"So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you" -- Matthew 17:20 (NKJV).

To the best of my knowledge, only the KJV and NKJV use the word "unbelief," suggesting a lack of faith. Other versions (NIV, ESV, AMP) use "little faith" instead, which seems to suggest little faith rather than a lack of faith.

So, what was Jesus meaning to say: a lack of or a little faith?


3 Answers 3


They translate from the Greek word ὀλιγοπιστίαν

From 3641 /olígos, "little in number, low in quantity" and 4102 /pístis, "faith".

Occurs five times in the NT, each time with Jesus rebuking the problem of failing to hear His voice (cf. Jn 10:3,4,27).

"Little-faith" (3640 /oligópistos) describes someone dull to hearing the Lord's voice, or disinterested in walking intimately with Him. In contrast, the goal of life is to receive (obey) the Lord's gift of faith in each scene of life (Ro 14:23; Heb 11:6).

Answer Source

Etymology of /pístis, "faith"

From πιθ- ‎(pith-), the root of πείθω ‎(peíthō), +‎ -σις ‎(-sis), which remained -τις ‎(-tis) after a dental.

Answer Source

The Usages in the New Testament

Matthew 6:30
Here it gets used as "little convinced". Those that understand the power of God do not need to worry about food, drink, or clothing. Those "convinced" know with certainty that God provides.

Matthew 8:26
Here Jesus rebukes his disciples for if they where convinced, they themselves would have used the word to calm the wind and the seas. However since they were not convinced of the power of what they say, Jesus had to show them again and himself told the wind and seas to calm.

Matthew 14:31
Here Jesus uses the power of the word and told Peter to "Come" meaning to also come walk on the water. Peter upon seeing the wind began to doubt and started to sink, therefore the rebuke.

Matthew 16:8
Here the rebuke comes from a general lack of understanding the metaphor "leaven". Perhaps Jesus uses other metaphors? Just something to think about.

Matthew 17:20
Here again Jesus tries to explain the power of what a person says. That even telling a mountain to move will move a mountain and that nothings impossible for those that believe in the power of what they say. They still remain unconvinced at the power of what we say, therefore he calls them "hardly convinced".

Luke 12:28
Again used to express how we do not have to worry about food, drink, or clothes. That by simply saying what we need, God will provide.


I believe that what the Lord Jesus Christ wanted to teach us is for us to have faith only, unmixed with unbelief. Because we can have faith and have unbeliefs at the same time. That's why He said, Believe only. All things are possible to those who just believe.

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Matthew 17:20- we see that the KJV translates it as:

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.

While the NIV says:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In the context of the verse, Jesus is suggesting that they did not have even the tiny faith as a mustard seed.

Considering that context, it seems strange that Jesus would say “you have so little faith”. “Unbelief” then seems to be the more appropriate translation, i.e. “apistia” which is a lack of faith.

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