In a word, no.
That’s John Meier’s conclusion, anyway, and I’m afraid he’s probably right. So much for the secular wisdom championed by Christianity’s founder. I’ll soon be reviewing Meier’s long-awaited fourth volume of A Marginal Jew, but I wanted to blog right away about the Golden Rule. For whatever reason, I always took Mt 7:12/Lk 6:31 to be securely authentic, no doubt on strength of popularity. Everyone likes this rule, even atheists, and I warm to it even knowing that it’s flawed in principle. By the standards of Jesus’ day, it’s fine wisdom. But why is it not Jesus’ wisdom?
Meier shows that the Golden Rule doesn’t meet any of the criteria of authenticity, least of all discontinuity, enjoying a wide reputation in the Greco-Roman world, going back as far as Herodotus and the sophists. In the NT the saying is only singularly attested (in Q according to Meier, in Matthew according to Farrer-advocates like me) and seems to have been placed on the lips of Jesus by those who revered him as an ethical master (pre-Q or Q, according to Meier; pre-Matthew or the Matthean community itself, I would say), attributing common wisdom to him.
The Golden Rule is thoroughly inconsistent with Jesus’ demands stated elsewhere, and thus unable to meet even the criterion of coherence. Jesus criticized the ethic of reciprocity left and right (“if you love those who love you, what credit do you gain?”, “if you give loans to those from whom you hope to receive payment, what credit do you gain?”, etc.), and the Golden Rule is all about reciprocity. It just doesn’t square with the preachings of an uncompromising apocalyptic. “The clash between the Golden Rule and Jesus’ withering blast against a morality of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ is as astounding as it is little noted by Christians.” (A Marginal Jew, Vol 4, p 556) Yes, Jesus could have been inconsistent (as the ever-wise Dale Allison reminds us), but there are understandable inconsistencies and not-so-understandable ones, and this one is a glaring example of the latter.
Since the Golden Rule fails the criteria with flying colors, we should join Meier in bidding it farewell from our reconstruction of the historical Jesus.