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The Apologists  Bible Commentary



Mark 10

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18 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.


Commentary While some have suggested that Christ's question contradicts the orthodox view that He was God incarnate, the opposite is actually the case (see Other Views Considered, below).  Jesus is forcing the young ruler to face the implications of calling Jesus "good," not only with regard to Jesus' goodness, but also with regard to his own.  The young ruler shows himself to be "good" by every human test - he is devoted to keeping the Law.  His fellow Jews considered his wealth to be another measure of his goodness.  However, Jesus' pointed question here and His command that the young ruler renounce his wealth and follow Him (10:21) reveal that human standards of goodness are not God's.

The first commandment of the Law is to place God first in one's life and to love Him completely.  The young ruler "went away sad" (10:22) because he realized that though he had devoted himself to keeping the other commandments, he had failed to keep the first.  His riches meant more to him than God did, and thus he was not "good" in the eyes of God.  It is important to note that Jesus' pointed remarks were motivated by love, a correction of the sole "lack" in the young man's devotion.

Thus, Jesus' fundamental lesson is that "goodness" flows not from men's deeds, or even their sincere attempt to keep the Law, but rather must have another source - God Himself.  In this context, Jesus' request  to "follow Me" is the equivalent of doing good by God's standard.  Jesus encourages the young ruler to give up his wealth and put God first by following God's Son.  

When we consider that Jesus is drawing a distinction between human standards of "good" and God's standard, it becomes clear that following Jesus is good according to God's standard.  And, even if Scripture did not elsewhere abundantly declare Jesus' goodness and righteousness (see, for example, John 10:11, 14; Romans 3:25; Heb 4:15; 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19, etc.), the command to follow Him would proclaim it.  Thus, by the very standard Jesus is exhorting the young ruler to measure himself by - God's standard - Jesus is good.  And, if Jesus is good by this standard, Jesus is implicitly declaring His Deity.

Jesus� subsequent remark, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" (10:23) unveils the true deceitfulness of riches. It is not that riches may further corrupt the wicked. The real danger is that riches may corrupt the good man! The real danger is that a good person may come to so depend on the good he can do with his wealth that he or she will fail to depend utterly on the Lord. The real danger is that the good person may fail to realize he is a sinner, and be blind to the flaw in his personal relationship with God. (Victor)

Grammatical Analysis

`o de IhsouV eipen autw, Ti me legeiV agaqon; oudeiV agaqoV ei mh`eiV`o qeoV




But Jesus said to him, "Why call me good; not one is good save one, God.


Why callest thou me good? (Ti me legeis agathon). So Luke 18:19. Matthew 19:17 has it: "Why asketh thou concerning that which is good?  "The young ruler was probably sincere and not using mere fulsome compliment, but Jesus challenges him to define his attitude towards him as was proper. Did he mean "good" (agathos) in the absolute sense as applied to God? The language is not a disclaiming of deity on the part of Jesus (RWP).

Other Views Considered

Jehovah's Witnesses

The Watchtower and its defenders have offered several arguments suggesting that Jesus is not here making an implicit statement of His Deity, but is instead distinguishing Himself from the only One who is good.

objection:   Jesus Christ, though he had this quality of moral excellence, would not accept "Good" as a title (Aid, p. 676).

Response:  Nowhere in the context of this verse does Jesus explicitly refuse to accept the title "Good."  He questions the young ruler's use of the term, but this does not mean that Jesus refuses the title.  It is possible, if one considers this verse in isolation, to understand Jesus as implicitly refusing to accept the title ("Why are you calling me good?").  But it is equally possible that Jesus accepts the title, but questions the young ruler's motives or assumptions regarding the term ("Why are you calling me good?").  If we consider the immediate context and other verses that speak to the issue of Christ's goodness, the correct interpretation of this verse becomes clear.  The immediate context, as demonstrated in the commentary (above), argues that Jesus is not refusing to accept the term.  Further, Jesus elsewhere uses "Good" to refer to Himself:  "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11).1

Some may object that this is not a fair comparison because "Good" modifies "Shepherd," and is not used in an absolute sense.  However, we would note that the young ruler's question was addressed to Jesus as "Good Teacher."  "Good" modifies "Teacher" in Mark 10:17, just as it modifies "Shepherd" in John 10:11.  It does not seem reasonable that Jesus would object to the title "Good" when applied to Teacher, but use it of Himself when applied to Shepherd, particularly given that the latter title is one used of Jehovah in the Old Testament (cf., Psalms 23).

The easiest way to harmonize Mark 10:17-18 and John10:11 is to understand that Jesus is not refusing to accept the title "Good," but rather is questioning the young ruler's motives ("Why are you calling me good?").  And if He is accepting the title "Good" as applicable to Himself - and indeed, elsewhere specifically applies it to Himself - and God alone is "good" in these terms, Jesus is implicitly declaring His own Deity.

objection:  Jesus further showed that he was a separate being from God by saying: "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." (Mark 10:18, JB) So Jesus was saying that no one is as good as God is, not even Jesus himself. God is good in a way that separates him from Jesus (SYBT, p. 18).

Response:  The Watchtower's interpretation seeks to underline what it sees as the distinction between Jesus and God ("if God alone is good, Jesus cannot be God"), yet by using the phrase "as good as God," allow for Jesus (and others) to be considered "good" in a lesser or derived sense.  It must be emphasized that nowhere in the context of this verse does the phrase "as good as" appear, nor is there any sense of comparative goodness implied.  The young ruler calls Jesus "Good Teacher."  Jesus takes this limited application of "good" (to Teacher) and teaches a universal lesson about what is truly "good" (God alone).  If Jesus is teaching that "God is good in a way that separates him from Jesus," Jesus is not really addressing the young ruler's use of the term.  We can imagine the young ruler answering Jesus, "But Teacher, I know you're not as good as God - who is?  I just called you Good Teacher."

Assuming that Jesus is speaking of a special kind of goodness applicable only to God is simply reading into the text a meaning that is not there.  Jesus' lesson is that there really is no good apart from God.  The Apostle Paul, quoting the Psalmist, puts it this way:  "There is none righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10).  The  force of Jesus' message is blunted by the Watchtower's interpretation, for it leaves open (as it must) a "good" that is less than the good of God, but still good.  By so arguing, the Watchtower can preserve its belief in a "good" Jesus (who is, nevertheless, not as good as God), but it also preserves a way for the young ruler to continue to consider himself good.  "Of course I'm  not as good as God, Teacher," we can hear the young ruler say, "Still, I am good compared to other men, for I keep the Law."  But Jesus' blunt words deny the young ruler this back door.  Jesus says that only God is good, and the young ruler's sincere efforts to keep the Law are not sufficient to be good in God's sight - he, like all of us,  must follow a sinless Savior whose righteousness can be imparted to him, rather than seeking to earn righteousness by his own good works.

We may also ask those who follow Watchtower teaching to consider the NWT translation of Colossians 2:9:  "Because it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily."  Any definition of "divine quality" must include one of God's primary attributes - His absolute goodness.  If Jesus has the full measure of the divine quality dwelling in Him, in what sense can we say that Jesus lacks any goodness?

Jesus is neither denying that He is good nor that He is God.  He is questioning the young ruler's standard of righteousness.  Jesus' exacting words leave no room for other measures of good.  God alone is good.  He alone is righteous.  The Watchtower, then, like the young ruler, must decide how someone may be considered good in God's sight.  Since the Bible teaches that none are good, our only hope is in One who is good in God's sight.  It is Christ's goodness - His righteousness - imparted to us which allows us to be declared righteous ("justified").  Jesus must, therefore, be good in God's sight.  And if He is good, according to the rigorous logic of this verse, He must be God.

objection:  Jesus was so protective of his Father's sovereignty and uniqueness that when he was addressed as "good teacher" by a truly humble man, he replied: "Why do you call me good?  Nobody is good, except one, God" (Mr 10:17 sic).  Jesus did not present himself as a threat to God's uniqueness, nor did his early followers portray him as such (Stafford, pp. 126-127).

Response:  Mr. Stafford presents this argument in the context of a larger discussion that seeks to demonstrate that Jesus is a separate being than God Himself.  My purpose here will be to examine whether Mark 10:18 supports Mr. Stafford's argument or not.

I will first direct the reader to the Watchtower statements, above, and my responses to them.  The Watchtower's interpretation of this verse underlies Mr. Stafford's argument.  Like the Watchtower, Mr. Stafford clearly sees this verse as dealing with an absolute "good" that applies to God alone, while leaving open the possibility that Jesus can be "good" in a lesser sense.  As we have seen, this view reads much more into the verse than is actually present.

Mr. Stafford suggests that Jesus must be denying that He is good in the same way that God is good, for to do otherwise would impinge on God's sovereignty and uniqueness.  In other words, if Jesus claims to be equally as good as God, Jesus would be presenting Himself as a "threat to God's uniqueness."  But why should this be the case?  Only if God and Jesus are separate beings would Mr. Stafford's logic hold true.  We may put it this way:

  • God is one Person.

  • God alone is Good

  • Therefore, Jesus is neither Good (in this sense) nor God.

The logic becomes fallacious if we remove the first premise:

  • God alone is Good

  • Therefore, Jesus is neither Good (in this sense) nor God.

  • This is an invalid conclusion:  Since we have removed the first premise, logically, Jesus can be both Good and God.

Mr. Stafford is using this verse (among others) to substantiate his argument that God is one person:  "The idea that the one God of the Bible is multi-personal arose hundreds of years after the contents of the Bible were completed" (IBID, p. 129). Yet, as we have seen, an essential presupposition of Mr. Stafford's argument is that God is uni-personal.  Mr. Stafford, therefore, at least with regard to Mark 10:18, is assuming that which he seeks to prove.  He is begging the question.  His argument is logically invalid and must be rejected.



1.  Witnesses may rightfully point out that the word translated "good" in John 10:11ff is kalos, while the Greek behind "good" in Mark 10:18 is agathos.  However, the supposed distinction between the two terms that is often drawn (that kalos emphasizes external appearance while agathos refers to an intrinsic goodness) cannot be sustained.   BAGD defines kalos as "of quality, in accordance w[ith] the purpose of someth[ing] or someone: good, useful.Kalos is simply a synonym for agathos.  In Luke 8:15, we find the two words used interchangeably: "But the seed in the good (kalos) ground, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good (agathos) heart..."  The good ground represents the good hearts of the hearers.

Hort, in his note on 1 Peter 2:12, suggests a slight semantic distinction between the two synonyms, but not the one needed to sustain the Witness's position.  He points out that while agathos "denotes what is good in virtue of its results," kalos "denotes that kind of goodness which is at once seen to be good."  Moulton & Milligan, though cautioning that such a distinction cannot always be made, find it generally reflected in the numerous Koine texts they cite.

Even if kalos can, in some contexts, emphasize outward appearance (as Strong's and Louw & Nida indicate), it is clear that in the context of John 10:11, Jesus does not intend to so limit His meaning.  He is the "Good Shepherd" because He does the good (kalos) works of the Father, because He knows His sheep as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father, and because He lays down His life for the sheep.  Such qualities of goodness can only be considered "outward appearance" in the sense of a goodness that is immediately recognizable.  But such qualities also include Jesus' inherent goodness as well.  As Wescott says in his Commentary on this verse, "The 'good' is not only good inwardly (agathos), but good as perceived (kalos)."

Thus, it will not do to argue that kalos means something less than agathos in this context.  If anything, it is a superior attribution.  

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