Matthew 12:33-37 – Good from Good, Bad from Bad


Matthew 12:33-37


Jesus gives a discourse on the source of good actions, but with a twist.


One of the most influential thinkers in the history of ethics was the Greek philosopher Aristotle. One of the ethical principles that has been associated with him is the principle of habits. Put simply, a person is the sum of their deeds. Someone who does good things over and over makes themselves into a good person. Much of the ethical thinking of the western world runs on this principle.

In his argument with the Pharisees, Jesus argues for the opposite. Good habits do not make a good person. Someone must be good in the first place in order to do good things. Because of this, good deeds done by evil people should be viewed with suspicion. 

The twist in Jesus’ ethical teaching is that although he begins with deeds, he ends by relating the inner state of a person to their words (12:37). This use of words as a criterion of judgment relates to the testimony that Jesus’ followers will be required to give on his behalf (10:18). Those who can profess their faith in Jesus prove that they do their deeds out of a good heart; those who are ashamed of him prove that their deeds are evil.