What Jesus Meant When He Told the Disciples They Can Move Mountains With Faith As Small As a Mustard Seed

MOVING MOUNTAINS andy gill

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.” – Jesus (Matthew 17:20, NIV)


As a kid I remember during bible camp trying to move a mountain with my newfound faith that was presumably (so I was told) the size of a mustard seed. It was right after a dramatic alter call and my 1000th time in committing/re-committing my life to Christ (you know, just in case). The camp speaker was teaching on Matthew 17:20 (i.e. the moving mountains with faith as small as a mustard seed Bible verse); he had a packet of mustard seeds he tore open, visually giving us an idea of how small a mustard seed actually is. His purpose was to drive home the point Christ was making to His followers.

Suffice to say no mountains moved.

As a 10-year-old this rocked me; as for the next months, that packet of seeds only haunted me. Did I not have faith? If I didn’t have faith then how could I obtain this faith of a small mustard seed? Is it possible for me to pray harder or louder in order for God to hear me more clearly? But, if He’s God, then does he not hear everybody? And, if he does hear everybody does this mean He is intentionally choosing to ignore me?

Again, I was a child…

So, naturally, I went to my ill-equipped but well-intentioned small group (i.e. Pioneer Club parent volunteer) lay leader for answers.

Which, only made matters worse.

I heard all of the explanations; all of which come up short of anything substantial. At best they left me with more unanswered questions; at worst they watered this seed of fear in me; they either convinced others and I that we simply were not chosen or pulled out the typical evasive response in that “God is ‘beyond our understandings… (Job 11:7, 36:26; Psalm 139:6; etc.).”

It would have been so much easier and healthier if they had just admitted they don’t yet have an immediate answer.

Fast forward a bit… 

In this particular case, what if Jesus was simply speaking in hyperbole?

What if not all of the Bible was meant or intended to be taken so literally?

What if the Bible was poetry, song, allegory… metaphor?

In Bible college, I remember reading this “textual critic” named Rudolf Bultmann; he said in one of his commentaries that “moving mountains” was a Jewish term like it is today, used in instances that were considered a virtual impossibility.

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