(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.