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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 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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 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

  • To get the gist of what the scripture is referring to read the severeal verses before it and after it at the least. The disciples had been unable to cast out the demon from the boy Why? The next verses we find that Jesus then said that casting out demons requires faith but also prayer (relationship with God) and fasting (emptying oneself as a dedication and focus on God).

    Jesus rebuked the disciples saying "wicked and perverse generation..." They were trying to draw on their own powers to rebuke the devil and cast out a demon. Through our faith in Christ, even as small as a mustard seed we rebuke the devil and cast out demons. We don't have to be a spiritual powerhouse because our strength comes from Christ.

    Answer by NikkiMomof2grls at 4:32 PM on Feb. 7, 2013

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

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