WHY CALLEST THOU ME GOOD?
When Jesus was approached by a certain young rich man, the following conversation ensued:
“And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
“And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Matt. 19:16-17
And so we have the question: If only God is good, can we say we are a good Christian, or a good father, or a good mother?
To confuse the issue, there are verses like this:
“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
“But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
“The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
“As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:10-15
So on the one hand it appears that Jesus is saying he’s the good shepherd, on the other that he’s not even good.
It is no wonder that so many people think the Bible is a book full of contradictions. The unlearned and unbelieving will say, “It contradicts itself and you cannot trust it.”
But we know it to be he Word of God, and that when ever it appears to contradict, it is only an apparent contradiction, and that there is an explanation that lacks contradiction.
Whenever the Bible contradicts itself, we know that when originally given, the Word of God did not, and that apparent contradictions exist either in translation or in our understanding.
“Why callest thou me good?’ in Scripture is a literal absolute. Jesus was saying that literally, there is only one good. But it is time for a question that on the surface seems self-explanatory: What does he mean here by “good?”
Translation or understanding.
These are always the two areas that bring about contradictions as we read a Bible, that explain apparent contradictions in Scripture.
If we look up the word “good” in Matthew 19, we find the word “agathos” which is defined as “intrinsic virtue.” If we look at John 10, we find “good” is “kalos,” meaning “the appearance of virtue.”
Jesus was saying that as the good shepherd, his shepherding puts on the characteristics of virtue. But only God has the intrinsic value, the inherent nature of virtue.
God and God only.
Not Jesus, and if not Jesus, certainly no other man or woman.
Of course, if we fail to recognize that Jesus is God’s creation, that Jesus as a being separate from God had his own free will, and could have chosen to deviate from following God’s will, we have a problem with this.
In our understanding, we will fail to understand how Jesus could lack virtue that was inherent and inseparable. See how our understanding could create an apparent contradiction that could only be accepted by “You have to take it on faith?”
Indeed, we only have trust God on faith, but to do that, we have to recognize the integrity of God’s Word, that it does not contradict itself, that it contains literally no errors.
In a direct and literal way, only God has inherent goodness that cannot be separated from Who He is.
Jesus, not so much.
In his ministry, he could have veered, went his own way, followed his own will or even rejected God’s outright as Adam did. In all real and literal ways, Jesus was tempted, but in a real and literal way, God cannot be. God as a virtue that is inseparable from Who He is. Only God is agathos.
But Jesus is the good shepherd. He put on all righteousness, he put on all virtue. By choice and free will, he did the right things. Jesus is the kalos shepherd.
See the resolution an accurate translation makes?
Now, let’s muddy the water again.
“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
“A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” Matt. 12:34-35
One second, Jesus says only God is good, agathos, now he’s saying a man can indeed be agathos. It’s apparent contradiction time.
First, who is this “good man?” It does not identify him does it”?
Matthew 19 clearly identified Jesus and everybody else as not good, not containing inherent virtue, and God specifically as having this quality.
Matthew 12, however, is a general reference to a paradox man who is personally unidentified, hypothetical.
You see how, if we fail to understand Biblical usage, we might think we have a contradiction?
In Scripture, a hypothetical paradox is a figure of speech that underscores figuratively a very literal truth. It is Biblically a literary device that can use a parallel to bring attention to very real qualities or realities.
What quality, what reality is brought alive by the paradox of a hypothetical “agathos” man?
“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Matt. 12:36-37
At judgment, when our words and our works are judged, we will find that our lives will be accounted as to whether they can be considered to have had intrinsic virtue or not. And this accounting will be based on the intrinsic virtue of words and works.
Look at Tabitha:
“Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.” Acts 9:36
This is the first application of the word “agathos” in the Church, and it refers to her works.
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
“If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”1 Cor. 3:11-15
You see? For the Christian, the works that have intrinsic virtue will be tried and remain. The rest, no.
“(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
“Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” Rom. 2:13-16
Thus, based on the inherent virtue of the body of works and the witness of conscience, and man, is by the grace of God accounted as having intrinsic virtue.
But the leaders of Israel, men who were certain they were good, were a generation of vipers, Jesus said! They bore rotten fruit!
We will not worry about whether we are good. We will concern ourselves, one act at a time, with emulating Jesus Christ and seeing to it that each act we dedicate to our Lord has intrinsic value, that it is indeed a blessing to God and to someone in God’s Church.