The Golden Rule Apologetic
© Copyright 2003 by Bob Passantino
Nearly everyone is familiar with the "Golden Rule" even if they don't realize
that it comes to us in its perfect form as a command of Jesus: "In everything, do to
others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the
Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). 
This command to deal fairly with others should govern
everything we do as Christians, including how we defend our faith.
Taken within the context of Jesus's other teachings, the Golden Rule is a
minimalist argument, that is, the conduct commanded in the Golden Rule is the least
one can do acting in imitation of the love of God. As a matter of fact, in many other
places Jesus tells us that the superior commandment is not merely to be fair to
others, to treat them as we would like to be treated, but even to excel in love toward
others. He tells us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27, 35) and to forgive someone
repeatedly (Matt.18:21-22). Jesus Himself provided the best example of this Better-than-the-Golden-Rule: He sacrificed Himself willingly for us while we were still
sinners, deserving nothing better than God's condemnation:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless,
Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous
man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still
sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).
The maximalist argument we could call the "Platinum Rule," exemplified in Paul's
command to the Christians in Philippi, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain
conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3).
Whether minimalist or maximalist, the command to treat others fairly is a
command Christians can't ignore, even when we are practicing apologetics, which is
defending the faith. Years ago I was disturbed by the attitudes and arguments some
Christians were using as they defended the faith, arguing with non-believers,
cultists, and those of other faiths. Far too often I saw Christians making fun of the
beliefs of others, taking unfair advantage of them in discussions, even
misrepresenting the truth or their opponents' arguments if they thought they could
get away with it. I began to encourage others to remember the Golden Rule when
they were practicing apologetics. At first I called this the "Golden Rule of
Apologetics" - the Golden Rule has a place in our apologetics. Although that is
true and sufficient, I quickly began to see people respond to my encouragement by
using the Golden Rule selectively in their apologetics - when it served their purpose
and they thought they couldn't get away with anything else.
Over the years I have modified my principle and now I call it the "Golden
Rule Apologetic" - the only apologetic system worth pursuing is the apologetic
system that is governed by the Golden Rule. There is good biblical and
philosophical precedent for this principle.
The passage we chose to exemplify the ministry of Answers In Action is 2
And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be
kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him
he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance
leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
Paul reminds Timothy to be kind and to gently instruct; in other words, to practice
the Golden Rule with those who oppose the Gospel.
In 1 Peter 3:15b-16, which actually uses the word apologia (defense or
reason), Peter says that one's apologetics should be governed by gentleness and
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you
to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with
gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who
speak against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their
Paul uses the Golden Rule Apologetic with the Epicurean and Stoic
philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:16-31). Rather than merely mocking them for their
polytheistic beliefs, he treated them kindly and fairly, commending them for their
religious respect and using their own poets' statements as a starting point for
declaring the truth of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead.
Paul condemns religious hypocrites in Romans 2 for not following the Golden
Rule Apologetic. He argues,
Paul contrasts this hypocrisy with God's Golden Rule by which he continues to
extend his grace and mercy to sinners even though they deserve condemnation:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on
someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are
condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same
things (Rom. 2:1)
Do you show contempt for his kindness, tolerance and patience,
not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? (Rom.
In the Old Testament the principle I have applied to apologetics is applied to
the every day activities of God's people. Deuteronomy 25:13-16 gives this
Do not have two differing weights in your bag - one heavy, one
light. Do not have two differing measures in your house - one large,
one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures,
so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone
who deals dishonestly.
Leviticus 19:35-37 parallels this teaching:
Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight,
or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah
and an honest hin. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of
This is commonly referred to as the principle of "equal weights and measures."
Remember, to deal fairly and honestly is our minimal obligation under the Golden
Rule. To deal generously and better than expected is our maximal obligation which
transforms the Golden Rule into the Platinum Rule.
In philosophy a general rule called the "Principle of Charity" reflects the
Golden Rule. In philosophy, one should give the most generous understanding and
weight to what someone says. For example, if someone states his argument poorly,
rather than merely pointing out the logical mistakes he has made, the Principle of
Charity demands that his opponent correct the flaws in the argument (if they can
be), and then respond to the best form of the argument rather than his opponent's
poor form of the argument. Another application of the Principle of Charity is to
replace poor arguments with better arguments. If, for example, a Jehovah's Witness
gives two poor arguments against the deity of Christ, the Christian has the
responsibility to give that Witness the best arguments against the deity of Christ -
and then show that those arguments do not overturn the truthfulness of the deity of
Christ. Those who fail to follow the Golden Rule in philosophy end up refuting
"straw man" arguments that don't properly represent the position we oppose in the
An important part of the Golden Rule Apologetic is that you must not demand
of your opponent what you are unwilling to provide. For example, if you are
arguing with a Mormon that the Book of Mormon is full of contradictions, you must
be willing not merely to cite those contradictions, but also to provide reasonable
answers if the Mormon points to supposed contradictions in the Bible. If you launch
ten quick arguments against your opponents' view and then don't give him time to
respond, you cannot fairly complain if he does the same thing to you. On the other
hand, if you bring up one argument at a time and spend the time necessary to be sure
you both understand each other and where the evidence leads, you should feel free
to ask your opponent to have the same patience and single mindedness with you.
You can even use the Golden Rule Apologetic to defend yourself. If your
opponent makes fun of and misrepresents your view, you have every right to ask
him if he would like you to act that way toward him. I am not saying that you
should "pay him back" by mockery and misrepresentation (remember our Platinum
goal), but that you bring out your Golden Rule principle to reason your opponent
into a fair discussion.
If you apply the Golden Rule Apologetic every time you defend the Christian
faith, you will find that those of opposing beliefs will listen more closely to what
you say, respect your position even if they continue to deny it, give greater weight to
your arguments, and be more willing to examine their own beliefs. You will not
only give a good representation of Christianity, you will also be used by God to
extend his mercy and patience to others, just as it was extended to you.
The next time you are tempted to perform sloppy apologetics, to mock
someone with whom you disagree, or to dismiss opposing arguments without fair
consideration, remember the Golden Rule and practice it until it becomes the
Platinum Rule in your life.
Other versions are in the Old Testament (see, for example, Leviticus 19:18) and in the writings of other religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism).