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No One is Good but God

One of the verses that gets thrown at Christians by non-Christians in order to substantiate the claim that Jesus never claimed to be God is in St. Mark’s Gospel. It is this text which I give here:

17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” 18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Mark 10:17,18, NKJV)

A superficial reading of this passage would appear that Jesus was denying that He was good and that He was God. However, when one examines the text along with other passages of Scripture one can clearly see that that is not the case.

In the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, there are two prophecies regarding the Messiah which indicate that He would never sin. The first is in the seventh chapter. It says:

For before the Child shall know good or evil, He refuses evil, to choose the good; and the land shall be forsaken which thou art afraid of because of the two kings. (Isaiah 7:16, LXX)

The Messiah, according to this text, will be someone who does not sin before He has a consciousness of the difference between sin and virtue. In other words, He will be sinless from birth. The second prophecy regarding His sinlessness is in the 53rd chapter. It says there:

For He practised no iniquity, nor craft with His mouth. (Isaiah 53:9, LXX)

These prophecies would be fulfilled because God cannot lie. (Titus 1:2) The Koran, likewise, affirms that God keeps His promises.

It is a promise of Allah. Allah faileth not His promise, but most of mankind know not. (Koran 30:6, Pickthall)

In the Koran, it says this about Jesus.

And make mention of Mary in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East, and had chosen seclusion from them. Then We sent unto her Our spirit and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said: Lo! I seek refuge in the Beneficent One from thee, if thou art God-fearing. He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son. (Koran 19:16-19, Pickthall)

The Arabic word translated “faultless” in this passage is zakiyyan. It literally means “purified.” This idea of Jesus being purified or sanctified is in agreement with Orthodox Christian doctrine regarding the incarnation of God the Word. The Orthodox Church teaches that Jesus assumed a fallen human nature like ours and sanctified it or purified it as the Koran teaches. In Hebrews, it says:

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrew 2:17, NKJV)

We have a fallen human nature, a nature that is inclined toward sin and could die. Jesus had a nature like that, too, but in fulfillment of the prophecies in Isaiah, He never sinned. “That which is not assumed is not healed,” says one of the Church Fathers. (I think that it was St. Athanasius who said this, but I know that St. John of Damascus said something very similar in An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. “That which is not taken is not healed.”) If God the Word never assumed a fallen human nature like ours, then He did not heal it.

Unlike Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians, we Orthodox do not accept Blessed Augustine’s view on original sin. The Holy Prophet Ezekiel said:

But the soul that sins shall die: and the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, nor shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the iniquity of the transgressor shall be upon him. (Ezekiel 18:20, LXX)

Everyone is guilty of his own sins and not the sins of his parents or ancestors. Mortality was transmitted to us from Adam, but the guilt of his first sin was not. Because we die, we sin. (Romans 5:12 – This verse is incorrectly translated in many Bibles.)

Jesus purified the mortal, fallen human nature that He assumed from His mother and He never sinned.

St. Peter, who was one of Jesus’ closest disciples (Matthew 10:2; 17:1-6) and a Muslim (Koran 3:52), said this about Jesus:

21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22  “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. (I Peter 2:21-24, NKJV)

St. Paul said that Jesus knew no sin.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (II Corinthian 5:21, NKJV)

The Church Fathers interpret the words “to be sin for us” to mean “to be a sin offering for us.” Remember that St. John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

Jesus said:

And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him. (John 8:29, NKJV)

So, if Jesus is “purified” (Koran 19:19), “knew no sin” (II Corinthians 5:21), “refused the evil, and chose the good” (Isaiah 7:16, LXX), “practised no iniquity” (Isaiah 53:9, LXX), “committed no sin” (I Peter 2:22), and “always does those things which please” God the Father, then Jesus is good. Since “no one is good but One, that is God” (Mark 10:18) and Jesus is good, Jesus, therefore, is God. Jesus never denied that He is good. Actually, He claimed to be good. (John 8:29) Jesus never denied that He is God. Actually, He claimed to be God. (John 8:58; Exodus 3:13,14) Therefore, Mark 10:17,18 is not a denial of Jesus’ Deity

Remember, we Christians do not worship three gods. We worship one God who has three distinct hypostases. Each hypostasis is God in His entirety. When we speak of the Trinity, we say:  1+ 1+ 1 = 1. Three wholes make one whole. This is a mystery which we do not try to explain. God transcends space, time, and even mathematics.

To my Muslim readers, I say that Koran 4:171 is talking about the Tritheist heresy taught by John Philoponus, Eugenius of Seleucia, and Conon of Tarsus, not the Orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The Tritheists committed excess by denying the unity of the three hypostases of the Deity into one God. In Surahs 30 and 85 (Koran 30:2-5; 85:7), Muhammad called Orthodox Christians “believers.” He called the Sabellian Christians disbelievers. (Koran 5:17,72) Jesus is Allah, but Allah is not Jesus. Allah often refers to Himself in the Koran using the first person plural pronouns, We, Us, and Our. The Sabellians believed that Jesus is a unipersonal God who became incarnate and who manifests Himself in one of three different modes: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Sabellians would say that Allah says, “We are Jesus.” We Orthodox Christians reject that heresy.

I have seen non-Christians on the internet using Mark 10:17,18 as a proof-text to support the notion that Jesus denied that He is God. I hope that my explanation of this text in this blog is helpful. Jesus never denied that He is good and He never denied that He is God. When this passage is interpreted using other passages of Scripture, one must reach the conclusion that Jesus is good and He is God.

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