Does being called "good" imply being God?

Sam Shamoun

Bassam Zawadi has written an article regarding Jesus’ claim that he is the Good Shepherd in order to disprove that Christ is God (here). In particular, he wants to make the claim look absurd by pointing out that Joseph of Arimathea was also called good, but nobody would therefore consider him divine.

Here is what he wrote:

I would like to analyze two similar passages from the Gospels of Mark and Luke. As you can see from the passage a man came up to Jesus and called him good. Jesus is asking him why he is calling him good, only God alone is good. 

The word good in the passages is agathos.

Agathos could mean.... 

1) of good constitution or nature

2) useful, salutary

3) good, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy

4) excellent, distinguished

5) upright, honourable


So according to Jesus only God could be agathos

Have a look at the passages for your self......

Mark 10:17-18

17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good (agathos) teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18"Why do you call me good (agathos)?" Jesus answered. "No one is good (agathos)—except God alone.

Sources: (for Mark 10:17) (for Mark 10:18)

Luke 18:18-19

    18A certain ruler asked him, "Good (agathos) teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 19"Why do you call me good (agathos)?" Jesus answered. "No one is good (agathos)—except God alone.

Sources: (for Luke 18:18) (for Luke 18:19)

Christians try to use this verse to show that Jesus is saying that he is God...

John 10:11

I am the good (kalos) shepherd. The good (kalos) shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Christians say that since only God alone is good and Jesus said he is good that means he claimed divinity. However, when we look at the Greek word for 'good' in this verse the word is not agathos, it is kalos.


Kalos means 

1) beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable

a) beautiful to look at, shapely, magnificent

b) good, excellent in its nature and characteristics, and therefore well adapted to its ends

1) genuine, approved

2) precious

3) joined to names of men designated by their office, competent, able, such as one ought to be

4) praiseworthy, noble

c) beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and hence praiseworthy

1) morally good, noble

d) honourable, conferring honour

e) affecting the mind agreeably, comforting and confirming


Therefore this is not the same kind of 'good' that Jesus was referring to previously as can only be attributed to God alone.

So Jesus was not claiming divinity in John 10:11. 

However, interestingly when we read the following verse.......

Luke 23:50

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good (agathos) and upright man,

Here we have Joseph of Aramethia being referred to as an agathos man.


We saw previously that Jesus said that only God alone is agathos. So was Jesus' statement that God alone is agathos incorrect or is Joseph of Aramethia a divine man now?


We have already addressed the point Jesus was making in Mark 10:17-18 here. So we won’t be addressing that particular text in this article. Instead, we will focus on the other points raised by Zawadi.

First, informed Christians do not refer to John 10:11 in order to prove that Jesus is God merely because Jesus applies the word "good" to himself, which would indeed be a weak argument, but as evidence to disprove that Jesus was denying his essential goodness in Mark 10:17-18 and Luke 18:18-19.

With that being said, a careful reading of the immediate context will easily show that Jesus was claiming to be Shepherd in the same exact way that the O.T. says Yahweh is the Shepherd of his flock. Contrast the words of the Lord Jesus with the following O.T. texts:

"Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the fountains, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice. As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, rams and he-goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet? Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep." Ezekiel 34:7-22


"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;’" Matthew 25:31-34

"And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.’" Luke 19:9-10

"‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.’ This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’" John 10:1-11, 14-16

In fact, just as Yahweh appoints individuals to shepherd his flock:

"My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall dwell in the land where your fathers dwelt that I gave to my servant Jacob; they and their children and their children's children shall dwell there for ever; and David my servant shall be their prince for ever." Ezekiel 37:24-25

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds (poimainein) of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." Acts 20:28

Jesus, in a similar way, raises up persons to care for his sheep:

"When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed MY lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd (Poimaine) MY sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed MY sheep.’" John 21:15-17

Christ also went on to make specific claims which further identify him as Yahweh God:

"Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I GIVE THEM ETERNAL LIFE, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’ Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’" John 10:25-33

Now compare what Jesus said with the following O.T. reference:

"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand." Deuteronomy 32:39

The Lord Jesus attributes to himself the very prerogatives of God, namely the ability to give eternal life and the sovereign power to prevent anyone from stopping him from preserving his sheep. Jesus’ statement that the Father and he are one quite obviously refers to their being one in essence and power since Christ is able to do what only the Almighty God can do!

For more on John 10 and its wider context, please read the following articles on Jesus’ statement in John 10:34-36 and his claim to be the Good Shepherd in John 10:11, 14.

Second, Zawadi is under the mistaken assumption that because kalos and agathos are two different words that this somehow implies that they do not overlap in meaning. He seems to be assuming that they cannot be used interchangeably or synonymously. Yet a careful reading of the Scriptures will demonstrate that a person who is kalos will also be agathos and vice-versa:

"So, every good (agathon) tree bears good (kalous) fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A good (agathon) tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good (kalous) fruit. Every tree that does not bear good (kalon) fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Matthew 7:17-19

A tree that is agathos produces fruit that is kalos, and the fruit being kalos is evidence that the tree is agathos. Both come together.

"So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good (agathe). Did that which is good (agathon), then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good (agathou), in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good (kalos)." Romans 7:12-16

God’s law is called kalos and agathos.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good (kales) life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom... But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good (agathon) fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity." James 3:13, 17

A life which is kalos produces fruits that are agathos.

These passages demonstrate that when moral qualities or a person, word or deed are discussed, then the two words, kalos and agathos, go together. They are synonyms and can be exchanged without loss of meaning, e.g. in Matthew 7 kalos is used to characterize the fruit but in James 3 it is agathos, yet both passages talk about the same thing, the fruits produced by a genuine spiritual life. It makes no sense to pit kalos against agathos and claim that one can be the first without the latter. They belong together. Hence, what this essentially proves is that for Jesus to be kalos he must also be agathos. More on this shortly.

Third, the point of Jesus in Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19 is that God is absolutely good and the Source of all goodness. Everyone else is good because God has enabled them to be or do good:

"John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven.’" John 3:27

"For who sees anything different in you? What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" 1 Corinthians 4:7

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me." 1 Corinthians 15:10

"And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work." 2 Corinthians 9:8

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Philippians 2:12-13

"Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." James 1:17

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence," 2 Peter 1:3

Thus, the reason why Joseph was good is because of God’s grace. He wasn’t good in and of himself, unlike Jesus as we will see shortly.

Fourth, the word agathos is used of Jesus in the following text:

"And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, ‘He is a good man (agathos estin),’ others said, ‘No, he is leading the people astray.’ ... ‘He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and IN HIM there is NO FALSEHOOD.’" John 7:12, 18

Jesus is so good that he is absolutely sinless! Jesus’ absolute perfection and purity is affirmed throughout the NT Scriptures:

"And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him. ... Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?" John 8:29, 46

No man could dare say that he does or says that which always pleases God, and yet Christ could! He could even challenge his opponents to find fault with him, such was his awareness of his own absolute moral perfection.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:21

"For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15

"Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself." Hebrews 7:25-27

"how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Hebrews 9:14

"You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." 1 Peter 1:18-19

"For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:21-24

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit;"1 Peter 3:18

"My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 2:1-2

"And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure... You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin." 1 John 3:3, 5

Moreover, the NT documents even confirm that Jesus is the very Source of goodness, that he is the One who makes someone good, holy and pure:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, FOR APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples." John 15:1-8

"He is the source of your life IN CHRIST JESUS, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption;" 1 Corinthians 1:30

"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:9-11

The above texts show that it is Christ, and union with him, which produces goodness in a person. These references affirm that all good works come to us from God through Christ alone!

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST and in the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

"For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim your name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.’" Hebrews 2:11-12

"And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all... For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." Hebrews 10:10, 14

Christ is the One who makes people holy and perfect.

Thus, Jesus is good in the very exact same way and sense which God is good. Jesus is absolutely pure, completely sinless and the very Source of goodness. In other words, Jesus is God Almighty! Amen.

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