The “Do Unto Others” Bible Verse
"Do Unto Others" Bible Verse
Matthew 7:12 - "So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Commentary below)
Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27 - "...Love your neighbor as yourself..."
These verses from the Christian Bible, also known as the “Golden Rule” Bible verses, issue an injunction that is among the highest, most beautiful things that religion has to offer. The message, sadly, is lost to a large extent today, among the irreligious and religious alike.
Parallels to the Golden Rule Bible verses
Although the Golden Rule, as it's called, was most famously stated by Jesus Christ, there were other formulations of it around before Jesus. There were, however, important differences between these other versions of the Golden Rule and the version that is taught by Jesus. I will discuss those differences in this article. In this article, I will consider "love your neighbor as yourself" and "do unto others as you would have them do to you" as two different forms of the same idea: the Golden Rule.
There was a Jewish rabbi (teacher) who lived around the time of Jesus, whose name was Hillel. It is said that once a pagan came to Hillel and told the Rabbi that if he could recite the entire Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) while standing on one leg, then he would convert to Judaism. Hillel replied, "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary. Go and learn it."
Note that in Matthew 7:12 (top of this article), Jesus also claims that the Golden Rule "sums up the Law". In this passage, "the Law" actually refers to the same Jewish Torah that Rabbi Hillel referred to. So both Hillel and Christ formulate a rule which they claim expresses the entire Jewish Law (Torah). And the rule stated by Hillel sounds very much like the "do unto others" Bible verse. But we will see that there is a great deal of difference.
Before I look at the differences, I'll give one more parallel to the Golden Rule Bible verse. The great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, lived about five hundred years before Jesus. One of his famous maxims was, "Do not do to others what you would not want others to do to you." This is almost the same exact thing that Rabbi Hillel would later say, and on the surface, it does seem much like the Golden Rule as we know it from the lips of Christ.
Night and Day
The most obvious difference between the words of Christ and the words of the others is this: Christ's command is a positive command, and the others give a negative command. What I mean by this is that Christ tells us what we are to do, while the others only tell us what we are not to do. Christ says, "Do unto others", while Hillel and Confucius say, "Do not do unto others."
While it is easy to see this difference in the structure of the rule, one might wonder, "Does it really make much of a practical difference? Isn't the rule just as good in either of its forms?"
I would say that the difference is like that between night and day. The rule stated by Hillel and Confucius is not simply a different form of the same rule given by Christ; it is an entirely different rule.
Admirable, Yet Deficient
It is admirable to refrain from doing things that cause harm, as the Wiccan Rede concludes: "An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will." But as admirable as this is, it is tragically insufficient as it stands alone. In a world where madness and evil trample the helpless every day, it is not enough to simply refuse to actively contribute to the worse of the evils.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" -saying of obscure origin, often wrongly attributed to Edmund Burke
The subtle essence of hatred is mere indifference.
The command to "Not do to others what we would not have them do to us" falls short because it fails to call for action. It leaves room for a passive stance in a world full of need and suffering. The "do unto others" Bible verse leaves no such room for inaction.
The "Love Your Neighbor" Bible Verse
Christ's central command in the social arena was a rousing call that we actively seek to ease the suffering of others. To go above and beyond in our love for others. This is clearly seen in His command to "love your neighbor as yourself". Really, this wasn't entirely His command. He got it from the Jewish scriptures, from the Law of Moses:
Leviticus 19:18 - “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD."
But Christ changed the context of the command. In the context in Leviticus, it is more of a "negative" command, telling us what not to do. In Leviticus, "love your neighbor as yourself" is clearly given in the immediate context of refraining from actively harming someone: "do not seek revenge". Perhaps Christ saw this "negative" context as insufficient, so He gave it a new, positive context. In Luke 10:27-37, Jesus agrees with a man that the greatest command toward our neighbor is that we love him/her as ourselves. But then the man asks, "who is my neighbor?" Jesus responds by telling the story of the "Good Samaritan". In this story, a man goes out of his way to help a stranger who was robbed and beaten half to death. He spends a lot of time, effort, and even his money to make absolutely sure that the stranger will recover. He goes the extra mile.
It is easy to see that Christ has far removed the command to "love your neighbor as yourself" from its original context of "do not take revenge" (a negative command, telling us to refrain from harming). He has given it the new context of "go out of your way to do everything in your power to ease the suffering of your fellow human being, even if that human being is a total stranger." This is indeed what is required of us, and it is what is lacking from the command of Confucius and Hillel, and even from the context of the command in Leviticus.
The way that Christ shifted the context of the command to "love your neighbor" should further reinforce our interpretation of the "do unto others" Bible verse as emphasizing proactive action on behalf of others.
Love, and Fulfill the Law
There is no valid command but to love. Any religion or spiritual discipline, any philosophy or ethical system, which gives any other command, is thereby missing the point.
For Christ, there were two commands which summed up the whole divine law.
Luke 10:27 - "...‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Although there is a different object of love in each of these commands, the action required by each of them is one and the same: to love. Elsewhere, Jesus even commands us to love our enemies. We are to love all living beings, all sentient things: divine, human, or other. In one vital sense, even the command to love God is a double reference to love. After all, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). So in a very real and important sense, to love God is to love Love itself: to be in love--heart, mind, and will--with the highest Embodiment of pure, divine Love. What a goal. This is the single, only goal of religion or spirituality. Any religion or doctrine that suggests another goal is empty noise. Any religious activities or pursuits which do not tend towards that goal are frivolous nonsense: "vanity of vanities."
If You Forget Everything Else...
I write a lot about Love. Sadly, in my own life, I love much less than I should. I'm working on that every day. I don't expect it to be easy. Love is the goal and ground, not just of any true religion, but of life, of Being itself.
Love is the Eternal, Perfect Form which eternally gives birth to All That Is. Birth is not easy or painless. Neither is love.
But I hope that if people remember one thing about me, it will be Love. I hope they will remember how I spoke of love and wrote of love and tried and tried to give love the way that I should. We should never have the attitude that there is some point at which we have loved enough. We must always be loving more and more, or we are simply stagnating, dying. My hope and prayer for myself and for you, dear reader who has followed my thoughts thus far, is that we may live and grow ever more in the Love that gives us life.
© 2011 Justin Aptaker