At least three times Jesus’ disciples heard His rebuke, “O you of little faith” (Mat 8:26; 16:8; Luk 12:28). Peter was the sole recipient of this same reproof after sinking in the very water on which he had miraculously walked (Mat 14:31). But what did Jesus mean by such a rebuke? After all, had not Peter demonstrated great faith by walking on the water in the first place?
The Greek word translated “little faith” is the compound oligopistos. Pistos means “faith” and Thayer says that oligo can mean little in number, little in [amount of] time or little in degree. Perhaps the second meaning makes the most sense in these rebukes. Jesus was disappointed, not so much because the disciples’ faith was little in amount, but little in duration. They seemed to trust the Lord one moment and struggled with faith the next. Why couldn’t they demonstrate consistent, steady faith as followers of the Lord Jesus?
That’s not to say that the amount of faith was not important to the Lord. After all, He singled out two individuals for their “great faith” (Mat 8:10; 15:28), both of whom were Gentiles. On another occasion, Jesus rebuked His disciples for their lack of faith altogether. After they failed to cast out a demon from a young boy, they asked Jesus, “’Why could we not cast it out?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘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’” (Mat 17:19-20 NKJV). Evidently a tiny amount of faith properly placed in the omnipotent Lord can accomplish great things.
But more often than not in the Gospels, it was the short-lived nature of the disciples’ faith that received the Lord’s sorrowful criticism. They had witnessed myriad healings and watched their Lord feed thousands from a small boy’s lunchbox. But shortly after each miracle, their faith seemed to disappear as quickly as it had arrived. With Peter, he obviously trusted the Lord for a few moments as he took each step on the waters of Galilee, but a moment later fear chased his faith away.
In criticizing the disciples, I have to be honest enough to admit I am criticizing myself. How often we have manifested faith in the Lord for something today and failed to trust Him for the same thing tomorrow. We have entrusted our souls to His keeping and yet regularly fail to trust Him for the smallest of things. Our Lord desires that we put these moments of faith together, one at a time, until we are living daily by faith. The Lord’s concern is not so much the quantity of our faith but the steady nature of it.
“Simply trusting every day,
Trusting through a stormy way;
Even when my faith is small,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.”
 Joseph Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995).
 Some manuscripts read oligopistos (“little faith”) whereas others read apistia (meaning no faith or unbelief). Accepting the latter meaning here (ISV, JND, KJV, WEB) is preferable.
 Edgar Page Stites, 1876.