It is possible to have questions (or doubts) about persons, propositions, or objects. Philosophically and epistemologically doubt has been deemed a valuable element in honest, rational inquiry. It prevents us from reaching hasty conclusions or making commitments to unreliable and untrustworthy sources. A suspension of judgment until sufficient inquiry is made and adequate evidence is presented is judged to be admirable. In this light, doubt is not an enemy of faith. This seems to be the attitude of the Bereans in ac 17:11. Questioning or doubting motivates us to search further and deeper in an understanding of faith.
With only rare exceptions, however, doubt in Scripture is seen as a negative attitude or action because it is directed toward God by man (or evil spiritual agents). The word connotes the idea of weakness in faith or unbelief.
If one accepts a typological understanding of Isaiah 14, doubt actually began in heaven in the heart of Lucifer. Here the object of doubt (and rejection) was the sovereignty and majesty of God (vv. 13-14). On earth doubt was conceived and given birth in the garden when the serpent cast doubt on God's character and goodness ( Gen 3:1-5 ). Tragically Eve and Adam bought into his deceptive plan and plunged humankind into the fall (vv. 6-19). In both instances doubt is clearly an aspect of sin; it is directed toward God and is characterized by rebellion and disobedience.
In the Gospels the word "doubt" consistently carries with it a negative aspect, and the object of doubt again is always the Lord in some sense. Peter doubted Christ's ability to keep him from drowning ( Matt 14:31 ). Here doubt is small or weak faith. Peter became doubtful as to the Lord's reliability and power to sustain him. The Pharisees doubted Christ's messiahship and asked for another sign ( Matt 12:38-42 ). If we have faith in God and do not doubt, we can move mountains and receive our request through prayer ( Matt 21:21 ; Mark 11:23 ). Here doubt is the antithesis of faith. In John 14:1 Jesus encourages the disciples to not have a troubled (doubting?) heart with regards to the future, but to believe in him, to trust him for their future needs. Some of the disciples, including Thomas, doubted the reality of the resurrected Lord ( Luke 24:38 ; John 20:27 ). Here doubt is not outright denial or unbelief, but an attitude or feeling of uncertainty. Thomas is not severely rebuked, but nether is his skepticism commended. "Stop doubting and believe" is the word of the Lord to his disciple.
Abraham, as a positive example, is said not to have wavered" through unbelief [doubt] regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith" ( Rom 4:20 ). Doubt here is equivalent to unbelief.
James 1:6-8 tells us a doubting man is an unstable or divided man who lacks sufficient faith to lay hold of the promises of God. The doubting one sins against the Lord because he has questioned the character, goodness, and faithfulness of God. Unlike the God who does not change (v. 17), the doubting person is "like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind" (v. 6). Such an individual "should not think he will receive anything from the Lord" (v. 7).
A different use of the word "doubt" is found in both Romans 14:23 and Jude 22. In the Romans passage doubt is related to one's conscience. Doubt or uncertainty over a questionable action or a "gray area" of the Christian life (here it is eating idol-meat) is condemned because the action does not arise out of faith toward God. At this point the latter part of verse 23 is most instructive: "everything that does not come from faith is sin."
Jude 22 raises the issue of evangelistic apologetics toward the serious doubter who denies Jesus Christ as the only sovereign Lord (v. 4). Here doubt is a settled denial and rejection of both the person (Jesus Christ) and propositions affirmed about him (he is sovereign and Lord). Doubt of this nature is blatant unbelief involving the mind, will, and emotions.
Doubt in Scripture can be seen to be characteristic of both believers and unbelievers. In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God's promises. In the unbeliever doubt is virtually synonymous with unbelief. Scripture, as would be expected, does not look at doubt philosophically or epistemologically. Doubt is viewed practically and spiritually as it relates to our trust in the Lord. For this reason, doubt is not deemed as valuable or commendable.
Daniel L. Aiken
Bibliography. A. K. Rule, NTCERK, pp. 272-73; B. Gartner, NIDNTT, 1:503-5; F. Buchsel, TDNT, 3:946-49; Os Guinness, Doubt, Faith, and Two Minds.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Doubt'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".