Matthew 17:20
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) Because of your unbelief.—The various reading, “Because of your little faith,” found in many, but not the most authoritative MSS., is interesting as an example of a tendency to tone down the apparent severity of our Lord’s words. They show conclusively that the disciples themselves came under the range of His rebuke to the “faithless and perverse generation.”

If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed.—The hyperbolical form of our Lord’s words, repeated afterwards in Matthew 21:21, excluded from the thoughts of the disciples, as from our own, the possibility of a literal interpretation. The “grain of mustard seed” was, as in Matthew 13:31, the proverbial type of the infinitely little. To “remove mountains” was, as we see in 1Corinthians 13:2 (this may, however, have been an echo of our Lord’s teaching), the proverbial type of overcoming difficulties that seemed insurmountable. The words were, we may believe, dramatised by a gesture pointing to the mountain from which our Lord and the three disciples had descended, as afterwards by a like act in reference to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 21:21).

Nothing shall be impossible unto you.—The words, absolute as they sound, are yet, ipso facto, conditional. Nothing that comes within the range of faith in the wisdom and love of God, and therefore of submission to His will, is beyond the range of prayer.

17:14-21 The case of afflicted children should be presented to God by faithful and fervent prayer. Christ cured the child. Though the people were perverse, and Christ was provoked, yet care was taken of the child. When all other helps and succours fail, we are welcome to Christ, may trust in him, and in his power and goodness. See here an emblem of Christ's undertaking as our Redeemer. It encourages parents to bring children to Christ, whose souls are under Satan's power; he is able to heal them, and as willing as he is able. Not only bring them to Christ by prayer, but bring them to the word of Christ; to means by which Satan's strong-holds in the soul are beaten down. It is good for us to distrust ourselves and our own strength; but it is displeasing to Christ when we distrust any power derived from him, or granted by him. There was also something in the malady which rendered the cure difficult. The extraordinary power of Satan must not discourage our faith, but quicken us to more earnestness in praying to God for the increase of it. Do we wonder to see Satan's bodily possession of this young man from a child, when we see his spiritual possession of every son of Adam from the fall!As a grain of mustard-seed - See the notes at Matthew 13:31-32. 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.

Ye shall say unto this mountain ... - Probably he pointed to a mountain near, to assure them that if they had such faith they might accomplish the most difficult undertakings - things that at first would appear impossible.

Mt 17:14-23. Healing of a Demoniac Boy—Second Explicit Announcement by Our Lord of His Approaching Death and Resurrection. ( = Mr 9:14-32; Lu 9:37-45).

The time of this section is sufficiently denoted by the events which all the narratives show to have immediately preceded it—the first explicit announcement of His death, and the transfiguration—both being between His third and His fourth and last Passover.

Healing of the Demoniac and Lunatic Boy (Mt 17:14-21).

For the exposition of this portion, see on [1322]Mr 9:14-32.

Second Announcement of His Death (Mt 17:22, 23).

See Poole on "Matthew 17:21".

And Jesus said unto them, because of your unbelief,.... The Arabic and Ethiopic versions read, "because of your little faith", or "the smallness of your faith"; and so does one Greek manuscript; and which is what is doubtless meant by their unbelief; for they were not altogether destitute of faith, but their faith was very low, and their unbelief very great. Christ says, not because of the unbelief of the parent of the child, and those that were with him, though that also was a reason; but because of their unbelief, being willing to convince them of their unbelief, as he had done the father of the child, who had confessed it, and desired it might be removed from him: but lest they should think they had lost their power of doing miracles, Christ adds;

for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed; which was a very small seed, the least of all seeds, and is used very often proverbially by the Jews, to signify anything of a small quantity or weight (b), and is sometimes used of faith, as here; so speaking of the congregation of Edom, meaning the Christians, they (c) say,

"they have not , "faith as a grain of mustard seed".''

And it is used in like sense in other eastern nations; and by Mahomet in his Alcoran (d), who says,

"We will appoint just balances in the day of resurrection, neither shall any soul be injured at all, although the merit or guilt of an action be of the weight of "a grain of mustard seed".''

So that it has no reference to the quality of mustard seed, being hot and acrimonious; which has led some interpreters wrong, to compare faith unto it, for its liveliness and fervency: when our Lord only means, that if his apostles had ever so small a degree of faith in exercise, which might be compared for its smallness to this least of seeds, such an effect as he after mentions would follow; and which therefore is to be understood, not of an historical faith, by which men assent to all that is in the Bible as true; nor of a special, spiritual faith, by which souls believe in Christ, as their Saviour and Redeemer; for of neither of these can the following things in common be said; but of a faith of miracles, peculiar to certain persons in those early times, for certain reasons; which such as had but ever so small a degree of, as the apostles here spoken to might say, as Christ observes to them,

ye shall say to this mountain; pointing perhaps to that he was just come down from, which might be in sight of the house where he was,

remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove: meaning, not that it would be ordinarily or ever done in a literal sense by the apostles, that they should remove mountains; but that they should be able to do things equally difficult, and as seemingly impossible, if they had but faith, when the glory of God, and the good of men, required it. So that it does not follow, because the apostles did not do it in a literal sense, therefore they could not, as the Jew insultingly says (e); since it was meant that they should, and besides, have done, things equally as great as this, and which is the sense of the words. So the apostle expresses the faith of miracles, by "removing mountains", 1 Corinthians 13:2 i.e. by doing things which are difficult, seem impossible to be done: wherefore Christ adds,

and nothing shall be impossible to you; you shall not only be able to perform such a wonderful action as this, were it necessary, but any, and everything else, that will make for the glory of God, the enlargement of my kingdom and interest, the confirmation of truth, and the good of mankind.

(b) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 3l. 1. Megilla, fol. 28. 2. Nidda, fol. 66. 1. Maimon. lssure Biah, c. 11. sect. 4. Maacolot Asurot, c. 2. sect. 21. &c. 14. sect. 8. Tumaot Okelim, c. 4. sect. 2. & 7. 6. (c) Vet. Nizzachon, p. 148. (d) C. 21. p. 268. & c. 31. p. 336. Ed. Sale. (e) Vet. Nizzachon, p. 237.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 17:20. The disciples ought to have applied to themselves the general exclamation in Matthew 17:17. This they failed to do, hence their question. But the ἀπιστία with which Jesus now charges them is to be understood in a relative sense, while the πίστις, of which it is the negation, means simply faith in Jesus Christ, the depositary of supernatural power, so that, in virtue of their fellowship with His life, the disciples, as His servants and the organs of His power, were enabled to operate with greater effect in proportion to the depth and energy of the faith with which they could confide in Him.

ἐὰν ἔχητε] if you have (not: had).

ὡς κόκκον σιν.] found likewise in Rabbinical writers as a figurative expression for a very small quantity of anything. Lightfoot on Matthew 13:32. The point of the comparison does not lie in the stimulative quality of the mustard (Augustine; on the other hand, Maldonatus).

To remove mountains, a figurative expression for: to accomplish extraordinary results, 1 Corinthians 13:2. Lightfoot on Matthew 21:21; Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. p. 1653. For legends in regard to the actual removing of mountains, see Calovius.

οὐδέν] the hyperbole of popular speech. For ἀδυνατ., comp. Job 42:2.

Matthew 17:20. διὰ τὴν ὀλιγοπιστίαν, here only, and just on that account to be preferred to ἀπιστίαν (T. R.); a word coined to express the fact exactly: too little faith for the occasion (cf. Matthew 14:31) That was a part of the truth at least, and the part it became them to lay to heart.—ἀμὴν, introducing, as usual, a weighty saying.—ἐὰν ἔχητε, if ye have, a present general supposition.—κόκκον σινάπεως proverbial for a small quantity (Matthew 13:31), a minimum of faith. The purpose is to exalt the power of faith, not to insinuate that the disciples have not even the minimum. Schanz says they had no miracle faith (“fides miraculorum”).—τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ, the Mount of Transfiguration visible and pointed to.—μετάβα (-βηθι T. R.), a poetical form of imperative like ἀνάβα in Revelation 4:1. Vide Schmiedel’s Winer, p. 115.—ἔνθεν ἐκεῖ for ἐντεῦθεν ἐκεῖσε.—μεταβήσεται: said, done. Jesus here in effect calls faith an “uprooter of mountains,” a phrase current in the Jewish schools for a Rabbi distinguished by legal lore or personal excellence (Lightfoot, Hor. Heb., ad Matthew 21:21, Wünsche).—ἀδυνατήσει used in the third person singular only in N. T. with dative = to be impossible; a reminiscence of Mark 9:23 (Weiss).

20. ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence] Such expressions are characteristic of the vivid imagery of Eastern speech generally. To “remove mountains” is to make difficulties vanish. The Jews used to say of an eminent teacher, he is “a rooter up of mountains.” See Lightfoot ad loc.

Matthew 17:20. Ἀπιστίαν, unbelief) in this case.—πίστιν ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως, faith as a grain of mustard seed) contrasted with a huge mountain. This faith is contrasted with a strong faith, and one stimulated by prayer and fasting [see Matthew 17:21]. From this it is clear, that the transportation of a mountain is a less miracle than the ejection of a devil of the kind mentioned in the text; for the devil clings more closely to a man spiritually, than the mountain to its roots physically; and faith, even the smallest, is more powerful than the fixture of a mountain. You will say, “Why then is that miracle less frequent (than the other)?” Answer. It has nevertheless been performed sometimes; but it is not necessary that it should be performed frequently, although the opulence of faith reaches thus far. A mountain is naturally by creation in its proper place: a devil is not so when possessing a man: wherefore it is more beneficial that the latter should be cast out, than that the former should be removed; cf. on faith, Mark 11:22-24; Mark 16:17; John 14:12-13.—ἐρεῖτε, ye shall say) i.e. ye are able to say—ye have the power of saying. This is said especially to the apostles; for all have not the gift of miracles.—τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ, to this mountain) sc. that mentioned in Matthew 17:1; see also ch. Matthew 21:21. Examples of such miracles are not wanting in the history of the Church; see one of them in Note to the Panegyric on Gregory Thaumaturgus,[794] pp. 127, 128; see also Le Fevre’s Commentary, f. 78.—ἘΚΕῖ, there) Ye shall be able also to assign a place to a mountain.—οὐδὲν, nothing) not even if the sun is to be staid in his course.

[794] See foot-note, p. 187.—(I. B.)

Verse 20. - Because of your unbelief. The Revised Version adopts the reading, little faith, in accordance with the best authorities; but it looks like a softening of the original term "unbelief," which corresponds better with Christ's own censure, "faithless generation." Jesus gives two reasons for the apostles' failure, one connected with their own moral condition, and one (ver. 21) derived from the nature of the demons exorcised. 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. Verily I say unto you. The Lord proceeds to give that lesson concerning perfect faith and its results, which he afterwards repeated in connection with the withered fig tree (Matthew 21:21, where see note) and elsewhere (Luke 17:6). 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. Ye shall say unto this mountain. He points to the hill of Hermon, where the Transfiguration had taken place. Remove hence. It is usual to consider the expression here as an Eastern hyperbole, not to be taken literally, but meaning merely that the greatest difficulties may be overcome by faith. This may be true, but it seems hardly adequate to the explanation of our Lord's emphatic words. St. Paul writes in a similar strain (1 Corinthians 13:2), "If I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains;" where there is nothing necessarily hyperbolical in the supposition. It seems rather that Jesus meant his words to be received literally, implying that if such a removal as he mentioned was ever expedient and in accordance with God's will, it would be effected by the power of faith; not that he hereby sanctioned an arbitrary and wanton display of miraculous power, but he gives an assurance that, were such a measure rendered necessary for the cause of religion, it would be performable at the call of one whose whole trust was centred on God, and whose will was one with God's will. Mediaeval writers, followed by later Roman Catholic commentators, give instances of such stupendous effects of faith. The evidence of such miracles is, of course, defective, and would not satisfy modern criticism, but the existence of such legends proves that a literal view was taken of our Lord's saying. Nothing shall be impossible unto you. The man of faith is practically omnipotent; moral and material difficulties vanish before him. Matthew 17:20Unbelief (ἀπιστίαν)

But the better reading is ὀλιγοπιστίαν, littleness of faith. Hence Rev., Because of your little faith.

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