The Golden Rule Is Older than You Think!

(Christ Carrying the Cross c. 1565 by Titian, via Creative Commons)



Confucius and Jesus Preached the Golden Rule Centuries Apart

Most people know that one of the central tenets of Jesus Christ’s way of life was the Golden Rule. As Christianity is a religion all about forgiveness, love and living a virtuous life, the Golden Rule is a perfect mantra for the faithful to remember in order to assure that they are acting like true Christians. Jesus prescribed that his disciples use the Golden Rule as a call for action; actively do for other what they would gladly receive for themselves.
Around 600 years before Christ, however, the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, developed his own Golden Rule. The Confucian Golden Rule was more about restraint. He argued that people should not do to others what they would not want done to themselves. Both rules suggest that we should think of others before we act, but Christ and Confucius approached it from opposite angles.




(Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hoffman c. 1889, via Creative Commons)


The Christian Golden Rule can be found in the New Testament of the Bible. Matthew 7:12 states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Zondervan NIV Bible). Jesus preached the rule near the start of the 1st century CE, but it was never put on paper before the gospels began to be written decades after Jesus’ crucifixion. The Gospel of Matthew (which includes the Golden Rule) was written in the 80s CE.[i] The Golden Rule found in Matthew is arguably one of the most influential lines of the Bible, fueling much of the missionary mentality found in the Christian church. The rule asks Christians to do to others what they desire for themselves—including salvation.



(Confucius c. 1770, Creative Commons)


 Confucius had a similar, but inverted, idea of the Golden Rule centuries before Jesus. Thought to have lived in the turn of the 6thcentury into the 5th century BCE, Confucius roamed China teaching the aristocracy how to be wise gentlemen.[ii] Confucius’ Golden Rule can be found multiple times in his Analects. In Book V of the Analects, Confucius wrote, “What I do not want others to do to me, I have no desire to do to others.”[iii] In Book XII, he states the rule again. “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.”[iv] While Jesus’ rule calls for Christians to act when they may feel hesitant, Confucius’ rule restrains people from acting rashly or selfishly. The missionary example remains telling—Christians are called to be traveling missionaries and Confucians are not. Confucians do not evangelize.




(Statue of Confucius, via Creative Commons)


 The Golden Rules of Christ and Confucius are both wise sayings to apply to life. Is one rule better than the other? Christians and Confucians likely believe their specific rules to be superior. Whichever rule you choose, you will be well equipped for life, for they both teach the wisdom of thinking of others before acting.


[i] Joseph H Lynch. Early Christianity: A Brief History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pg 5.


[ii] The Analects of Confucius translated by Arthur Waley. New York: Random House, Inc (Vintage Books), 1989. Pg. 16.


[iii] The Analects of Confucius translated by Arthur Waley. New York: Random House, Inc (Vintage Books), 1989. Pg. 110.


[iv] The Analects of Confucius translated by Arthur Waley. New York: Random House, Inc (Vintage Books), 1989. Pg. 162.



  1. The Golden Rule
    … the ethic of reciprocity …is found in the sacred scriptures of almost every religion in the world. It has been called the most concise and general principle of ethics people can live by.

    Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Jesus
    We should conduct ourselves toward others as we would have them act toward us. Aristotle 384 BCE
    And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself. Baha’i Epistle to Son of the Wolf
    Cherish reciprocal benevolence, which will make you an anxious for another’s welfare as your own. Aristippus of Cyrene 365 BCE
    Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. Buddhism The Buddha
    We are as much alive as we keep the Earth alive. Aboriginal Chief Dan George
    All things whatsoever ye would then men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Christianity Matt 7:12
    ‘Shu’: do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.” Confucianism Analects
    Do not unto another that you would not have him do unto you. Thou needest this law alone. It is the foundation of all the rest. Confucius 500 BCE
    This is the sum of duty: do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain. Hinduism The Mahabharata
    No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. Islam Hadith
    In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self. Jainism
    What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. Judaism The Talmud
    Whatever thou hatest thyself, that do not to another. Judaism
    Do not to your neighbour what you would take ill from him. Pittacus 650 BCE
    What you wish your neighbours to be to you, be also to them. Sextus (Pythagorean) 406 BCE
    Don’t create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone Sikhism. Guru Arjan Devji, 259
    Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss. Taoism
    Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing. Thales 464 BCE
    And it harm none, do what thou wilt. Wiccan Rede
    One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it himself to feel how it hurts. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)
    Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others. Zoroastrianism Shayast-na

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