruistic reciprocity was stated positively in a well-known Torah verse (Hebrew: ואהבת לרעך כמוך):
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.— Leviticus 19:18
Hillel the Elder (c. 110 BCE – 10 CE), used this verse as a most important message of the Torah for his teachings. Once, he was challenged by a gentile who asked to be converted under the condition that the Torah be explained to him while he stood on one foot. Hillel accepted him as a candidate for conversion to Judaism but, drawing on Leviticus 19:18, briefed the man:
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.— Shabbath folio:31a, Babylonian Talmud
Hillel recognized brotherly love as the fundamental principle of Jewish ethics. Rabbi Akiva agreed and suggested that the principle of love must have its foundation in Genesis chapter 1, which teaches that all men are the offspring of Adam, who was made in the image of God (Sifra, Ḳedoshim, iv.; Yer. Ned. ix. 41c; Genesis Rabba 24). According to Jewish rabbinic literature, the first man Adam represents the unity of mankind. This is echoed in the modern preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And it is also taught, that Adam is last in order according to the evolutionary character of God’s creation:
Why was only a single specimen of man created first? To teach us that he who destroys a single soul destroys a whole world and that he who saves a single soul saves a whole world; furthermore, so no race or class may claim a nobler ancestry, saying, ‘Our father was born first’; and, finally, to give testimony to the greatness of the Lord, who caused the wonderful diversity of mankind to emanate from one type. And why was Adam created last of all beings? To teach him humility; for if he be overbearing, let him remember that the little fly preceded him in the order of creation.
The Jewish Publication Society’s edition of Leviticus states:
Thou shalt not hate thy brother, in thy heart; thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him. 18 Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
This Torah verse represents one of several versions of the Golden Rule, which itself appears in various forms, positive and negative. It is the earliest written version of that concept in a positive form.
At the turn of the eras, the Jewish rabbis were discussing the scope of the meaning of Leviticus 19:18 and 19:34 extensively:
The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the LORD am your God.— Leviticus 19:34
Commentators summed up foreigners (= Samaritans), proselytes (= ‘strangers who resides with you’) (Rabbi Akiva, bQuid 75b) or Jews (Rabbi Gamaliel, yKet 3, 1; 27a) to the scope of the meaning.
On the verse, “Love your fellow as yourself”, the classic commentator Rashi quotes from Torat Kohanim, an early Midrashic text regarding the famous dictum of Rabbi Akiva: “Love your fellow as yourself – Rabbi Akiva says this is a great principle of the Torah.”
Israel’s postal service quoted from the previous Leviticus verse when it commemorated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on a 1958 postage stamp.
The “Golden Rule” of Leviticus 19:18 was quoted by Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 7:12; see also Luke 6:31) and described by him as the second great commandment. The common English phrasing is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. A similar form of the phrase appeared in a Catholic catechism around 1567 (certainly in the reprint of 1583). The Golden Rule is stated positively numerous times in the Old Testament: Leviticus 19:18 (“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”; see also Great Commandment) and Leviticus 19:34 (“But treat them just as you treat your own citizens. Love foreigners as you love yourselves, because you were foreigners one time in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”).
The Old Testament Deuterocanonical books of Tobit and Sirach, accepted as part of the Scriptural canon by Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Non-Chalcedonian Churches, express a negative form of the golden rule:
“Do to no one what you yourself dislike.”— Tobit 4:15
“Recognize that your neighbor feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes.”— Sirach 31:15
Two passages in the New Testament quote Jesus of Nazareth espousing the positive form of the Golden rule:
Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.— Matthew 7:12
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.— Luke 6:31
A similar passage, a parallel to the Great Commandment, is Luke 10:25-28
Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
He said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”
The passage in the book of Luke then continues with Jesus answering the question, “Who is my neighbor?”, by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, which John Wesley interprets as meaning that “your neighbor” is anyone in need.
Jesus’ teaching goes beyond the negative formulation of not doing what one would not like done to themselves, to the positive formulation of actively doing good to another that, if the situations were reversed, one would desire that the other would do for them. This formulation, as indicated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, emphasizes the needs for positive action that brings benefit to another, not simply restraining oneself from negative activities that hurt another.
In one passage of the New Testament, Paul the Apostle refers to the golden rule:
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.— Galatians 5:14
St. Paul also comments on the golden rule in the book of Romans:
“The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Romans 13:8-9 (NIV).
The Arabian peninsula was known to not practice the golden rule prior to the advent of Islam. According to Th. Emil Homerin: “Pre-Islamic Arabs regarded the survival of the tribe, as most essential and to be ensured by the ancient rite of blood vengeance.” Homerin goes on to say:
Similar examples of the golden rule are found in the hadith of the prophet Muhammad. The hadith recount what the prophet is believed to have said and done, and traditionally Muslims regard the hadith as second to only the Qur’an as a guide to correct belief and action.
From the hadith, the collected oral and written accounts of Muhammad and his teachings during his lifetime:
A Bedouin came to the prophet, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said: O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with it. Prophet said: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them. Now let the stirrup go!” [This maxim is enough for you; go and act in accordance with it!]”— Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146
None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.— An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13 (p. 56)
Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer.— Sukhanan-i-Muhammad (Teheran, 1938)
That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.
The most righteous person is the one who consents for other people what he consents for himself, and who dislikes for them what he dislikes for himself.
Ali ibn Abi Talib (4th Caliph in Sunni Islam, and first Imam in Shia Islam) says:
O’ my child, make yourself the measure (for dealings) between you and others. Thus, you should desire for others what you desire for yourself and hate for others what you hate for yourself. Do not oppress as you do not like to be oppressed. Do good to others as you would like good to be done to you. Regard bad for yourself whatever you regard bad for others. Accept that (treatment) from others which you would like others to accept from you… Do not say to others what you do not like to be said to you.— Nahjul Balaghah, Letter 31
The writings of the Baháʼí Faith encourage everyone to treat others as they would treat themselves and even prefer others over oneself:
O SON OF MAN! Deny not My servant should he ask anything from thee, for his face is My face; be then abashed before Me.— Bahá’u’lláh
Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.— Bahá’u’lláh
And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.— Bahá’u’lláh
Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not.— Bahá’u’lláh
One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.— Brihaspati, Mahabharata 13.114.8 (Critical edition)
By making dharma your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself
श्रूयतां धर्मसर्वस्वं श्रुत्वा चाप्यवधार्यताम्।
आत्मनः प्रतिकूलानि परेषां न समाचरेत्।।
If the entire Dharma can be said in a few words, then it is—that which is unfavorable to us, do not do that to others.— Padmapuraana, shrushti 19/357–358
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