Mark 10:18 Jesus said to him “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. This is from the story of the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus. Verse 17 “and as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’” So Muslims will go with that and say “Jesus says that he’s not good; only God is good.” You know the commandments – do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother. Some will use this to get you to see Jesus is saying that if you want to inherit eternal life, just keep the law. He said to him “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” This guy’s good to go right? But verse 21 Jesus looking at him, loved him and said to him “You lack one thing. Go sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven and come follow me.” Verse 22 disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful and for he had great possessions. Notice it wasn’t enough that he had kept the law. Jesus says “I’m here now, you have to come and follow me” and the guy didn’t want to do it. He didn’t want to give up his possessions and come to follow Jesus. Notice there was more than simply keeping the commandments like not bearing false witness, honoring your father and mother and so on.
But the actual claim here is where Jesus says “Why do you call me good. No one is good except God alone.” The Muslim claim here is “Jesus says only God is good. He’s denying his own goodness.” There should be a problem right there. According to Islam, could Jesus possibly be denying his own goodness here? If you’re gonna follow the Quran, you can’t say that because Jesus was absolutely essentially pure and good from conception. Surah 19:19 He said: “Nay I am only a messenger from thy Lord (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.” And he shall be among those who are righteous (Surah 3:46) And in the hadith, it’s declared that Satan touches every child born into the world but he could not touch Jesus. According to Islam, if we say Jesus was denying his own goodness, we’d have to say okay Islam as false.
Is that what Jesus is saying here? Notice at no point does Jesus say “I’m not good.” He asks a question “Why do you call me good?” There’s a big difference between saying “I’m not such-and-such” versus “Why are you calling me such-and-such?” Keep in mind this is the same guy who calls himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus, of one of his titles for himself, is the Good Shepherd. What Jesus is saying is “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” There are two major interpretations of this text. If you knew nothing else, which sadly is the situation for a Muslim who’s going to this verse and he’s not reading anything else that Jesus is saying, he’s not reading all the Gospels, he’s not reading the Gospel of Matthew, he’s not even reading the chapter, he’s going to the verse that his Muslim Imam told him to go to. And assuming that Jesus is denying his own goodness, which would contradict Islam and contradict Jesus’ own words in the Gospels, and tries to give an Islamic twist in order to deny the deity of Christ, that’s what happens. So there are two possible interpretations here. One that Jesus is denying his own goodness, if all you read was this little verse and you didn’t read anything else Jesus said, you could say “He’s saying he’s not good. Only God is good.” Or there’s another interpretation.
He’s asking the man “Why are you calling me good? You know that there’s only one person who’s truly good. So why are you calling me that?” In other words, he’s simply asking this man a question about whether he understands who Jesus is. Do you really understand my identity? Which one does Jesus mean? In order to know that, we’d go to other things Jesus said to see what Jesus believed about himself, to see if Jesus thought that he was good, to see if Jesus believed that he was God. We see this over and over and over again. Go to a verse that can be interpreted in more than one way, give it the interpretation you want even though there are other things Jesus said that make it clear what he meant. And then you ignore all the clear verses that clarify what its meaning is, you throw all of those out and you stick with the meaning that contradicts everything else that Jesus said because that’s how you have to defend Islam.
That very chapter proves that Jesus does claim to be God and therefore he’s absolutely good because if only God is absolutely good and Jesus is absolutely good then he’s absolutely God. How do we know that? Because the rich man walked away after Jesus said “give up all you have to the poor and you have treasures in heaven and follow me.” He emphasized the fact that keeping commands is not what’s going to save you or perfect you; it’s giving up everything for me that will lead to eternal life. And the rich man loved his riches more than Jesus, showing he didn’t believe that Jesus was good enough for him to give up everything to follow Christ. Then Jesus says “How hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He says it’s easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Notice what the disciples say in Mark 10:26-27 They were astonished beyond measure saying among themselves “Who then can be saved?” If this is the case, then it is humanly impossible to be saved. And what does Jesus say in verse 27? Jesus looking at them said “With men it is impossible.” You’re right. A man cannot save himself, let alone someone else but not with God. For with God, all things are possible. Jesus agrees it is humanly impossible to obtain salvation on your own, a man, a woman cannot obtain salvation, God has to do it for them. In Mark 10:45, our Lord says “for even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus says “I will offer my soul, my life to ransom not just one human life but many human lives.” In other words Christ is claiming to be able to do what he just said was humanly impossible, which only God could do, save not one life but many lives. In Mark 14: 24, he said to them “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.” I will shed my blood, offer my soul for a ransom to save many lives. Not only does that show that Jesus has to be God according to his own statement in Mark 10:27 “with man it’s impossible but with God all things are possible.”
Mark 10:45 For the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to offer my life (literally “soul”, Greek “psuche”) as a ransom for many. Psalm 49:7 None of them can, by any means, redeem the other, nor give to God a ransom for anyone, for the redemption of their souls is costly, even so people cease to exist forever, making efforts live eternally and not see the pit. The psalmist said “No human being can offer the price of redemption for a single human soul so that they continue to live forever. It cannot be done. That’s why in Psalm 49:15 in perfect agreement with the words of Jesus “but God shall redeem my soul from the power of Sheol for he shall receive me. Jesus just said it is impossible for any man to save himself; only God can do that. The psalmist agrees no human being can redeem another human life, offer to God a ransom to save a human life from dying, only God can do that, and that same chapter Mark 10 Jesus says “I, the son of man, will offer my soul, my life to ransom many lives.” Does that sound like Jesus is claiming to be less than absolutely good and therefore less than absolutely God or is that an explicit clear-cut testimony to Jesus being able to do what only God can do (i.e. save human souls) because he is absolutely good.