Skip to Content

Little Faith vs. Mustard Seed of Faith: What’s the Difference?

Little faith and a mustard seed of faith are not the same thing. Jesus never encouraged us to have small faith, rather He encouraged us to have a faith that grows like a mustard seed so that our faith can become great.

This confusion about a mustard seed comes because some of the Bible translations in Matthew 17 say, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed” or “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed.”

This is a problem because in the original greek, the size of the mustard seed is never mentioned. The correct translation is “if you have faith as a mustard seed” or “if you have faith like a mustard seed.”

This distinction is very important because Jesus consistently rebuked His disciples for having small faith. In fact, He rebuked His disciples three times for having “little faith” before He ever even mentioned a mustard seed of faith.

“But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” (Matthew 8:26)

“And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

“But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?” (Matthew 16:8) 

So why would Jesus rebuke us for having little faith and then later tell us that all we need is faith as little as a mustard seed to work miracles? The answer is He wouldn’t. It is inconsistent with His teaching on faith so the only explanation is that we are misunderstanding what a mustard seed of faith is.

If we desire to truly understand what Jesus meant by having faith like a mustard seed then we need to first understand how Jesus viewed a mustard seed.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

Jesus views a mustard seed as something that even though it may start out small has the potential to become great and large.

So if we take Jesus’ viewpoint of a mustard seed and reread Matthew 17 we will discover what Jesus was truly trying to say.

In this context, the disciples tried to heal a little boy and it did not work, even after they were already seeing miracles consistently, but for some reason, they couldn’t heal this boy.

When Jesus arrives on the scene, He heals the boy immediately. Later the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked Him, “why could we not cast it out?”

And He responded,

“Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

In other words, Jesus is basically saying, “Guys I know that when you prayed, the little boy wasn’t healed. The reason it didn’t happen is because of your unbelief. But truly I tell you, even though your faith is small now if you learn to let it grow to the full term you’ll be able to say to mountains “move” and they will have to move, and I promise nothing will be impossible for you.”

What an amazing promise and what an amazing revelation!

Jesus was trying to encourage them. He identified their problem (which is many of our problems) and then He gave them hope and a promise.

He gave four words of identifying the problem and then He gave a whole paragraph of promise. We have an amazing King!

Let’s not get trapped in saying, “all I have is faith as small as a mustard seed.” That may be true, but the point Jesus was trying to make was that having faith as small as a mustard seed is a bad thing, rather we need to have faith like a mustard seed, for a mustard seed grows to become mighty.

[Related articles: What a Mustard Seed of Faith Means (And How to Have it) and How to Grow in Faith].

I hope this article assisted you in your walk with the Lord. If you enjoyed this article, please consider giving a donation of any amount by clicking the button below. The support we receive from you enables The Biblical Foundation to keep all of the resources free and to reach more people with the teachings of the Word of God.

    Weekly devotional you can read in 2 minutes 

    No spam. Nothing annoying or unexpected. Just actionable steps to apply the Word of God.