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How do Bible literalists reconcile themselves with Matthew 17:20?

"And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."

Are they very careful not to want anything that is impossible?  Or do they think that their faith is smaller than a mustard seed, and so they could not move a mountain by telling it to move?

How do you interpret the verse?

Faith or no faith, no matter how hard you pray, wish, fast or meditate, you will not be able to regrow a lost limb, or move a mountain from "here to there".  So, what does this verse really mean?

Answer Question

Asked by jsbenkert at 9:42 AM on Feb. 6, 2013 in Religious Debate

Level 37 (89,331 Credits)
Answers (30)
  • Well, when I was a Christian, I interpreted it to mean that I didn't have enough faith. And was taught to believe that only Jesus did/does. I also had a necklace of a little clear hear with a mustard seed inside. Bless my teenage socks.

    Answer by ABeaverhausen at 9:57 AM on Feb. 6, 2013

  • That's one of the funny things about this particular verse.  Mustard seeds are tiny, and that's why they were chosen for this particular verse.  My interpretation is that if you have the tiniest amount of faith, all things are possible.  I'd also say that those who believe the Bible literally probably have the most faith of all Christians, since they have the most evidence to ignore in order to maintain their faith that the Bible is literally true.  So, their faith must be at least as big as a mustard seed, therefore all things should be possible for them, right?


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 10:02 AM on Feb. 6, 2013

  • One reason I'm not a Bible literalist. I was also taught by my Catholic priest... and then by my Episcopal priest... that there is a great deal of allegory in the Bible and it's not to be taken literally.

    Answer by gdiamante at 11:18 AM on Feb. 6, 2013

  • So how do you interpret this verse, gdiamante? 

    Clearly, faith cannot move mountains literally, but even to use it as an allegory - that with faith nothing is impossible - it isn't true.  Even with faith some things are impossible, and always will be, so how is one to take a verse like this and apply it in a practical way to every day life?


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 11:25 AM on Feb. 6, 2013

  • the church i was raised in believed some verses were to be taken literally while not others (confusing i know). but this one was always explained as an allegory that with just a little bit of faith you can do great things. not impossible things, but that faith can keep you going in tough times, help spur you on to tackle something that seems impossible.

    i wonder how Biblical literalists reconcile themselves with a lot of verses...

    Answer by okmanders at 11:43 AM on Feb. 6, 2013

  • I wonder how bible literalists reconcile themselves with the whole dang bible, but that's just me.

    Answer by spiritguide_23 at 3:49 PM on Feb. 6, 2013

  • To me the verse means Jesus was using it as an example.. he was a little frustrated with his disciples. If you read earlier in the passage, a man came to Jesus and asks him to heal he son. He says he took the boy to the disciples but they couldn't heal him, but could Jesus please try?? Jesus heals him and turns to his disciples and he is sorta like "how long do I have to put up with this from you guys???" They say, "why couldn't we do that?" And he says "because you didn't believe in your own faith enough. Believe and you will have the power to move mountains". Its like a coach motivating his team. Have some faith here, guys. You can do this. The same power that is in me, is in you. You just have to believe.
    Thats how I see it, anyway.

    Answer by Nimue930 at 4:01 PM on Feb. 6, 2013

  • Sure, I can see that as a possible way to read that particular verse, Nimue, but that's not a literal interpretation.  I'm wondering how those who believe the Bible should be taken literally.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 10:37 PM on Feb. 6, 2013

  • I am not what you would call a litteralist but I will give you what I believe it means.

    Faith is not believing in God because you want something, or an on again off again thing. To have even a little complete faith is not all that common. It is not the faith that \the mountain will move. It is the faith in God and trust in God.

    Answer by Dardenella at 11:11 PM on Feb. 6, 2013

  • I get that, Dardenella.  Those who believe in this god, but don't believe the Bible is meant to be read literally, say that it is faith in God that matters.  But then why does the verse imply, whether you take it literally to mean that if you have just the tiniest amount of faith, you can move a mountain simply by telling it to move, or whether you take a less-literal, but still meaningful translation to mean that faith/trust in god that will what?  What will it do?  What will faith in God accomplish?  And is more faith better than just a little faith?  You didn't really complete that thought. 

    "It is the faith in God and trust in God" . . . that what?  Cures sick children (as the verses before suggest)?  What does this passage mean, if it's not meant to be taken literally?


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 8:51 AM on Feb. 7, 2013

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