Monday, August 21, 2017

"No one is good but God"

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. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mk 10:17-22).

This is a sequel to my prior post:

It was clearly not my aim in the original post to expound and defend my own interpretation. However, apostate Dale Tuggy jumped in:

The standard unitarian reading will be like this. We all know that Jesus is good, and extraordinarily so, given his track record of obedience to God and self-sacrifice. But he says only God, only the Father is good. So, he must have in mind some unusual meaning of "good." Perhaps: absolutely good, perfectly good, essentially good, necessarily good. immutably good. Some such distinction makes sense, as the NT explicitly asserts that God can't be tempted, and that Jesus was tempted - you know the texts. One kind or degree or aspect of goodness is untemptability - immunity from the allure of sin. So whatever this other sense is, Jesus is straightforwardly saying that he isn't good in that sense, though God is. 

It would be puzzling why (on your assumption of "the deity of Christ") why he also directs the man's attention away from Jesus, with the implied rebuke for his calling Jesus good.

Both, of course, make sense on a unitarian reading. 

Once you're done calling strikes, perhaps then you should admit that your dilemma is easy for any unitarian reader to address. Looking forward to that.

i) A basic failing of Tuggy's explanation is the fact that the ruler didn't think Jesus was good in a divine sense inasmuch as the ruler presumably didn't think Jesus was the Deity. Tuggy's explanation is especially ironic from a unitarian perspective, since unitarians don't believe Mark's Gospel (or the Synoptics generally, who reproduce this exchange) teaches the deity of Christ. 

ii) But even from a theologically orthodox standpoint, there's no reason to suppose the ruler thought Jesus was God. Most folks in the Gospels, at least initially, don't suspect that Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate. That doesn't lie on the surface. And it's unexpected.

It's only when Jesus says and does certain things that it dawns on them. Like stories about kings who disguise themselves as paupers to test their royal subjects. 

If the ruler doesn't think Jesus is God, then his mode of address never suggested that Jesus is good in that sense. Even from a unitarian perspective, the ruler's not confused in that regard, so there's nothing to correct in that regard.

iii) As we know from other conversations in the Gospels, sometimes Jesus refuses to answer a question directly. That's because people don't always ask the right question. So sometimes Jesus answers the question they should have asked. Or he deflects the question to focus on what's really at stake, because their priorities are askew.

That's what he's doing here. In this passage, Jesus isn't talking about himself. He's not affirming or disaffirming that he is God or he is good. 

That's because the rich young ruler suffers from an impediment that prevents him from valuing what Jesus has to offer. The ruler is self-righteous and his piety lacks total devotion. So long as he suffers from spiritual pride, so long as his priorities are misplaced, he will fail to recognize his need for what Jesus has to give, viz. "but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful" (Mk 4:19). 

iv) Nevertheless, Christ's response carries the implication that if he is good, then he is God. That's left hanging out there, but other passages confirm the deity of Christ. 


  1. steve,

    How do you relate your explanation to the differences of the encounter as recorded in Matthew?

    If you respond, thanks in advance!

    1. I think Matthew edited/reworded Mark's formulation to forestall readers misconstruing what Jesus meant. Since the conversation originally took place in Aramaic, it isn't even possible for Greek writers to quote him verbatim. There are different legitimate ways of rendering the original conversation into Greek. Moreover, just as NT writers sometimes paraphrase the OT, they sometimes paraphrase Jesus. Finally, quoting someone verbatim can sometimes be misleading without the interpretive context.

    2. Well Steve, since Matthew has him asking about what is good, then you would think that this is the POV of the man calling Jesus "good teacher" in Mark, right? I mean, if the emphasis is on the teaching, I could see how the idea would be consistent. I agree with you that the whole deity thing isn't even in view.

  2. Jonathan Jensen, I'm not Steve, but here's my view.

    I think there is some truth to the claim by atheists, skeptics, scholars and Muslims that there is theological/doctrinal development and progress in the Gospels through time. They often use that fact to try to undermine the reliability/historicity of the Gospels, as well as our confidence in them. But I don't think the phenomena necessary undermines it (in the least IMHO). Each Gospel has its own theological agendas and emphases. That's consistent with honest reporting. Also, each Gospel was written by one or more persons with limited and imperfect theological understanding. None of this (necessarily) negatively affects their inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy.

    I think Mark more accurately and precisely records the Jesus' words when he records Jesus saying, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." He does so (I believe) because he self-consciously has a high Christology. Which can be seen throughout his Gospel (as I've shown in my blogpost HERE). Mark intentionally records Jesus' words that way precisely BECAUSE he wants to imply Jesus IS God.

    I'm convinced of Markan Priority, so I think Matthew and Luke did use Mark as a source. I also suspect that Luke wrote his Gospel after Matthew and that he possibly used Matthew as a source too. Or at least knew of the existence of Matthew or proto-Matthew. When Matthew wrote his version of the incident, he TOO had a very high Christology. That can be seen throughout his Gospel as well. However, I think Matthew understood that Mark's wording could give the impression that Jesus was claiming not to be God. So, Matthew reworded it not to give that impression. Matthew's, "Why do you ask me about what is good?" doesn't contradict Mark's version. It's just more general and less specific.

    When it comes to Luke, I believe he records it pretty much like Mark does, for two reasons. 1. because Luke wants to be precise, 2. Luke has the lowest Christology of any of the four canonical Gospels. I personally wonder whether Luke fully understood the full deity of Christ. IMO, it's relatively easy to argue how the other three Gospels intentionally portray Jesus as God, even YHVH. One would think that since Luke was a missionary companion of Paul that he too would have a very high Christology. But he doesn't seem to. Possibly because, being a Gentile he didn't full grasp Jewish monotheism and its implications, or how Jesus' words and actions, seen in light of the the Tanakh and the theology of 2nd Temple Judaism, proclaim His full Divinity. I'm (personally) hard pressed to demonstrate that Luke personally had a high Christology. However, he's meticulous enough in recording events and sayings so precisely in the life of Christ (GLuke) and the early church (Acts) that a high Christology nevertheless shines through. Possibly without his conscious awareness.

    1. If it wasn't clear in my first comment, I think Paul has a very high Christology as well, AND because his writings are early, they testify to the fact of what Ehrman has been forced to admit. Ehrman previously rejected the notion that the earliest disciples believed Jesus was "divine" in some sense. However, he now acknowledges that this belief was there from the beginning. He even says that all four gospels teach, and each WRITER BELIEVED (yes, you read that correctly) that Jesus was divine in some sense (though in different senses). Here's a video clip where he says so..

      See also my blogpost where I've listed a dozen things Ehrman currently believes regarding the person, historicity and divinity of Christ here:

    2. Mark and Luke record the Rich Young Ruler referring to Jesus as "good teacher". Matthew has him referring to Jesus simply as "teacher" and transfers "good" from Jesus to the "*good* works" one must do to have eternal life. But nothing is essentially changed. Matthew still has Jesus affirming the unique transcendent goodness of God when he records Jesus saying, "There is only one who is good." If however Mark had Jesus explicitly saying he wasn't God, then Matthew would have been dishonestly and unscrupulously changing Jesus' point and misrepresenting his source material. But Jesus never denies being God in any of the Gospels. In fact, Jesus repeatedly implies His deity in Mark.

    3. Annoyed Pinoy, what do you mean by "inspiration"?

    4. I don't know what you're getting at. Surely you're not asking me to explain what Evangelicals mean by "inspiration". There are books for purchase on and articles on the web that can explain that to you. So, I'm wondering what the deeper reason(s) you're asking that question might be.

    5. Annoyed Pinoy,
      Okay, how about this: what makes it inspired? That it came from God? That it is authoritative? That it came via the Spirit? I don't want to read a book about it --- what a waste of time! Isn't there a simple answer for a simple question? I just wanted to know why you would think it is still inspired. Not even questioning your reasoning, but just wanting to understand your precise angle with that, that's all.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. I don't know if you are a Christian or skeptic (or something else). Maybe you're a Christian who thinks my position is inconsistent. If I had to guess, I'm think you're an atheist. So, I'll answer you as if you're one. Correct me if I'm wrong.

      I don't want to read a book about it --- what a waste of time! Isn't there a simple answer for a simple question?

      There's nothing necessarily wrong with ignorance. I'm ignorant about many things. So, this isn't supposed to be an insult. But, one of your problems is you're so ignorant of the topic that you think it's a simple question. In one sense it is simple, yet in another sense it's is involved. Also, your ignorance is due to the fact that you're looking for someone to explain to you a concept that you can easily read a basic article on from Wikipedia which will be relatively accurate even though Wiki is biased against religion. Are you really that intelletually lazy that you refuse to read an article on the topic? Seriously? Maybe you're a Millennial who's not used to not getting or understanding things instantly. I don't know. I'm going to stop speculating. I just mentioned all that, in basic Christian love, for your own sake because I think you should realize you have a serious moral and character problem if you refuse to do basic research.

      Okay, how about this: what makes it inspired? That it came from God?

      Yes, because it came from God. Are you asking about the mechanics of how it came from God? I'm not sure what your real concern is.

      That it is authoritative?

      Yes, it's because it came from God that it's authoritative.

      That it came via the Spirit?

      The inspiration of the various parts of the Bible was sometimes 1. directly revelatory (e.g. the visions received by John in the book of Revelation), or 2. indirect via ordinary providence. For example, when Luke was compiling his sources to write his own Gospel account. That involved ordinary providence. Meaning, he did the kind of research you refuse to do. And sometimes inspiration was 3. a result of a combination of both.

      I just wanted to know why you would think it is still inspired.

      By the word "still" are you implying that the manner in which I described the writing of the Gospels implies (or necessitates, or entails) they couldn't be inspired because of that very manner? I can see how you could be a Christian who's trying to expose my apparent inconsistency and incoherence. However, your statements about not wanting to read a book about a basic Christian concept would suggest you aren't a Christian because you would already know about the concept irrespective of whether you've actually read a book on the topic. You would have absorbed some knowledge of it via intellectual osmosis as you casually interacted with fellow Christians.

      Not even questioning your reasoning, but just wanting to understand your precise angle with that, that's all.

      Again, that doesn't really tell me anything. On the one hand you sayd you're not questioning my reasoning, yet on the other hand you want to understand my angle. By itself, that statement would seem self-contradictory. But I doubt it is. I doubt that what you're thinking of and what you mean is contradictory. You're just not making clear what it is you want me to address or answer. Part of the problem is that you're so ignorant of the topic that you don't even know what questions to ask. Since you're asking simple questions, I can only give you simple answers. Yet, you're blaming me for not being able to give simple answers to your questions. Questions that are so vague and basic that it's impossible for me to address the real deeper issue(s) you're wondering about. Ask something more specific so that I can get a radar fix on what your real concern is.

  3. Uh oh, I think I annoyed him! :P

    I wasn't trying to upset you, nor was I tring to blame you. I wanted to know because I wanted to see if there was an inconsistency. I also give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and realize that everyone has their own persuasion. Do you think that every evangelical shoyld believe exactly the same on every point? If they do, then it shouldn't just be because this is what's in circulation, right?

    I'm not an atheist, but I will give youmy own dedinition of inspired:that God said it. All I meant to ask for was the definition of "inspired" to you. To me, that doesn't require a book. As far as Wikipedia articles, again, how do I know it's exactly what you believe? I like to really interact, you know? :) I also don't want to make a rash assumption, just as you yourself don't want to do.


    1. Uh oh, I think I annoyed him! :P

      I'm not annoyed at all (despite my nick). I just told you how I see things.

      ...I wanted to see if there was an inconsistency.

      I don't see an inconsistency or incoherence in the position I hold. I'm not a postmodernist who delights in needless contradictions and paradoxes. I think there's a place for paradox in Christian theology, but not here and not everywhere. As best we can we should attempt to formulate logically consistent theology and apologetics. To do other wise is to dishonor God.

      Do you think that every evangelical shoyld believe exactly the same on every point?

      Ideally yes. Since Ideally I would have everyone believe the truth and only the truth. However, there are areas of theology that are non-essential because the Bible isn't clear on the topic or doesn't address it at all. For example, whether infant baptism is correct and necessary is not absolutely clear in Scripture. So, there's room for disagreement. However, the Bible doesn't come close to addressing whether you should have red, green or polka dotted carpet lining the church floor.

      If they do, then it shouldn't just be because this is what's in circulation, right?

      I don't know what you mean here. So, I don't know what you're asking.

      All I meant to ask for was the definition of "inspired" to you.

      I take the standard Evangelical understanding of inspired. Which is also similar to the understanding of Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, and other historic denominations. Though, non-Evangelicals sometimes disagree with the Evangelical doctrine of inerrancy and our use of the word "infallible" when it comes to the doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture. While "inerrancy" and "infallibility" have the same etymological meaning, in theological discussion they don't refer to the same thing. For example, some Catholics affirm the Bible's infallibility, but deny its inerrancy. Also, Evangelicals and Catholics use the term "infallible" differently. Depending on the context in theological discussions, the meanings kind of overlap but aren't the same, or in other contexts barely overlap at all.

    2. Annoyed Pinoy,

      About the part you didn't understand:
      I just meant that we shouldn't believe things just because everyone else does, right? Since we're judged on what we teach others to do, certainly we would want to believe what we believe is true! Because of this, I try not to assume with anyone.

    3. I just meant that we shouldn't believe things just because everyone else does, right?

      If by "we" you mean Christians, then that's true. When it comes to doctrine we should believe what Scripture teaches. Popular beliefs are often wrong. If I had to guess, most professing Christians worldwide are probably not in a genuinely salvific state. Even those who are often have false unbiblical (even anti-Biblical) beliefs too.

      Since we're judged on what we teach others to do, certainly we would want to believe what we believe is true!

      If you don't actually believe what you're preaching, then you'd be a hypocrite. Which is sin. Unfortunately, I think many Christian pastors and teachers (even those genuinely regenerate) water down the Biblical message or refuse to address topics that would affect their reputation or income for the church (and by extension themselves). For example, topics like hell, racism, abortion, predestination, signs and wonders/miracles, various sins, various heresies etc. Sometimes because the pastors themselves don't know how to handle those topics (e.g. apologetics issues). Out of pride, fear of being exposed, and feelings of inadequacy many pastors feel the need to look like they have all the answers. Which causes some folks to leave the faith because instead of being given good answers (or pointed to the right resources), they're given dismissive and empty superficial "answers".