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There appear two very (frustratingly) different versions of Matthew 19:17 in english translations:

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. - KJV, YLT, (others)

And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” - ESV, NAS, (others)

A comparative search reveals that the majority of translations employ the latter while some few retain the former.

The former lines up very nicely with the parallel Mark account:

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. - Mark 10:18 (all translations)

and the latter constitutes a dramatic departure in meaning.

At first blush it appears that these different answers are in response to different questions:

Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? - Mark

Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” - Matthew

But the KJV confounds it even more with this:

Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? - Matthew

I assume the difference is based upon preferred manuscript usage in the translation process and I have two questions: 1) Is the double usage of the adjective "good" present only in the manuscript base used by the KJV and a select few others?, 2) If so, is this considered a more or less reliable manuscript base than those without the "double good"?

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    I've never understood why Jesus said this. No matter how you translate it, it makes no sense to me. Jesus WAS good, he was the son of God no less. And he WOULD know about what is good, being who he was. Was Jesus just being modest here?
    – moron
    Dec 10, 2021 at 19:07
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    @controlvoice Think "the Father is greater than I" and "if David then calls him lord, how is he his son?" Jesus uses words uniquely. "How" here means not "how could that be, it isn't" but "in what specific sense." Similarly, here He could be using the word "why" to mean, "what brought you to" call me good, instead of, "why, when I'm not.." I've always seen this as Jesus slowly hinting at people that He is God. After all, we 2000 years later forget how earth-shattering the incarnation is. He would be stoned by His own disciples were He not to reveal Himself over time (think Jn 16:20 x 100). May 5, 2022 at 15:32

7 Answers 7

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All of the Greek Texts on the Textus Receptus website show :

διδασκαλε αγαθε τι αγαθον ---- 'Good Master, what good ...'

for Matthew 19:16.

Stephens, Elzevir, Beza and Scrivener all agree.


All of the Greek Texts on the Textus Receptus website show :

διδασκαλε αγαθε ----- 'Good Master ...'

for Mark 10:17.

Stephens, Elzevir, Beza and Scrivener all agree.


The difference between the Textus Receptus and the Greek Text first produced by Westcott & Hort in 1881 (and then developed further by Nestle/Aland) measures about 6% (9,000 words in 140,000 words) being omissions, additions and alterations.

What is noticeable to anyone who studies this situation in detail, is what is noticeable in this particular place : that the Textus Receptus retains a strong emphasis on both the Deity of Christ and also on the relationship of the Father to the Son.

The 'Revised' text (also called the 'Critical' text) has, by putting undue weight and preponderance on two manuscripts (Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus), caused a serious divide : which needs to be addressed by anyone to whom these two issues matter.

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  • It is my understanding that Wescott and Hort believed the Majority Text to be a blending of Byzantine and Western (sort of amplified) textual traditions and, therefore, not reliable. Though this has been disproven by manuscript discoveries of the last ~140 years, W&H still holds the pole position. Also, both Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are not excellent manuscripts. There is work to be done! Dec 5, 2021 at 12:40
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    @MikeBorden Herman Hoskier (tutored by Dean John Burgon) showed in his book Code B and its Allies that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus belong to an Egyptian, Coptic recension which was later corrected. It is that correction, he says, that we should follow, not the recension.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 5, 2021 at 15:07
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This is my second answer, after deleting my first answer as per comments below. I had a look at my two Greek Interlinear translations, one claiming to be of the pedigree of texts used by the KJV. It stated, “The Nestle Greek Text with a Literal English Translation by Alfred Marshall, Including the text of the Authorised Version’ (first edition 1958) fifth edition 1984.” It is now clear from other answers that Textus Receptus texts long predating that one, such as Stephens, Elzevir, Beza and Scrivener, DO have the Greek words in question in Matthew 19:16-17. This means that the AV was right to include those words; the Nestle Interlinear apparently chose to go with variant readings in the Greek, whilst maintaining the AV English wording.

According to textusreceptusbibles.com/Interlinear/40019016 there are Textus Receptus variants that read: και ιδου εις προσελθων TR/Byzantine Majority - ειπεν αυτω Alexandrian - ειπεν διδασκαλε TR/Byzantine Majority - αγαθε τι αγαθον ποιησω ινα Alexandrian - σχω TR/Byzantine Majority - εχω ζωην αιωνιον

The other Greek Interlinear I looked at followed Westcott & Hort’s Greek text, as used by modern translations. It omits the Greek words in question in Matthew's account, but at least maintains consistency by also omitting them in its English column. It did strike me as strange that the Nestle/Marshall Interlinear did not have the Greek words on the Greek side, yet did have them in the English column. Now I begin to see why. They were trying to sit between two stools.

The note to Matthew 19:16 in The Companion Bible p 1352 claimed : "Good. All the texts omit. The accounts here (vss.16-27, Mark 10:17-26, and Luke 18:18-28) are partly identical and partly complementary." But NOT all the texts omit! All the texts used by Stephens, Elzevir, Beza and Scrivener DO have the Greek for the salutation, “Good Teacher” and they DO have Jesus responding, “Why do you call me good?” It is the Westcott & Hort / Nestle Aland Interlinears that drop those critically important Greek words in favour of Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus which do not have them.

All manuscripts, and all translations, are agreed that Mark 10:17-18 has Jesus being addressed as "Good Teacher", and that Jesus responds, "Why do you call me good?" Further, the other parallel account in Luke's gospel, 18:18-19 is exactly the same as Mark's gospel rendition: Jesus is saluted as "Good Teacher", and Jesus responds, "Why do you call me good?" John's gospel does not relate this event, however.

Surely, the very fact that the two other corresponding gospel accounts both agree with the Textus Receptus Matthew verses that do have those words included should be enough for anyone to see that Jesus was addressed as “Good Teacher”, and that Jesus responded with the question, “Why do you call me good?” Therefore, that is what the Matthew account also has.

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    I see now that the double good is in the Textus Receptus and not one of the two major manuscript families. Dec 4, 2021 at 20:29
  • It is also in the Byzantine Majority Text. Dec 4, 2021 at 20:36
  • You may want to see @Dottard answer. Dec 4, 2021 at 20:41
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    @Mike Borden I've now double checked and discovered why The Companion Bible note I quoted was wrong. It seems to have gone along with variant Greek readings. Also, an Interlinear I was working from, which omitted the words in the Greek but had them in the English, claimed to represent the AV text but, in light of earlier AV Interlinears, it did not. I will remove this first answer and post a new one, thanks. Bear with me for an hour or two, please!
    – Anne
    Dec 5, 2021 at 10:19
  • @Mike Borden - Done.
    – Anne
    Dec 5, 2021 at 11:08
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The NKJV has this footnote for "Good[fn] Teacher":

NU-Text omits Good.

Similarly for "Why do you call Me good?[fn]":

NU-Text reads Why do you ask Me about what is good?.

It's all a matter of whether the translators favoured the NU-Text or the M-Text.

NU-Text

These variations from the traditional text generally represent the Alexandrian or Egyptian type of text [the oldest, but sometimes questioned text]. They are found in the Critical Text published in the Twenty-sixth edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (N) and in the United Bible Society's third edition (U), hence the acronym "NU-text."

M-Text

This symbol indicates points of variation in the Majority Text from the traditional text [a consensus of most Greek manuscripts]. It should be noted that M stands for whatever reading is printed in the published Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, whether supported by overwhelming, strong, or only a divided majority textual tradition.

What do the footnotes in the NKJV [New King James Version] mean? – Bible Gateway

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  • So NU attempts to present what is oldest extant and M is more of an extant average? Dec 4, 2021 at 17:30
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The King New James concerning The New Testment was based on the Textus Receptus, and it's for Matthew 19:16:

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? (KJV)

Well, the greek equivalent is from Textus Receptus:

και ιδου εις προσελθων ειπεν αυτω διδασκαλε αγαθε τι αγαθον ποιησω ινα εχω ζωην αιωνιον

Observe that αγαθε refers to the master, and in the second case αγαθον to the word thing. Well, this happens also with a few other bibles also, responding to your answer. For this part I didn't find the previous codex or manuscript, but I found for the next verse.

Concerning Matthew 19:17, we read:

17 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. (KJV)

The same we can see in greek (textus receptus):

ο δε ειπεν αυτω τι με λεγεις αγαθον ουδεις αγαθος ει μη εις ο θεος ει δε θελεις εισελθειν εις την ζωην τηρησον τας εντολας

And in the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis (5th century), we can see a fragment given by Eusebius:

τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεὸς

which means:

Why are you asking me about the good? No one is good, not one except God

and another due to Chrysostom says:

τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν; οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεὸς

which means:

Why are you calling me good? There is no one good, not one except God

If you search carefully, you'll see that there always two words for good in this codex.

Now, concerning what is more reliable or not, I think that those manuscripts that are older refer better than others the way things truly happened, even though it's necessary to compare the texts to see if the authors (the people who wrote in the papyrus) didn't alter them.

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  • I see problems with both translations. No easy answers for this one.
    – moron
    Dec 4, 2021 at 18:29
  • Your "older is better" theory would lead you to the Critical Text which omits the double good in verse 16. Dec 5, 2021 at 12:50
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There is a textual matter - the Greek MSS differ in Matt 19:16, 17.

  1. NA28/UBS5, W&H, Souter, NIVGNT, etc, have this:

Καὶ ἰδοὺ εἷς προσελθὼν αὐτῷ εἶπεν Διδάσκαλε, τί ἀγαθὸν ποιήσω ἵνα σχῶ ζωὴν αἰώνιον; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; εἷς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός· εἰ δὲ θέλεις εἰς τὴν ζωὴν εἰσελθεῖν, τήρει τὰς ἐντολάς. = And behold one approaching said to Him, "Teacher, what good [thing] must I do to inherit life eternal?" And He said to him, "Why ask Me about the good? One is Good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."

  1. Byzntine text, Majority Text, TR have this:

Καὶ ἰδού, εἷς προσελθὼν εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε ἀγαθε, τὶ ἀγαθὸν ποιήσω, ἵνα ἔχω ζωὴν αἰώνιον; ὁ δὲ εἰπεν αὐτῷ Τί με λέγεις ἀγαθον οὐδεὶς ἀγαθός· εἰ μὴ εἷς ὅ Θεός. εἰ δὲ θέλεις εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν τήρησον τὰς ἐντολάς. And behold one approaching said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good [thing] must I do to inherit life eternal?" And He said to him, "Why call Me good? No one is good but the One God. But if you want to enter into life eternal, keep the commandments."

Note that there are several difference between these texts compounded by the fact that Mark 10:17 and Luke 18:18 report a slightly different version from what appears to be Matthew's original text.

In commenting on these two texts, Bruce Metzger (A Textual Commentary on the GNT, 2nd Ed.) records the following:

19:16 Διδάσκαλε {A}

The word ἀγαθε, which is absent from the early and good representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western texts, was manifestly brought in by copyists from the parallel accounts in Mark (10:17) and Luke (18:180. (See the comments on the following variant reading.)

19:17 Τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; εἷς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός {A}

Many of the witnesses (but not theta, 700 al) that interpolate ἀγαθε in V16 also modify ver. 17 by substituting for Matthew's distinctive account the words from the parallel accounts, Τί με λέγεις ἀγαθον οὐδεὶς ἀγαθός· εἰ μὴ εἷς ὅ Θεός ("Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." Mk 10:18, Lk 18:19). If the latter reading were original in Matthew, it is hard to imagine why copyists would have altered to a more obscure one, whereas, scribal assimilation to Synoptic parallels occurs frequently.

For more information about which MSS have which reading, see NA28 and UBS5.

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  • Frustrating as many use Matthew to downplay Jesus' obvious claim. Dec 4, 2021 at 20:57
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The second translation, "why do you ask me about the good" more exactly conveys the meaning of the Greek "Τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ;" In fact, here Lord reprimands the youth for indiscretely calling Him "good" in a sense of a good man or a good human teacher. But how the one, who can make one perfect, as He promises the same youth "sell everything, and follow me" (Matthew 19:21), which is the sine qua non for becoming perfect, yes, how the one who is not Himself perfect, but even more than perfect, that is to say, the very perfect-making Principle, yes, how can He be just "good" in a human sense, as the youth misleadingly, not to say, sacrilegiously addressed Him?! In fact, to be the perfect-making Principle means that this Principle has perfection not derivatively, but essentially, and this means that this Principle is God.

The same holds with goodness, for the one who is the perfect-making Principle, the same is also the good-making Principle, and thus Lord Jesus Christ does not possess goodness by participation or derivatively, but essentially and even supra-essentially, in the sense that Logos is above all created essences as Creator of those essences together with the Father, and the same Logos adopted human nature, henceforth being called Jesus Christ.

Thus, "why you ask me about good?" is a question-reprimanding for the wrong and sacrilegious question of the youth, for the Lord is not against being called "good", but not in human, derivative sense, but in the sense of possessing goodness essentially and supra-essentially, and, moreover, causally, for He is, along with the Father, the Cause of any derivative and participatory goodness in creatures.

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The KJV text represent the bad textual tradition of Textus Receptus whose mss dated from the 12th Century or later, and only one came from outside the mainstream Byzantine tradition. Consequently, most modern scholars consider his text to be of dubious quality. The notorious Byzantine or Syrian text type is a very late and bad in quality. The "why do you call me good", is a scribal interpolation to conform or harmonize to the other synoptic references. The oldest manuscript of this text is from the fifth century, that is Ephraemi Rescriptus (C). Others mss are C K W Delta f13 28 33 565 1010 1241 Byz Lect two lat syr(p,h) cop(south) some cop(north). Reason: The reading in the notes seems to have been taken from the parallel passages in Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19. The reading in the text is found in Caesarean as well as Alexandrian and Western types of ancient text. The same goes for the additional "good" in the previous verse. [Student's Guide to New Testament Textual Variants, 1995].

The other possibility could be that the original Matthew verse was the same as Mark and Luke, but was corrupted at a very early stage, like within the early 2 centuries (when only Matthew was in circulation, and the scribe did not have the other Gospels to form confidence in the text), due to his objection or discomfort, as the text can be interpreted downplaying Christ's status. But this is merely a conjecture without any evidence. See the standard textual criticism and transmission history book by Metzger and Ehrman for detail, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.

For details about the differences in the New Bible versions from the KJV, read this article From the KJV to the RV (from Elegance to Accuracy)

The amateur scribes were known to harmonize text in their misconception that most Christians have today, that the different Gospel accounts have to conformity with exact dictation similarity. Thus, imposing their own beliefs on the scripture to corrupt it according to their taste. In reality the Gospels are subjective narrative compositions, just like a documentary film or a painting. The Gospel writers were trained writers in composing biographies. The most illustrative example of defining the nature of this literary genre comes from Plutarch, as quoted by Michael Licona, in his highly recommended book Why Are There Differences in The Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (2017):

The objective of Greco-Roman biography was to reveal the character of the subject through the person’s sayings and deeds. Writing around the same time as some of the Gospels were written, Plutarch provided the clearest statement in this regard in his Life of Alexander:

For it is not Histories that I am writing, but Lives; and in the most illustrious deeds there is not always a manifestation of virtue or vice, nay, a slight thing like a phrase or a jest often makes a greater revelation of character than battles where thousands fall, or the greatest armaments, or sieges of cities. Accordingly, just as painters get the likenesses in their portraits from the face and the expression of the eyes, wherein the character shows itself, but make very little account of the other parts of the body, so I must be permitted to devote myself rather to the signs of the soul in men, and by means of these to portray the life of each, leaving to others the description of their great contests. (Alex. 1.2–3 [Perrin, LCL])

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