Episode 19: Jesus instructs us “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is the Golden Rule. But why does he add at the end “For this is the law and prophets”? Episode nineteen will explore the words of other rabbis who also distilled down the commandments in a similar way to Jesus. The Golden Rule is the practical application of the Leviticus commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” and thus is the baseline of kingdom ethics and a prophetic picture of the peace of the Messianic Era.
The Lesson: The Mystery of the Golden Rule
I didn’t think I’d get much out of this episode, so I was surprised when the material covered by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby folded into several blog posts I’ve written recently, all touching on how we treat our fellow human beings.
The “Golden Rule” is often rendered as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Here’s the Biblical source:
So then, whatever you want sons of men to do to you, do the same to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets.
–Matthew 7:12 (DHE Gospels)
Here’s a more familiar version of the same text:
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
–Matthew 7:12 (NASB)
I guess I’m always a little surprised when I hear how some Christians understand certain parts of the Bible. It would never occur to me to think that Jesus was supposed to be replacing the Torah and the Prophets, that is, the Old Testament, with a new, “one size fits all” law that is simple, easy to understand, and (in theory) easy to accomplish. But apparently, that’s what a lot of Christians have been taught.
They’ve also been taught that Jesus invented “The Golden Rule” and that it is a wholly New Testament concept.
Except, that’s not true.
Toby pulls a story from Talmud commonly referred to as Hillel, Shammai, and the Three Converts. I won’t render the entire tale here, but the core statement, when the Rabbinic Sage Hillel is confronted with a demand by a would-be convert to teach him the Torah while the man stood on one foot (and no one can keep their balance on one foot for very long), is the response, “What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn!”
This statement is a variation of what Jesus said to his listeners in Matthew 7:12 and communicates the same thought. But the Rabbinic sages Hillel and Shammai lived and taught a full generation before Jesus began his ministry, so Jesus couldn’t have invented this teaching. Further, both Jesus and Hillel say that “the Golden Rule” is the basis of the Torah and the Prophets, which is often misinterpreted by Christians to mean that this rule replaces the Torah.
We’ll get to that in a minute, but Toby also tells his audience that Hillel didn’t invent the Golden Rule either:
…you shall love your fellow as yourself — I am Hashem.
–Leviticus 19:18 (Stone Edition Chumash)
Both Hillel and Jesus are drawing directly from a commandment in the Torah, and this is the first clue in solving our mystery:
Clue 1: The Golden Rule is a paraphrase of Leviticus 19:18.
At this point, the scene shifts to Aaron in Israel and he reads a related passage from scripture to us:
A certain sage among them asked him a question to test him, saying “Rabbi, which is the greatest mitzvah in the Torah?” Yeshua replied to him, “Love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your knowledge.” This is the greatest and first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: “Love your fellow as yourself.” The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.
–Matthew 22:35-40 (DHE Gospels)
The first commandment, Aaron tells the audience, is taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 and is part of the Shema, the most holy prayer in Judaism, which observant Jews recite twice daily. The second, as noted before, is from Leviticus 19:18
Aaron introduces a concept called “equal decrees,” which is a Jewish interpretative method used in Jesus’s day and one that Jesus was using in the above-quoted scripture. This method says that if two sections of scripture use the same and unusual words, which in this case are “And you shall love” or “ve’ahavta” in Hebrew, then they are considered related and equal to each other. Jesus is saying that there’s a relationship between Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, that they are linked and that they are equal in some manner.
Aaron also drew out that all of the Torah commandments and teachings of the Prophets hang on these two verses. In other words, all of the Torah commandments are dependent upon loving God with all of your resources and loving your fellow as yourself. Instead of replacing the Torah and the Prophets with the Golden Rule, Jesus was upholding and affirming the Torah and the Prophets, just as Hillel was (and who would ever accuse the great sage Hillel of trying to replace the Torah with a simple rule commanding kindness to others?).
It occurred to me as I listened to Aaron, that anyone who claimed to be “Torah observant” but who didn’t treat others the same way as they would want to be treated, could not actually say to be obeying the Torah of Moses, since all of the commands in Torah are utterly dependent upon loving God and loving others.
Of course, we have to consider the question, “who is my neighbor?”
But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Returning to Toby in the studio, we receive the next clue:
Clue 2: The Golden Rule summarizes the commandments of the Torah.
Now we’ll begin to address who is our neighbor or our fellow.
Then a certain sage arose to test him and said, “Teacher, what should I do to take possession of eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?” He answered and said, “Love Hashem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength, and with all of your knowledge — and your fellow as yourself.” He said to him, “You have answered well. Do this and live.”
He desired to justify himself so he said to Yeshua, “Who is my fellow?”
–Luke 10:25-29 (DHE Gospels)
Here, Luke reverses who speaks the two greatest commandments, having the sage who is testing Jesus state them. Jesus says something interesting and something I think should make Christians a little nervous. He says to the sage that if he loves God with all of his resources and his fellow as himself, if he observes these Torah mitzvot, he will live, that is, he will gain eternal life. In “Christianese,” Jesus is telling him that he will be saved if he observes the two greatest mitzvot.
This is very revealing because Jesus didn’t say “believe in me, in Jesus” or even “believe in God” but rather, you will gain salvation if you love God with everything you’ve got and if you love your fellow as yourself.
But what about this neighbor/fellow stuff?
In Luke 10:30-37, Jesus responds to the sage’s query by relating what we know as “the Parable of the Good Samaritan.” In other words, Jesus defines a neighbor not just as one’s fellow Jew, but even as someone who you don’t like very well, someone who isn’t even Jewish.
Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
–Luke 10:36-37 (NASB)
Jesus is saying that the second of the two greatest commandments, a mitzvah upon which all of the other Torah mitzvot depend, is loving any other human being, showing that person the exact same compassion that we ourselves would want to be shown. Since the second commandment is considered equal to the first, one cannot love God if that person does not show mercy to his fellow human being, any fellow human being. It doesn’t matter if that’s a fellow Jew or not (assuming you’re Jewish) or a fellow believer or not (assuming that you’re a believer). The Golden Rule, the second of the two greatest commandments, must apply to everyone you encounter, regardless of who they are. Otherwise, your love of and faith in God, as well as your much vaunted observance of Torah, means absolutely nothing.
This is also the third and final clue:
Clue 3: The Golden Rule applies universally.
Toby says that the Golden Rule is also a foretaste of the Messianic Era, an age of universal love and peace, when everyone will treat each other with compassion, kindness, and mercy. These are the ethical principles of the Messianic Age, and we can apprehend some of that age now if we just embrace the Golden Rule and live it out.
What Did I Learn?
I surprised myself in that I have been urging my own small audience on my blog to observe the Golden Rule without even realizing it. In spite of how I’m sometimes criticized for leaning a bit more toward mercy than justice in my messages, according to this FFOZ TV teaching, I seem to be on the right track. But what does that say for those out there in the Church and the Hebrew Roots movements, and all their variations, who lean more toward justice, a lot more, and barely give mercy a passing nod?
According to Jesus, both love of God and mercy toward your neighbor, who can be and in fact is everybody, is required in order to acquire eternal life, a place in the world to come, otherwise known as salvation. This is the viewpoint of the Bible that conflicts with the standard Christian version, which says all you have to do is believe in order to be saved. No behavior is required.
The Torah is indifferent to the nature of the afterlife, offering but slight comfort to the individual victim of oppression. What it does unflinchingly is to rail against those who pervert the principles and practices that enhance human life.
I get a very “Old Testament” feel from the teachings of Messiah as presented in this episode of FFOZ TV, The Golden Rule. Jesus is saying that our relationship with God, the true meaning of our faith and trust, isn’t what we think, and it’s not a warm and fuzzy feeling. Rather, it’s what we do. The nature and character of our love of God is directly reflected in how we treat other human beings, not just people who are like us, but also those who are unlike us, even those who are opposed to us.
For instance, how a believer, whether he thinks of himself as “Christian,” “Hebrew Roots follower,” or “Messianic,” speaks of and treats someone he considers an apostate, tells us more about that believer than it ever will tell us about the apostate.
No matter how much you tell yourself that you are “right” because you are quoting scripture, stating facts, stating truth, and upholding justice, if you also do not have the same mercy that the Samaritan had for the man who had been victimized by robbers, you have nothing at all from God.
A review and a cautionary tale from today’s “morning meditation.”