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§ 226. Christ’s Conversation with the rich Ruler of the Synagogue (young man?). (Matt., xix., 16-24; Mark, x., 17, seq.; Luke, xviii., 18, seq.)

Christ was followed from the place above mentioned by a ruler611611   According to Luke ἄρχων, which might also mean “a member of the Sanhedrim;” but as Christ was at Peraea, it was more probably “a ruler of the synagogue.” According to Matthew, he was a “young man,” which does not suit very well with his arrogant language “All these have I kept from my youth up.” It is true, the words ἐκ νεότητός μου are wanting in Cod. Vatic., but the authorities for retaining them preponderate; their omission may have been caused by the very discrepancy to which we allude. Although it cannot be said to be entirely improbable that he was a youth, yet the whole tone of discourse appears to imply that he was advanced in years, and had a self-righteous confidence founded on a life blameless from his youth up. of the synagogue whose mind had been impressed by his words, and who came to ask what remained for him to do that he might inherit eternal life. It is clear that he was one of the self-righteous, and had as yet no just sense of his legal deficiencies and need of redemption. He probably expected to hear from the lips of the great Teacher himself that he had already done all that was requisite to secure eternal life; or merely that some additional exercises of piety were necessary; he himself being all the time perfectly content with his own moral condition. And in this spirit he asked the question, “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

Christ replied, “Why callest thou me good?612612   Lachmann reads, τί με ἐρωτᾶς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ: εἷς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός. Even if this be the true reading, De Wette’s explanation, which seems to me to conflict with the whole teaching of Christ, by no means follows from it. It may be thus interpreted: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one who is good, and to him thou must go to learn what is good; and he has, in fact, revealed it to thee.” (Müller, Lehre v. d. Sünde, p. 80, gives, as the thought expressed in the passage, “that only from communion with him who alone is good can the created spirit receive the good;” thus making the sense about the same as In the common reading.) “Thou couldst then answer the question for thyself. But since thou askest me, then know,” &c. But Lachmann’s reading of the reply has not the air of originality, it was perhaps, invented because Christ’s declining the epithet “good” was a stumbling-block. none is good save one, that is, God.” The difficulty which appears to lie in these words, when compared with other declarations of Christ in regard to his person, will vanish if we keep in view the general sense in which the antithesis is expressed. God is good in a sense which can be predicated of no creature. He alone is the primal source and cause of all good in rational beings, who are created to be free organs of his revelations of himself. (It is the high import of true morality that the glory of God, the only good and holy one, is revealed in it.) Christ would not have exhibited, in his character as man, a model of perfect humility, had he not traced back to God all the good that was in him. But in the instance before us he doubtless had a special reason for answering thus; in any other case he might have allowed the title to be applied 333to him without incurring the charge of self-deification. We infer this from the fact of the answer itself, and also from the conduct of the questioner. The Saviour, looking into his heart, saw that he was vainly trusting in his own morality, and was most of all lacking in humility; and it was precisely these defects which Christ suggested to him, by declining for himself the epithet “good.”

In regard to the subsequent words of Christ two suppositions are possible. (1.) The first would run as follows: Jesus did not at once answer the ruler’s question, but put to him another, viz., whether he had kept the commandments, i. e., in their literal and outward sense,613613   As quoted Luke, xviii., 20. without special reference to the law of love. He could not, of course, mean that this would secure eternal life; the Sermon on the Mount had already demanded a higher and purer obedience. Thus far he only described the lower stand-point—that of a justitia civilis; with the intention to follow it up with the declaration (contained in v. 22) that such a fulfilment would not suffice to gain eternal life; that one thing higher was still lacking. (2.) The second interpretation, and the one to which our own opinions incline, is as follows: Christ answers (Matt., xix., 17), “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments;” implying, doubtless, a true fulfilment of the law as representing the holiness of God, and, therefore, presupposing the existence of the all—essential love in the specific duties mentioned (v. 18, 19). But it is clear that Christ did not presuppose that the ruler had kept the commandments in this sense; on the contrary, seeing his wilful self-righteousness, he adapted his answers thereto, to make him conscious how far he was from that true obedience which is requisite for inheriting the kingdom. He thus gives the man occasion himself to express his self-righteousness: “All these have I kept from my youth up.” When he adds, “What lack I yet?” Jesus tells him the one thing necessary:614614   It is a question whether the form given by Luke is not that which most accurately expresses Christ’s meaning. Matthew has it, “If thou wilt be perfect;” but even here could not be intended a perfection superior to the fulfilment of the law; for, according to the Sermon on the Mount, there can be no higher perfection; and, moreover, the subsequent expressions of the disciples show that they understood Christ to specify a state of heart which all must possess in order to secure eternal life. A misunderstanding of this conversation of Christ gave rise to a distinction between the fulfilment of the law, i. e., the performance of duty, and moral perfection; which has been a fruitful source of error ever since the first ages of Christianity. Clement of Alexandria understood and explained the passage more correctly; not so much in his beautiful treatise “Quis Dives Salv.,” as in his Strom., iii., 449. He says on Matt., xix., 21: ἐλὲγχει τὸυ καυχώμενον ἐπὶ τῷ πάσας τὰς ἐντολυς ἐκ γεότητας τετηρηκέναι, οὐ γὰρ πεπλ9ηρώκα το· ἀ9γαπὕσεις τὸν πλησίον ὡς ἐαυτόν· τότε δὲ ... τοῦ κυρίου ...τελειο ...μενος, ἐδεδύσκετο ... ἀγάπ..ν μεταδιδάναι. “Exchange thine earthly wealth for heavenly treasure (tie highest treasure, a share in the kingdom of God, which none can secure but those who hold all other treasures as valueless in comparison with it); give thy goods to the poor, and come and follow me.”


Christ commands him to follow, just as he was, without delaying to care for his possessions; expressing, in this particular command, the general thought: “The one thing which thou lackest, and without which none can enter into eternal life, is the denial of thyself and of the world, making every thing subordinate to the interests of the Divine kingdom.” He chose the particular form, instead of the general rule, in order to convince the rich man of his lack the more strikingly, by pointing out his weakest side; for he clung to his wealth with his whole heart; to teach him, from his own experience of his love of the world, how far he was from possessing that love which is the essence of obedience to the law.615615   If we compare with this narrative, as given in our Gospels, that form of it which appears in the Evang. ad Hebraeos, we can see that the latter is a later revision, from the way in which some points are contracted and others unhistorically dilated; e.g., Christ, instead of throwing out a single thought to excite the man’s mind, gives him at once a full explanation (though a correct one). “Dixit ad eum alter divitum (whether several rich men were mentioned in the original tradition, or this was a piece of invention) magister, quid bonum faciens vivam? Dixit ei: Homo, leges et prophetas fac (an imitation of Christ’s saying that ‘in love both the law and the prophets are fulfilled’). Respondit ad eum: feci. Dixit ei: vade, vende omnia quae possides, et divide pauperibus et veni, sequere me. Coepit autem dives scalpere caput suum (clearly enough a little colouring matter thrown in; although such graphic features are not always a mark of spuriousness; their character will generally decide the point. In this instance the fancy is apparent). Et dixit ad eum Dominus: Quomodo dicis: legem feci et prophetas, quoniam scriptum est in tege: diliges proximum tuum sicut te ipsum, et ecce, multi fratres tui, filii Abrahae, amiciti sunt stercore, morientes prae fame et domus tua plena est multis bonis et non egreditu, omnino aliquid ex ea ad eos.

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