No one is good but God alone (Mk 10:18)

I went to a lecture by Richard Bauckham this week about the christology of Mark's gospel. It was, as you would expect, great. But the big "Of course!" moment for me was in his brief discussion on the story of the Rich Young Ruler who met Jesus (Mk 10:17-31).

The Ruler refers to Jesus as "Good teacher" and Jesus responds with the words, "Why do you call me good? No one is good - except God alone".

This saying has always puzzled me (on the rare occasions when I have cast a sideways glance at it). It looks like Jesus is rebuking the Ruler for calling him 'good' because only God - not Jesus - is good. For a well trained Chalcedonian graduate such as myself this feels ... odd to say the least.

Bauckham's talk gave me two new insights on this puzzling question:

(a) The words 'but God alone' are an allusion to the shema (as are the same words in 2:27).

(b) Jesus is not rebuking the man and in the process denying that he himself is good. Rather he is using a penetrating question to push the man (and Mark is pushing his readers) to think through the implications of his own words to Jesus. So Jesus' question to the man is designed to draw him to recognizing Christ's divine identity.

Now this claim makes perfect sense in the flow of Mark's unfolding narrative revelation of Jesus' identity. Throughout the gospel we have stories in which the issue of Jesus' identity is raised again and again in very tantilizing ways. It is only before the High Priest in 14:62 that the question of Jesus' identity is overtly clarified. The story in Mark 10 is one of a sequence of stories designed (in part) to raise the question of Jesus' identity and to point readers towards his sharing in the identity of the one God of Israel.

You know what? I think this is indeed so!


simon said…
This sounds like a good reading of Mark 10. I wonder how the idea of the slow unfolding of Jesus' identity fits with Mark's big-bang introduction of Jesus, messiah, Son of God, a bold critique of Imperial ideology as well as clear statement of Jesus' identity.

Do you know if Bauckham has written anything on Mark (aside from Jesus and the Eyewitnesses)?
Anonymous said…
I so wanted to be at the colloquium last Thursday, but unfortunately events conspired against me. Glad it was a good day, Robin!
Anonymous said…
I had the same "A ha" moment on the same passage when debating with a Jehovah's witness 20 years ago. Its the only explanation that fits.

Out of it came a 30 day devotional on the deity of Christ. You have inspired me to rework it a bit, and maybe blog my way through it.

Michael Bell
Anonymous said…

I have a thank you christmas present for you and your readers at

Couldn't find an email to send you details. Would you check it out and see if you would like to promote it to your readers?

Michael Bell
Adam Pastor said…
Greetings Robin Parry

I know you said you have looked at this verse sideways;
however, if you clearly look at it again, and take it for what it says, Jesus is clearly differentiating himself from the ONE GOD.
Remember, neither Jesus, the Ruler nor any one of Bible times
were "Chalcedonian"!!
That's a later, post/extra-biblical development.

No, like Jesus, the Jews and believers of Bible times, believed in solely
ONE invisible GOD, the Father.
[1 Cor 8.4,6; John 17.3, Deut 6.4]

The ONE GOD is intrinsically GOOD!
Whilst Jesus, although sinless, learned he obedience [Heb 5.8] and grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
[Luke 2.40]

Jesus means what he says ...
He is indeed rebuking the Ruler for calling him 'good' because only God - not Jesus - is good; in that context.

Jesus is clearly distinct from the ONE GOD, in whom Jews believe in.

Therefore Robin,
for more info on this subject,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you in your quest for truth.

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor
Robin Parry said…
Simon - a good Q that Bauckham did not address in his talk.

Bauckham has written an essay on the cry of dereliction in Mark. Probably other stuff too but I am not sure.
Robin Parry said…

your Christmas Day present link does not work

Robin Parry said…

Well, of course, in one important sense none of the biblical authors were Calcedonian. But I do think that the christology of Chalcedon summarizes key ideas from NT christology. So I think that Chalcedonian Christology is biblical.

I would not dispute Christ's humanity nor God's unity and uniqueness - nor would any orthodox Christian. But I am convinced that the NT sees Jesus as, in the words of Bauckham, participating in the identity of the one God of Israel.

Check out his new book "Jesus and the God of Israel" (Paternoster, 2008)

Kind Regards

Anonymous said…
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John 10:10
Anonymous said…
Hi Robin,

Sorry, the link to the contest is

To clarify, one of the prizes is automatically yours, the other will go to the reader of your blog who first identifies the cities and waterfall in the header graphic. (It will take them about 20-30 minutes work to figure it out.)
Anonymous said…
In Mark’s gospel, the first one written, a man comes to Jesus saying, “Good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life,” and Jesus says to the man, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (10:17–18). According to James Barr, “This only makes sense if Jesus is not claiming to be God,” because “it fits with the fact that Jesus fully accepted Jewish monotheism.” But by the time Matthew’s gospel was written, the church had developed a higher, more glorified view of Jesus, so this same conversation is amended to read, “‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he (Jesus) said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good’” (19:16). Gone is the description of Jesus as a “good teacher,” so that Jesus’ rhetorical question can be deleted and his statement revised. Jesus now merely asks him, “Why do you call me good?” Noticeably absent is where Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone.”

What did Bauckham say about the changes Matthew's gospel made to the conversation if it wasn't viewed by the author as an embarrassment?

Robin Parry said…

he did not comment on any gospels other than Mark. You'd have to ask him for his view. I imagine that he might say that Matthew was seeking to clarify the meaning of Mark to avoid its being misunderstood. Matthew does this on other occasions if memory serves me right.

Anonymous said…
But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. "(Mark 13:32)

Bible verse never say that Jesus hesitate to preach about the Judgment day, but simply he did not know. So the question arises, whether the same three gods are really coequal in unity? or theyare just separate entity with different minds? For indeed father? is greatest beyond comparison to Jesus.

Jesus: "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God (the father?) Only. (Mark 10:18)

Obviously Jesus is not God nor is he comparable to God

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