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Mark 10:17-18 (NASB)

The Rich Young Ruler

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do so that I may inherit eternal life?” 18 But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.

In several instances in the NT, men are called "good" yet Jesus rebukes the young man that called him "good" Why? (Matt 20: 15, 22:15, 1 Peter 2:18)

Acts 11:24 (NASB)

24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And considerable numbers were added to the Lord.

Luke 23:50 (NET Bible)

50 Now there was a man named Joseph who was a member of the council, a good and righteous man.

Why did he answer the young man as he did?

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Jesus was teaching. This man had called him ‘rabbi’ [teacher]. That is, he had not accepted that this one he was speaking to - was Yeshua, the son of God.

It’s too easy in a quick reading to assume that he did - because he is asking Jesus about ‘being saved’. No, the man thought, or saw Jesus merely as a teacher of the Law. So therefore Jesus took that position... a teacher of the Law. And, the Law clearly states that none is good except God.

That is, Jesus was teaching the Law. He was a rabbi, speaking as a Rabbi, and not speaking as ‘Jesus’. Jesus answered exactly as a Rabbi would of. Hence - ‘none is good except God.’

And the rest of the dialogue that follows clearly reflects this. Jesus answered the question as a Rabbi would of. Exactly as a Rabbi would of. That is, salvation comes by keeping the Law!

Salvation [righteousness] can come by keeping the Law, except man is incapable of keeping it to the required level. And, Jesus proved this to the man by using the full extent of the Law.

And consider this, Jesus speaking about the role of teacher ...

MAT 23:7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.

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  • "Exactly What Torah says." Do you have a reference for this? – One God the Father Apr 2 at 23:38
  • @Anthony Burg ? .... The O.T is saturated with verses proclaiming that God is good. Especially the Psalms. Just a few examples .. Psalm 135:3 Psalm 107:1, Psalm 119:68, Psalm 86:5, Psalm 106:1. But also elsewhere - 1 Samuel 2:2. etc – Dave Apr 3 at 2:27
  • I checked the first three, they say God is good but they don't say "No one is good but God." – One God the Father Apr 3 at 3:54
  • Dave : A very good answer +1 Christ had no objections to being properly identified as the teacher or master or leader, as he said it was well that they called him such, but when designations were linked in a title-setting commonly used to address rabbis in a flattering way he did protest. Mt 23:7-10 That the rich ruler was using “Good Teacher” as a formalistic title rather than as expressing his honest conviction concerning Jesus is shown by his rejection of Jesus’ advice. He deserved rebuke. Please edit and insert Mt 23:7-10 for the correct answer. Tks. – Ozzie Ozzie Apr 3 at 8:34
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    @Anthony Burg Yes, the O.T. Does say ‘no one is good, only God’. It says this by not saying anyone else is. That is, by omission. It declares there is only one who is good, who is the source of goodness. Repeatedly. The scriptures declare it. But, if you are asking for one specific verse that says this exactly, can’t help. – Dave Apr 3 at 18:16
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In order to answer your question, we need to take into account the rest of the conversation between Jesus and the rich young man:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22)

Jesus is challenging the young man’s concept of “good” because the young man thinks that by obeying the Law he will be good enough to inherit eternal life. Jesus knows better. Jesus knows that good works and good deeds have no bearing on the matter. Check out the lesson he delivers to his own disciples in the following verses of Mark chapter 10.

Although the young man had devoted himself to keeping the commandments, he had failed to keep the first and greatest of the commandments, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Matthew 22:37-38). The man’s riches were of more worth to him than God, and thus he was not "good" in the eyes of God. Jesus’ lesson is that goodness flows not from a man’s deeds, but rather from God Himself.

Unless a person is prepared to give up everything and follow Jesus, no amount of goodness or good deeds will avail. By making a clear distinction between man’s standard of goodness and God’s standard, it becomes clear that following Jesus is good. After all, Jesus himself is “good”:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).

Jesus rightly condemned the teachers of the law, and the Pharisees because of their false pride. On the other hand, Jesus himself declared

Nor are you to be called 'teacher' for you have one Teacher, the Christ (Matthew23:8-12).

Christ Jesus rightly is our teacher, or Rabbi, and he is good.

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    "Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone." "Jesus himself is “good”" Are you saying because Jesus is God, therefore Jesus isn't denying he's good in the first statement? If so, was he misleading the young man? – One God the Father Apr 3 at 17:56
  • @one everything Jesus said about himself was misleading if he is God all along. This is classic case of he is God when we want him to be, and not God when we don't. Jesus 'learned obedience by his sufferings'. Does God need to learn too? Jesus became 'good' at his death and resurrection with the potential to sin gone forever! – user48152 May 9 at 3:33
  • @user48152 Right - I suspect we agree that trinitarians want to have their cake and eat it too on things like this. – One God the Father May 9 at 3:45
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Please note that Jesus did not rebuke that sincere young man for address himself as “Good Teacher”. Jesus rebuked him for allowing his great wealth to hold him back from loving God as fully as he should. Jesus simply asked him a question as to WHY he had used that adjective ‘good’ in his salutation. He did not challenge the young man about it. He simply added a statement about the goodness of God as a precursor to what he would say next. The young man was meant to consider Jesus’ answer in light of the fact of only God being truly good.

I say ‘truly good’ because of the obvious fact which you have mentioned, that the Bible uses the adjective ‘good’ several times in conjunction with various humans. But we make a category error if we think we can even begin to compare our goodness with that of God! Relatively speaking, we may observe degrees of goodness with humans, but the Bible shows that “There is no-one who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12). That is why, when God caused all his goodness to pass before Moses (Exodus 33:19) verse 18 shows that that equates with God’s glory. That is why God alone can be said to be truly good, while no sinful human can even begin to approach such divine goodness. But Jesus was without sin. Those of us who believe that to be the case can, therefore, view his question to the man from a different perspective from that of people who think Jesus was no more than a good man:

‘Do you realise, young man, that by calling me ‘Good’, you are calling me God?’ That, of course, could never have been the unspoken point of Jesus’ question if he was no more than a man. But it would have been if the sinless man, Jesus, was God incarnate. This is why this section of scripture is so profound and so important. We all need to think about only God being truly and incomparably good, with all sinful humans only being relatively good, from the human point of view. But from God’s point of view, none of us are good as he is good.

Now go back again to the account in Mark 10, and search more carefully for where Jesus’ rebuke lay. I suggest you will find his rebuke in verses 23 to 25, not verse 18. His rebuke is aimed at every single person who allows their love of riches to prevent them from totally loving God, and who won’t dispense with their wealth in order to start following Jesus (should they love their wealth more than they love Jesus). The point of Jesus’ words shows us all what will prevent us from entering into the kingdom of God – love of money. That agrees with a similar warning Jesus gave to religious people who loved money and who despised him. Read Luke 16:13-31 about a rich man there.

In summary, Jesus answered that man as he did to stop him in his tracks. The young man was going along the lines of legalism in order to inherit eternal life (as if doing A, B, and C would entitle him to inherit). Of course Jesus knew, as the Psalmist said, “The law of God is perfect” (19:7) and that was why he loved that man, who genuinely strove to keep all of that law. But by not admitting that he was imperfect, and that his failure to totally keep that law showed him to be a sinner who could never merit eternal life by perfectly keeping that law, he had (up till then) missed the point of the law of God. Jesus was helping him see the point. If only God was good, no human could claim to be good at keeping the law (Jesus’ excepted of course). And, Jesus being the exception to that fact, should cause us to consider how he was the only human to fulfil the law, therefore Jesus WAS truly good. Finally, by telling the man to sell up, give to the poor and then to follow him, Jesus was showing up one of the biggest barriers to entering into the kingdom of God – love of money.

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    @Ozzie Anne is absolutely correct. Look at the question? "What shall I do to inherit eternal life." This is the context, not whether or not Jesus is a good teacher, a Rabbi, was He teaching the Law or even the cultural aspect you brought up. Were all sinners, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Jeremiah 17:9, The heart is more deceitful than all else, And desperately wicked, who can know it." The man did not want to part with his stuff. To him it was more important than following God who of course is good. Jesus continues the conversation with His disciples at vs 23-30. So Ozzie, how good was Jesus? – Mr. Bond Apr 3 at 19:36
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    @Anne Excellent post and it hits the mark. +1. Keep up the good work. – Mr. Bond Apr 3 at 19:39
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    @Anne very well said, upvoted +1. Your post caused me to wonder if the rich young man considered himself "good", and Jesus response illustrated that the young man had the wrong idea (or at least an incomplete one) about what "good" really is. – Hold To The Rod Apr 4 at 3:06
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    @Ozzie Ozzie In response, I quote some poetic points of a friend on this matter: "One who is good come to teach what is good. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The second man is the Lord from heaven, a quickening Spirit. In me, that is in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing. Teaching me good is not enough. I already have a Law to keep. But the good that I would, I do not. Wretched man. There is none good but God. And the Logos was from the beginning. The Logos was before the Law. In him was Life. Life is in a Person. Not in me. I cannot keep God's Law by my own good. (continued) – Anne Apr 4 at 8:03
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    And that Life was the Light (not knowledge) An indwelling Spirit. A quickening Spirit. Christ within. And the handwriting of ordinances nailed to the cross.” – Anne Apr 4 at 8:04
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Overview
Jesus' statement is a response to what the man said:

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10 ESV)

17 καὶ ἐκπορευομένου αὐτοῦ εἰς ὁδὸν προσδραμὼν εἷς καὶ γονυπετήσας αὐτὸν ἐπηρώτα αὐτόν διδάσκαλε ἀγαθέ τί ποιήσω ἵνα ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω 18 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεός

In terms of the Gospel, Mark gave the answer before the question was asked:

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10)

One must come to Jesus and receive the kingdom of God like a little child to have eternal life.

Had the man been present when Jesus taught, the "rebuke" is because he wants something more to inherit eternal life: "Good teacher what [more] must I do to inherit eternal life?" In this sense the literary effect is for the benefit of the reader who might question whether entrance to the kingdom of God can really be that simple. If the man had been present, a more reasonable question might be, "Good teacher, how can I [a grown man] come to you like a child?"

"Good"
Good is ἀγαθός, which, as the OP notes, is used to describe others who are not God. The simple way to reconcile what Jesus said with the use elsewhere, is to preserve the character of the word, which is an adjective, not a noun. In other words, "Why do you call me good [teacher]. No one is good [teacher] except God alone."

Even if the implied sense of "teacher" is discounted, the adjective lacks a noun or pronoun and in that way what Jesus said cannot be used to claim an exclusive application of "good" to God: as the other uses in Scripture show. "No one is good except God" is not an exact equivalent to "God is a good God."

If the implied "teacher" is presumed, then the sense of what Jesus says takes on additional significance. Again, had the man been present for the earlier message, Jesus rebuke is not about the word "good" but in the application of the word to teacher. That is, if the use of adjective means only God is a good teacher why do you call me "good teacher?" Notice how the man responds to the rebuke:

And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (Mark 10:20)

He no longer calls Jesus "good" and while the pericope ends with the man leaving because of his unwillingness to sell his possessions, the overarching issue is his unwillingness to insist Jesus is in fact "good" and come to Him as a child.

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  • Revelation Lad: A very good answer +1 – Ozzie Ozzie Apr 3 at 17:54
  • Great tie in with what had just been taught about becoming as a child. I do believe the Gospel authors tied pericopes together to make a point. In fact I suspect this was part of Jesus' teaching style. Upvoted +1 – Hold To The Rod Apr 4 at 3:10
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At Mark 10:17 the man first addresses Jesus as "Good Teacher, and ask, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

The man's understanding of "good" was achievement, but Jesus turned his attention toward God, the author and true standard of all that is morally good. How do I know this? By reading Matthew 16-22. At verse 18-19 Jesus explains to the man which commandments should he keep?

At verse 20 the man said all of them. At verse 21 Jesus says if you want to be complete sell your possessions and give them to the poor etc. Now comes the "heart" (pun intended) of the matter. The man was unwilling to part with his "stuff" and was grieved about it.

The man had asked the question on the basis of works, "What must I do?" So as I said, Jesus was turning his attention toward God. By the way, Jesus was "NOT" denying His own inherent goodness and thus His deity.

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  • On this interpretation, is Jesus saying "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God" ironically and with a wry smile, perhaps even a wink? – One God the Father Apr 2 at 21:08
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    @AnthonyBurg No, I think Jesus was dead serious. Jesus says to His disciples at Matthew 19:23, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. vs24, "And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Jesus is not playing around! And like I said, the issue/context has nothing to do with Jesus being good or bad. Remember 1 Peter 2:22, "Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth." How can Jesus not be good since He is inherently perfect? – Mr. Bond Apr 2 at 21:24
  • I don't understand this at all. Are you saying Jesus is good, but was misleading the man by asking "Why do you call me good?" – One God the Father Apr 2 at 21:27
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    @AnthonyBurg No Anthony. People who do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, (like you) often times use what Jesus said against Him. The argument goes like this? How can Jesus say only God is good if you claim Jesus is God as well? Jesus was not including Himself as not being good. He was pointing out to the rich young ruler that you have to be willing to give up everything to follow Him/God. The man was not willing to give up his riches. Another question is, "If Jesus is God how come He does not know the day or hour of His own return? Jesus is functioning as a man. – Mr. Bond Apr 2 at 23:16

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