Matthew 17:20 Because of your unbelief: for ...

KJV Verse: 

Matthew 17:20 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.

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

In the midst of this lack of trust of yours, what, honestly, do I say? When you have a confidence like a seed of mustard, you are going to say to this mountain/mule. "It shifts from here to there." And not only might it shift itself, but it also will be unable to do anything to you."  

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This verse is another play on words. It could mean what the KJV translates it to mean, but it would be a reach because the verbs and noun are in the wrong forms in the final phrase. However, if we assume that the mountain is a metaphor for the stubborn "evil spirit", it has the sense that "evil spirits" can be harnessed to our will. You might want to read this article about the meaning of "evil spirits" in Greek times. Interesting, however, it is not a humorous, ironic, contrary to fact statement as in Luke 17:6.

The word translated as "because" means "through," in the midst of," or "by (a cause)." It is not the usual Greek word used to explain a cause.

"Unbelief" is a word that means small or little trust. It is different than the word used in the previous verse which means "no trust" or "without trust."

The word translated as "for" does explain a cause and can be treated as supporting a dependent clause but in short questions, it acts as "what."

The "verily I say to you phrase" is a common one for Christ. It is discussed in detail in this article.

The word translated as "verily" means "so be it" at the end of a statement, but at the beginning, it means "truly" "of truth."

The Greek word translated as "if" indicates more of an expectation of something happening than "if" alone. We use "when" for this idea.

The word translated as "ye have" means "to possess" or "to keep" but it isn't used in the same way as a "helper" verb that the English "have" is.

The term translated as "faith" was much closer to our general idea of having confidence or trust in people and especially their words rather than religious belief.

The word translated as "as" is a comparative adverb that means "like", "as much as," and "where."

The word translated as "grain" means "kernel," or "grain." It can also mean "seed." However, it is not the most common word for a "seed" in Greek.

The word translated as "mustard seed" means simply "mustard." However, the mustard seed was the Jewish metaphor for the smallness of the knowable world compared to the whole universe. Christ uses it in Matthew 13:31 to refer to how the realm of the skies grows from a small seed.

The word translated as "ye shall say" is the verb meaning "say", "speak," and "tell." It is in the future tense, plural.

The word translated as "this" means "this" or "that."

The word translated as "mountain" means "mountain" or "hill" but it could also be the word which means "mule." In either case, it seems to be a metaphor used to describe the stubborn evil spirit. The word is in a form that could indicate the person addressed, but that form has a number of other uses as well (see the list at the bottom of this page). Here, it could be a comparison ("like a mule"). 

The verb translated as "remove" is not in the form of a command. No one is telling the mountain or the mule to do anything. It is a simple active verb in the third person. If  The word means "to pass over" or "to make a change." In English, the verb "shifts" captures the same feeling of changing places or nature. The tense indicates this happening at some point in time, past, present, or future. This is usually translated as the past in English.

"Hence" is a word that means "from that place" and "hence." In English, in this context, we would say "from here."

"Yonder place" is a word meaning "there", "in that place," and in philosophy means "the intelligible world."

The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also") and, in a series, is best translated as "not only...but also." Here is the beginning of a "not only" series.

The word translated as "remove" is the same verb as above.  It means to pass over, to make a transition from one state to another, to change, or to carry over. So "it passes over" or "it changes." In English, the verb "shifts" captures the same feeling of changing places or nature. It is in the form of something that will or might happen, but the subject acts on themselves: "it might shift itself". 

Here is the second "and" the series, so it means "but also."

The Greek word translated as "nothing"  is the either the object of the verb. Otherwise, you have to translate the verb as passive, which it is clearly not. However, its use, with the negative verb below, creates a double negative, which in Greek doesn't work like a positive, but a negative. So technically the sense its "it will be unable to do nothing" but in English, we would say, "it will be unable to do anything". 

The word translated as "will be impossible" is a verb that means "to be unable to do". It is the negative form of the verb commonly translated as "can," which means  "to be able to do," "to have the power to do".  While the form of the verb could be the second person future, "you are going to be unable to do nothing," this double negative would really mean "you are going to be unable to do anything". It could also be the verb form that matches all the verb forms in the sentence, "it will be unable to do anything", with the "it" referring as it has all through the verse, to the stubborn spirit. 

The "unto you" here is the plural indirect object, indicating all Christ's listeners. It is an indirect object, with usually means "to you" but can also mean "for you." 

Greek Vocabulary: 

Διὰ (prep) "Because" is from dia which means "through", "in the midst of", "in a line (movement)", "throughout (time)", "by (causal)", "among," and "between."

τὴν ὀλιγοπιστίαν (noun sg fem acc) "Unbelief" is from oligopistos, which means literally, "small trust." It is a word built of two words. "Faith" is from pistis, which means "confidence", "assurance", "trustworthiness", "credit", "a trust," "that which give confidence," and, as a character trait, "faithfulness." From oligos, which means "little", "small", "slight", "few," and "weak." As an adverb it means "a little", "slightly," and "little."

ὑμῶν: (pron 2nd pl gen) "Your" is from humon, the plural possessive form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."

ἀμὴν (adv) "Verily" is from amen, which is from the Hebrew, meaning "truly", "of a truth," and "so be it." It has no history in Greek of this meaning before the NT. However, this is also the infinitive form of the Greek verb amao, which means "to reap" or "to cut."

γὰρ (adv/conj) "For" comes from gar which is the introduction of a clause explaining a reason or explanation: "for", "since," and "as." In an abrupt questions, it means "why" and "what."

λέγω (verb 1st sg pres ind act) "I say" is from lego, which means "to recount", "to tell over", "to say", "to speak", "to teach", "to mean", "boast of", "tell of", "recite," nominate," and "command." It has a secondary meaning "pick out," "choose for oneself", "pick up", "gather", "count," and "recount." A less common word that is spelt the same means "to lay", "to lay asleep" and "to lull asleep."

ὑμῖν, (pron 2nd pl dat) "You" is from humas and humon, which is a plural form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."

ἐὰν (conj) "If" is from ean, which is a conditional particle (derived from ei (if)and an (might)) which makes reference to a time and experience in the future that introduces but does not determine an event.

ἔχητε (2nd pl pres subj act) "Have" is from echo, which means "to have", "to hold", "to possess", "to keep", "to have charge of", "to maintain", "to hold fast", "to bear", "to keep close", "to keep safe," and "to have means to do."

πίστιν (noun sg fem acc) "Faith" is from pistis, which means "confidence", "assurance", "trustworthiness", "credit", "a trust," "that which give confidence," and, as a character trait, "faithfulness."--

ὡς (adv) "As" is from hos, an adverb which means to "thus", "as", "how", "when", "where", "like", "just as", "so far as", "as much as can be", "that", "in order that", "nearly (with numbers)," and "know that." --

κόκκον (noun sg masc acc) "A grain" is from kokkos, which means "a grain" and "a seed", "testicles," and it is a metaphor for a "grain of sense."

σινάπεως, (noun sg neut gen) "Mustard seed" is from sinapi which means simply "mustard."

ἐρεῖτε (2nd pl fut ind act) "Ye shall say" is from eipon, which means "to speak", "to say", "to recite", "to address", "to mention", "to name", "to proclaim", "to plead", "to promise," and "to offer."

τῷ ὄρει (noun sg masc/neut dat) "Mountain" is from oros, which means "mountain", "hill", "canton," and "parish." In Egypt, it was also used to mean the "desert" and a place of burial. An homonym oros means a "boundary", "landmark", "time limits", "decisions of judges", "memorial stones and pillars," "standard", "measure", "term (in logic)", "definition", "terms," and "conditions." Another, similar word, oreus, which matches oros in some forms means "mule."

τούτῳ (adj sg masc/neut dat) "Unto this" is from touto, which means "from here", "from there", "this [thing]," or "that [thing]."

Μετάβα (3rd sg aor ind act) "Remove" is from metabaino, which means "to pass over", "pass from one state to another", "change", "make a transition", "to pass to another place or state," and "to carry over."

ἔνθεν (adv) "Hence" is from enteuthen, which means "from that place" and "hence."

ἐκεῖ, (adv) "To yonder place" is from ekei, which means "there", "in that place," and in philosophy means "the intelligible world."

καὶ (conj) "And" is from kai, which is the conjunction joining phrases and clauses, "and," or "but." After words implying sameness, "as" (the same opinion as you). Used in series, joins positive with negative "Not only...but also." Also used to give emphasis, "even", "also," and "just." --

μεταβήσεται, (3rd sg fut ind mid or 3rd sg aor subj mid) "It shall remove" is from metabaino, which means "to pass over", "pass from one state to another", "change", "make a transition", "to pass to another place or state," and "to carry over."

καὶ (conj) "And" is from kai, which is the conjunction joining phrases and clauses, "and," or "but." After words implying sameness, "as" (the same opinion as you). Used in series, joins positive with negative "Not only...but also." Also used to give emphasis, "even", "also," and "just." --

οὐδὲν (adj sg neut nom /acc) "Nothing" is from oudeis which means "no one", "not one", "nothing", "naught", "good for naught," and "no matter." --

ἀδυνατήσει (verb 2nd sg fut ind mid or, more likely, verb 3rd sg fut ind act ) "Shall be impossible" is from adynateo, , which means "to be unable to do", "lack strength," and of things, "to be impossible."

ὑμῖν. (pron 2nd pl dat) "To you" is from hymin (humin), which is the 2nd person plural dative pronoun. Dative is the case which indicates to whom something is given. --

Wordplay: 

 Play on the double meaning of the word "mountain" and "mule." 
The word translated as "remove" means "pass over" or "to change." The joke is that you are asking a mule to change while you are asking a mountain to move. 

Related Verses: