Was Jesus good?

Posted on Jul.20, 2009. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Hebrews. Average rating: 1.5 / 10 (Rate It).

The New Testament¬†contradicts itself concerning whether or not Jesus was good. Hebrews describes Jesus as being not just good, but “without sin”, yet in the gospels Jesus rebukes someone for calling him good, insisting that only the Father is good.

In all three synoptic gospels, Jesus seems to deny that he is good:

Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.’ [Matthew 19:16-17a]

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’ [Mark 10:17-18]

A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’ [Luke 18:18-19]

Hebrews, however, says that Jesus wasn’t merely¬†good but was “without sin”:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. [Hebrews 4:14-15]

So was Jesus good or not?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    This seems to me to be about as weak as alleged contradictions get, resting on a wilful misunderstanding of Jesus’ words.

    However, some critics of the Bible think otherwise, so I include it here anyway. Does anyone think it has any merit?

  2. 2

    Well, it looks like Matthew was sufficiently disturbed by Mark’s implication that Jesus wasn’t good, that he changed it.

  3. 3

    Did Matthew change Mark’s account?

    In the Byzantine Text, the Greek in Jesus’ question in Matthew, Mark and Luke are all identical. Of course, the majority of scholars view the Byzantine Text-type as secondary to the Nestle-Aland. No doubt, one of their many reasons for doing so is that the Greek in Jesus’ question in Matthew, Mark and Luke are all identical.

    But let us assume that the majority of scholars today are correct. If so, we should prefer the Nestle-Aland which is used by most translations.

    Even so, in Matthew, Jesus asks “Why do you ask me about the good? Only God is good.”. Jesus seems to be assuming here that only someone good is worth asking about the good. Only someone good can be an authority about the good. And only God is such an individual. So Jesus is saying, in essence, “Why do you assume that I am an authority about the good? Only God is good, so only God can be an authority about the good.”

    As such the fact that Mark and Luke gloss “Why do you ask me about the good?” by saying “Why do you call me good?” is quite consistent with Jesus underlying assumption that only a good individual can speak with authority about the good.

    But what were his words? Well, none of them. For starters, The whole conversation took place in another language. Furthermore, what we probably have here and many other places in the Gospels is an accurate summary, not a transcript of Jesus’ words.

    The whole conversation, whether in Matthew, Mark or Luke, could have also been summarized accurately had Jesus’ question simply been “You do realize that you’ve just assumed that I am God, don’t you?”

    Jesus later claim that no one is good except God makes sense in all three summaries and seems in all cases to be a claim of deity (or, at least, a stinging rebuke of those teachers who claim to be able to teach about the good apart from God’s Word).

  4. 4

    To be honest, the straightforward reading of Mark is that Jesus does indeed reject the label “good”. I’m not sure Mark ever claims Jesus somehow “is God”, merely that he’s God’s son.

  5. 5

    You don’t need to go far into Mark to find Mark calling Jesus God. This is not quite the same as Jesus calling himself God. Still, in Mark 1:3 Mark quotes Issaiah when he describes John the Baptizer as the voice crying “In the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.” The context of the passage makes it absolutely clear that Mark believed that John was preparing the way for Jesus. So “the Lord” here is Jesus. But when you look at the Isaiah passage (40:3), the voice crying says to make straight the way of YHWH in the wilderness. Thus Mark identifies Jesus with YHWH. (There are probably dozens of such passages in the NT that affirm the absolute Large-G Godhood of Jesus by citation of or allusion to OT passages about YHWH.)

    I have to agree with you though, Amtiskaw, that if Jesus denies that he is God, he is denying his own goodness here. I think that all the passages read that way. And I must also agree that none of them are, by themselves, all-out claims of Deity.

    Notice though that he does proceed to tell the rich young ruler what he must do. He, thereby, implicitly asserts that he does have the authority to speak about what is good. Perhaps he is leaving it to his listeners to draw their own conclusions about that.

    I must say that I am not quite sure why you singled out Mark.

  6. 6

    I single out Mark as the first synoptic gospel.

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