Dale Tuggy

Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.


  1. Mario Stratta
    August 23, 2017 @ 4:34 am

    I think, Jesus meant that the one who asks Him does not know that Jesus is God. So, Jesus told to a man who does not know that Jesus is God that only God is good and thus his reference to Jesus being good is not founded in that man’s thought system. [Victor Porton, August 22, 2017 @ 4:04 pm]

    Jesus is saying that only God is good. Even Jesus himself was deriving his goodness from following God with his whole being, and he challenged the rich young ruler and all of us to do the same. [Benjamin Scott, August 23, 2017 @ 2:35 am]

    Victor and Benjamin,

    your statements could not be more at variance. One thought for both of you, anyway: Jesus was not reprimanding the Rich Man, he knew that he was sincerely trying to improve his life, so much so that “… [a]s Jesus looked at him, he felt love for him … (Mark 10:21)”.

  2. Benjamin Scott
    August 23, 2017 @ 2:35 am


    I don’t have any commentaries on this text available, but here’s how it reads most naturally to me. I think it’s a matter of fitting it in with Jesus’ larger dialog, thought and interactions with people.

    Jesus’ quick reaction to being called “good” confronted the rich young ruler’s whole approach to him. It set the whole conversation back on the ground where it belonged, rather than in the fantasy world the man was living in. The rich man approached Jesus the way many “good” and friendly people of status and rank approach others they want something out of…, namely, with polite flattery. Perhaps this man didn’t do this on purpose but more by way of cultural habit or upbringing. In any case, it was an approach that was outside of what Jesus found to be realistic. In approaching Jesus in this manner, he certainly wasn’t asking for the answer Jesus was going to give him. He wanted something that would fit in with his almost complete life, and would top it off, so to speak. So knowingly or not, he was imposing his worldview and perspective on the conversation in calling Jesus “good.” I have experienced this first hand with people of rank and wealth and it is difficult to stand up to. The easy path is to just take the compliment, give them what they want and move on. Jesus took the hard and noble path, refusing to be dazzled by what the man represented.

    Jesus confronted his perspective straight off by his reply. Jesus wasn’t going to play the traditional status game in which everyone pretends that they are above the dirty masses and share no responsibility for them. Everyone in that world is “good.” By confronting his initial flattery head on with the reply that there is none good but God, Jesus was telling him where his loyalties were at, and confronting him with his own loyalties to God at the same time. Neither the Messiah nor anyone else has the right to make up the rules of life in their own self interested terms and then label it “good”, even if those rules are based in the law of Moses itself. Those who do so are always looking for a crowd of people to gather around them, who affirm their lifestyle as “good.” Perhaps for Jesus the “good” temptation would be to rule the world without dying for it? It seems that for the rich young ruler the “good” temptation had been to seek to be religious without accepting the responsibility that wealth and privilege had given him to fully assist others who were in need. In giving up privilege and wealth to follow this persecuted yet “good” Messiah, who had nowhere to lay his head, he would have truly acknowledged who Jesus stood for, the Father, who alone was good. When Jesus refused his flattery, ascribed goodness only to God, and then told him to follow him, he was asking the man to learn to truly follow the God whom Jesus served. The man was confronted directly and caught in his own words. The good teacher had told him the truth, a truth he was unable to bear. Unable to respond to the trap he had sprung on himself, and unwilling to repent, he walked away sad. He should have walked after Jesus instead.

    Although the rich young ruler suspected something was missing in his life, and hence his question to Jesus, he was someone who could not come to terms with what it truly meant to follow God or to follow the Messiah. He was looking for a way of escape from the requirements Jesus would potentially give to him. He came armed with flattery, hoping to tempt Jesus out of telling him the truth. Jesus put his finger on why this man had blindness to see what was missing in his life. Keeping the commandments, whatever that meant, and flattering oneself and others for doing so, was not the honest path of God, who alone is good. Jesus refused the compliment, felt compassion for the man’s difficult inner battle between following God and following his status and wealth, and ultimately told him the truth about what he was really following. The man chose poorly and many of us do as well, over far smaller idols than the ones this man had. What’s worse is that we too continue to tempt Jesus. But we do so by pretending that he didn’t mean what he said. We call him “good” every Sunday whilst singing our praise songs to him and worshiping him as our GOD…, but the standard remains the same. Jesus was not God. Rather, he was the Messiah. And as the Messiah he was loyal to God, the only one we can truly call “good.” Why do you call me “Lord, Lord?” Why do you call me “good, good” and do not do what I say? Why do you call me, “God, God,” and do not do what I say? It all boils down to the same basic issues. We’d rather worship Jesus as God than to follow him as a man who represented God. Maybe someday when we meet him face to face, he’ll be less honest with us than he was with this young man. Maybe all that flattery will go to his head? It’s anybody’s gamble but I doubt it will work.

    So I agree with what you’re saying about what “good” means in this context. Jesus is saying that only God is good. Even Jesus himself was deriving his goodness from following God with his whole being, and he challenged the rich young ruler and all of us to do the same.

  3. Victor Porton
    August 22, 2017 @ 4:04 pm

    I think, Jesus meant that the one who asks Him does not know that Jesus is God. So, Jesus told to a man who does not know that Jesus is God that only God is good and thus his reference to Jesus being good is not founded in that man’s thought system.

    • Benjamin Scott
      August 23, 2017 @ 2:50 am

      Respectfully, this interpretation is driven by externally imposed ideology rather than exegesis, since it contradicts what Jesus is actually saying. Jesus speaks of God as being someone other than Himself, here and elsewhere. In the larger context of the gospels in which this story is found, Jesus is referenced as being the Messiah, as being a man, as being God’s son, but never as being God Himself. I’m not sure what it could mean that Jesus is God, when he refers to God as someone else other than himself? Jesus question and quick followup statement that only God is good, is a clear and straight forward denial that He’s God. He might just as well remove a few letters and say to you, “Why do you call me God? Only God is God.”

      Can you find anywhere in the Synoptic gospels in which Jesus is affirmed to be God? If so then perhaps your interpretation has merit. Otherwise it seems you’re inserting a foreign idea into the text.

  4. Mario Stratta
    August 20, 2017 @ 6:18 pm

    Some commentaries are incredibly resourceful, in their capacity of twisting the obvious sense of Jesus’ words. See here:

    … Jesus’ question to the [rich young] man is designed not to deny His deity, but rather to draw the man to recognize Christ’s divine identity. Such an interpretation is substantiated by passages such as John 10:11 wherein Jesus declares Himself to be “the good shepherd.” Similarly in John 8:46, Jesus asks, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” Of course the answer is “no.” Jesus was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), holy and undefiled (Hebrews 7:26), the only One who “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

    The logic can thus be summarized as follows:
    1: Jesus claims only God is good.
    2: Jesus claims to be good.
    3: Therefore, Jesus claims to be God.
    (from https://www.gotquestions.org/good-God-alone.html)

    “Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.” (Walter Scott, Marmion)

  5. Xavier
    August 20, 2017 @ 4:52 pm

    Jesus has simply distinguished between himself and God Who alone is ABSOLUTELY good.

  6. Corby Amos
    August 20, 2017 @ 4:28 pm


    Here is the EDNT’s take on the use of “good”:

    6. The call of the rich man (Mark 10:17–22; Matt 19:16–22; Luke 18:18–23) gives the question of the meaning of ?????? a special theological relevance. The rich man (Matthew alters it to a “young man” and Luke to a “ruler” [Haenchen 351]) kneels respectfully before Jesus and calls him “good (= honored) teacher.” Unusual for Palestinian Judaism, such a form of address was nevertheless possible in Greek-speaking areas (in addition to Matt 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17, cf. the references in Lohmeyer 208, n. 2; the address “good teacher” is attested in b. Ta?an [Babylonian Talmud]. 24b). Jesus rebukes the rich man: “No one is good but God alone.”

    Jesus thus resorts to OT tradition: it is essential to OT thought that Yahweh is good (?ôb) and that the history of Israel testifies to him in his goodness. The emphatically personal—compared with Greek popular philosophy and the Hellenistic point of view (details in Grundmann 11–13 and Beyreuther 98f.)—and fundamental confession is: Praise Yahweh, “for he is good” (1 Chr 16:34; 2 Chr 5:13; Ezra 3:11f.; Ps 118:1ff.; cf. the Jewish personal form in Philo All. I, 47; Philo Som. I, 149). The experience of redemption in the Exodus, the possession of the land, and Israel’s preservation in the course of history all document Yahweh’s “goodness” (cf. Exod 18:9; Num 10:29ff.; Hos 8:3; 14:3). In Jeremiah the “goodness” of God takes on a special eschatological accent (Jer 8:15; 14:11, 19; 17:6; etc., esp. 32:42; details in Grundmann 13f.). Over against Mark (and Luke), Matthew has transformed the offensive form of address into a question about the good that is necessary to the attainment of eternal life (19:16). The answer is the call to discipleship (details in Haenchen 358f.; Harnisch 171ff.).