Did Jesus Deny His Deity in His Conversation with the Rich Ruler?

In Luke 18:18-29 (and the parallel account in Mark 10:17-31), we read the narrative of the rich young ruler coming to Jesus and asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by saying “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.”

Jesus continues, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.” The young man replies, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus, however, knowing that he valued his wealth and riches more than God, instructs the man to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, and then to come and follow Jesus. At this, the man walks away greatly saddened because he has no interest in giving up his wealth.

Many of those who seek to deny the deity of Christ (such as Muslims) will often appeal to this passage as an example of Jesus allegedly renouncing his deity. Is this the case, however? Was Jesus really denying that He is God in stating, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.”The first important thing to notice is that Jesus Himself claims not only to be “good” but also to be perfect and completely without sin. Consider, for example, John 10:11 (“I am the good shepherd”) or John 8:46 (“Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”). We are also told by Paul that Jesus was without sin, for example in 2 Corinthians 5:21 (“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”). Thus, this situation with the rich young ruler is actually an affirmation of Jesus’ deity. The argument may be summarised in syllogistic form as follows:

Premise 1: According to Jesus, God alone is good.

Premise 2: According to Jesus, Jesus is good.

Conclusion: Therefore, according to Jesus, Jesus is God.

So what is going on in this incident with the rich young ruler? Jesus, I believe, is teasing out the implications of the young man’s statement. It is a rhetorical question designed to make the man thing long and hard about Jesus’ true identity.

Those who use this example as a proof text for justifying their denial of the deity of Jesus need to allow all of Scripture speak, and read the passages they quote in the context within which they appear. When one handles the text of Scripture honestly and responsibly in this regard, the true identity of Jesus becomes very clear: He is the eternal Son of God, and the second person of the Trinity.

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9 replies
  1. Geoffrey Charles says:

    Yes, if you read the scriptures like a Trinitarian, then you’ll come to Trinitarian conclusions.

    But why would you expect non-Trinitarians to do that? Do you read the Koran as a Muslim does?

    As for your syllogism, it could use clarification. Jesus of Mark and Luke claims only God is good, while Jesus of John makes lofty claims about his own goodness. Therefore, the Jesus of the synoptics is different that the Jesus of John.

    As you know, this is standard New Testament criticism, perhaps even consensus scholarship.

    As it does in arguments for the resurrection, doesn’t the consensus of scholarship matter when determining the character of Jesus?

    • Kurt says:

      As a former non-trinitarian myself, i used to read the Bible as a non-trinitarian would. But I came to faith, partly because I could not argue with the idea that Jesus claimed to be God. That’s just one reason, I could talk more about apologetics but you have probably heard it before.

      As For the Quran, I read it and interpret it the way Muhammad’s closest followers did. That’s the benefit of the hadith today. There was no such thing as political correctness then, so there was no equivocation about how to interpret beheading those who opposed “the profit.”

      And about the synoptic Gospels, the earliest, Mark, begins: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God.” Is that lofty enough?

    • Kurt says:

      Also, keep in mind what the author says, “Many of those who seek to deny the deity of Christ (such as Muslims)…” I would add Jehovah’s Witnesses and many more who claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word. So this argument is especially helpful for refuting those who hold contradictory positions. No one can say all of the Gospels are true and then say Jesus never claimed to be good.

  2. Mark Guetersloh says:

    If you read the scriptures looking for Truth, you’ll find it. That’s a promise from the God who inspired it. When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am?”, He certainly wasn’t searching for His own identity. Although it would be amusing to search the writings of the “scholars” to see just how many might be claiming just such a thing. In asking the question “Why do you say that I am good?”, Jesus is leading the rich young ruler to come to this conclusion on his own. By recording this dialogue, God, through the writers of the Gospels, is allowing us the same freedom. Then and now, except for those rare occassions when He requires a person, people or circumstance to accomplish His purpose, He maintains our status as free moral agents. Bias is something even the most celebrated and honest searcher deals with. The Christian fears that he might look to earnestly, or listen to keenly to the skeptic, and find an error in the Word, and thus have his faith shaken. The athiest fears the same. So each fashions for himself/herself a carefully crafted lense through which to view the evidence. A lense that will not allow the intrusion of troubling images or information. And so each rests comfortably in blissful ignorance, never having to worry that his worldview might be shaken. One thing I know for certain. Jesus came into this world to shake things up.

    The consensus of scholarship does matter. But it must be honest scholorship, always willing to admit the awful Truth that there may be things it does not or cannot know, and that the lack of knowing does not make the thing questioned untrue. When we substitute a lie so as to remove uncertainty, it takes us further from the Truth. And the better the lie, the faster and farther we go. The result of this kind of dishonest inquiry is that we become hopelessly lost. Dishonest inquiry is a malady that afflicts both Christian and athiest.

    “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” Blaise Pascal

    I’d humbly add the following. Faith isn’t even possible without Grace. And Grace can’t be received without faith. Like it or not (and I’ll be soundly scolded and ridiculed by the aggressive athiest for this), without faith, all you can ever see is shadow. It should be obvious to even the most decorated apologist and skeptic that there are very wise men on both sides of the argument. And so long as we remain free moral agents, this will ever be. Choice is necessary for love to have any meaning.

    And so He ever asks, “Why do you call me good?”

  3. Ronald Wood says:

    I agree with Mark. Jesus said I AM the Way- the only way to heaven is to be in Christ- the TRUTH- what is TRUTH. Read John 14:1-31. What is TRUTH- Read John 1:1-14. What is TRUTH Read John 8:28-32 What is TRUTH- Read John 18:37-38 and LIFE-who is LIFE-Read John 6:32-33,35.Read 1 John1:2 and go back and read John 1:1-14 and pay close attention to what verse 14 SAYS. God has given ALL of us free will to make decisions.God gave Adam & Eve free will to decide whether to obey GOD’S commands or not. The rest is history.The rich young ruler was given a choice to understand that Christ was born human,but still had the attributes of GOD in HIM.For 40 days in the wilderness Christ was tempted by Satan.Christ made the choice to obey HIS FATHER rather than Satan. We ALL have that same choice.When GOD created the world HE created the heaven’s and the earth.Through the Bible there is the Law of Scriptures. 1st the natural, then the spiritual.Examples: King Saul-the natural, King David the spiritual. Easu-the natural- Jacob the spiritual, Ishmael the natural-Issac the spiritual.We are born the natural BUT by the blood of Christ we are made spiritual.AMEN. Jesus is indeed GOD.Read John 14:6-10. Jesus already knew who He was.We don’t know who we are.Christ only ask us to find out what we can become.A child of GOD. It’s free,nothing to sign,no monthly payments,ALL we have to do is acknowledge we are separated from GOD by our sins,no matter how small it is incorruption can not enter into heaven.The gospel is wrapped up in 1 Cor.15:1-4. Let the blood of Christ wash away your sins.Become a new creature in Christ.When you do ALL things(natural) are forgotten.We become a new creation.All we have to do is BELIEVE in what CHRIST did for all of us on the cross.Read Hebrews 11:6,then find a Bible preaching body of believers and read the WORD OF GOD.Faith is our foundation to build upon.Read Romans 10:17. A good place to start to read is the book of Romans,the whole book if you WANT GOOD DOCTRINAL TEACHING.

    May GOD bless your life as you start your new walk with HIM.

  4. Mark Guetersloh says:

    And no good scholar would claim that the Jesus of John is different than the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. The alleged “differences” merely reflect the personality and purpose of the writer, and the God who inspired the writers. Matthew focused on Jesus as Messiah, emphasizing what Jesus said, and was written primarily for a Jewish audience. Mark sees Jesus as the suffering servant, focusing on what He did, and was written primaly to a Roman audience. Luke established Jesus as the Son of Man, focused on what He felt, and was written for a Greek audience. John presents Jesus as the Son of God, focusing on who Jesus was, and was written to the Church. Far from presenting a fractured Christ, the Gospel writers, together, give us a complete Christ.


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