We often use Matthew 17:20 to remind our brothers and sisters in distress about the power of faith. We tell them to consider how God says that even a faith that is as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain. However, here are 5 reasons why this claim cannot be true. Matthew 17:20 (NASB) – And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.
Reason 1: There is an error in translation
Some bible versions, such as the NASB quoted above states “…if you have faith the size of a mustard seed”. Others, like the NIV states “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed”
However, in the Greek, neither the word size nor the word small appears in this verse. Matthew 17:20 should have been translated “…if you have faith as a mustard seed”. The King James Version is the closest with “…if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed”. Adding size or small makes a big difference!
Reason 2: The words “small” or “size” that were added to Matthew 17:20 cause Jesus-Christ to contradict himself “right here in this very verse”
Jesus-Christ describes whom He was speaking to in Matthew 17:20 as people of “little” faith, not people of “no” faith. Furthermore, Matthew 17:16-19 tell us that these people were disciples of Jesus-Christ. As disciples, they must have had some faith. This is also evident by the fact that they were surprised that they were not able to cast the demon out (Matthew 17:19). They must have had some faith if they thought they could cast a demon! Therefore, if Jesus-Christ acknowledges that his disciples had some faith (although little), how can He at the same time imply they had no faith by indicating that their faith was not even the size of a mustard seed?
Reason 3: The words “small” or “size” that were added to Matthew 17:20 cause Jesus-Christ to contradict himself in his teachings elsewhere.
In Mark 11:22-24, Jesus-Christ describes again the power of faith as the power to move mountains. However, here He adds an important piece of information: The person shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he says shall come to pass. In other words, the faith required to move mountain is the one in which the man does not doubt. How is this kind of faith, one that is completely devoid of doubt be the size of a grain of mustard seed?
Reason 4: The faith which removes mountains is described as “all” faith by the Apostle Paul
1 Corinthians 13:2 – And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
Here, the Apostle Paul describes the kind of faith required to remove mountains as all faith. It is a faith that is devoid of doubt and is complete! How can it be a small as a grain of mustard seed?
Reason 5: Every teaching of Jesus-Christ on the mustard seed is about how “great” the faith of that seed is
There are three other places where Jesus-Christ uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point. There, He uses it to describe the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13: 31, 32, Mark 4: 30-32 and Luke 13: 18-20). Those references give us a clear understanding as to why the mustard seed is such a great example of the power of faith. These three records shed lights on what Jesus-Christ is bringing our attention to whenever He speaks of the mustard seed: The mustard seed, despite being the smallest of all seeds turns into the greatest of herbs, even to the point of becoming a tree. It should be clear therefore, that it is the faith of that seed, not the size of that seed which enables it to accomplish such a great feat.
In conclusion, the reality is that most of us have some faith that is probably bigger than the size of a mustard seed. So how discouraging is it be to hear from someone that despite our best efforts, our faith has not reached the size of a mustard seed, that our faith is still so little it is barely visible!? But this is not what Jesus-Christ was teaching. Instead, using the mustard seed, He was showing just how powerful we can become, when faith has reached its maturity. The mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, has the greatest faith among all seeds. We should aspire to increase our faith. Be encouraged!
About the Author: Serge N. Sala-Diakanda started his blog with a passion for thought-provoking biblical topics, by revisiting many of the Christians concepts we think we already know. This article is a summary of a 7-parts series he wrote on the mustard seed in his blog. You can read the full series here.