Matthew 19:17 Why do you call me good?...

Spoken to: 

an individual

Context: 

Jesus is asked by someone what good he should do to have a perpetual life.

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

Why ask me about the one worthwhile? One [number] is the one worthwhile. If, however, you want into the life perpetual to enter, keep the commands.

My Takeaway: 

Everyone is valuable.

KJV : 

Matthew 19:17 Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

NIV : 

Matthew 19:17 “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

The Greek we used today has a fun play on ideas contrasting "the one worthwhile" where the sense is "the worthwhile person" with the number "one." The phrase "one [number] is the worthwhile one [person]" could easily mean "any person is a worthwhile person" since the number "one" can be used as a pronoun, just like our "one" can to refer to a person. "One is valuable" could be one meaning of this boiled down.

The KJV source is different than the sources we use today, but the translation has elements that are closer to today's source, and not in its source.  The NIV version adds a lot to make this verse say what they think it means. This is a good illustration of how things can get changed around in translation, and how translators can choose one meaning or another. This is also a good example where a comparison between the Gospels is interesting, The Mark and Luke versions are almost identical to each other but much simpler, and in vocabulary, more like the KJV source. This version does not mention "God."

The rest of the story in all three Gospels is detailed and very similar, so we can assume that this question was answered only once. What is more likely: that the answer in Matthew, which is more detailed and ambiguous, was built up, or that Mark or Luke versions were stripped down to a simpler and more straightforward answer? I propose a third possibility, Jesus said both things, the longer version harder to understand version and the shorter and both were recorded or remembered, but that the Gospel writers saw no need to include both answers.  Mark and Luke preferred the simpler. Matthew, the more obscure. Perhaps Jesus said, "Why ask me about the worthwhile person. One exists as a person worthwhile. Why say of me 'worthwhile?' No person valuable if not one divine."

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

Τί (irreg sg neut nom) "Why" is from tis which in a question, it can mean "who," "why," or "what."

με (pron 1st sg masc acc ) "Me" is from eme, which means "I," "me," and "my."

ἐρωτᾷς [17 verses](verb 2nd sg pres ind act) "Callest" is erotao, which means "to ask" or "to question."

περὶ (prep) Untranslated is from peri, which means "round about (Place)," "around," "about," "concerning," "on account of," "in regard to," "before," "above," "beyond," and "all around."

τοῦ (article sg masc gen)  Untranslated is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

ἀγαθοῦ; [23 verses](adj sg masc gen) "Good" is agathos which means "good" and, when applied to people, "well-born," "gentle," "brave," and "capable." When applied to things, it means "serviceable," "morally good," and "beneficial."

εἷς (noun sg masc nom) "One" is from heis, which means "one" (as opposed to other numbers), "single," and "one and the same." As in English, it can be used as a pronoun, meaning a single person.

ἐστὶν (verb 3rd sg pres ind act) "Is" is from eimi, which means "to be," "to exist," "to be the case," and "is possible." (The 3rd person present indicative is "esti.")

(article sg masc gen)  Untranslated is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

ἀγαθός: [23 verses](adj sg masc nom) "Good" is from agathos which means "good" and, when applied to people, "well-born," "gentle," "brave," and "capable." When applied to things, it means "serviceable," "morally good," and "beneficial."

εἰ (conj) "If" is from ei, which is the particle used to express conditions "if" (implying nothing about its fulfillment) or indirect questions, "whether." It also means "if ever," "in case," and "whenever." It is combined with various conjunctions to create derivative conditions. --

δὲ (partic) "But" is from de which means "but" and "on the other hand." It is the particle that joins sentences in an adversarial way but can also be a weak connective ("and") and explanation of cause ("so") and a condition ("if").

θέλέις [64 verses](verb 2nd sg pres ind act) "Thou wilt" is thelo, which as a verb means "to be willing (of consent rather than desire)," "to wish," "to ordain," "to decree," "to be resolved to a purpose" "to maintain," "to hold," "to delight in, and "will (too express a future event)." As an adverb, "willingly," and "gladly." and "to desire." As an adjective, it means "wished for" and "desired."

εἰς (prep) "Into" is from eis, which means "into (of place)," "up to (of time)," "until (of time)," "as much as (of measure or limit)," "as far as (of measure or limit)," "towards (to express relation)," "in regard to (to express relation)," "of an end or limit," and "for (of purpose or object)." -

τὴν (article sg masc gen)  Untranslated is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

ζωὴν [42 verses] (noun sg fem acc) "Life" is zoe, which means "living," "substance," "property," "existence," and, incidentally, "the scum on milk." It has the sense of how we say "make a living" to mean property. Homer used it more to mean the opposite of death.

εἰσελθεῖν, [68 verses](verb aor inf act) "Enter" is eiserchomai which means both "to go into," "to come in," "to enter," "to enter an office," "to enter a charge," (as in court) and "to come into one's mind."

τήρει [17 verses](verb 2nd sg pres imperat) "Keep" is tereo, which means "to watch over," "to guard," "to take care of," "to give heed to," "to keep," "to test by observation or trial," and "to observe."

τὰς (article pl fem acc)  "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

ἐντολάς. (noun pl fem acc) "Commandments" is entole which means "injunction," "order," and "command."

KJV Analysis: 

Why - The word translated as "why" means primarily "anything" or "anyone," but Jesus often uses it to start a question so it means "who," "what," or even "why." 

callest  - (OS) "Callest" is  a different word in today's source, on that means "to ask" or "to question," not the one used in the KJV which means "to say" or "speak." The KJV Greek source

thou -- This is from the second-person, singular form of the verb.

me -- "Me" is the regular first-person pronoun in Greek as the object of the verb or preposition.

missing "about"  -- (OS) The untranslated word In today's source, there is a word that means "concerning" or "about" that was not in the KJV source.

missing "the"  -- (OS) The untranslated word is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those"). See this article for more. 

good? - The adjective translated as "good" means "useful," "worthwhile," and "of high quality. See this article on the real Greek meaning of the terms translated as "good" and "evil." It is p[receded by an article so it becomes a noun, "the noble one" or "the valuable one." 

there -- (OS) When the verb "to be" appears early in the clause before the subject, the sense is more like "it is" or, in the plural, "there are." Here, the word "one" is actually the subject here and, in today's source, comes before the verb.

is -- The verb "is" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It is in the source we use today, but not in the source the KJV translators used. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It also equates terms or assigns characteristics. 

none -- (OS) There is nothing in the Greek that can be translated as "also" in the source we use today but it does exist in the source that the KJV translators used.

missing "the"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those"). See this article for more.  In the KJV source it was before "God" and in today's source, it is before "good."

good -- The adjective translated as "good" means "useful," "worthwhile," and "of high quality. As a noun, the word "valuables" makes the idea clearer than "goods."  See this article on the real Greek meaning of the terms translated as "good" and "evil."

but -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "but" in the Greek source. In the KJV, the course has "if not."  These is a "but" later in the verse.

one,  - The word "one" is the number, which, as in English, can act like a pronoun, meaning one person. This is the subject of the sentence, appearing before the "to be" verb.

that is, -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "that is God" in the Greek source.

God -- (OS) The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." It is introduced with an article, so "the God," "the Divine" or "the divine one."

but  - The Greek word translated as"but" joins phrases in an adversarial way. Since it always falls in the second position, translating it as "however" often captures its feeling better.

if  - The "if" here expresses a condition but it means nothing regarding whether that condition is met or not.

thou -- This is from the second-person, singular form of the verb.

wilt -- (CW) This "wilt" expresses consent and even delight in doing something. It is not the same as the helper verb "will" in English. It means "to consent" and "to be resolved to a purpose." As a participle, it can mean "willingly" and "gladly."

enter  - (WF) "Enter" is a word that means "go or come into" and has the double meaning of "coming into one's mind." It is an infinitive, "to enter."

into  - The word translated as "into" means "into" a place, "towards" as a direction, and "up to" limits in time and measure.

missing "the"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those"). See this article for more. 

life,  - The word translated as "life" means "living" but it also means "substance," "existence," and "property." Christ uses it to mean "existence" beyond physical life.

keep  - The word translated a "keep" means "to watch over," "to guard," "to take care of," "to give heed to," "to keep," "to test by observation or trial," and "to observe." Jesus uses this word seventeen times, almost always with the idea of "keeping" in one commandment or another. "Keep" works best because it combines the idea of "guarding" and "observing."

the -- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those") than the English "the." See this article for more. 

commandments. -- The word translated as "commandments" has the sense of a direct "order" or "command" given by someone as opposed to a body of law or tradition in society. Jesus uses it to refer to the written Law, his lessons, and the verbal commands given by someone in authority.

KJV Translation Issues: 

12

The differences in the sources make these issues harder to count.

  • OS -- Outdated Source -- The Greek word translated as "callest" existed in the KJV Greek source but not the one we used today.
  • OS -- Outdated Source -- The missing Greek word meaning "about" did not exist in the KJV Greek source but does the one we used today.
  • OS -- Outdated Source -- The missing Greek word meaning "the" before "good" did not exist in the KJV Greek source but does the one we used today.
  • OS -- Outdated Source -- The missing Greek word meaning "there is" did not exist in the KJV Greek source but does the one we used today.
  • OS -- Outdated Source -- The Greek word translated as "none" existed in the KJV Greek source but not the one we used today.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" is not shown in the English translation.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "but" doesn't exist in either source.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "that is" doesn't exist in either source.
  • OS -- Outdated Source -- The Greek word translated as "God" existed in the KJV Greek source but not the one we used today.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "wilt" does not mean the future tense.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "enter" is not an active verb but an infinitive, "to enter."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "life" is not shown in the English translation.

NIV Analysis: 

Why - The word translated as "why" means primarily "anything" or "anyone," but Jesus often uses it to start a question so it means "who," "what," or even "why." 

do -- This helping verb is used to create questions, commands, negative statements, and smooth word flow in English, but the Greek could be either a question or a statement.

you -- This is from the second-person, singular form of the verb.

ask - The word translated as "ask"  means "to ask"  "to beg," or "to question."  It means to "ask about a thing" or "the question a person."

me -- "Me" is the regular first-person pronoun in Greek as the object of the verb or preposition.

about  -- This word means "concerning" or "about" because of the form of the following adjective.

what  - (WW) This word is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those"). See this article for more.  This is not the pronoun translated as "what."

is -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "is" here in the Greek source.

good? - The adjective translated as "good" means "useful," "worthwhile," and "of high quality. See this article on the real Greek meaning of the terms translated as "good" and "evil." It is p[receded by an article so it becomes a noun, "the noble one" or "the valuable one." 

there is only -- (IP) There is nothing that can be translated as "there is only" in the Greek source.

One   - The word "one" is the number, which, as in English, can act like a pronoun, meaning one person. This is the subject of the sentence, appearing before the "to be" verb.

who -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "who" here in the Greek source.

is -- The verb "is" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It is in the source we use today, but not in the source the KJV translators used. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It also equates terms or assigns characteristics. 

missing "the"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those"). See this article for more.  In the KJV source it was before "God" and in today's source, it is before "good."

good -- The adjective translated as "good" means "useful," "worthwhile," and "of high quality. As a noun, the word "valuables" makes the idea clearer than "goods."  See this article on the real Greek meaning of the terms translated as "good" and "evil."

that is, -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "that is God" in the Greek source.

God -- (OS) The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." It is introduced with an article, so "the God," "the Divine" or "the divine one."

missing "but"  -- (MW) The untranslated word "but" joins phrases in an adversarial way. Since it always falls in the second position, translating it as "however" often captures its feeling better.

If - The "if" here expresses a condition but it means nothing regarding whether that condition is met or not.

you -- This is from the second-person, singular form of the verb.

want -- This "want" expresses consent and even delight in doing something. It is not the same as the helper verb "will" in English. It means "to consent" and "to be resolved to a purpose." As a participle, it can mean "willingly" and "gladly."

to -- This "to" is added because the infinitive form of the verb requires a "to" in English.

enter  - "Enter" is a word that means "go or come into" and has the double meaning of "coming into one's mind." It is an infinitive, "to enter."

missing "into"  -- (MW) The untranslated word "into" means "into" a place, "towards" as a direction, and "up to" limits in time and measure.

missing "the"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those"). See this article for more. 

life,  - The word translated as "life" means "living" but it also means "substance," "existence," and "property." Christ uses it to mean "existence" beyond physical life.

keep  - The word translated a "keep" means "to watch over," "to guard," "to take care of," "to give heed to," "to keep," "to test by observation or trial," and "to observe." Jesus uses this word seventeen times, almost always with the idea of "keeping" in one commandment or another. "Keep" works best because it combines the idea of "guarding" and "observing."

the -- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those") than the English "the." See this article for more. 

commandments. -- The word translated as "commandments" has the sense of a direct "order" or "command" given by someone as opposed to a body of law or tradition in society. Jesus uses it to refer to the written Law, his lessons, and the verbal commands given by someone in authority.

NIV Translation Issues: 

8
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "what" should be "the."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "is" doesn't exist in either source.
  • IP - Inserted Phrase-- The phrase "there is only" doesn't exist in the source.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "who" doesn't exist in either source.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" is not shown in the English translation.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "but" is not shown in the English translation.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "into" is not shown in the English translation.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "life" is not shown in the English translation.

Front Page Date: 

Apr 25 2021