Was Christ’s Power Limited by Man’s Faith?
"There is a statement concerning Jesus in one of the Gospel accounts that is puzzling: “And he could there do no mighty work. . . because of their unbelief’ (Mk. 6:5-6). Was Christ’s ability to perform miracles predicated upon the faith of those he taught?”
Let us lay some foundation for a consideration of this question. First, the scriptures clearly teach that Jesus Christ possessed the nature of deity (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Jn. 1:1; Acts 20:28; Heb. 1:8). As God in nature, therefore, the Lord possessed those traits that are characteristic of deity – which means that he had the power to do anything consistent with the divine plan. His power could not be “restrained” by a mere human whim (cf. Job 42:2). The fact is, none of the Persons within the sacred communion (Father, Son, or Holy Spirit) could (or would) do anything contrary to his nature or will.
It is altogether certain, therefore, that Jesus’ refusal to perform many mighty works “in his own country” (Mk. 6:1), and specifically in Nazareth (Lk. 4:16ff), was not the result of any lack of ability on his part. He was totally in control of any type of situation in which a miracle was appropriate. He cured blindness (Mt. 9:27ff), deaf and muteness (Mk. 7:31ff), leprosy (Lk. 17:11ff), crippled limbs (Mt. 9:2; 12:10), hemorrhages (Mt. 9:20), a severed ear (Lk. 22:50-51), and he even raised the dead (Lk. 7:11ff). The issue at hand, therefore, is not one of whether the Lord had sufficient power.
A comparison of Mark 6:5, with the parallel record in Matthew 13:58, will assist us in having a more complete view of this situation. While Mark says that Christ “could there do no mighty work. . . because of their unbelief,” Matthew simply has it, “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (emp. added). Matthew’s record expands the matter somewhat. Instead of saying that Jesus “could do no mighty work,” he clarifies by noting that he simply “did not many mighty works.”
For some, however, there is a problem in Mark’s expression, “he could not.” It would be helpful to recognize that the terms “could not [Grk. – ouk edunato]” are used idiomatically at times in the New Testament to denote, in a forceful way, what one deliberately purposed not to do. Perhaps some examples would be helpful.
- In one of Christ’s parables, he describes a man who is rejecting an invitation to a great supper. The rude guest says, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot [ou dunamai] come” (Lk. 14:20). It was not that it was impossible for him to attend; no, rather, he deliberately chose not to go. He had no interest in the kindly invitation that he had received.
- The apostle John wrote: “Whosoever is begotten of God does not sin, because his [God’s] seed abides in him: and he cannot [ou dunatai] sin, because he is begotten of God” (1 Jn. 3:9). This passage teaches that God’s child, because of the “seed” (word of God — Lk. 8:11) that abides in him, chooses to refrain from a life wherein sin is practiced in an unrestrained fashion. Certainly there is the ability to sin. But we resist the temptations to do so.
So similarly, the Savior determined not to perform many mighty works in his own country because of the quality of unbelief that was characteristic of them. It was exceptionally hostile. Thus, the effectiveness of his ministry in that region was curtailed – Jesus could not do a “mighty work” in that atmosphere.
Here is another significant point. In both Matthew 13:58, and Mark 6:6, the term “unbelief,” in the Greek text, is preceded by the definite article. Literally, the phrase would read, “the unbelief of them.” The Greek article is somewhat like an “index finger” that points to its object with special interest. Here, it calls attention to the fact that “the unbelief” of these people was so strong, so antagonistic to the Son of God, that Jesus would not perform many miracles in their presence, in an attempt to coerce them into submission. The fact is, Christ’s reticence to do many mighty works, in the face of such stubbornness (though he did some — Mk. 6:5), was an act of benevolence, because sustained rejection of the evidence hardens all the more (cf. Jn. 12:37-40).
When all of the relevant facts are considered, therefore, Mark 6:5-6 is no impediment to genuine faith in Christ’s divine abilities.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.