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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)
  • I also want to add that there are times in the bible where things are symbolic, I do not believe every single thing in the bible is literal but I believe all of it to be truth! Jesus used parables to teach at times and many authors used metaphors. But what can be taken literally should be taken literally. There are parts in the book of Revelation that are more symbolic. I believe these things will be more clear to us as they occur. They needed to be written in a way that people of that time period could comprehend so they could record it.


    Answer by deedee3849 at 7:31 PM on Feb. 7, 2013

  • Okay, so acrobatics are needed to make sense of this verse, a lot of twisting, bending, and fitting it to something that can be applied to real life, but there is clearly no way that it could be applied as it's written literally, right?  In other words, faith or no faith, no one could perform the miracles depicted in the Bible because, conveniently, no one could possibly have enough faith - or at least no one has had enough faith in the past 2000 years or so to move mountains or perform other miracles.

    Faith, then, seems to be faith in oneself to learn, to improve, and to make the most of one's life.  The Disciples would have to have had the most faith of anyone, being the closest to Jesus, but Jesus chastised them for not having the faith of a mustard seed . . . so . . .


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 8:43 PM on Feb. 7, 2013

  • Not true the disciples performed miracles.

    You do need to read in context. There really was a lot more said than just that one phrase.

    If you have the faith of the figuarative mustard seed, a small amount of true faith, you could ask to move a mountain in God's name.
    If you have true faith why would you want to move an actual mountain. The heart of a human can be some much harder to move. Many have been moved. Would you call it a miracle?
    Maybe not. Someone is saved in an accident (take your pick) from circumstances that no one can survive. All the astronomical variables would have to line up perfectly for this person to survive. But they do and they are fine. Is it a miracle? Maybe not.
    Some unexplainable things happen (they do all the time) you can say, "oh that is just a wierd coincidence" or you can wonder about a higher power.

    Answer by Dardenella at 11:23 PM on Feb. 7, 2013

  • No acrobatics are needed. The "moutain" you keep referring to in that scripture was spoken of but once in that verse. You are focusing on the mountain. The focus should be on faith. The verses before and after that particular verse give you the meaning that is implied. This is true of reading in general.

    If you want to understand the Bible you must: 1. have the heartfelt desire to understand it and to seek understanding. 2. Ask God for understanding 3. Read the Bible and study it. 4. Spend quiet time in prayer. (very important) 5. Apply the Bible to your life. (Don't just read it or speak it, but do it.) This is what is meant by Christianity being a relationship rather than a religion. You don't become a Christian and are immediately perfected into a model of Christ. Being a Christian means that you are a constant work in progress, you are constantly learning and yielding to His shaping of your life.

    Answer by NikkiMomof2grls at 12:25 PM on Feb. 9, 2013

  • Miracles happen all the time. Some of them are jaw dropplingly obvious but most of the time we aren't in a position to observe what has taken place. We don't have eyes to see the internal workings of a hardened heart that has just been softened by the love of Christ, the powerlessness of one addicted whose will was strengthed by the Holy Spirit so that the chains of a addiction were broken forever. On and on the stories go. These may not be miracles to sceptics but ask those who have felt the hands of God lift burdens that kept them broken for years and you will get another perspective.

    Answer by NikkiMomof2grls at 12:32 PM on Feb. 9, 2013

  • Again, I know that apologists can finagle the words to make some semblance of meaning, but I'm wondering how literalists can take this verse.  Literalists insist that every word of the Bible is absolutely true - not metaphors, not allegories, but to be taken at face value.  The world was created in six days, Eve was taken from Adam's rib, there really was a flood that killed everything on the planet except for those that were saved by Noah, who then repopulated the earth with his wife and daughters, etc.   There is no room for interpretation for the literalists.  They claim to believe it to be the inerrant and actual word of God.  So, this verse clearly states that with a tiny bit of faith, one can tell a mountain to move, and the mountain will move.  How can they reconcile that with the fact that they, I'm sure, have more faith than many, but cannot move a mountain with words.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 7:52 PM on Feb. 9, 2013

  • It means you do not have the faith to do extraordinarily hard and difficult things that God would have you do. It has nothing to do with literally moving mountains. It means that we can do the seemingly impossible things that we face serving God and we do it all for the glory of God. Without faith and trust in God, we can do nothing.

    Answer by KarensFaith at 3:39 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • Also, context is key. You just cannot take a verse from the Bible and make it mean something you want it to mean when it really doesn't mean that at all. You have to read what comes before it and after it and then see the context of that particular verse you are talking about. Context, context, context is a must in quoting the Bible.

    Answer by KarensFaith at 3:41 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • Yes, and context, context, context make it clear that this verse was intended to be taken literally.  Prior to this verse, Jesus cured a boy that the disciples were unable to help.  Jesus said to them that it is because they did not have faith enough to cure the boy.  That was very literal - that they could have cured this boy of his mysterious illness (lunacy, apparently). 

    But let's say, then, that it requires some "reading into" the verses.  Why make it so difficult?  This passage seems quite clearly to suggest that with faith, anything - ANYTHING - is possible.  Obviously, that is not the case, because no matter how much faith you have, you cannot make a mountain move by speaking to it, as the verse so clearly states.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 3:53 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • Wow, old post. And I see that you asked me a question I didn't answer; probably never came back to this.

    My interpretation of this: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and every manner of things shall be well." It all works out in the end.

    Answer by gdiamante at 4:13 PM on Mar. 16, 2013

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