My question is to the Greek word: ὀλιγοπιστίαν - oligopistian translated "little faith", so why does KJV use "unbelief" which has a totally different meaning? Or does it? What am I missing? I've read the threads on this verse but not explaining the translation to unbelief.

I have heard some extensive teachings on this verse using unbelief as if it were the correct translation...

  • 1
    Those who translate with “unbelief” are worse translators, whereas those who translate with “of little faith” are better and more mindful translators. As simple as that. Oct 16, 2020 at 14:57
  • For roughly the same reason a poor person is called penniless, even if their (small) fortune is not technically zero.
    – Lucian
    Oct 16, 2020 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


ὀλιγόπιστος (oligopistos) occurs only six times in the NT, Matt 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20, Luke 12:28 and always means:

  • BDAG: of little faith/trust
  • Thayer: of little faith, trusting too little

Now, NA28, NA27, UBS4, UBS5, W&H, etc, all have ὀλιγόπιστος in Matt 17:20; however, the Byzantine text, Majority, GOC, TR, all have ἀπιστίαν (= unbelief) here, and because the KJV follows TR, it has "unbelief". For a discussion of why oligopistos is preferable, see UBS5.

The sense of the verse is certainly "little faith" because Jesus goes on, in the same verse, discussing faith as small as grain of mustard seed, etc. We note that "unbelief" is not consistent with the flow of the text because Jesus' audience was not without belief!

Barnes observes about this dialogue:

The mustard-seed was the smallest of all seeds. It has been supposed by some, therefore, that he meant to say, If you have the smallest or feeblest faith that is genuine, you can do all things. The mustard-seed produced the largest of all herbs. It has been supposed by others, therefore, to mean, If you have increasing, expanding, enlarged faith, growing and strengthening from small beginnings, you can perform the most difficult undertaking. There is a principle of vitality in the grain of seed stretching forward to great results, which illustrates the nature of faith. Your faith should be like that. This is probably the true meaning.

The Pulpit commentary adds more:

They had, indeed, shown some faith by making even the attempt at the expulsion of the devil, and were not to be classed with the unbelieving scribes; but they had acted in a half-hearted manner, and had not displayed that perfect confidence and trust which alone can win success and make all things possible ... If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, which, as he says (Matthew 13:32), "is less than all seeds." He means a faith real and trustful, though it be small and weak. The phrase is proverbial, expressive of littleness and insignificance. The mustard seed is quite little, but, grown in favourable soil and under sunny skies, it becomes, as it were, a tree among herbs, so that birds may nestle in its branches. To it faith is compared, because, small at first, it contains within itself power of large development and increase; from minute grains copious results are produced.


Why does the KJV translate ὀλιγοπιστίαν as "unbelief" in Matthew 17:20?

  • Matthew 14:31 & Matthew 17:20 provide evidence that the KJV interchangeably uses Oligopistia (ὀλιγοπιστίαν) & Apistia (ἀπιστίᾳ), in order to illustrate Unbelief is not a total lack of faith.

While strengthening our little faith ( ὀλιγοπιστίαν ) in God's Word, we ask contextual questions which express unbelief ( ἀπιστίᾳ ) in order to develop an understanding of God's Word through mature comprehension of how to live & serve others.

Little Faith - Matthew 14:31 [KJV]

"And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith [Ὀλιγόπιστε], wherefore didst thou doubt [ἐδίστασας]?"

Unbelief - Mark 9:24 [KJV]

"And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief [ἀπιστίᾳ]."

Little Faith = Unbelief - Matthew 17:20 [KJV]

“And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief [ὀλιγοπιστίαν] : 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.”

  • This does not mention the textual problem.
    – Dottard
    Oct 17, 2020 at 8:45

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