A Series of Answers to Common Questions

Sam Shamoun


How can Jesus be God when he denies being absolutely good, and says that only God is good (cf. Mark 10:18)?


The passage, in context, actually says:

"As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’" Mark 10:17-18

By wrenching such statements out of their immediate and overall contexts, the impression is given that the Lord Jesus is actually denying he is God since he denies that he is good in the sense that God is good. The questioner's logic goes something like this:

  1. God alone is (absolutely) good.
  2. Jesus is not (absolutely) good.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is not God.

This misleading selectivity leads the questioner to erroneously conclude that Jesus was denying his essential goodness. He/she automatically assumes that Jesus is denying his absolute purity without taking into consideration the overall context of Mark, as well as the entire NT, to see if this is indeed what Christ was trying to convey.

In other words, in order to truly understand what Jesus meant we need to interpret his words in the overall Christological picture of the Gospel writers, specifically in light of Mark's Christology. Once this is done it will become quite apparent that the last thing Mark (as well as the other writers) was trying to do was cast doubt on Jesus' absolute sinlessness and Deity. Here are some citations from Mark which helps put things in proper perspective:

"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: 'You are My beloved Son, in You I AM WELL-PLEASED.'" Mark 1:9-11

"Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!’ ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, What is this? A new teaching - and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." Mark 1:23-27

"After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’" Mark 9:2-7

"He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those vine-growers said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!'" Mark 12:6-7

Jesus is God's beloved Son, his Holy One and Heir, with whom God is pleased. For God to say that he is well pleased with the Lord Jesus, and for him to be called God's Holy One, implies that Christ is absolutely good and morally pure.

"... And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men ... And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’ But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?’ And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven"; or to say, "Arise take up your pallet and walk"? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ - He said to the paralytic - ‘I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.’ And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’" Mark 2:3, 5-12

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Mark 10:45

"And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’" Mark 14:24

Christ can forgive sins on the basis of his having the divine authority to do so, and as a result of his forfeiting his own life as a ransom for others. Again, the only way Christ can forgive sins and die as a ransom is if he were sinless. Otherwise, he would need to be forgiven of his own sins and would be in need of a ransom.

"Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." Mark 2:28

God alone is sovereign over his own Sabbath:

"For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings." Leviticus 23:3

The only way that Christ could be Lord over the Sabbath is if he is God, and yet to be God is to be absolutely good.

"For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." Mark 8:38

"And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, 'How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said in the Holy Spirit, "THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, 'SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET.'" David himself calls Him 'Lord'; so in what sense is He his son?' And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him." Mark 12:35-37

"Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN CLOUDS with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together HIS ELECT from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven." Mark 13:26-27

"But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, 'Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?' And Jesus said, 'I AM; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.'" Mark 14:61-62

Christ is identifying himself as the Son of Man whom the prophet Daniel saw in a vision, the very One who reigns forever and whom all must serve:

"I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed." Daniel 7:13-14

Thus, Jesus is the Son of Man who sits enthroned forever at God's right hand as Lord over all the angels and the entire creation!

These are just some of the many passages from Mark that establish the absolute purity and sinlessness of the Lord Jesus. Here are several from John's Gospel:

"Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’" John 6:68-69

"And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, ‘He is a good man,’ others said, ‘No, he is leading the people astray.’ ... He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him." John 7:12, 18

Some of the crowds acknowledge that Jesus is good, with Christ later denying that there is anything false about him. In other words, Jesus doesn’t just agree with those who say about him that he is good, but goes way beyond that by asserting that he is absolutely good!

"The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him ... Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me?" John 8:29, 46

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ... I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me." John 10:11, 14

To summarize the preceding data, we learned that:

  1. Jesus is God's Holy One.
  2. Jesus is God's beloved Son.
  3. Jesus is the Heir.
  4. Jesus is the Forgiver of sinners.
  5. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.
  6. Jesus is David's Lord.
  7. Jesus is the Lord of the angels, of demons, and of the elect.
  8. Jesus is the the divine Son of Man who comes on the clouds to reign forever.

In light of the foregoing, we can now exegete the passage to see what the Lord Jesus actually meant to say to the rich man. In the first place, Jesus didn't say "I am not good, only God is good", but simply poses a question to the man to think more deeply about the implications of his words. The implication being that if Jesus is good, and only God is good, then Jesus is God. Again, note the logic behind this:

  1. God alone is (absolutely) good.
  2. Jesus is (absolutely) good.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is God.

If the man truly believed this then he must be willing to abandon everything for Christ. This is precisely what Jesus demanded:

"And looking at him, Jesus felt love for him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, FOLLOW ME.’" Mark 10:21

Jesus demands a devotion that is to be given solely to God. This is clearly seen in light of the fact that Jesus' demand was made right after the man had indicated his observance to the last six commands of the Ten Commandments. These commands were given to govern a person's relationship with others. The first four commandments govern a person's devotion to God. The man's trouble was that he loved money more than God, and hence his money became an idol. He had to be willing to die to his idolatry by giving it up in order to devote himself completely to the pure worship of God. Yet, amazingly, Jesus never asked the man to follow the first four commandments, or to follow God completely, but directed the man to follow him. The reason being is that to wholeheartedly follow the Lord Jesus is to fulfill one's obligation to God. Thus, Jesus was implicitly claiming to be God since he was basically saying that to follow him is to follow God, to obey him is to obey God, to love him is to love God. Therefore Jesus is God!

To put it another way, Mark wants his readers to understand that Jesus is the human appearance of Yahweh God Almighty. As one Evangelical writer put it:

... Mark wanted his readers to know that Jesus was "the Son of God" in a unique sense. Thus, when God announces that Jesus is his Son in 1:11 and 9:7, Mark's Greek reveals the unique nature of his sonship. In each instance, Mark uses the Greek adjective agapetos ("only beloved") in what Greek grammarians call the "second attributive position." An adjective in this position receives particular stress. In both 1:11 and 9:7, therefore, God says that Jesus is "my son - the uniquely beloved one." The high priest at Jesus' trial seems to understand the unusual connotation of Jesus' claim to divine sonship in the parable of the wicked tenants (12:6). Looking for a conviction, he asks Jesus the apparently astounding question, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" (14:61).

The unique nature of Jesus' relationship to God is evident throughout Mark's narrative. When Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic in 2:5, the scribes think disapprovingly, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Although the question is rhetorical - the scribes intend it to be a statement of the obvious truth that Jesus has usurped a divine prerogative - it prompts the Christian reader to think of Jesus as acting in the way God acts. Mark has led us to think of Jesus as God. This impression is confirmed in 4:41 when, after stilling the raging storm, the disciples ask, "Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?" The disciples know that the stilling of raging storms is the business of Yahweh (Ps. 65:7; 89:9; 107:28-30), and their question implies the unthinkable - that when they are in the presence of Jesus, they are in the presence of God himself.

The same implication arises from Jesus' question to the rich man. Jesus asks, "Why do you call me good? No one is good - except God alone" (10:18). We know by this time in the narrative that Jesus is good; as the people of the Decapolis have said, "He has done everything well" (7:37). But if Jesus is good and no one is good but God alone, then it implies that Jesus is God. (Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach, [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2005], Chapter 3. Mark: The Death of God's Son As Good News, pp. 63-64)

We couldn't have stated it any better!

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