Why Are You Calling Me Good?

  In the interpretation of any text, there is a narrow context and a broader context. One must consider both if one desires to learn the whole truth, and cannot expect to have discovered it until then.

  Let us make an example of the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill, which goes:

  "Jack and Jill went up the hill
   To fetch a pail of water
   Jack fell down and broke his crown
   And Jill came tumbling after."

  The narrow context of the passage can only tell us who the characters are in our little poem, and what happened to them in these few short lines.

  But if we had a broader context, we would be able to determine much, much more. Such as:

  - who were Jack and Jill, really? Were they rich or poor, young or old? Married, dating, or too young to be dating? Still in school or working?
  - why did Jack fall down in the first place? And how serious an injury was the breaking of his crown? How badly hurt was Jill?
  - Did anyone come to their rescue? Did they survive their hill-climbing and water-fetching ordeal?

  As you can see, there is much information that we don't know about our friends Jack and Jill. If we had more data, then obviously we could answer all our other questions. But without this data, some might be inclined to make presumptions about our hero and heroine that are totally without basis. 

  This is precisely what many Muslims and other unbelievers do with the text of the Bible. They come across a Bible verse, jump on the narrow context and claim they know what it means. But in so doing, they totally ignore the broader context and pretend it does not matter, which would be as reasonable as claiming that, 

  "Jack and Jill were Zionist agents on their way to murder innocent Muslim children when they were assassinated just in time by a Jihadi sniper. That is why they fell down the hill."

  Ridiculous, I know. That is nothing more than baseless and fanciful opinion, I understand that, but that is exactly what these folks are doing when they misinterpret Yeshua's (Jesus') words in Luke 18:19. They pluck out the part of the verse that they like, and ignore the broader context of not just the chapter, but of the entire Gospel of Luke.

  Let's take a look at our passage in its narrow context. All text in brackets is mine:  

Luke 18:18-30 (Complete Jewish Bible)

18 One of the leaders asked him, “Good rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?” 

19 Yeshua said to him, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good but God!

20 You know the mitzvot
 [commandments] — ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony, honor your father and mother, . . .’

21 He 
[the young man] replied, “I have kept all these since I was a boy.” 

22 On hearing this Yeshua said to him, “There is one thing you still lack. Sell whatever you have, distribute the proceeds to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me!” 

23 But when the man heard this, he became very sad, because he was very rich.

24 Yeshua looked at him and said, “How hard it is for people with wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!

25 It’s easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!”

26 Those who heard this asked, “Then who can be saved?”

27 He said, “What is impossible humanly is possible with God.”

28 Kefa [Peter] said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” 

29 Yeshua answered them, “Yes! I tell you that everyone who has left house, wife, brothers, parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 

30 will receive many times as much in the ‘olam hazeh, and in the ‘olam haba eternal life.

  Examining the entire passage as a whole, we see what the topic is: 

  Salvation, or how one can be saved.

  The first verse (v. 18) talks about eternal life, and so does the last verse (v. 30), bracketing the entire passage.

  Look closely.

  Salvation is discussed in every verse from vv. 18-30. The conversation begins with the young ruler asking Rabbi Yeshua what he must do to go to heaven, and it ends with Jesus promising rewards in that heaven to those who have given up temporal pleasures and desires to pursue the Kingdom of God.

  Now, when the Gospels say that the young man was a ruler, this means that he was, at the very least, not just influential in his synagogue, but possibly even the ruler of one. As such, the young man would have been learned in the Law apart from being highly-regarded in society. Yet, even though he had lived a life that was morally beyond reproach, he was aware that there was still something he lacked. 

  He knew Yeshua had the answer he was seeking, hence his question:

  Good rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?” (v.18)

  As He usually did, Jesus asked him a piercing and probing question in reply:

  “Why are you calling me good? No one is good but God!" (v. 19)

  Some scholars believe that Jesus was asking him, "Do you believe that I am God? Since only God is good and you are calling Me good, then it must mean that you understand that I am God." This man was asking the most important question that anyone could ever ask, and he was asking the Best Person anyone could ever ask! If anyone could tell him how to obtain eternal life, it was Jesus, Who said in John 17,

 3 "This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ." HCSB

  That is eternal life: a relationship with God. Jesus said, the key to eternal life isn't what you do, it's Who you know.

  But there was the young man's problem: he didn't know Who it was he was speaking to. All he was thinking was, what more can I do to get myself into heaven? For him, it was an issue of, "What do I do?" rather than "How do I get to know God?"

  Rather than rattling off a set of instructions, the first thing Jesus asks him is,

  "Why are you calling Me good?"

  Even if the young man was attempting to flatter Jesus with his greeting, it would not matter. Jesus constantly encouraged those who He dealt with to search their hearts and re-examine their beliefs about themselves and their relationship with God, just as He did in Luke 5:21-24; 6:8-9; 7:31-35, 7:40-50, John 3:1-21, 4:7-26, for example. This young man would be no exception.

  Jesus always cut to the chase, He always went to the core issue: the issue of the man's heart and whether he was prepared to hear the answer, act obediently upon it and by doing so receive eternal life.

  This was a man who had lived a life that was perfect as far as the Law was concerned and who was technically "good," and yet Jesus bluntly confronts him with a truth:

  You will never be "good enough" because only God is good.

  The young man had an idol in his life which Jesus was about to expose because it was keeping the man from a relationship with God. Jesus continues (text in brackets mine):

20 You know the mitzvot [commandments] — ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony, honor your father and mother...’
21 He [the young man] replied, “I have kept all these since I was a boy.”

22 On hearing this Yeshua said to him, “There is one thing you still lack. Sell whatever you have, distribute the proceeds to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me!”

23 But when the man heard this, he became very sad, because he was very rich.

  Did you notice that? Did you notice what Jesus said to the man who had everything?

  Let go of all that, and come... follow ME.

  The young man had kept the Law all his life, but was unwilling to let go of his idol, his wealth -- the one thing that was keeping him from a true and full relationship with God -- to follow Yeshua. So much for being "good."
This picture from:
and jonathanmerritt.com

  Throughout the rest of the passage, Jesus explains how the way to eternal life involves loving God above all else and allowing nothing to come between us and our relationship with Him.

  Unfortunately, Muslims and other unbelievers discard everything else we have seen above to focus on just one part of verse 19, in which Yeshua says, "No one is good but God!" and then claim that this is Jesus denying His own deity!

  Some have even gone so far as to turn Yeshua's interrogatory question, “Why are you calling me good?" into “I am not good!" But Jesus said nothing of the sort, not in this passage or any other. Jesus is named as God in the New Testament. He is worshiped as God and never refuses the worship. He calls Himself by The Name and uses titles that rightfully only belong to God. 

  And that is our broader context. 

  Jesus cannot be saying in v. 19 that He is not God because the Gospel writer tells us in passages previous and following that Yeshua is YHWH come in the flesh. 

  This is clear as early as the first chapter of his Gospel, where Luke relates the angel Gabriel's words to Mary,

Luke 1 (HCSB) 

31 Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus.

32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.

33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." 


35 The angel replied to her: 
     “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
       and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
       Therefore, the holy One to be born
       will be called the Son of God." 

  While here, Jesus applies a prophetic Triadic (displaying the Triunity of God) text unto Himself:   

Luke 4 (HCSB)

17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." (See Isaiah 61:1-2)

  Here are other examples of Jesus' affirmations of His deity or acts which can only be done by God:

  Luke 5:20-24  Forgives a paralytic man of his sins and heals him 

  Luke 6:1-11    Declares Himself as "Lord of the Sabbath" and heals a man on the Sabbath. The Sabbath had been ordained by YHWH God as part of the Mosaic Law, and its violation was punishable by death. And yet, here was Yeshua calling Himself Lord over a divine ordinance   

  Luke 6:46-49  Calls for those who come to Him to hear His words and act on them. Unlike the prophets who came before Him, Yeshua never says, "This is the word of the Lord." Jesus always spoke with the direct authority of YHWH God. There was never any tentativeness about His pronouncements 

  Luke 7:27       Applies the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 to Himself, saying He is the YHWH Who was to come to His temple

  Luke 7:47-50  Once again, forgives a sinner of her sins  

  There are many other examples, but let us close with one of the most definitive claims made by Jesus.

  In Luke 22, Yeshua uses the Divine Name "I Am" for Himself, and enrages the Sanhedrin:

69 From now on the Son of Man will be sitting at the right of the power of God. (see Psa. 110:1)

70 And they all said, Then are you the Son of God? And He said to them, You say it, because I AM!  

71 And they said, Why do we yet have need of witness? For we ourselves heard it from His mouth." LITV

  Is Jesus God? 

  From His very own lips, we have seen His declaration. 

Jesus is...

  And yet the rich young ruler missed it! 

  The Lord of the universe was standing right in front of him, and yet the young man couldn't see Him for Who He was... all because his heart and mind were trapped in a love affair with his possessions

  If you're more concerned today with anything other than your relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then you are in the same boat as the rich young ruler, and heaven is closed to you. 

  So do yourself a favor. Repent of your sins right now and call on Yeshua to save you. 

  He will rescue you no matter your situation. 

  Because with God, what is impossible humanly is possible with God!

  With thanks to Ptr John Samson, substitute host on Dr White's podcast "The Dividing Line," for his very timely and excellent discussion of the Luke text above, and to my fellow E-MAMs, who helped put this together. God bless you, guys! It is my honor to serve the Lord with you!

  See also:





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