It strains credulity that Christ considered anyone righteous before Him, and yet:

Luke 5:31-32: "[Jesus] answered [the Pharisees and their scribes] and said to them, 'It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.'”

Some Pharisees, as with Nicodemus, surely did recognize their sinfulness. Is there more to this than merely self-righteousness on display, or was Jesus being literal? Were some considered righteous having obeyed the Law, just as the rich young ruler in Luke 18? Surely, Moses, Joshua, etc. fit such a description?


6 Answers 6


To answer your main question, there are none righteous in Luke 5:31. Christ is speaking ironically here. Even though His metaphor about the healthy people not needing a doctor (symbolic for sinners needing a savior) is true, there are no people who fit into that category. I don’t believe Christ is purposefully being sarcastic or sardonic here since this event happens very early in Christ’s earthly ministry. I believe He is laying the foundation for more direct confrontations down the road.

Jesus gives us a clue at His intentions in a parallel passage in Matthew 9:

But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Verse 13 gives us a good piece of information for here lies the crux of the reason for Christ’s mission. Christ came to make obsolete the Old Testament Covenant of attaining righteousness on your own by the works of the Law of Moses and the animal sacrifice system (tied to His words “and not sacrifice”) and then instituting the New Testament Covenant of Grace (tied to His words “I will have mercy”). So He is instructing the Pharisees to go look into the Old Testament scriptures further to see how verses like Hosea 6:6 square with their current law driven doctrine. He is slowly introducing them to the New Covenant.

Hosea 6:6: For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

This view would be completely consistent with NT doctrine as Paul states Romans 3:23:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

And in Romans 3:10:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

So, this scene in Luke 5 is as you depicted in your question, on display here is nothing but the self righteousness of the Pharisees for they just like the rich young ruler, Moses, Joshua and even Job are all sick and in need of a physician.

  • 3
    Great answer - "took the words out of my mouth". +1. We all need Jesus' repentance.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 3:08
  • 1
    @Dottard thanks, and nice put on repentance. Most people don't see repentance that way thinking it's just a remorse for sin. I believe the improper view of repentance is a stumblingblock for most people preventing them from properly seeing the true definition of the gospel.
    – alb
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 11:20
  • 3
    Your statement: Christ came to make obsolete the Old Testament Covenant of attaining righteousness on your own by the works of the Law " -- Even in the OT, righteousness was attained by Faith only - not by works. See Genesis 15: 6 - Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. The means of attaining righteousness is the same in both Covenants. The Animal sacrifices were symbolic pointing forward to Christ.
    – dezkev
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 6:59
  • 1
    @dezkev Good point, you are absolutely correct. However, that was true only for those who could see it. The religious establishment in Israel could not. 2 Corinthians 3 tells us that every time the Law of Moses was read in Israel there was a veil over the heart of the hearer just like the veil over the face of Moses. Christ came to lift that veil and make His New Covenant by faith an obvious Covenant of liberty via the Spirit; "and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." 2 Cor 3:17
    – alb
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 11:40
  • 3
    Well, it was true for everyone.. Romans 9: Rom 9:31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Rom 9:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 11:46

Nobody! Because “every man is liar, only God is true” (Romans 3:4), or as Søren Kierkegaard writes, “in relation to God we are always in the wrong”, therefore all men without any exception needs the Redeemer, the heavenly Physician - Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus, the Lord applies irony here: “you Pharisees are healthy, need not Me, can do salvation and self-healing by yourself, oh, pardon! - what 'salvation', what ‘self-healing’, when you are already self-saved and as healthy as trouts climbing waterfall!” But in fact He ridicules, ironicizes their stupidity and arrogant self-conceit.

What to do? When malady is so great, then irony or even sarcasm can be applied as a bitter medicine.


The answer is in Luke 15 the righteous are those that has no need of repentance.

In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7)


It matters where the emphasis lands. If it lands on righteous you have the predicament your question highlights. If however the emphasis falls on repentance then the righteous comment takes on a certain understanding.

• Repentance - to change ones mind

This is contrasted to the analogy of a doctor/physician not being needed by the healthy.

Jesus didn’t come to change the mind of those who think correctly, he came to change the minds of those who think incorrectly and incorrect thinking means breaking the law or sinning.

Essentially Jesus is saying that He doesn’t need to help someone who thinks righteous thoughts, He is needed by those who are sinners and need to change their thought process.

“as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭3:10-12‬ ‭

Note how none is righteous is followed by no one understands, or no one thinks correctly. This is a matter of repentance or changing the mind to fit God’s way of thinking.

This is a matter of the MIND

““Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭55:6-8‬ ‭

Notice that God places emphasis on the thought process. The unrighteous man must forsake his THOUGHTS and return (repent) change his mind back to God.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭55:9‬ ‭

To answer your question, who are the righteous? They are those who thinking correctly and have the mind of God/Christ.

To answer your inferred question, were there righteous men who had the mind of God? Yes indeed

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭1:7‬ ‭

For the fear of the Lord has to do with the MIND, wisdom and instruction

“Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭28:14‬ ‭

As opposed to hardening of the heart

“Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭25:12‬ ‭

Consider that it’s not self righteousness but obedience to God in the fear of the Lord that is counted as righteousness.

““And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.” ‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭33:12-16‬ ‭


In Luke, Jesus speaks about the righteous not needing a physician. Just who were the righteous? (Luke 5:31)

The Righteous, who are they:

Righteous are those that their words and deeds are guided by wisdom, based on the scriptures, those doing so have the “riches and glory” that exist with wisdom. They include a peaceful relationship with God and our fellow man, a sense of well-being, and a measure of stability. Yes, “the tent of the upright ones” can flourish even now.

Proverbs 8:18 NASB

18 Riches and honor are with me, Enduring wealth and righteousness.

King Solomon gives answers to these questions when comparing the righteous and the wicked -

Proverbs 10:15-32 NASB

The rich person’s wealth is his [a]fortress, The ruin of the poor is their poverty. 16 The [b]wages of the righteous is life, The income of the wicked, punishment. 17 One who is on the path of life follows instruction, But one who ignores a rebuke goes astray. 18 One who conceals hatred has lying lips, And one who spreads slander is a fool. 19 When there are many words, wrongdoing is unavoidable, But one who restrains his lips is wise.

20 The tongue of the righteous is like choice silver, The heart of the wicked is worth little. 21 The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of [c]understanding. 22 It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, And He adds no sorrow to it. 23 Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool, And so is wisdom to a person of understanding. 24 What the wicked fears will come upon him, But the desire of the righteous will be granted.

25 When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, But the righteous have an everlasting foundation. 26 Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, So is the [d]lazy one to those who send him. 27 The fear of the Lord prolongs [e]life, But the years of the wicked will be shortened. 28 The hope of the righteous is gladness, But the expectation of the wicked perishes.

29 The way of the Lord is a stronghold for the upright, But ruin to the workers of injustice. 30 The righteous will never be shaken, But the wicked will not live in the land. 31 The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom, But the perverted tongue will be cut out. 32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable,But the mouth of the wicked, what is perverted.


It strains credulity that Christ considered anyone righteous before Him,

Indeed, so we should take that into account in interpreting his words.

and yet:

Luke 5:31-32: "[Jesus] answered [the Pharisees and their scribes] and said to them, 'It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.'”

You interpret this to imply that Jesus acknowledged the existence of righteous human beings, but as you already recognize, that is implausible. That Jesus sets up a division into categories does not mean that all the categories are non-empty. It is a rhetorical device, by which he expresses that he is going where he is most needed, and where he will actually be received.

The context is important here, too. Jesus is responding to criticism from a group a Pharisees about him spending time with people less righteous than they considered themselves to be. Although Jesus surely did not recognize any of them as possessing saving righteousness, his words speak to any who thought that of themselves. "Why would I come to you if you don't need me?" is what he says those particular critics.

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.