No one is good except God alone

In Luke 18 we find a conversation between Jesus and a young influential and wealthy man (the "rich young ruler").

The conversation starts this way:

18A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit life?"
19"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good - except God alone."

Many Muslims read this response as if Jesus says the following two things:

  1. Only God deserves to be called good. It is not proper to call anyone else "good" except God.
  2. Jesus denies to be God by saying "do not call me good".

The meaning of this conversation has already been explained and discussed in detail for the parallel passage in Mark 10:18 [please read it; here a very short summary: Jesus never actually denied his divinity - he just directed a question at the young man and challenged him to think about what he was REALLY saying about Jesus]. Jesus asks a question (WHY...?), he does not deny it was correct or improper to call him good. It is therefore established that 2. is not correct.

Since many Muslims seem not to be satisfied with this explanation, here is another thought to complement and reinforce the insights from the other discussion.

Let us now take a closer look at the first part of the above listed interpretation of Jesus' response. If 1. above is correct, what would the implication be if Jesus then calls himself good? Would that not be a claim to deity, after he has established that it is improper to call good anybody except God?

In chapters 6-12 in the Gospel according to John is reported conflict after conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities of his day about the issue of the identity and authority of Jesus.

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.

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