And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

This can either be interpreted as confirming or disconfirming Christ's divinity. Are there any cues from the language or especially from the original Greek that can help explain what the exact tone of the conversation was, and if Jesus was not intending to tell the man to actually disbelieve in his deity?

  • The 'cue' as you term it, is in the words of the questioner,'Good Master, what shall I do etc.' If it is possible to do - anything to gain eternal life, then why need God be manifest in flesh ? So why call a Master (who is there only to instruct what to do) 'good' ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 16:46

3 Answers 3


Great question.

I think with certainty we can know Jesus' intention by following the outcome of their conversation to Mark 10:21

(Scriveners Textus Receptus 1894)

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

So Jesus begins in 10:18 with 'only God is good' and ends in 10:21 with 'follow me', it would be very difficult for the text to allow us an interpretation of Jesus denying His goodness, and if Jesus is not denying His goodness in this context, then He is not denying His deity.

  • 2
    A very good and succinct answer Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 21:18
  • @Levan Gigineishvili, thank you very much for your kindness. I truly appreciate it.
    – N.Ish
    Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 21:23
  • Many people have said "Follow me" without intending either that they are "good" in some absolute sense or that they are God. What is clear is that Jesus taught a works salvation.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 21:38
  • @Ruminator. Jesus did not teach what most consider a 'works salvation,' where good works actually earn, nor are rewarded with in some sense, salvation. He taught, "Apart from me you can do nothing." Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 20:53
  • @ruminator A "works salvation" has always been on the table and has also always been unattainable since and in Adam. Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 14:11

Of course Jesus accepts usage of "good" - ἀγαθός - with reference of men ("A good /ἀγαθός/ man brings out good things /ἀγαθά/ out of the treasury of good heart" /Matt 12:35/), however goodness as a divine uncreated quality does not belong to humans properly, but only by participation, which is clear from Jesus' other utterances, when He says that "those who practice truth come to light to manifest their deeds, for those deeds are done in God" (ἐν θεῷ ἐστιν ἐργασμένα) (John 3:21). Now, truth as the uncreated divine feature, alongside with goodness, also does not belong properly to men, but only by participation, and that's why it is emphasized that man cannot be truthful unless by participating in God, for exactly this is the meaning that the truthful deeds are done "in God" in John 3:21. Now, Jesus does not possess truth by participation, but properly, so that it is an ontological impossibility for Him not to possess truth, to make an analogy, it is an ontological impossibility for water not to be wet or for a circle to have angles, therefore He affirms it by saying "I am the Truth" (John 14:6).

And the same is true with the divine uncreated feature of goodness, to the effect that Jesus can say "I am the Goodness", which He says many times implicitly, for when He negates any possibility for anybody to access Father without Him, then He asserts simply His ontological inseparability from the Father, thus the source of Goodness for us is not only Father, but Father always together with the Son.

Now, in Mark 10:18 Jesus sees the inner intent and meaning of the fellow addressing Him: that he thinks that Jesus is just a good person, a good teacher who possesses goodness by participation, as any other good man. And that's why He elevates the questioner's mind, reprimanding him for belittling His status: "only God is good in the proper sense, so why are you calling Me 'good'? Do you believe Me to be God?" - thus, He both reprimands him for not thinking properly about Him, and at the same time directs his mind to understanding His divinity, that He possesses goodness not by participation, but properly, as the Father does, for He had performed miracles without prayers and invocations of the name of the Father, but out of His own authority, showing thus that His divine deeds are the same deeds as those of the Father, metaphorically calling His own deeds "finger of God" (Luke 11:20) indicating by this metaphor, that God cannot do anything but through Him, to the effect that Their divine activity is one (although the Son has also human activity which the Father does not have, but this is another issue).

Similar harsh reprimanding of Jesus was addressed to Nicodemus, that the latter could not see correctly, due to the reason that he was not born anew (John 3:3), because Nicodemus called Him a one "with whom was God" for no man could do such deeds without God being with him (John 3:2), thus belittling Jesus to a human status, having failed to see that it was not that God was with Jesus, but that Jesus did God's deeds out of His, Jesus', own authority, thus God was doing those deeds through Him and could not do otherwise any more than He could create the universe without His Logos.

Thus, He says by His question "why are you calling me good? Only God is good" that either he should not call Him good at all, if he does so with an intent to reduce His goodness to a human participatory goodness, or to call Him "good" in the same sense as God is good, for God is absolutely impotent to perform any good deed through which He is known and manifested to be good, but through His Son.

And the final of the conversation indicates just that: no prophet or good teacher could dare to change the law and say that "law is not enough, I am greater than law and follow me in order to inherit God's kingdom!" - this would be regarded from any prophet or a good teacher either as a blatant stupidity, or as a very bad joke flirting with a sacrilege, or as the very sacrilege - a blasphemy worthy of a death penalty. But Jesus provocatively utters just that "blasphemy", because as the Son of God He is above the law and can authoritatively change its relative status, moreover, substitute it altogether by His own Person.


Two things spring to mind by way of context rather than language (sorry(!)). The first is clearer: the young man comes in a section (Mk 8-10) where Jesus is teaching his would be followers what it means to truly follow him and recieve 'life later' - deny themselves. In this section the disciples fail repeatedly to grasp here the young man follows suit and fails to deny himself (sell possessions and follow Jesus) - 10:26 and 27 then follows 'who then can be saved?!' and then the famous refrain 'with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'. The Rich man here is attempting seemingly to earn his salvation - see 10:17 'Good Teacher, what must I DO...'. I think then that the 'good' in question is an exposé by Jesus challenging the man's perception of his morale standing before God. 'Whos is good but God alone? [You?]' he proceeds to tell of how he has kept commandments from birth (notice Jesus' (deliberate?) omission of the idolatry commandment from the list Jesus represents). Hope that helps?

Nb. Secondly - maybe a slight tenuous allusion to chapter 2 with the paralytic - 'who can forgive sins but God alone' Jesus will perfectly serve (chapters 8-10) and deny himself (good?) and in the process save the sinners (read offer forgiveness) not the righteous (chapter 2), so potentially we are to see that of Jesus is truly good he is also God.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.