The Golden Rule

Any person who professes any form of Atheism will find themselves regularly in conversations about morality. Objective ethics has become the Achilles’ heel of the position which asserts a universe without God is possible.

What I have found strikingly interesting over the years is how many non-Christians will cling to the Golden Rule rule as being a moral standard for themselves. I have heard many non-Christians quote the golden rule when discussing their own personal ethic.

Jesus’ famous words in Matthew 7:12 has become known today as “The Golden Rule.” Jesus commands us in His epic sermon,

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

The Golden Rule has become infamous around the world. Young children in public schools are often taught this rule, and few people are unfamiliar with it.

As Christians, we obviously support the Golden Rule, as it was prescribed by God to us. Because of that, we can be overjoyed when people espouse it as their own.

However, the golden rule is not the Gospel. Notice how Jesus makes this distinction in the very next verses,

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

The Gospel is metaphorically described as entering the narrow gate, something altogether distinct from the Golden Rule. Because of this, we cannot be satisfied when people claim the Golden Rule as their own. On the contrary, it should disturb us.

Non-Christian worldviews are constantly stealing from the Christian faith to try and plug the holes within their worldview. Non-Christian worldviews are not true, and therefore have major gaps and inconsistencies, thus, they must steal tools and lumber from our faith to patch things up.

Typically, this form of worldview robbery is more subtle, but in the case of the Golden Rule it is happening right in front of our eyes, and we have become accustomed to saying nothing about it all. May we never be the kind of tenets who smile and wave at the men in the masks walking out with all our stuff.

How can we effectively fight against this theft of our morality (2 Corinthians 10: 3-5)? I suggest doing this: quote the entire verse.

Jesus did not tell us, as it is commonly quoted in the KJV, to do unto others as we would have done unto us. Jesus did not leave it hanging, but instead, grounded this ethic in a standard.

“…for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Whenever you hear someone, who is not a professing believer, claim the Golden Rule, remind them that the Golden Rule is actually a general summary of the Old Testament. If you reject the Old Testament, you reject the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule does not derive its authority via pragmatism. It is liked by the world because it does happen to be very practical. If everyone truly lived this way, the world would be a better place. It is practical, but Jesus does not require it because it is practical and pragmatic. Jesus required it because the Law of God and the Prophets from God.

The expression “the Law and the Prophets” in the Bible is an expression for the entire O.T. Scriptures.  In Jesus’ day, the O.T. was the Bible since the N.T. was not yet being penned. Therefore, Jesus believed the Golden Rule ought to be practiced by us because the Bible said so.

This sort of begs the question, why is the Bible authoritative? This is because Jesus had an understanding that the Old Testament Scriptures were in fact the very words of God (Matthew 22:33). Therefore, the Golden Rule is good, and the Golden Rule is binding because the Bible says so. Therefore, a person cannot take one without the other. No one gets to reject Jesus but take His Golden Rule. They do not get to reject the Old Testament, while gleaning the fruit of it.

When a person claims this, remind them that the Golden Rule finds it’s foundation, not only in Jesus, but in the O.T. Scriptures. When Jesus quoted the Golden Rule, He did so by explicitly telling us that to follow it is to obey Scripture and affirm the authority of Scripture to tell us how to behave.

I would encourage Christians to never quote the Golden Rule without quoting the entirety of verse 12. I would encourage Christians to remind everyone who adheres to this rule of it’s biblical foundation.

When you do this, what you are essentially doing is asking the famous, “By what standard?” question.

Obviously, we as Christians like the Golden Rule (when correctly interpreted and applied). However, we do so consistently with our worldview. We enjoy and apply all of God’s Laws. If someone rejects God’s authority, then the Golden Rule suddenly ceases to be what we know it to be.

It now becomes an arbitrary idea floating in the minds of people. Why does it have any authority? Why is it “good?” Why is it binding on anyone else?

These are issues that must be asked, they must be accounted for. Until then, the golden rule is just an arbitrary, subjective idea binding on no one.

An Alternative Secular Ethic

Other than the Golden Rule, another popular secular ethic is the idea of “not harming others.” More times than I can count have I heard the question, “Why can’t I do that if it doesn’t hurt anyone?” Probably the most sophisticated presentation of this ethic comes from Dan Barker. In more than one debate, he has publicly defined morality as “Causing the least amount of harm as necessary.”

What’s wrong with this secular ethic? The problem is that the Secular worldview has an issue of providing foundations and definitions.

The worldview which seeks to operate outside Scripture’s boundaries cannot give an account as to why this ought to be how morality is defined. But rather, I’d like to focus on a couple additional issues.

Whose Pain Matters?

For starters, there is an issue of defining the realm of who is involved which the secular ethic cannot do. In other words, who is included in this, and why?

Certainly, unborn babies are not included in this. After all, the secular worldview in modern America has been on crusade against the unborn. We are slaughtering them for any and all reasons. Clearly, Barker (and most in his camp) conveniently leave out unborn people from this ethic. Why?

Along with that, in every scenario there are so many people involved one wonders by which standard do we determine whose “harm” is to be considered. Take for example a somewhat common scenario of a young-man “coming out” and telling his parents he is gay and is planning on moving to the city with his boyfriend. The parents are devastated. They are heartbroken and angry. They have been emotionally harmed. Is their son’s actions sinful, then? After all, he harmed his parents.

How many secularists would preach to the parents, who were just harmed, that they should not be bothered because their son’s homosexuality isn’t harming anyone. Well, it harmed them. But apparently their harm doesn’t count.

Barker would likely remind us that his standard is not “thou shall not harm” but that “thou shall harm only in ways completely necessary.” He uses the example of heart surgery to make this point. Technically, surgery is very harmful. We are cutting open and decimating another human’s body. Were it not for anesthesia, it would be a torturous scene making a Saw movie look PG.

However, this intense harm is a necessary harm. Surgery is preventing more serious, long term pain and harm. Thus, it’s necessary. The problem is not solved however. For there are very simple methods for determining a triage of harm in a medical situation. A method is in play which makes it easy to know heart surgery is a good harm compared to living with a clogged artery and sick heart.

What’s the moral method for the scenario above? Is the brokenness of parents the heart attack or the surgery? Whose harm is the more necessary one? His worldview cannot answer that question.

What this also leads to is the issue of how we, time-bound, feeble humans, can possibly know who will be harmed by our decisions and how much. How often do we make decisions, and are completely blown away and shocked by the consequences?

The standard imposed by Barker and the worldview he represents requires omniscience. Thankfully, I am able to get my morality from Someone Who can actually claim that attribute.

The question arises going the other direction too. Not only is their arbitrariness in who is excluded, but there is arbitrariness in who is included as well. Not only are people like unborn babies and conservative parents of homosexuals not included, but one has to wonder why anyone else is.

Someone sympathetic to the reconstituting a Nazi agenda may agree with this secular ethic, but may want to limit it only to the Arian race. We should seek to minimize harm, but not for blacks and Jews. Who is to tell him otherwise? His circle of inclusion is smaller than most in the secular world, but who has the perfect circle? Who has the standard all other circles must seek to match?

What if a person decides the circle needs to be bigger than both Barker and our Nazi? What if a person thinks trees, and plants (both considered living creatures) should have the exact same moral equivalency as any human being. Who is to tell this person they are thinking too big?

Who Defines “Harm”?

Not only can the “who” not be defined, but the “what” cannot be defined either. Who is to define what is “harmful”? Take our scenario about the homosexual son above: does emotional harm count in this ethic, or just physical harm?

Equally important, this standard conveniently assumes what it needs ultimately to prove: the absence of the spiritual. When evaluating the harm of a decision, should I take into account spiritual harm?

1 Corinthians 6 states that homosexuality is a sin which prevents one from entering the kingdom of God. That makes it far more harmful than any physical damage the human body can receive. Yet, I doubt judgment in hell is a concern this sexual ethic allows into consideration.

Like above, this aspect also requires omniscience. How could we possibly know in most situations what the physical, emotional, and spiritual effects will be of our decisions?

Lastly, this ethic cannot account for how the categories of harm interact. Is there a triage among them, meaning, is physical harm worse than emotional, or social harm? Take an issue like spanking. Parents who spank do so because the believe the physical harm of spanking will prevent a greater harm, a social and emotional harm.

People against spanking think that the physical harm is inexcusable, regardless of its potential future social or emotional benefits. Does Barker get to decide between the two? Who gets to?

Conclusion

As should be made clear by now, whether it’s the Golden Rule, or any other moral claim, unless it is revealed by God in Scripture, it is a chaotic mess of arbitrariness, subjectivity, and complications.

Only God, through His Word, provides a meaningful ethic for man to obey.

Christian, should you treat others as you would like to be treated? Yes, you should. Why should you? It’s simple: because the Bible says so.

And no other reason is sufficient to answer that question.

12 thoughts on “The Golden Rule

  1. Which God and which scripture should I choose here? The elastic immorality of the Old Testament which is ripe with slavery and genocide and cruelty or the Quran? BTW, Jesus didn’t invent the golden rule so your entire argument is blah after the first paragraph.

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    • Jim, before commenting, I appreciate you very much for taking the time to read my blog. I have an incredibly small audience, so it really does bless me, even in the midst of disagreement.

      “Which God and which scripture should I choose here?”

      — There is only one God, so you should chose the one that actually exists, and has made Himself known with undeniable clarity to each of us (Romans 1: 18-32). He has revealed Himself in 66 books, known to us because they are self-authenticating in their very nature.

      “The elastic immorality of the Old Testament which is ripe with slavery and genocide and cruelty…”

      — It’s very ironic hearing an Atheist criticize an ethic for being “elastic.” Elastic morality is a central and necessary tenets of Atheism. Your worldview openly affirms a subjective, constantly changing moral code, that which adapts to new information and different societies. No moral code is more elastic than Atheism’s attempts to provide men with a code of conduct.

      The word “immoral” does not belong to your worldview. What could possibly be objectively immoral within a worldview framework that offers no objective moral code? Without God, immorality does not exist. As Richard Dawkins says, all there is is blind pitiless indifference, but not immorality. For example, you list slavery, genocide, and cruelty, as being “immoral.” Says who? What gives you the right to tell a foreign culture and a foreign people group how they ought to have behaved?

      “or the Quran?”

      — The Quran is a little late in the game to even be considered. It does not bear the divine qualities, nor testify to a divine nature, but it is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies, not only internally, but most importantly, with the clear teachings of the prophets of the Old and New Testaments, the very ones it claims to represent, and continue revelation for. In other words, the Quran must be rejected because it contradicts the known Scriptures which came before it.

      “BTW, Jesus didn’t invent the golden rule so your entire argument is blah after the first paragraph.”
      — It’s shame you thought this. Because you clearly did stop reading after the first paragraph. I know you stopped reading, because nothing in my argument ever came close to stating that Jesus’ invented the Golden Rule (GR). In fact, I actually stated the exact opposite. So the rest of my article, on that standard, is not “blah.”

      First of all, I do not believe morality is “invented” but “revealed.” You use that word invent, because it’s tied to your worldview. In your worldview, there is no such thing as morality, so they must be invented by people. In my worldview, morality is a description of the immutable character of God. God reveals His nature and laws to us. But they are never invented. They are discovered.

      But to the point, had you finished the blog, you would have read me stating that Jesus grounds the GR in the Old Testament. Therefore, I affirmed that the GR predates Jesus’ earthly ministry (not Jesus, as He is the eternal God.) Jesus did not invent the GR and did not claim to, but instead claimed that his formulation of the GR was a summary application of the Old Testament Law. That is my very thesis.

      However, even if I did claim Jesus’ invented the GR, I don’t know how that nullifies the points about Atheism I made.

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      • I don’t have time to write a whole book in reply to this If the Quran in not old enough to legitimize a religion for you, then neither is the Bible. The 66 books you mention are easy enough to dismantle. Which translations suits you best? Let’s start there. One point at a time. You seem to be running the Gish Gallop gambit. Or is it argumentum as nauseum?

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      • “I don’t have time to write a whole book in reply to this”

        — That is understandable. I do not either. Feel free to remove yourself from the conversation whenever. I will not take it as a sign of cowardice or defeat, as I too am bust.

        “If the Quran in not old enough to legitimize a religion for you, then neither is the Bible.”

        — The Bible is far older than the Quran. The New Testament by a good 4-5 centuries, and the Old Testament by some thousands of years.

        However, I think this missed my point. I was not saying the basis of truth is pure historical age. God was free to reveal Himself progressively, and the newer revelation was not less true than the older. The point that I was making was the the Quran came so late, that there is nothing reasonable about overthrowing hundreds of years of known Christian Scriptures and known Christian beliefs, many of which the Quran commands its followed to adhere to. I was saying the Quran is too new to be a legitimate Old Testament sequel, I was not saying it was too new to be true.

        “The 66 books you mention are easy enough to dismantle.”

        — LOL. Ya… our presuppositions certainly affect how we view the histories hundreds of years of attempting to do this.

        “Which translations suits you best?”
        — Not sure how this is relevant. I preach from the ESV. But I believe most of the modern translations to be accurate and reliable (NKJV, NASB, NIV, etc.) I reject paraphrases like the Message and the NLT.

        “You seem to be running the Gish Gallop gambit.”

        — I cannot believe this. I have literally engaged only in a point by point response to every thing you have said. Therefore, any Gish Gallop, Shotgunning, or argument ad nauseum is being done by you.

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  2. Ancient Egypt.- circa 2000 BCE “Do for one who may do for you, That you may cause him thus to do.” – The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant 109-110,
    Hebrew Bible – circa 700 BCE “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.”
    Zoroastrianism.- circa 600 BCE “That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.” – Dadistan-i-Dinik 94:5,
    Buddhism.- circa 500 BCE “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” – Udana-Varga 5:18,
    Confucianism.- circa 500 BCE “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Analects of Confucius 15:24,
    Socrates.- circa 400 BCE “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.”

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    • In response to your comment about the historic religions that affirmed the GR, it is difficult to know how to reply as I don’t have enough context to know what the point you’re trying to make is. If you’re trying to prove “Jesus did not invent the GR” as you stated earlier, then I responded to that already.

      Here are a couple other points I can make about this historical reflection:

      1) It actually affirms the biblical worldview when other religions have similar laws. For the Bible teaches that God wrote a base level of Laws on the human heart (Romans 2). Therefore, aspects of God’s Law have been divinely revealed through innate human nature. To be human is to know God, for His Law is part of who we are. Thus, the fact that there are basic laws we all agree on only affirms what the Bible says God has done.

      The difference is, only Christians can justify this innate knowledge. The other religions above cannot.

      2) It also makes sense that other religions would adopt certain aspects of Christianity (or Judaism at that time) because Truth is valuable. In other words, there is a reason people make counterfeit dollar bills rather than counterfeit monopoly bills. Dollar bills are worth something, monopoly money isn’t. So when people want to copy something, they copy things of worth.

      So it makes a lot of sense the pagan religions of the ancient world would steal laws and narratives from God’s revelation, because what God has revealed is worth something.

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      • Well you are special. It just shows that Christianity is no where near original and is a compete copycat of pagan, Egyptian, Norse and Greek mythology enforced to stay by Constantine. There have been no less than 15 near identical stories predating the Christ story. But this one, this one is the real one. You’ve got some reading to do. You have the burden of proof as you are claiming a god exists. I say there is nothing. Prove it. No one has shown a shred of evidence so far but belief, and if you do learn enough about the fallacies of your faith you’ll be an atheist too. Your on the road to it. Welcome to the minds of the free

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      • “Well you are special”

        — The Bible refers to me not as being special, but forgiven.

        “It just shows that Christianity is no where near original and is a compete copycat of pagan, Egyptian, Norse and Greek mythology”

        — What just shows this? How does the fact that Jesus claimed the Prophets (who predate Greek and Norse mythology) taught to love our neighbor show Christianity stole from religions hundreds of years in the future?

        “…enforced to stay by Constantine.”
        — I really do not say this to be rude or condescending, but it really does shock me that your view of history is so skewed. It’s truly been years since I have heard this claimed, even from non-Christians. It is historically indefensible that Constantine enforced Christianity on the world. That is why I find your comment ” You’ve got some reading to do” to be very ironic. I am not the one spouting outlandish historical revisions one the same level the Da Vinci Code.

        “There have been no less than 15 near identical stories predating the Christ story.”

        — This is not true for 3 reasons. 1) This is a common talking point, but in reality, every story which people today claim resembles the Christ story, when actually examined, does not mirror it very well at all. Since you believe positive claims require the burden of proof, the onus is now on you to give me 15 stories, minimum, and an accurate view of the Christ story, and then show how they are “nearly identical.” Again, I hope you’re regretting that “You’ve got some reading to do” comment by this point.

        2) Most of the stories you have in mind do not predate the Christ story, because the Christ story was first told in the Garden, and continued to be prophesied for thousands of years prior to Christ’s incarnation. The realization of the story took place two thousand years ago, but the story itself was told many thousands of years before that. Thus, if your presupposition is that which ever story was told first is the original, then your 15 mythologies copied the Christ story, not the other way around. Which brings me to the 3rd point:

        3) I said earlier that copycats copy valuable things. To be in the counterfeit business you have to make a product that resembles a valuable thing. Christian truth is inherently valuable, so it makes sense other religions would try so hard to look like us.

        “You have the burden of proof as you are claiming a god exists. I say there is nothing.”

        — This is common misunderstanding among atheists about the burden of proof. However, yours is the best example I can find because you blatantly contradict yourself when others do so only implicitly.

        Notice how you claimed I have the burden of proof because I made the positive claim that God exists. But you then followed it up with a positive claim yourself, “I say there is nothing.”

        This means you bear the same burden. You made a claim “nothing” exists. Prove it.

        The burden of proof falling on the positive is true when it comes to formal debate propositions and legal hearings. But in general debates about ultimate’s, EVERYONE has a worldview which needs proving. This is an inescapable reality. Every person has implicit positive understandings about reality. Therefore, everyone bears the same burden of proof. Even those more agnostic than you still have a burden of proof. If someone were to claim, “There may be a god, but I don’t know” that person (although the Bible says they are lying) has still made an implicit positive claim. The claim is this: “Since god may not exist, it’s possible that the reality we exist in could exist without God.”

        They must now prove their positive claim, that things like science, love, reason, knowledge, ethics, etc. can all have a foundation apart from God. We all bear a burden of proof.

        “Prove it. No one has shown a shred of evidence so far but belief.”

        — I’ll bite. The proof that the Christian God exists is that without Him you cannot prove anything. My proof is proof itself.

        Only the Christian worldview can make sense of inteligibility. All of the things that make the concept of “proof” meaningful are found in Christ. Apart from Him, you cannot justify your presuppositions about the nature of proof. Evidence requires an intelligible universe. It requires things like knowledge, reasoning, induction, laws of nature, laws of logic. None of these things can be justified outside of Christ. Therefore, the proof of God is found in the fact that you think proof is possible.

        “and if you do learn enough about the fallacies of your faith”

        — There are none. However, what’s ironic is fallacies require absolute laws of logic. What is logic? Logic is universal, unchanging, and immaterial. Your worldview demands the universe is only material, and constantly evolving. Thus, the very fact that fallacies exist denies your worldview.

        “…you’ll be an atheist too.”
        — No I wont be. It’s actually impossible since Atheists don’t even exist. (Romans 1: 18-32).

        “Your on the road to it.”

        — Actually, I am on the road toward eternal life (Matthew 7: 13-14). And you are commanded by God to join me on this narrow way (Acts 17: 30).

        “Welcome to the minds of the free”

        — To the contrary, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ (Colossians 2: 1-3). Any philosophy are worldview not founded on Christ is empty and deceitful (Colossians 2: 8). Those outside of Christ are the ones whose minds are darkened, and their thoughts are foolish and futile (Romans 1: 21-23).

        Our minds are not renewed until Christ sets us free (Romans 12: 1-4). Thus, you are the one enslaved; I am free.

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      • You can’t prove the Bible is true by quoting the Bible There is no proof of prayer or god answering prayer. People give him credit for all the good and excuses are made for the rest. Prayer is just one “worldview” I have that in the end was false hope and promises that never came to fruition. Ever! When you look at what is actually claimed and hoped versus what happens is a huge disparity. Every iota requires deep explanations and apologetics. It not true

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      • “You can’t prove the Bible is true by quoting the Bible.”

        — I never did that. I quoted the Bible as true, but I did not prove the Bible by quoting it. That wasn’t the structure of my argument.

        — However, when dealing with ultimates, circularity is inescapable. I can prove this with one easy request: Prove to me your reasoning faculties are reliable, but don’t use your reasoning faculties to do so.

        See how impossible that is? Same goes for my ultimate authority. If I were appeal to anything else, then I would be disproving my ultimate authority is ultimate. You cannot prove your car is the fastest car in the world by having a towtruck tow it down the speedway very fast. You cannot prove you are the strongest person in the world by utilizing someone else’s strengths. Whichever is ultimate will have to vindicate itself, from itself.

        “There is no proof of prayer or god answering prayer.”
        — I don’t think you need that first part. There is proof of prayer. People pray all the time. I think you just needed the second part.

        Remember earlier when you accused me of running the Gambo? Ya… I never appealed to prayer as my proof.

        “People give him credit for all the good and excuses are made for the rest.”

        — This is actually very true. I agree this happens. But what some people do is irrelevant to whether the Bible is true,

        Some scientists are weird people. Does that make the enterprise of science unreliable?

        “Prayer is just one “worldview” I have that in the end was false hope and promises that never came to fruition.”

        — Perhaps God was not listening due to your idolatry of heart (Is. 1: 10-17).

        “Ever! When you look at what is actually claimed and hoped versus what happens is a huge disparity.”

        — Perhaps your theology of prayer (it’s purpose and our expectations) was not formed biblically. Don’t blame the fork when you try to use it like a spoon.

        “Every iota requires deep explanations and apologetics. It not true.”

        — This is due to the constant attacks. Secondly, are you saying you would be more likely to bow your knee to Christ if His revelation were more simple? That would seem to discredit it more than verify it.

        Again, I don’t know why we are talking about prayer, but prayer being a theological concept we can dive deeply into and ask difficult questions about hardly disqualifies it from being true.

        How much of known quantum physics do you deny because it requires so much explanation?

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