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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Good, Goodness

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The main Old Testament words for good/goodness come from the Hebrew word tob [ Genesis 6:2; 24:16; 26:7; 2 Samuel 11:2; Esther 1:11; 2:2-3,7 ) and a "good" man is handsome (1 Samuel 9:2 ). A land may be good (Deuteronomy 1:25,35 ) and so may gold (2 Chronicles 3:5,8 ), soil (Luke 8:8 ), a tree (Matthew 7:17 ), wine (John 2:10 ), or all of creation (seven times in Genesis 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 (Matthew 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; Lamentations 3:25; Luke 6:35; Romans 2:4; 11:22; Ephesians 2:7; Titus 3:4 ). Human goodness is modeled on divine goodness (Matthew 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" (Numbers 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 [ חֶסֶד , חֶסֶד ], translated "goodness" or "kindness, " serves as one of the major synonyms of tob [ טָב ], "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" (Genesis 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" (Isaiah 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; Hebrews 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 (Genesis 6:5; Mark 7:14-23; and parallels). In the same way a good person's good behavior shows a good heart (Matthew 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 (Micah 6:6-8 ). In the New Testament goodness is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 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 Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Good, Goodness'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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