In Mark 10:18, Jesus tells a young man that there is no one good but God the Father. Does this imply that Jesus did not think of Himself as divine?
In order to deny Christ’s divinity, some critics claim that Mark 10:17-18 is proof that Jesus denied His role as the Messiah. As the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible argues, “Jesus says that no one is good except for God. He also seems to be saying he is neither good nor God.” Are the critics correct?
And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. (Mark 10:17-18)
The traditional interpretation of this passage sees Jesus deflecting the man’s compliment as a warning of sorts. Essentially, Jesus was telling him to watch his tongue. In Jewish thought, only God was good, so by calling Jesus “Good Master,” he was essentially acknowledging that Jesus was identifiable with God. However, the context makes it quite unlikely that this man believed Jesus was the Son of God so Christ, instead, directs the compliment to God, whom the man most likely already believed in.
But why couldn’t Jesus tell the man that He was the Son of God? Why answer the man in such a roundabout way? The answer is found in the social structure of the time. The Biblical world functioned as an agonistic culture, that is, one based on honor and shame. Malina and Rohrbaugh in their Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels note that,
“In a limited good society, compliments indicate aggression; they implicitly accuse a person of rising above the rest of one’s fellows at their expense. Compliments conceal envy, not unlike the evil eye. Jesus must fend off the aggressive accusation by denying any special quality of the sort that might give offense to others. Such a procedure is fully in line with the canons of honor. The honorable person, when challenged, pushes away the challenge and diffuses any accusation that might fuel the position of his opponents. Here the counterquestion serves to ward off the unwitting challenge, while the proverb “No one is good but God alone” (v. 18) wards off the envy.”
Bruce Malina; Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Kindle Locations 4088-4089). Kindle Edition.
By parrying the compliment in a way that doesn’t deny His position in the Godhead, Jesus teaches the man to think carefully before he speaks and avoids any conflict or claim to honor that would give his enemies fuel for their aggression. If the critics were right, Jesus would have said, “No, I am not good, God alone is good,” but we don’t find that here. If one thing is for certain, what is not good is the critical thinking skills of most online skeptics!