of Jesus
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise
and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will


9. In Matt 19:17, Jesus said in response to a person calling him Good Teacher,
Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  But If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.
Does that mean we are not born good, but can enter into life by being obedient to the commandments of God?  How can a good tree bears good fruits if the tree itself is not good also?
No.  We are born good, as I indicate in the paper, "Born  Good," and for the reasons suggested there.

And no again, we cannot enter into eternal life simply by being obedient to the commandments of God.  It may seem so at first if we confine our thinking to Matthew 19:16f.  Several things are relevant here.

The rich man was flattering Jesus by the complimentary term "Good teacher."  This offended Jesus and he responded to him curtly, using language he might not otherwise have used.  The rich man wants to know, what "good deed must I do . .  .."  Again, Jesus sees into his character and understands that here we have a man who is self - righteous. In this population, everyone measured goodness by the standard of the law, and so the rich man surely anticipated that Jesus would recite the law to him and, thinking that he himself obeyed the law fully, would hear Jesus giving him high praise when he asked him the final question, "What lack I yet?  He is fishing for approval, which his flattery confirms.

But his flattery got him nowhere; neither did his keeping of the law because he did, in fact, lack something.  He needed to do two more things to receive eternal life (be perfect, as Jesus stated it).  
1. Sell his possessions and give all to the poor.
2. Come, follow me.
This rich man, in love with his life, with himself and his wealth was unwilling to comply and went away with his ego somewhat deflated, if we can judge by the description, went away sorrowful.

Jesus' response was tailor made to this man.  Everyone is not required to give everything to the poor in addition to keeping the law -- only those who are attached to their wealth. Wealth is only one of the many things that have this effect on the soul, and Jesus subsumed all of them under the Great Principle, which is the bottom line, comprehensive and universal answer to "What lack I yet?"  The rich man loved his wealth only for what it could do for his life in this world, and so he loved his life. This is why Jesus disqualified him.  Someone else might love his wife too much to leave her and follow the Lord. That would disqualify him.  


    [25] Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them,
    [26] "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
    [27] Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
    [28] For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
    [29] Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,
    [30] saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.'
    [31] Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?
    [32] And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace.
    [33] So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
You also present another related question: "How can a good tree bear good fruits if the tree itself is not good also?"

Of course it is impossible for a tree that is not good to bear good fruit.  Jesus was explicit about this.


    [18] A sound (agathon) tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
Our problem here, of which you are most perceptive, comes from the fact that Jesus has told the rich man this:


[17] And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good (agathon).
The parallel passages in Mark (and Luke) have him saying:  


[18] Why do you call me good? No one is good (agathon) but God alone.
In the light of this utterance, no man can be "good."

But Jesus also spoke of men as being both good and good hearted:


[35] The good (agathon) man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.


[45] The good (agathon) man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.


[15] And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good (agathon) heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.
If there is no "good man" then these words are vacuous.  We cannot explain this by going to the Greek; the same word, agathon, (or its variants, agathos, agathe) is used in all these utterances. So, what must we do?  Let us consider the options:
1. Matthew 19:16,17 and parallels are inaccurately recorded.  Jesus didn't really say this.

It is true that these parallel texts differ among themselves considerably, which suggests some room for adjusting them. However, the same difficulty exists in them all, and I do not consider this a valid option.

2. Irritated by flattery, Jesus resorted to hyperbole -- to a gross exaggeration.

This is the cop out of the churchmen who seek by this means to reduce the hard sayings to a level that is more palatable to them.  Nevertheless, this is possible.  Jesus, fully human, was capable of emoting as we see from his expressions of anger such as that during the cleansing of the temple.  But I doubt that he would utter so profound a statement that was simply an exaggeration.  We must look further.

3. In Matthew 12 and Luke 6, Jesus pointed only himself when referring to "a good man."

This fails also, because the critical utterance in Matthew 19:17 excludes him and every one save God only.  Furthermore, it is in the singular, whereas the good hearted ones of Luke 8:15 are in the plural.  It also garbles the logic unless the "evil man" likewise represents a particular individual.  No, both "the good man" and "the evil man" must each represent a category of human beings rather than individuals.  Again, we must look further.

4. Jesus made the distinction relative/absolute when speaking of the good man."

God is the standard of all good.  He is perfectly Good and is the only such Good Person. He is the very definition of Good.  Men are good only relative to this perfect standard. So, when Jesus spoke of "a good man," he implied one who was of an "honest and good heart" when compared with the standard.  A man need not be the exact equivalent of the standard to be described as "a good man," for he can only be relatively good. There is no man who matches the standard fully, therefore there is none Good but God. So, when Jesus spoke of good in man, he was speaking relative to the Father, not equal with the Father. The divine Good is the absolute standard.  The human good is relative to that of God.

There may be other options to consider, but I believe this is the correct one.
For a comparison, consider that there is in Paris a bar, consisting an allow that is 90% platinum and 10% iridium, that was until about 1960 the international standard of length for the meter.  It is by definition exactly one meter in length.  This alloy was chosen because it is immune to corrosion that might change its length with time.  It is the only good meter. Many other bars, some perhaps of the same alloy, have been constructed but, since none of them can perfectly match the length of the standard, not one of them is a good meter.  To use language similar to that of Jesus, one can say truthfully that no meter is good but that one alone.  And yet, I have a wood meter stick that is a good meter.  It is close enough and serves my measuring purposes very well.

We get more light on this when we consider this admonition of Jesus:  


[48] You, therefore, must be perfect (teleios), as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This is a very appropriate comparison, because Jesus concluded by using the exact same word to exhort the rich man, above:


[21] Jesus said to him, If you would be perfect (teleios), go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.
God is the only standard for teleios, which means perfect, full, complete, lacking in nothing. He is also the only standard for agathos, good.  There is no other standard and, by comparison, not one of us is either perfect or good.  Yet there are some who earnestly aspire to be good and perfect as the Father is good and perfect.  It is of these that Jesus speaks truly when he speaks of "a good man."

There are two other things that I should mention.  First, this does not mean that there is a "goodness scale" according to which all men are rated from evil to good.  While we must be considered as relatively good (or evil) with respect to the standard, which is God, Jesus does not judge us relative to one another across the entire scale.  There is an absolute distinction between "the good man" and "the evil man."  A good man is not one who is simply much less evil than another who is classified as an evil man. There is a categorical distinction that arises from the heart of the individual.


    [15] Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
    [16] You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?
    [17] So, every sound (agathos) tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.
    [18] A sound (agathos) tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
There is a categorical distinction between grapes and figs on the one hand, and thistles and thorns on the other.  Yes, the distinction is categorical.  All children are born good, but at some point, through their own free choices, some choose evil, become evil, and can bear only evil fruit.  Others make a different choice and stick with it, becoming like the good tree.  The good man is not perfect and so is not Good, but he strives to become perfect as the Father is perfect, and so is good.  The evil man is not so disposed.  He loves his life and will do what he must to protect and enhance it.

The second thing is that, by this utterance of Jesus, we learn something about him that is very important.  As a man, he was not absolutely and perfectly good.  Let's look at his statement again as it appears in Matthew:


[17] And he said to him, Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.
Jesus is by implication removing himself from the category of absolute good.  Otherwise, he would surely have answered differently.  This reveals that the doctrine of the churchmen, that Jesus died bearing our sins and that he could do so only because he had none of his own, is false.  The man, Jesus of Nazareth, was good but he was not Good. Had he been Good, his will would have been identical to that of the Good Father.  And, he would not have stated that there is none good but God only.


[42] Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."
You can find more discussion on the subject of salvation in five papers recently posted on this site, beginning with this one.

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