Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
The Golden Rule
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12 NRSV)
- Immanuel Kant called this the categorical imperative: Act in such a way that you would want your action to be a universal rule. It’s an ethical principle that many of us figure should be self-evident. But if it truly were self-evident, we wouldn’t have to keep teaching it!
- The Common English Bible (CEB) adds a “therefore” to this sentence. You won’t find it in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) or the New International Version (NIV). The translators add this therefore to tie this sentence to the paragraphs before. I like this addition, even though the therefore isn’t in the Greek, because I think Jesus is still following the thought with which he began this chapter: “Do not judge others, for with the judgement you make, you will be judged.” And, in my reading, he’s telling us to trust that other people are doing their best: asking, seeking, and knocking. So it makes sense to wrap up this section by saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
- But I’ve chosen to share the NRSV version above because of one word: Panta, “In everything.” I think it calls back to Pas, “Everyone who asks, receives.” Again, I think Jesus is asking us to remember that we are all on a journey, but that those journeys may look different. It isn’t up to me to critique others’ seeking, asking, or knocking, no matter how helpful I think I’m being.
- I find it helpful to read this chapter beside Matthew 18, which talks not only about correcting a straying member of the community, but forgiving “seventy seven times.”
- “The law and the prophets” also calls back to chapter 5: “Do not think I’ve come to abolish the law and the prophets,” which was his opening argument. Jesus has come full circle. Although he has a few more instructions for his prophetic community, he’s beginning to wrap up.
- Rabbi Hillel summarized the Torah (Law) this way: “What it hateful to you, do not do to another.” Hillel also operated in Galilee, and I’d wager Jesus heard him as a child.