Did Christ Deny Moral Perfection?
Near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, a wealthy young ruler (whose name remains anonymous) came running unto Jesus with an urgent question. When he finally reached Him, the young man humbly knelt before the Christ and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Before Jesus answered the gentleman’s question, He first responded by saying, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). Jesus then proceeded to answer the rich man’s question by instructing him to keep the commandments of God.
What did Jesus mean when He stated that “no one is good but One, that is, God”? Was the Lord’s question intended to teach that no one else but God ought to be called “good”? Was His question (“Why do you call me good?”) asked because He did not believe He was good in the sense of God being good? Skeptics charge that Jesus was denying moral perfection—that He was not really God in the flesh like so many had claimed (cf. Matthew 16:16; John 20:28; etc.). What is the truth of matter?
First of all, Jesus was not teaching that we never can describe others by using the adjective “good.” If so, then this contradicts not only other statements by Jesus, but also the rest of Scripture. The psalmist stated that the man who “deals graciously and lends” is “a good man” (Psalm 112:5). The wise man said that one who “leaves an inheritance to his children's children” is “a good man” (Proverbs 13:22). In his history of the early church, Luke recorded that “Barnabas was a good man” (Acts 11:24). Even Jesus stated previous to his encounter with the rich young ruler that “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart, brings forth good things” (Matthew 12:35). Thus, clearly when Jesus spoke to the wealthy ruler He was not using “good” in the sense of a man being “good.” Rather, He was using it in the sense of God being “supremely good.” The kind of goodness to which He was referring belonged only to God.
All right. We understand that Jesus did not mean that we must expunge the word “good” from all conversations unless we are describing God. But was Christ implying that He was not God or that He was not morally perfect? No. Jesus indicated on several other occasions that He was deity (cf. Mark 14:62; John 9:36-38; 10:10; etc.), and so His statements recorded in Mark 10:17-22 (as well as Matthew 19:16-22 and Luke 18:18-23) certainly were not meant to discredit his Godhood. Furthermore, the Bible reveals that Jesus never sinned—i.e., He was morally perfect. He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). In His conversation with the rich ruler, Jesus did not intend to deny divinity, but instead was actually asserting that He was God (and thus morally perfect). Jesus simply wanted this young man to appreciate the significance of the title he had employed and to realize to Whom he was speaking. In short, Christ’s words could be paraphrased thusly: “Do you know the meaning of this word you apply to me and which you use so freely? There is none good save God; if you apply that term to me, and you understand what you mean, you affirm that I am God” (Foster, 1971, p. 1022).
Yes, truly Jesus is the Son of God. He claimed it (John 10:30). His works testified to it (John 20:30-31). His friends confessed it (John 20:28). And many of His enemies eventually admitted it (Matthew 27:4,54; Acts 6:7).
Foster, R.C. (1971), Studies in the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).