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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


In Lat. dubitare , from duo ‘two’ and bito ‘go’; Germ. Zweifeln, Zweifel  ; from zwei , ‘two’; Mid. English douten , ‘to doubt,’ had the meaning of to fear (‘I doubt some foul play’ [Shakspeare], ‘nor slack her threatful hand for danger’s doubt’ [Spenser]), and this meaning, perhaps, survives in such expressions as ‘I doubt he will not come.’ But, as commonly used, to doubt means to be of two minds, to waver, to hesitate . It suggests the idea of perplexity; of being at a loss, in a state of suspense. The questioning attitude is implied. The word has, in short, a variety of meanings.

References in the Gospels .—The word ‘doubt’ occurs several times in Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885. It is used, however, to translate several Greek terms; nor are these invariably rendered by the word in question. A study of the respective passages reveals differing circumstances and conditions, different types of character, a variety of subjects exercising the mind. Doubt in several phases is in illustration.

( a ) The doubt of perplexity. Thus in  Mark 6:20,  Luke 24:4,  John 13:22—where the verb ἀπορέω occurs (the strengthened compound διαπορέω is found in  Luke 9:7). There is no question in these passages of the apprehension of religious truth; the idea suggested is rather that of being taken aback, disturbed, distracted, by the unintelligible and the unexpected. Herod is ‘much perplexed’ ( Mark 6:20 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885, cf.  Luke 9:7) as he listens to the Baptist, as reports reach him concerning Jesus; he is puzzled, at a loss for explanations. And thus in  John 13:22 ‘the disciples looked one upon the other, doubting of whom he spake’; the unexpected statement has bewildered them. Similar feelings may be recognized in the case of the women at the sepulchre ( Luke 24:4); they are ‘much perplexed’; utterly unable, that is, to account for the empty tomb. A like meaning may, perhaps, be read into the ‘how long dost thou hold us in suspense?’ of  John 10:24 (τὴν ψυχὴν ἠμῶν αἴρεις): the Jews being understood as professing an uncertainty which could be at once dispelled by some plain declaration on the part of Jesus.

( b ) Wavering faith. A second group of passages, where the verbs μετεωρίζεσθαι and διστάζειν occur, has now to be considered. Again the word ‘doubt’ is found in Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885, but with reference to a mental condition other than that which has been noted in the preceding paragraph. A religious significance is now observable; the existence of faith is implied, but it is an imperfect, a wavering faith. Because of distractions of one kind or another, confidence is impaired. The doubters referred to are sometimes the ὀλιγόπιστοι; their faith not only wavering but small. Thus in  Luke 12:29 ‘neither be ye of doubtful mind’ (καὶ μὴ μετεωρίζεσθε), the context supplies the explanation: anxiety about earthly things is incompatible with absolute trust in the Fatherhood of God. So also in  Matthew 14:31 ‘wherefore didst thou doubt?’ (εἰς τί ἐδίστασας;), where St. Peter’s confidence has given way before sudden panic. And thus, perhaps, in  Matthew 28:17 ‘but some doubted’ (ἐδίστασαν). What, precisely, the condition of these genuine disciples was is difficult to determine, but it was one which left them unreceptive while others were convinced of a manifestation of the living Lord. With this passage may be compared  Luke 24:38; the διαλογισμοί ( Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘reasonings’) being significant of fearsome hesitation on the part of those who could not at once realize that the mysterious visitor was none other than Jesus Himself.

( c ) The critical attitude. This is implied by the verb διακρίνεσθαι; a term which, as used in NT, denotes the absence of faith, the paralysis of faith. It occurs but twice in the Gospels ( Matthew 21:21,  Mark 11:23); where the power of faith is, by implication, contrasted with the impotency which is involved in the want of faith. Thought seems to be directed to the inevitable consequence of regarding Divine things as a subject for curious investigation rather than as matter of personal concern. On the one hand, there is the emphatic declaration which may be expressed in the words of Bacon, ‘Man, when he resteth and assureth himself upon divine Protection and Favour, gathereth a Force and Faith [in its sense of fidelity] which Human Nature, in its selfe, could not obtaine.’ On the other hand, there is the implied warning that, as the vision of God darkens and vanishes, man’s capacity for useful action becomes weaker, until at length it dies away.

[For discussion of ‘the doubt of Thomas’ See Thomas and Unbelief].

Literature.—Lyttelton, Modern Poets of Faith, Doubt, and Paganism  ; Illingworth, Christian Character  ; James, The Will to Believe  ; Carlyle, Sartor Resartus  ; Browning, Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day  ; Tennyson, In Memoriam (edited, with commentary, by A. W. Robinson); Jowett, Sermons .

H. L. Jackson.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

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  Acts 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 ( Genesis 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 ( Matthew 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 ( Matthew 12:38-42 ). If we have faith in God and do not doubt, we can move mountains and receive our request through prayer ( Matthew 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" ( Romans 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 .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

DOUBT (from Lat. dubitare , ‘to hold two (opinions),’ ‘hesitate’). 1. In AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘doubt’ (vb. and noun) six times renders a Gr. vb. meaning ‘to be at a loss’ or ‘quite at a loss’; in all these instances except   John 13:22 RV [Note: Revised Version.] substitutes ‘ perplexity ,’ following the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] rendering of   Luke 9:7; Luk 24:4 ,   2 Corinthians 4:8 . In this sense ‘doubt’ is now nearly obsolete; as it is in the meaning riddle, knotty question , which it bears in   Daniel 5:12;   Daniel 5:16 . Not dissimilar is its use in the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] of   John 10:24 (‘make us to doubt’), where RV [Note: Revised Version.] , more literally, reads ‘hold us in suspense.’ Quite archaic also is the use of ‘doubt’ for ‘suspect,’ instanced in Sir 6:13 (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ). 2. Elsewhere ‘doubt’ has a religious signification, standing in express or tacit antithesis to ‘faith’ (wh. see). ( a ) In   Matthew 21:21 ,   Mark 11:23 ,   Acts 10:20;   Acts 11:12 ,   Romans 14:23 ,   James 1:6 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ),   Judges 1:22 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), it stands for a vb. signifying ‘to be divided in mind (judgment)’ the same Gr. word is rendered ‘staggered’ in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , ‘wavered’ in RV [Note: Revised Version.] , of   Romans 4:20; ( b ) in   Matthew 14:31;   Matthew 28:17 ‘to be of two opinions,’ ‘to waver,’ is the force of the original: the vb. above indicates (1) more subjectively, (2) more objectively, a state of qualified faith , of faith mixed with misgiving, something between whole-hearted faith and decided unbelief. Thus wavering, faith is robbed of its power; hence such hesitation, in regard to Christ and the promises and commands of God, is strongly deprecated and reproved. In the above examples the doubt, affecting the mind of a believer, arises from contradictory circumstances or conscientious scruples; unless this be the case in   Matthew 28:17 (cf.   Luke 24:38 , noticed below), it has none of the quality of rationalistic doubt or scepticism. ( c ) Akin to the above is the expression of   Luke 12:29 , where ‘of doubtful mind’ (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) is the rendering of an obscure Gr. word that seems to mean being lifted into the air , and so agitated, held in suspense or driven by gusts (cf.   Ephesians 4:14 ,   James 1:4-6 ). ( d ) Another group of expressions remains:   Romans 14:1 ‘doubtful disputations’ (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ), ‘decisions of doubts’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] );   1 Timothy 2:8 ‘disputing’ (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) or ‘doubting’ (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ) = ‘reasoning’ (  Luke 24:38 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ); ‘disputings’ (  Philippians 2:14 ). In these passages arguing, questioning is intended, and (in Ro.) matter of argument, debatable questions . This usage lies on the border between 1 and 2  ; for the questions referred to, except in   Luke 24:38 , did not directly belong to faith, but their agitation disturbed and tended to weaken it.

G. G. Findlay.

King James Dictionary [4]

DOUBT, dout. L., G.

1. To waver or fluctuate in opinion to hesitate to be in suspense to be in uncertainty to be in suspense to be in uncertainty, respecting the truth or fact to be undetermined.

Even in matters divine, concerning some things, we may lawfully doubt and suspend our judgment.

So we say, I doubt whether it is proper I doubt whether I shall go sometimes with of, as we doubt of a fact.

2. To fear to be apprehensive to suspect.

I doubt theres deep resentment in his mind.

DOUBT, dout.

1. To question, or hold questionable to withhold assent from to hesitate to believe as, I have heard the story, but I doubt the truth of it. 2. To fear to suspect.

If they turn not back perverse but that I doubt.

3. To distrust to withhold confidence from as, to doubt our ability to execute an office.

Tadmire superior sense, and doubt their own.

4. To fill with fear.

DOUBT, n. Dout.

1. A fluctuation of mind respecting truth or propriety, arising from defect of knowledge or evidence uncertainty of mind suspense unsettled state of opinion as, to have doubts respecting the theory of the tides.

Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.  Genesis 37 .

2. Uncertainty of condition.

Thy life shall hang in doubt before thee.  Deuteronomy 28 .

3. Suspicion fear apprehension.

I stand in doubt of you.  Galatians 4 .

4. Difficulty objected.

To every doubt your answer is the same.

5. Dread horror and danger.

Webster's Dictionary [5]

(1): ( v. t.) To suspect; to fear; to be apprehensive of.

(2): ( v. i.) Uncertainty of condition.

(3): ( v. i.) To suspect; to fear; to be apprehensive.

(4): ( v. t.) To fill with fear; to affright.

(5): ( v. i.) Difficulty expressed or urged for solution; point unsettled; objection.

(6): ( v. t.) To question or hold questionable; to withhold assent to; to hesitate to believe, or to be inclined not to believe; to withhold confidence from; to distrust; as, I have heard the story, but I doubt the truth of it.

(7): ( v. i.) Suspicion; fear; apprehension; dread.

(8): ( v. i.) To waver in opinion or judgment; to be in uncertainty as to belief respecting anything; to hesitate in belief; to be undecided as to the truth of the negative or the affirmative proposition; to b e undetermined.

(9): ( v. i.) A fluctuation of mind arising from defect of knowledge or evidence; uncertainty of judgment or mind; unsettled state of opinion concerning the reality of an event, or the truth of an assertion, etc.; hesitation.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [6]

dout  : This word, found only a score of times in the Bible, translates nevertheless about half as many different Hebrew and Greek originals with a corresponding variety of meanings.

In  Genesis 37:33 "without doubt" is to be taken in the common sense of "certainly"; in   Job 12:2 in the sarcastic sense of "indeed!" In   Daniel 5:12 ,  Daniel 5:16 , it is used as a difficult problem or mystery to be explained, and these are the only cases of its employment in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament it is about equally used to translate διαπορέω , diaporéō , and διακρίνω , diakrı́nō , and their cognates. The first means "to be without resource," "utterly at a loss," "nonplussed"; and the second, "to judge diversely." For the first, see  John 13:22;  Acts 2:12 the King James Version;   Acts 5:24 the King James Version;   Acts 10:17 the King James Version;   Acts 25:20 the King James Version; and   Galatians 4:20 the King James Version. For the second see   Matthew 21:21;  Mark 11:23;  Acts 10:20;  Romans 14:23 . The last-named is deserving of particular attention. "He that doubteth is condemned (the King James Version "damned") if he eat," means that in a case of uncertainty as to one's Christian liberty, it were better to err on the side of restraint. In  Luke 12:29 "to be of doubtful mind" ( μετεωρίζω , meteōrı́zō , literally, "to suspend"; see Thayer, under the word), means "to be driven by gusts," or "to fluctuate in mid-air."

Here, as in  Matthew 14:31 , "doubt" does not indicate a lack of faith, but rather "a state of qualified faith": its weakness, but not its absence.

In  John 10:24 "doubt" translates αἴρω ψυχήν , aı́rō psuchḗn , which literally means "to lift up the soul" or "to keep one in suspense"; so the Revised Version (British and American). See also Disputation .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [7]

(dubito, to go two ways). "Man knows some things and is ignorant of many things, while he is in doubt as to other things. Doubt is that state of mind in which we hesitate as to two contradictory conclusions, having no preponderance of evidence in favor of either. Philosophical doubt has been distinguished as provisional or definitive. Definitive doubt is skepticism. Provisional or methodical doubt is a voluntary suspending of our judgment for a time, in order to come to a more clear and sure conclusion. This was first given as a rule in philosophical method by Des Cartes, who tells us that he began by doubting everything, discharging his mind of all preconceived ideas, and admitting none as clear and true till he had subjected them to a rigorous examination. Doubt is some degree of belief, along with the consciousness of ignorance, in regard to a proposition. Absolute disbelief implies knowledge: it is the knowledge that such or such a thing is not true. If the mind admits a proposition without any desire for knowledge concerning it, this is credulity; if it is open to receive the proposition, but feels ignorance concerning it, this is doubt. As knowledge increases, doubt diminishes, and belief or disbelief strengthens (Taylor, Elements of Thought)." Fleming, Vocabulary of Philosophy, Phila. 1860. (See Des Cartes); (See Scepticism).