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The expression "unbelief" appears to be quite significant. Like how Christianity appears to divide people between "believers" and "unbelievers".

The word "unbelief" (G570 apistia) appears in the Gospel of Mark in the following context:

Mark 9:23-24 New King James Version

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

I think it's safe to say that the father claims to believe, but he needs assistance with his doubt.

The Webster's 1828 Dictionary states:

  • Unbelief - 1. Incredulity; the withholding of belief; as, unbelief is blind.
  • Disbelief - Refusal of credit or faith; denial of belief.

Both terms, it seems to me, indicate a personal decision, but "unbelief" is a decision not to believe, at least yet, whereas "disbelief" is actively holding a different belief, if only to say "I don't believe that".

Is my interpretation correct? What does the expression "unbelief" genuinely mean, and how is it different from "disbelief" in Biblical terms?

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There is only one word/noun in the Greek that expresses this idea: ἀπιστία (apistia) = "unbelief" or "un-trust". It occurs 11 times in the NT - Matt 13:58, Mark 6:6, 9:24, 16:14, Rom 3:3, 4:20, 11:20, 23, 1 Tim 1:13, Heb 3:12, 19.

The primary difference, in English, between the two is simple

  • unbelief is the inability to believe or, more correct trust
  • disbelief is the refusal to believe, despite the evidence

BDAG defines ἀπιστία as:

  1. unwillingness to commit to another or respond positively to another's words or actions, lack of belief, unbelief, eg, Matt 13:58, Mark 6:6, 9:24, Rom 11:20, etc
  2. lack of commitment to a relationship or pledge, unfaithfulness, eg, Rom 3:3

Now, it is a matter of context on a case-by-case basis which way each instance is translated - a tricky choice because it involves the intention of the heart as to whether a person cannot believe/trust or refuses to believe/trust.

In the specific case of Mark 9:23, 24, the two words of "belief" and "unbelief" are placed in direct contrast suggestion an interpretive translation something like:

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (ie, help me believe/trust you more).

That is, the man is saying to Jesus that he already believed/trusted but wanted to believe/trust more strongly.

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