“No one is good except God alone.” In Mark 10:17, a man ran up to Jesus and called him “good teacher,” and then asked him the most important question that any person could ever ask Jesus: “What must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The fact that the man asked that question to Jesus instead of asking it to his local synagogue leader, and the fact that the man began talking to Jesus by addressing him as “good teacher,” shows us that the man must have seen things in the life of Jesus that set him apart from the rest of the religious leaders and made Jesus seem “good” to him. Understanding those things sets the stage for us to be able to understand Jesus’ answer to the man.
Jesus was sinless (Heb. 4:15) and was good (cp. John 10:11, “the good shepherd”), but he was “good” in the eyes of this man because of what the man had heard him teach and seen him do (or the man had heard about those things from others). There is no evidence at this point the man thought that Jesus was the Messiah. In that situation, it would have been very inappropriate for Jesus to overlook the question and thus imply that he was indeed “good” on his own. Jesus knew that a lot of what he was able to do to live the wise and sinless life that caught the man’s attention was due to God’s guidance and power in his life.
Without God’s help, Jesus would not have been the “good” person this man was believing him to be. Jesus had made that very plain in his teachings. For example, Jesus said, “the Son is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). “I am not able to do anything on my own. As I hear, I judge” (John 5:30). “My teaching is not my own, but his that sent me” (John 7:16). “I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me, I speak” (John 8:28). “I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me, he has given me a command as to what to say…so whatever I say, I say just as the Father has said to me” (John 12:49-50).
Jesus did what he did and taught what he taught because of God’s guidance, and he gave God the credit. Thus, Jesus was like Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, who gave the credit to God (Gen. 41:16), and like Daniel who did not take the credit for interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream but gave the credit to God (Dan. 2:26-30). Jesus was not going to take the credit for being “good” in this man’s sight when in fact he knew that if he did not have guidance from God he would have almost certainly made a number of mistakes in what he said and did just like any other well-meaning person does. The only one who is truly “good” without the help of others is God, which explains Jesus’ statement: “There is no one good but God.”
Mark 10:18 is one of the verses that shows us that Jesus was not God in the flesh, as the Trinitarians teach, because if he was God, then his answer that there is no one who is good except God makes no sense. Jesus’ answer would then be in essence, “Why do you call me good? There is no one good but God—and that’s me.” Furthermore, if Jesus was God in the flesh, but was trying to say that in his flesh body he was still not good, he would not have said there is no one good but “God,” he would have said there is no one good but “the Father.” Beyond that, if a person has to believe that Jesus is God to be saved, as many Trinitarians teach, then not only did Jesus miss a perfect opportunity to say that he was good and he was God, but his answer actually denied that he was God and would have prevented the man from believing in the Trinity. The biblical truth is that Jesus is the Son of God, not “God the Son.”
[For more on the identity of Jesus as the Son of God, see Graeser, Lynn, Schoenheit, One God & One Lord (fourth edition); or www.biblicalunitarian.com.]
[For more on Jesus’ answer to the rich young ruler, see commentary on Matt. 19:16.]