Saturday, January 28, 2017

Casting mountains into the sea

23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mk 11:23-24).

i) How should we interpret this promise? V.24 is a prosaic paraphrase of v23. Jesus uses the example v23 to illustrate the principle in v24. If v23 is hyperbolic, then v24 is hyperbolic. 

Did Jesus literally mean that his followers can uproot mountains and cast them into the sea? Is that the kind of world we actually live in?

ii) Consider the havoc it would wreak if Christians had the power to trigger natural disasters. Do we really think God has delegated that kind of unbridled power to Christians? 

iii) Moreover, it would make God subservient to the whims of every Christians. Does Jesus really think we can compel God to do whatever we demand? What kind of God would put the world at the mercy of shortsighted Christians. 

iv) Furthermore, it isn't even coherent. What if a farmer prays for rain while his neighbor prays for sunshine to display her baked goods at the county fair? 

v) I interpret v24 the same way I interpret v23. If v24 is not to be taken at face value, then neither is v23. 

vi) And it just doesn't work. There are well-meaning people who take v24 at face value, only to learn the hard way that God doesn't do whatever they ask. God doesn't perform miracles on demand. God is not a genie in a bottle. 

vii) Someone might object that we shouldn't interpret v24 in light of experience. I disagree. If a claim has predictable consequences, then it's legitimate to judge the claim by the outcome. If the claim is true, there will be observable evidence. That's the nature of the claim. It is necessary to take experience into account when a particular claim implies a particular experience. 

viii) Someone might object, "Don't you believe Jesus?" Well, part of believing in Jesus is believing that Jesus is wise enough not to make demonstrably false claims. In you believe in Jesus, you must believe that he knew better than to make a false prediction or false promise. So, that should figure in my interpretation. 

ix) A commenter mentioned cases where God may give a Christian special insight into his will, on some topical course of action. I agree that sometimes happens, but Mk 11:24 seems to be a general promise, so that's not how I construe it. 


  1. Out of respect for Steve I'm not going to comment further in this blogpost other than to say I've responded to this blogpost with my own blogpost. I'm sure Steve is tired of me pestering him and having to constantly respond to me. Part of the reason why I post so often in Triablogue is that I admire the apologetics of Steve, Jason and the rest of the Triabloggers.

  2. i) We should interpret this promise "truly." Duh.

    Nobody actually believes that if they order a mountain into the sea it will be done, so the rest of the questions are moot.

    If someone really did believe it, they would have perfect trust in God's promises and would not order the mountain into the sea because that would hurt people and that would be bad.