The main Old Testament words for good/goodness come from the Hebrew word tob [b'f] while the most common New Testament words are kalos [kalov"], agathos [ajgaqov"], chrestos [crhstov"], and their cognates. These words often appear in a nonmoral sense; a "good" or "good-of-appearance" woman is beautiful ( Gen 6:2 ; 24:16 ; 26:7 ; 2 Sam 11:2 ; Est 1:11 ; Esther 2:2-3 Esther 2:7 ) and a "good" man is handsome ( 1 Sam 9:2 ). A land may be good ( Deuteronomy 1:25 Deuteronomy 1:35 ) and so may gold ( 2 Chronicles 3:5 2 Chronicles 3:8 ), soil ( Luke 8:8 ), a tree ( Matt 7:17 ), wine ( John 2:10 ), or all of creation (seven times in Gen. 1). But the most theologically important uses of these words have to do with moral qualities.
God's goodness is a bedrock truth of Scripture. His goodness is praised in the psalms ( 25:8 ; 34:8 ; 86:5 ; 100:5 ; 118:1 ; 136:1 ; 145:9 ). Jesus affirms the Father's goodness when speaking to the rich young ruler ( Matt 19:17 ; Mark 10:18 ; Luke 18:19 ). In 1 Peter 2:3 Peter echoes the language of Psalm 34:8: "Taste and see that the Lord is good!"'
Although we might discuss God's goodness in some abstract philosophical sense, in Scripture his goodness appears most clearly in his dealings with people. He is not only good in general, but he is good to us ( Psalm 23:6 ; 68:10 ; 73:1 ; 119:65 ; 145:9 ; Lam 3:25 ; Luke 6:35 ; Rom 2:4 ; 11:22 ; Eph 2:7 ; Titus 3:4 ). Human goodness is modeled on divine goodness ( Matt 5:48 ). For human beings goodness involves right behavior, expresses itself in kindness and other praiseworthy qualities, includes avoiding evil, and springs from the inner person.
It is nearly impossible to think about goodness in the abstract. In Scripture goodness always involves particular ways of behaving. Because God is good, he is good to his people; when people are good they behave decently toward each other, based on God's goodness to them. Moses' invitation to Hobab expresses this emphasis: "Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel" ( Num 10:29 ). The general biblical words for "good/ goodness" include this idea of right behavior, although the idea is often expressed by means of a more specific term like "upright/uprightness" or "righteous/righteousness."
The goodness God's people exhibit shows itself in various moral qualities, notably kindness; hesed [d,s,j], translated "goodness" or "kindness, " serves as one of the major synonyms of tob [b'f], "good, " in the Old Testament. In the New Testament many words describe the specific characteristics and behaviors of good people, including "just/justice, " "righteous/ righteousness, " "holy/holiness, " "pure/ purity, " "gentle/gentleness, " and "kind/kindness." If "goodness" is the general term, these other specific terms show what goodness means in daily living.
Goodness involves not only right behavior but also avoiding its opposite, evil. The choice between good and evil has lain before people since the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate fruit from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" ( Gen 2:9 ). Since then God's curse has fallen on "those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" ( Isa 5:20 ). A wise ruler like Solomon, or indeed anyone who wants to obey God, needs the wisdom to tell good from evil ( 1 Kings 3:9 ; Heb 5:14 ). Those who serve God will "seek good, not evil, hate evil, love good" ( Amos 5:14-15 ).
For the Christian or the faithful Israelite, goodness has never been a matter of outward behavior alone; it comes from within. An evil person is evil within ( Gen 6:5 ; Mark 7:14-23 ; and parallels). In the same way a good person's good behavior shows a good heart ( Matt 12:33-35 ).
In the Old Testament God's goodness to his people and their goodness in response is based on the covenant between them. God's appeal to his people to return to the covenant relationship finds expression in a call to simple goodness ( Mic 6:6-8 ). In the New Testament goodness is a fruit of the Spirit ( Gal 5:22 ), while moral excellence is one of the steps on the "ladder of virtue" ( 2 Peter 1:5 ).
Carl B. Bridges, Jr.
See also Fruit of the Spirit
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Good, Goodness'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".