2

[Luk 18:18-19 KJV] (18) And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (19) And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.

Jesus doesn't just deny that he himself is "good" but he denies that anyone is good (αγαθος) except God.

Luke describes Barnabas as "a good man":

Act 11:24 for he was a good (αγαθος) man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

BDAG lists αγαθος when referring to deities as referring to their beneficence (I cite only the relevant part of BDAG here):

② pert. to meeting a high standard of worth and merit, good ⓐ as adj. α. of humans and deities (the primary focus is on usefulness to humans and society in general, so Pind.+, s. AAdkins Merit and Responsibility ’60, 189f) beneficent, of God (Dio Chrys. 80 [30], 26 οἱ θεοί; Zoroaster in Philo Bybl.: 790 Fgm. 4, 52 Jac. [Eus. PE 1, 10, 52] God is ἀγαθῶν ἀγαθώτατος. Sallust. 1 πᾶς θεὸς ἀγαθός; contrast Did., Gen. 109, 3 ὁ διάβολος οὐ φύσει κακός … ἐστίν, ἀλλὰ … ἀγαθὸς γέγονεν.—Cp. IKosPH 92, 6f which calls Nero ἀ. θεός, ἀγαθὸς δαίμων [OGI 666, 3; POxy 1021, 8, both referring to Nero; POxy 1449, 4; s. also JKroll, D. Lehren d. Hermes Trismeg. 1914, 90; Rtzst., Erlösungsmyst. 189; 191ff] and Sb 349 θεῷ ἀγαθῷ Διὶ Ἡλίῳ; Philo, Leg. All. 1, 47 al.; Celsus 4, 14) Mt 19:17b (in Cleanthes, Stoic. I 127, 3ff [Eus. PE 13, 13, 37], a description of God follows the question τἀγαθὸν ἐρωτᾷς μʼ οἷόν ἐστʼ; cp. Orig., C.Cels. 3, 70, 9; Did., Gen. 98, 28); Mk 10:18b (Unknown Sayings 33–36); Lk 18:19b; Dg 8:8 (on these passages cp. Simonid., Fgm. 4, 6f χαλεπὸν ἐσθλὸν [=ἀγαθός ln. 10] ἔμμεναι; 7 θεὸς ἂν μόνος τοῦτʼ ἔχοι γέρας); μόνος ἀ. ἐστιν ibid.; πατὴρ ἀ. 1 Cl 56:16 (Philo, Op. M. 21 ἀ. εἶναι τὸν πατέρα κ. ποιητήν); ἀ. ἐν τ. ὁρωμένοις good in the visible world 60:1.—Of Christ Mk 10:17, 18a (DomGMurray, Downside Review 103, ’85, 144–46, w. ref. to Pirke Aboth 6, 3); Lk 18:18, 19a (WWagner, ZNW 8, 1907, 143–61; FSpitta, ibid. 9, 1908, 12–20; BWarfield, PTR 12, 1914, 177–228; WCaspari, Christent. u. Wissensch. 8, ’32, 218–31.—Cp. also the saying of Pythagoras in Diog. L., Prooem. 12, who does not wish to be called σοφός because μηδένα εἶναι σοφὸν ἀλλʼ ἢ θεόν); p 4 J 7:12.—Of humans, other than Jesus Mt 12:35; Ro 5:7; D 3:8; νομοθέται B 21:4; πονηροί τε καὶ ἀ. good and bad designating a motley crowd Mt 22:10. Same contrast 5:45 (cp. Jos., Ant. 8, 314). βελτίονα ποιεῖν make better 1 Cl 19:1; βελτίω γενέσθαι become better Dg 1; kind, generous (X., Cyr. 3, 3, 4; CIG 37, 49) Mt 20:15 (in Mk 10:17f=Lk 18:18 [s. above] it is understood as kind by JWellhausen, EKlostermann, Billerb., Wagner, Spitta, Dalman [Worte 277], EHirsch [D. Werden des Mk ’41, 246]); δεσπόται benevolent 1 Pt 2:18 (cp. PLips 40 II, 19, where a slave says ὁ ἀγαθὸς δεσπότης μου). δοῦλος (Heraclitus, Ep. 9, 3 [p. 212, 4 Malherbe]) Mt 25:21, 23; Lk 19:17. ἀνήρ (Teles p. 16, 6; Diod S 20, 58, 1; Epict. 3, 24, 51 al.; PLond I, 113/1, 8 p. 201; 2 Macc 15:12; 4 Macc 4:1; Jos., Bell. 5, 413, Ant. 18, 117; JGerlach, ΑΝΗΡ ΑΓΑΘΟΣ, diss. Munich ’32) Lk 23:50; Ac 11:24; νέαι Tit 2:5. ἀπόστολοι superb 1 Cl 5:3...

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., pp. 3–4). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

So what's going on here?

The rich young ruler had addressed him as "good teacher" (διδασκαλε αγαθε) which I would think was not an unusually lofty way to address a rabbi, though I don't really know. Was it?

I've heard the idea that Jesus was hinting that he himself was God. I find that notion 180 degrees out from what is actually going on.

So what is going on?

  • Possibly related: 1Ki 14:13 KJV - 13 And all Israel shall mourn for him, and bury him: for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found some good thing toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam. – Ruminator Mar 9 '19 at 14:18
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The first instance you are referring to is found in Matthew and Mark:

Matthew 19:16–17 (KJV 1900)

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

Mark 10:17–18

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

As you point out, the word for "good" in both cases is ἀγαθός.

Jesus' correction was not so much in the young man's calling him "good" but rather "good teacher" (ἀγαθός διδάσκαλος). One commentary (by Theophylact) explains:

Why does Jesus say in reply to him, "There is none good but One"? Because the young man had approached Jesus as if Jesus were only a man, and only one among teachers. This is what Christ is saying: If you call Me good thinking that I am a teacher, I say that no man is good in comparison to God. But if you call Me good thinking that I am God, why do you call Me Teacher? By these words Christ wished to draw the young man to a higher understanding, so that he would recognize Jesus as God.1

There is also another distinction here in that "good" is being used as an appellation by the young man, which could be interpreted as mere flattery. "Jesus also said this to correct something else ... when we speak with some one, we should not speak words of flattery. Instead, understanding that God is the root and source of all goodness, we should give honor to him alone."2


1 Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Mark (tr. from Greek, Chrysostom Press, 1993),p.85
2 Ibid.

  • But Jesus says in John 13:13, "You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say rightly, for so I am" – Sola Gratia May 19 '17 at 18:08
  • @SolaGratia: As Constable remarked: "13:13 'Teacher' translates the Hebrew 'Rabbi' (Gr. didaskalos) and 'Lord,' the Aramaic 'Mari' (Gr. kyrios). The title 'Lord' took on deeper meaning after the Resurrection as Christians began to understand better who Jesus is (cf. 20:28; Acts 2:36; Phil. 2:9-11). Both titles were respectful and acknowledged Jesus’ superiority over His disciples." What I'm saying in essence is "Apples and oranges." Two different audiences. Two different reasons for using similar vocabulary. Broadly speaking, two different levels of spiritual maturity. Don – rhetorician Jun 16 '17 at 18:21
  • I believe that when Our Lord says He is truly Teacher and lord/Lord that He does fundamentally, and not only superficially contradict the interpretation as given by Theophylact. I interpret Our Lord's words as Jesus' typical rhetorical style: He uses the retelling of basic truths to a didactive end: if there is none good but God—you know I'm teaching you, and I don't deny or reject being called a Teacher—you should then all the sooner be able to tell I am of God, indeed I came forth from God, by the good teaching of mine which your conscience stirs you to believe. – Sola Gratia Jun 16 '17 at 19:22
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Disclaimer: I have no formal training in biblical languages.

Short answer:

I would render it like this:

"Every truly valuable generous impulse and every truly valuable gift comes from above..."


In my answer at this link I argue that a "perfect gift" is one that is one that is given by a perfect giver: one whose giving is in the same unmixed generosity as God's giving:

What does James 1:17 mean by 'perfect gift'?

But it is the act of giving itself that is described in the first clause, not the gift. "Every good act of giving". We might say "Every valuable generous impulse and every truly valuable gift comes from above".

This is because it is not human to be free from self interest. God is free because he is all powerful. He has everything on every shelf in every Walmart.

But the craft and deceit for sex and money of which men are capable is not to be underestimated:

[Jer 17:9 KJV] (9) The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Confronted with a command to not covet Paul could not comply!

Only those born of God can and do truly love and are truly good because they are born of God and his seed remains in them.

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