And he said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Why callest thou me good?—Here again the older MSS. give a different form to our Lord’s answer: “Why askest thou Me concerning that which is good? There is One that is the Good.” The alteration was probably made, as before, for the sake of agreement with the other Gospels. In either case the answer has the same force. The questioner had lightly applied the word “good” to One whom he as yet regarded only as a human teacher, to an act which, it seemed to him, was in his own power to perform. What he needed, therefore, was to be taught to deepen and widen his thoughts of goodness until they rose to Him in whom alone it was absolute and infinite, through fellowship with whom only could any teacher rightly be called good, and from whom alone could come the power to do any good thing. The method by which our Lord leads him to that conclusion may, without irreverence, be permitted to call up the thought of the method in which Socrates is related to have dealt with like questioners, both in the grave, sad irony of the process, and in the self-knowledge in which it was designed to issue.
Keep the commandments.—The questioner is answered as from his own point of view. If eternal life was to be won by doing, there was no need to come to a new Teacher for a new precept. It was enough to keep the commandments, the great moral laws of God, as distinct from ordinances and traditions (Matthew 15:3), with which every Israelite was familiar.Matthew 19:17-22. He said, Why callest thou me good? — Whom thou regardest merely as a prophet sent from God, and therefore supposest to be only a man; there is none good — Supremely, originally, essentially, but God. If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments — From a principle of loving faith. Believe, and thence love and obey. And this undoubtedly is the way to eternal life. Our Lord therefore does not answer ironically, which had been utterly beneath his character, but gives a plain, direct, serious answer to a serious question. The young man saith, All these have I kept from my childhood — So he imagined, and perhaps he had, as to the letter, but not as to the spirit, which our Lord immediately shows. What lack I yet? — Wherein am I deficient? What is further needful in order to my securing the glorious prize which I am pursuing? In answer to this inquiry, made by one evidently puffed up with a high opinion of his own righteousness, our Lord replies, If thou wilt be perfect — That is, a real, thorough Christian, yet lackest thou one thing, (Luke,) namely, to be saved from the love of the world; from all undue esteem for, and inordinate affection to, earthly things. Therefore, go and sell that thou hast, (Luke, all that thou hast,) and give — Distribute the money which arises from the sale thereof; to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven — Infinitely more excellent and durable than that which thou renouncest on earth. And come, (take up the cross, Mark,) and follow me — Unite thyself to me as my constant attendant, though it should be even at the expense of thy life. He who reads the heart, saw that this young man’s bosom sin was the love of his worldly possessions; and that he could not be saved from it but by literally parting with them. To him, therefore, he gave this particular direction, which he never designed for a general rule to all his followers. For him this was necessary, not only, as some suppose, in order to his giving proof of exalted piety, but in order to his salvation. For him literally to sell all, was an absolute duty; for many to do this would be an absolute sin. And yet, though God does not in fact require every man to distribute all his goods to others, and so in effect to become one of the number of the poor relieved out of his own possessions, yet sincere piety and virtue require in all an habitual readiness not only to sacrifice their possessions, but their lives, at the command of God; and Providence has in fact, in all ages, called some out to trials as severe as this. And certainly an entire renunciation of the world, so far at least as to be willing to part with it whenever God should call them to it, was peculiarly necessary for all Christians in the first ages, when the profession of Christianity so generally exposed men to persecution and death. And when he heard this he went away sorrowful — Not being willing to have salvation at so high a price; for he had great possessions — Which he now plainly showed he valued more than eternal life: and it was with great wisdom that our Lord took this direct and convincing method of manifesting both to himself and others that secret insincerity and carnality of temper which prevailed under all these specious pretences and promising appearances.
It is improper to use titles in this manner. As you Jews use them they are unmeaning; and though the title may apply to me, yet, you did not intend to use it in the sense in which it is proper, as denoting infinite perfection or divinity; but you intended to use it as a complimentary or a flattering title, applied to me as if I were a mere man - a title which belongs only to God. The intentions, the habit of using mere titles, and applying as a compliment terms belonging only to God, is wrong. Christ did not intend here to disclaim divinity, or to say anything about his own character, but simply to reprove the intention and habit of the young man - a most severe reproof of a foolish habit of compliment and flattery, and seeking pompous titles.
Keep the commandments - That is, do what God has commanded. He in the next verses informs him what he meant by the commandments. Jesus said this, doubtless, to try him, and to convince him that he had by no means kept the commandments, and that in supposing he had he was altogether deceived. The young man thought he had kept them, and was relying on them for salvation. It was of great importance, therefore, to convince him that he was, after all, a sinner. Christ did not mean to say that any man would be saved by the works of the law, for the Bible teaches plainly that such will not be the case, Romans 3:20, Romans 3:28; Romans 4:6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:9. At the same time, however, it is true that if a man perfectly complied with the requirements of the law he would be saved, for there would be no reason why he should be condemned. Jesus, therefore, since he saw he was depending on his works, told him that if he would enter into life that is, into heaven - he must keep the commandments; if he was depending on them he must keep them perfectly, and if this was done he would be saved. The reasons why Christ gave him this direction were, probably:
1. because it was his duty to keep them.
2. because the young man depended on them, and he ought to understand what was required if he did - that they should be kept perfectly, or that they were not kept at all.
For the exposition, see on Lu 18:18-30.Thou knowest the commandments; so saith Luke, Luke 18:19,20. Our Saviour’s design here was, not to show this young man by this answer the way by which it was possible that he or any other might come to heaven, but only to convince him of the errors of the Pharisaical doctrine. They would not own Christ to be God, nor to be come forth from God; they taught eternal life to be obtainable by the works of the law, and by a fulfilling of the law, according to that imperfect sense which they gave of it, of which we heard much, in Matthew 5:1-48. Now, saith our Saviour, seeing you will not own me to be God, nor yet to have come from God,
why callest thou me good? There is none originally, essentially, and absolutely good, but God: there is none derivatively good, but he derives his goodness from God. How callest thou me good, whom thou wilt neither own to be God, nor to derive from God?
But if thou will enter into life, keep the commandments. This was the doctrine of the Pharisees, That men might keep the commandments. Saith our Saviour, The way to eternal life, according to your doctrine, is plain before thee. You say, men may perfectly keep the commandments of God. He that doth so shall be saved. Therefore
keep the commandments. Not that our Saviour thought he could do it, or that there did lie a passable road to heaven that way, but that he might convince him of his error, and the need he had of a Saviour.
why callest thou me good? not that he denied that he was so; for he was good, both as God and man, in his divine and human natures; in all his offices, and the execution of them; he was goodness itself, and did good, and nothing else but good. But the reason of the question is, because this young man considered him only as a mere man, and gave him this character as such; and which, in comparison of God, the fountain of all goodness, agrees with no mere man: wherefore our Lord's view is, by his own language; and from his own words, to instruct him in the knowledge of his proper deity. Some copies read, "why dost thou ask me concerning good". And so the Vulgate Latin, and the Ethiopic versions, and Munster's Hebrew Gospel read; but the Syriac, Arabic, and Persic versions, read as we do, and this the answer of Christ requires.
There is none good but one, that is God; who is originally, essentially, independently, infinitely, and immutably good, and the author and source of all goodness; which cannot be said of any mere creature. This is to be understood of God considered essentially, and not personally; or it is to be understood, not of the person of the Father, to the exclusion of the Son, or Spirit: who are one God with the Father, and equally good in nature as he. Nor does this contradict and deny that there are good angels, who have continued in that goodness in which they were created; or that there are good men, made so by the grace of God; but that none are absolutely and perfectly good, but God. What Christ here says of God, the (b) Jews say of the law of Moses, whose praise they can never enough extol; "there is nothing good but the law". The law is good indeed; but the author of it must be allowed to be infinitely more so. Christ next directly answers to the question,
but if thou wilt enter into life: eternal life, which is in the question, and which being sometimes expressed by a house, a city, and kingdom, by mansions, and everlasting habitations, enjoyment of it is fitly signified by entering into it; which, if our Lord suggests, he had a desire of having a right to by doing any good thing himself, he must
keep the commandments; that is, perfectly: he must do not only one good thing, but all the good things the law requires; he must not be deficient in any single action, in anyone work of the law, either as to matter, or manner of performance; everything must be done, and that just as the Lord in his law has commanded it. Our Lord answers according to the tenor of the covenant of works, under which this man was; and according to the law of God, which requires perfect obedience to it, as a righteousness, and a title to life; and in case of the least failure, curses and condemns to everlasting death; see Deuteronomy 6:25. This Christ said, in order to show, that it is impossible to enter into, or obtain eternal life by the works of the law, since no man can perfectly keep it; and to unhinge this man from off the legal foundation on which he was, that he might drop all his dependencies on doing good things, and come to him for righteousness and life.And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 19:17. Thy question concerning the good thing, which is necessary to be done in order to have eternal life in the Messianic kingdom, is quite superfluous (τί με ἐρωτᾶς, κ.τ.λ.); the answer is self-evident, for there is but one (namely, God, the absolute ideal of moral life) who is the good one, therefore the good thing to which thy question refers can be neither more nor less than obedience to His will,—one good Being, one good thing, alterum non datur! But if thou (δέ, the continuative autem: to tell thee now more precisely what I wished to impress upon thee by this εἷς ἐστὶν ὁ ἀγαθός) desirest to enter into life, keep the commandments (which are given by this One ἀγαθός). Neander explains incorrectly thus: “Why askest thou me concerning that which is good? One is the good one, and to Him, thou must address thyself; He has, in fact, revealed it to thee also; but since you have asked me, then let me inform you,” etc. This view is already precluded by the enclitic με (as otherwise we should necessarily have had ἐμέ).
For the explanation of the Received text, see note on Mark 10:18; the claim to originality must be decided in favour not of Matthew (in answer to Keim), but of Mark, on whom Luke has also drawn. The tradition followed by Matthew seems to have already omitted the circumstance of our Lord’s declining the epithet ἀγαθός. The claims of Mark and Luke are likewise favoured by Weisse, Bleek, Weiss, Schenkel, Volkmar, Holtzmann, Hilgenfeld, the last of whom, however, gives the palm in the matter of originality to the narrative of the Gospel of the Hebrews (N. T. extra can. IV. p. 16 f.).
For οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς. κ.τ.λ., comp. Plat. Rep. p. 379 A: ἀγαθὸς ὅ γε θεὸς τῷ ὄντι τε καὶ λεκτέον οὕτως.
On the dogmatic importance of the proposition that God alone is good, see Köster in the Stud. u. Krit. 1856, p. 420 ff.; and on the fundamental principle of the divine retribution: εἰ θέλεις … τήρησον τὰς ἐντολάς, which impels the sinner to repentance, to a renunciation of his own righteousness, and to faith; comp. notes on Romans 2:13; Galatians 3:10 ff. Bengel well remarks: “Jesus securos ad legem remittit, contritos evangelice consolatur.” Comp. Apol. Conf. A., p. 83.Matthew 19:17. τί με ἐρωτᾷς, etc.: it seems as if Jesus thought the question superfluous (so Weiss and Meyer), but this was only a teacher’s way of leading on a pupil = “of course there is only one answer to that: God is the one good being, and His revealed will shows us the good He would have us do”. A familiar old truth, yet new as Christ meant it. How opposed to current teaching we know from Matthew 15:4-9.—εἰ δὲ θέλεις, etc., but, to answer your question directly, if, etc.—τήρ-ει (-ησον) τ. ἐν.: a vaguer direction then than it seems to us now. We now think only of the Ten Words. Then there were many commands of God besides these; and many more still of the scribes, hence most naturally the following question.17. Why callest thou me good?] Here, but not in the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, the leading MSS. read, “Why askest thou me about what is good? He who is good is one.” With either reading the drift of our Lord’s answer is to cause reflection. “In a single breath thou hast twice used the word good; think what good really means. Am I then the one good?” Jesus refuses the conventional title of “good master;” and leads the questioner to think of the only One who could be called “good” in a high and true sense.Matthew 19:17. Τί, κ.τ.λ., why? etc.) He who [alone] is Good, should be asked concerning that which is good. For the rest, see Gnomon on Mark 10:18.—εἰ δὲ θέλεις, (but if thou wishest) as thou declarest. The expression εἰ θέλεις (if thou wishest) occurs again at Matthew 19:21.—τήρησον τὰς ἐντολὰς keep the commandments) Jesus refers those who feel secure to the law: He consoles the contrite with the Gospel.
 In the original, “Qui Bonus est, de bono interrogandus est,” where “Bonus” is used as a substantive (corresponding to the German “der Gute” employed by Bengel in rendering this verse), which has no equivalent in English: for though we speak of “the Evil One,” we cannot say “the Good One.” The passage might be paraphrased thus—“He who is personally and absolutely good, should be asked concerning that which is abstractly and relatively good.”—(I. B.)
 The reading is here meant, which the margin of both Editions prefers to the reading λέγεις—Θεός, VIZ. ἐρωτᾶς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; εἷς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός. Comp. the margin of the Vers. Germ. and Michaelis’ Einleitung, etc., T. i., p. m. 224.—E. B.
BDLabc, Vulg. Memph. Orig. 3,664bc, read τί με ἐρωτᾶς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ (D and Origen 3,664c omit τοῦ). Τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν is the reading of Rec. Text with Iren. 92, Hil. 703, 994ac (‘vocas’ for λέγεις). Origen 3,664cd, writes, Ὁ μὲν Ματθαῖος, ὡς περὶ ἀγαθοῦ ἔργου ἐρωτηθέντος τοῦ Σωτῆρος ἐν τῷ τί ἀγαθὸν ποιήσω; ἀνέγραψεν· ὁ δὲ Μάρκος καὶ Λουκᾶς φασὶ τὸν Σωτῆρα εἰρηκέναι, τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν; οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἶς ὁ Θεός. BDabc Vulg. Orig. Iren. 92 read εἷς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός (D omits ὁ. bc Vulg. Memph. add ὁ Θεος; evidently, as I think, a gloss of the Harmonies from Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19. Iren, adds “pater in cœlis”). Rec. Text, with Hil. 994, reads οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἶς ὁ Θεός. This is still more palpably a reading copied from the parallels in Mark and Luke.—ED.Verse 17. - Why callest thou me good? Such is the reading of the received text here, and without any variation in the parallel passages of Mark and Luke. Our Lord takes the ruler to task for applying this epithet to him. unless the youth believed in his Divinity. You think of me only as a learned Teacher: how, then, can you speak of me in a term which can really be predicated of no child of man? Christ answers the ruler's address before he touches the subject of his interrogation, reproving him for using a form of words without realizing its full import. This is all plain enough; but many good manuscripts, including א B, D, etc., Vulgate, and other versions, read, Why askest thou me concerning the good? Most modern editors and the Revised Version have adopted this reading, which they hold to be genuine, and to have been altered subsequently in order to conform it to the other synoptists. If this is so, it is difficult to see whence Mark and Luke obtained their wording, unless - which is improbable - our Lord used both interrogations on the same occasion. The revised reading expresses Christ's astonishment at having this question asked; and it may be taken, as Bengel suggests, "He who is good ought to be interrogated about the good;" or, "What is right to do, you ought to know; it can only be obedience to the Author of all goodness." There is none good but one, that is, God. Here again the reading varies. The other synoptists agree with the received text of Matthew, except that Luke has εῖς Θεὸς instead of εῖς Θεός. Late editors, following א, B, D, etc., have printed, εῖς ἐστὶν ὁ ἀγαθός: one there is who is good, or one is the good. God alone is the absolutely good; he alone can instruct you and put you certainly in the right way. Persons have been found to argue from this sentence that Christ renounces all claim to be God Almighty. But it is not so. He replies to what was in the young man's mind. The ruler regarded Jesus as man only; Jesus intimates that, in comparison with God, no man is good. He does not deny the applicability of the epithet to himself, but turns the questioner's thoughts to the Source of all good. He will not have himself regarded simply as a pre-eminently good man, but as Son of God, one with the Father. If thou wilt (θέλεις, willest to) enter into life; i.e. enjoy eternal life. Christ uses a term equivalent to that of the ruler in ver. 16. So Christ said on another occasion to a lawyer who tempted him. "This do, and thou shalt live" (Luke 10:28). There is no real life without obedience. Keep the commandments of him who is good. The Law was given to prepare men to receive Christianity, and in proportion as they carefully observed it, so were they made ready to inherit the life which Christ gives. No mere external compliance without faith is here approved, but it is laid down that, in order to win eternal life, there must be strict observance of God's laws - not some one extraordinary performance, but constant attention to known duties from the highest motive. Faith, indeed, is belief in action, and is dead and profitless if inoperative; so that true obedience is the outcome of true faith.
But the true reading is, τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; Why askest thou me concerning the good ?
There is none good but one, that is God (οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ Θεός)
But the reading is, εἷς ἐστὶν ὁ ἀγαθός, One there is who is good. The saying of Christ appears especially appropriate in the light of the Rabbinic apothegm, "There is nothing else that is good but the law."
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