Luke 18:19 (NKJV)
So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.
My question is: is this contradictory? What does Jesus mean by this statement?
This passage is often used to bolster the claim that Jesus is not God. The usual misinterpretation is that Jesus is saying that He isn't good, because He isn't God.
The opposite is true. In this passage, Jesus is establishing His deity. The Answering Islam site offers a fairly good explanation.
In the central passage of chapter 10, Jesus makes the statement:
I am the good shepherd. (John 10:14) This establishes his claim to deity in a double way. First, because of the criterion above, since he calls himself good, and this not only in a general way as "a good shepherd" (one of many) but as "the good shepherd".
It is a simple syllogism:
No-one except God is good and Jesus is good therefore Jesus is God
Somebody might want to argue that here "good" is only qualifying something else (i.e. "shepherd"), but we simply observe that in the original passage (Luke 18:18 above), it was qualifying "teacher". So, the situation is indeed parallel, and the argument applies.
Second, Jesus calls himself not only "good", but he claims the title "shepherd". This is a clear reference back to Psalm 23 and, even more important, Ezekiel 34, where God himself is the shepherd of Israel (see this discussion). Thus, with this statement Jesus takes upon himself yet another title of God.
Why do we call him good? Because he is - AND he is the Lord God.
A more succinct answer (with the same outcome) can be found on this article about WJD at Heartlight.
Jesus is challenging the religious leader to wake up and understand the truth that stands right in front of him. If he is calling Jesus "good," then he must come to understand that Jesus is God and not play religious games, but come to truly believe. Jesus isn't denying that he is God; Jesus is affirming that he is God and that man truly needs to acknowledge that he is. Eternal questions are not simply religious speculation, but the core questions of the human soul. Only God can answer those questions. So if he is going to ask Jesus this question, he needs to pay attention and place his faith in Jesus' answer. So do we!
I'm not a scholar but I suspect that Jesus responded as a rabbi might. The custom was for potential disciples to approach a rabbi whom they wanted to follow. If the rabbi was interested he'd ask them questions to determine if they were suitable cantidates. If not be would send them away and they would go home and take the trade of their father. If he accepted them, he would say, 'come, follow me' and they became the rabbi's disciple.
One teaching technique that rabbis used was posing questions. He would ask a questions his disciples, and the disciples would debate amongst themselves and the rabbi would listen. When he had decided the correct answer, the discussion was over and the disciples accepted the rabbis judgement.
To us it seems a counter intuitive that asking a question is how others (not the asker) learns. But this idea was understood by those living at Jesus time. That's why when jesus was 12 he was found at the temple asking questions of the teachers and they were amazed at his knowledge. He wasn't learning from them, he was teaching them. Likewise, when his disciples finally realise he came from God, they said, 'now we know that you know everything and don't even need anyone to ask you questions.'
So I really don't think that the question was a rhetorical question for emphasis, meaning, 'Of course I'm not God! I'm not that good!'
Instead it was probably a combination of a job interview and a teachable moment. I'm not sure if the rich young man intended to offer himself as a disciple of Jesus (it seems pretty clear that he was genuine in wanting to know how to secure eternal life.)
Either way Jesus answers by inviting him to be his disciple, beginning by testing his theological knowledge and teaching about himself, 'If you want to be my disciple, the most important requirement is that you know who I am. Here is a riddle to get you thinking: if I am good, and you said I am, and God is one, and only God is good, then who am I?'
He then concludes by testing the young man's ability to forsake everything for him, and invites him to be a disciple, 'Come, follow me.' Thus he answers the question in two ways, firstly, 'Believe that I am God,' and secondly, 'Be my disciple.' (Both of these are the same thing-- following the commandments wasn't enough, following Jesus is the greater thing, therefore Jesus is greater than the commands of God, therefore he is God.)
I disagree that this is an example of Jesus perceiving a difference between himself and God the Father. Whenever Jesus is talking about what is required of people to inherit eternal life, he always refers to believing in him. For Jesus to say anything different on this occasion is contradictory.
By asking, "Why do you call me good?" our Lord Jesus is saying either I am God and good or I am neither God nor good, as others have fully explained above. But what has so far been missed is that He is also pointing the finger at the young man, who thinks he is himself a pretty good guy. Jesus is saying "You are not good." This is the root problem for the young man... he thinks he, and lots of other people are good people. He hasn't understood the depths of God's requirements, he hasn't understood that the 10 commandments go much deeper than a mere observance of their outward requirements, that they demand obedience from the heart.
Jesus saw His earthly human body as inherently "limited". The man was referencing Jesus as a man. I think Jesus was simply saying "who is this 'good' teacher you are speaking of? There is no such thing as good men, only God is good.
Jesus being God (as God) is therefore good.
Or put another way, Jesus was saying if you address me as a "good teacher" I can not help you, for no man is good. Only as God can I do anything to help you.
At the (quite minor) risk of being controversial, I'm going a different route. Let me state upfront that I am wholeheartedly Christian and have been for years. I've been reading the Bible carefully, trying to understand the text beyond what I've been raised and taught to see in it. In addition, I've been culling other sources to compare and contrast their views to better refine my own.
Through-and-through, the conclusion I've reached is that the way Jesus conceived of his role was as God's perfect revelation here on the earth. That is, he was so much in God's image, reflecting God's being and character to the people around him, that he effectively stood in the role of God. Thus he could say, "I and the Father are one." But, at the same time, being human, he perceived a difference between himself and God, which is why, in the same book as the previous quote, he could say, "The Father is greater than I."
As such, I see no contradiction between distinguishing between himself and God and his other claims and statements, nor with my belief in him as God. It's confusing, sure, but isn't that a given when dealing with Christology?
The writers of the four book of the Gospel portrayed Jesus in four distinct yet conforming ways; a thing that makes the person of Jesus interesting for those led by the Holy Spirit. At the same time, it's a source of confusion to the unbelievers.
Mathew gave account of Jesus as a King, the coming Messiah, Mark portrayed Jesus as the servant, Luke gave account of Jesus as a proper man while John portrayed Him as God.
All these revelations are perfectly correct. He is a King yet a servant, He is a man yet God. Alleluia!
Since it is in the book of Luke (18:19) that Christ clarified the Jew He wasn't good as he (the Jew) thought, I will look closely at Luke's account. This account is simply emphasising on the human part of Jesus starting from His genealogy, biological birth, childhood, etc. It also seeks to present Him as a humble man who didn't equal Himself to God ( Philippians 2). His human nature shows that He is a man cloned in human flesh with water and blood circulating in Him. He had human desires, thoughts, struggles with sin, trials and temptations but disciplined Himself to do His Father's will. As such He was a man and therefore not perfect or good. Note that it's only on the human side. But there is the other side of Him - the God side (John 1:1). There are amazing thing to know about Christ on the God side which I reserve for another piece. Hence, that He wasn't good or perfect on the human side doesn't change His divinity as God. God bless you.
If Jesus would come to me today and ask me ‘Why do you call Me good?’ ‘No one is good – except God alone".
My answer would be: "I call You good, because You ARE God. Jesus wanted the young man to acknowlege HIM as GOD - to ask GOD HIMSELF (and not a mere teacher) what he must do to be saved. (note that the young man never answered Jesus on that question)The young man did all the "right" stuff, BUT he loved Mammon more than God. Money and worldly possessions was his security and his god - and Jesus was testing the young man - if he truly believed Jesus to be God, he would have followed Him to secure his eternal inherritance
We routinely apply humanistic responses to Jesus, who is human only in the sense that He is the human manifestation of the Almighty God. Applying rabbinical tradition to Him, Who is eternal, is somewhat mystifying to me. David Straton gave a very eloquent answer. Jesus applies questions which are designed to get at the center of the young man's heart - this is alway's Jesus' target. He wants to be the ruler of our hearts.
He asks (Matt 19:17) "Why callest thou Me Good? There is none good but one, that is God:" Here, the question is applied by Jesus in order to have the man confronted with the fact that he is rightly applying the term good to Jesus. He is, in fact, claiming His divinity. The statement doesn't end there though. Notice the colon. Jesus continues and states, "but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." This is truth that is often ignored. Jesus also said, "if you love me, keep my commandments. (Jn 14:15).
He is God. The commandments are His. Jesus then goes on to punctuate this lesson by naming six of them. The rational mind should ask why not all ten. Is it because they don't apply? Of course not! Keep reading. The six that Jesus lists, are the six that have to do with love horizontally, to our fellow man. The young man apparently had no issue with these. He replied (vs20) "All these things have I kept from my youth up:" Then, the young man asks the question that would prompt Jesus to get to the real issue at the center of the young man's heart. He asks (vs 20) "what lack I?" What a great question! We should all ask ourselves this, everyday as we seek to become more like Jesus.
In response, Jesus says to him, "If thou wilt be PERFECT, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and though shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.(Mt 19:21) The question from Jesus amounts to: "Do you love Me more than your wealth?" Sadly, the Bible says that the young man went away sorrowful.
You see...the young man had no problem with the six commandments that concerned man but, it appears, had a serious problem with the first four, which are concerning how we love God. His wealth and earthly possessions were more important to him than following God. And, while in the presence of God himself, he chose his wealth and went away sorrowful.
You see, in his heart, he did not love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and might (Dt 6:5). This means that he was breaking the first commandment - Thou shalt have no other gods before me.(Ex 20:3). Our treasure must be laid up in heaven, where rust nor moth can corrupt. Jesus, who is God, must be the most important thing in our lives, not wealth, not house, not car, not sports. Let us not repeat the same mistake. Place Him first today, friends. God Bless