How should the verse be translated?:
Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] εὐθὺς κράξας ὁ πατὴρ τοῦ παιδίου ἔλεγεν Πιστεύω· βοήθει μου τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ.
Is it a reasonable request?
Does Jesus in fact come to his aid as asked?
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I would translate Mark 9:24 like this:
Immediately after crying out, the child's father said, "I believe. Please help me against unbelief."
The Greek word Πιστεύω (from Strong's G4100 - pisteuō), while derived from the verb πίστις (Strong's G4102 - pistis: to believe/trust), has an added sense of commitment/determination that the English "I believe" just doesn't convey.
the Greek word βοήθει (from Strong's G997 - boētheō: help/aid/succor) is not served well by the English "help" or "aid", but "succor" hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, it's such an old fashioned word. I tried without success to find a suitable modern synonym, so I settled for "help".
βοήθει μου is "help me", just as it was uttered by the women who hoped only to be fed with the crumbs from the masters table.
Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help βοήθει me μου
-- Matthew 15:25
For this reason the text should not be rendered "help my unbelief", but "help me against unbelief". The man is not "owning" the unbelief as the cause of the disciples' inability to heal his son, but recognises that unbelief is at the root of it (both his and theirs), so he pleads for Jesus' assistance. He wants his child to be healed, and Jesus is his last hope that it might be possible.
In my search for a synonym for "succor", I came across an article by David Farr on the Daily Beast web site, where he describes the stormy sea that is the human soul. He writes:
The human soul is an ocean tossed by storms of passion, deep and bottomless in its need for succor and nourishment.
Succor may be an old-fashioned word, but when used like this it conveys so well what the man needs from Jesus.
The semantics of "faith" implies that it is not something possessed like a stone in a pocket, so that it stays put there, always unchanged, regardless what you do or think, but faith is a mystery of relationship between comprehension of the divine word and human free response towards this comprehension: one can through concentration and serious cultivation increase the comprehension and thus increase the intensity of divine presence in one's heart, or through negligence make the faith wither, as is shown in the parable about the sower in Matt. 13.
The disciples also understand this complex reality of faith and ask Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5), and Jesus' adducing the comparison of a mustard seed implies this very dynamic and growing nature of faith.
We see how He praises intellectual growth in faith, even through dialectical logic (which is also His, the Logos' gift to humans), of a Roman centurion, for through the dialectical logic the latter increased his faith as to ask Jesus to perform the miracle from a distance, and not like the others, who requested Him to actually touch the ailing relatives; and Jesus praises this centurion expressing His amazement in a pedagogical manner: "Even in Israel I could not find such a faith" (Luke 7:9).
Thus, the questioned passage should be interpreted in this light of semantics of the "faith": the father has faith, but a weak one, like the disciples in (Luke 17:5), or like Peter in Matt. 14:31, where Peter started to drown due to lessening of his faith, but was not drowned because faith did not disappear from him altogether, for Jesus rebuked him for a "little faith" and not an "absence of faith". And the father asks Him with a faith to help (or aid) his "faithlessness", which is an oxymoron denoting a heartrending mystery of the reality of faith, and its dependence on human free initiative and co-action, reciprocation with the divine invitational presence in him.
And also, mysteriously the faith is connected with love, for it is love of the father towards the child, that made his quest for the faith so intense and self-committed. That faith is a reality connected with a holistic growth of a human person in divine commandments, related to the entirety of his life, is shown in the fact that immediately Jesus connects the reality of faith with the life of prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:21), meaning that faith is nourished and strengthened by such a self committed life.
Thus, yes, it is completely reasonable request, the oxymoronic form of it beautifully adding drama to this passage; and yes, Jesus comes to aid as He is asked.
I bounce many of the scriptures against Young's Literal Translation (YLT). The YLT has at Mark 9:24,
" and immediately the father of the child, having cried out, with tears said, `I believe, sir; be helping mine unbelief.'"
Which is essentially the same as the Greek Interlinear at Biblehub:
"immediately having cried out the father of the child said I believe help of me the unbelief"
Most English versions read the same, or very close to it.
The son's father made a desperate plea for Jesus' help, and within that request recognized that he needed help to grow his faith. Mark 9:24,
"...help thou my unbelief." (KJV)
is essentially the same as saying he needed more faith.
Jamieson-Faussett-Brown commentary on Mark 9:24,
"And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief—that is, "It is useless concealing from Thee, O Thou mysterious, mighty Healer, the unbelief that still struggles in this heart of mine; but that heart bears me witness that I do believe in Thee; and if distrust still remains, I disown it, I wrestle with it, I seek help from Thee against it." Two things are very remarkable here: First, The felt and owned presence of unbelief, which only the strength of the man's faith could have so revealed to his own consciousness. Second, His appeal to Christ for help against his felt unbelief—a feature in the case quite unparalleled, and showing, more than all protestations could have done, the insight he had attained into the existence of a power in Christ more glorious them any he had besought for his poor child. The work was done; and as the commotion and confusion in the crowd was now increasing, Jesus at once, as Lord of spirits, gives the word of command to the dumb and deaf spirit to be gone, never again to return to his victim." Source: here
Christ did answer the request to rid the child of the foul spirit (Mark 9:25-27).
The people of the first century A.D. were fortunate to witness many miracles which Christ performed, and every one of the miracles were to engender belief, and confirm that He was and is the Son of God (Acts 2:22).
"How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (KJV)
The boy's father's faith came first by hearing the word of the Lord. Our faith comes the same way - through hearing the word of God. The Scriptures are recorded and preserved so that we have their example and may believe (1 Cor. 10:11). Then, as we study and grow in knowledge of the Lord, our faith grows, too.
It is a reasonable addition to any daily prayer, as we all need to continue to grow in faith and knowledge of His word (Eph. 4:13-16; 2 Thess. 1:3; 1 Pet. 2:2).
(Bold emphasis is mine.)
I've read it as Mark trying to show us that the belief comes from God/Jesus. The blind bartimeaus (Mk 10) asking for mercy springs to mind. And the blindness of the disciples, particularly Peter in rebuking the Messiah he has just recognised (Mark 8). We are spiritual blind and lack the ability to believe on our own but Jesus can overcome and 'heal' or 'help' this and ultimately save us from judgement.