The Golden Rule

Another entry in my list of extra-biblical traditions in the New Testament.

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” – Rabbi Hillel, Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

This example of New Testament references to extra-biblical traditions is one of the most interesting, in my opinion. Rabbi Hillel lived from about 110 BC – AD 10 and spent about 40 years of his life, ca. 30 BC – AD 10, living and teaching in Jerusalem. He is one of the most important figures in Jewish history and is still honored by Jews today as the quintessential rabbi; his life is often compared with that of the Prophet Moses. What’s very interesting is that he was a rabbi in Jerusalem during the time that Christ would have visited the Temple as a boy when he was found among the rabbis listening and asking questions (Luke 2:46). Christ may have heard this very sentence from the lips of Rabbi Hillel himself and repeated it to his own disciples (and quite authoritatively, I might add) almost 30 years later.

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3 comments

  1. Well there is a definite difference between Jesus's and Hillel's golden rule. The first is active while the later is passive.

    This difference can be expressed in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus's golden rule compels us to act. Hillel's golden rule only compels us not to be the robber that accosted the victim — it's okay to ignore the victim as the Priest and the Levite did.

  2. Anil:

    Definitely. I think that perhaps Christ was doing the same with Rabbi Hillel's rule (which his listeners would have more than likely been familiar with) as he often did with the Old Testament writings, such as in Matthew 5:20-22, as he took the Law and expanded it beyond the letter to the spirit and meaning.

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