The Meaning of Doubt in the Bible

© Domenic M, Explorations of Faith, 2009 (Read Full Book Online)

The book can be read online or purchased from Amazon, Lulu, Itunes, and Nook stores worldwide.
The book can be read online or purchased from Amazon, Lulu, Itunes, and Nook stores worldwide.

THERE are chiefly seven Greek expressions that have been translated as “doubt” in the New Testament (KJV): aporeo (Jn. 13:22) meaning “to be perplexed”; diaporeo (Ac. 2:12; 10:17) meaning “to be thoroughly perplexed”; meteorizo (Lk. 12:29) meaning “to suspend as in mid-air”; airo psuche (Jn. 10:24) meaning “to keep the soul in suspension as in air”; dialogismos (Rom. 14:1; 1 Tim. 2:8) meaning “to reason” or “to argue”; diakrino (Mt. 21:21; Rom. 14:23) meaning “to judge differently” or “to discriminate”; and distazo (Mt. 14:31; 28:17) meaning “to waver”. We can learn of the different ways in which doubt finds intrusion in one’s life by looking at the usage of these words.

PERPLEXITY OR LOSS OF ANSWER
First, doubt appears in the form of perplexity or a loss of answer. This is indicated by the word aporeo. For instance, when Festus introduces Paul the prisoner to Agrippa the King, he says that the Jews were accusing Paul of some questions related to the Jewish religion; but since he was not well acquainted with this religion he was at a loss of answer or doubt (aporeo) how to judge him (Ac. 25:20). Obviously, the KJV would have done better to translate the word as “was perplexed” or “confounded” instead of “doubted”. But, still it is also true that perplexity is a condition of doubt since it contains the element of uncertainty. Festus lacked the confidence to judge Paul because he was confounded by the complexity of the problems that this trial presented to him. Therefore, he doubted about this matter of judging Paul. He was at a loss of answer. An intense form of this perplexity is indicated by the word diaporeo which means to be thoroughly (dia) perplexed. Perplexity indicates the condition of doubt as dilemma. It is the condition of neither knowing nor not knowing. It is the condition of being totally unable to understand something that seems to be significant and demanding an answer. Undeniably, faith does sometimes come across situations that confound and perplex it for a want of answer. There are things that can happen to us that we can’t explain by any rational means, for instance. Or, there can be a question put forth before faith which it immediately lacks an answer for, though it knows that there must be some answer to it. However, in many cases when complexity presents itself to us the temptation is to turn away to simpler things.

…in many cases when complexity presents itself to us the temptation is to turn away to simpler things.

This is a natural instinct. One tries to avoid unwanted complications, especially when they appear insoluble or even too demanding. One tends to walk around the problem and if incapable of, tries to turn on it. This is what happened with those disciples who turned away from Jesus because they felt He was becoming too complicated for them to get along with (Jn. 6:60, 66). But when Jesus turned to the twelve and asked them if they would also go away, Peter gave an answer which is a classic response to this dilemma of faith. He answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68, MKJV). Peter understood the fact that there cannot be a turning away from something without a turning away to something else. There is no middle ground. Peter knew that this was an either/or situation. One could choose Christ and eternal life or choose to relinquish both. He made the wiser decision to stay with Christ despite the inability to understand several things. A more practically existential situation confronted Job, as seen earlier. It was practically existential because the absurdity or perplexity of the suffering that he went through was thoroughly personal and its answer too evading (Job 7). Yet, he knew that there could be no turning back from God. God was where his world came to an end. God was his no-returning point. Therefore, despite all the confoundedness of his suffering, Job held on to God in faith. And when his wife reprimanded him for holding on to his faith and told him to curse God and die instead of bearing the brunt of this absurd life, he answered her saying “You speak as one of the foolish ones speak. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10, MKJV). In other words, he in turn demanded from her an explanation for considering experience of evil as sufficient proof for turning away from God, even if such evil came from God. The finality of his faith in God could admit no doubt in God.

SUSPENSE
Another way in which doubt presents itself to us is suspense. The word comes from the Latin suspensus meaning “suspended” (akin to the Greek meteorizo and airo psuche, see above). The word indicates a condition of uncertainty fraught with intense curiosity, fear, or anxiety. Jesus told His disciples to stay away from such a condition (Lk. 12:29). Feelings of anxiety due to uncertainty may come to suspend our souls in doubt, but they should not be allowed to take hold of our lives; in other words, worry or anxiety should not become the condition of our lives. For such anxiety can easily lead to despair and a total shipwreck of faith. Similarly, unwanted curiosity can also be fatal to faith as seen in Eve’s case. For when the devil told her that the forbidden fruit was forbidden not because God sought her welfare but because He didn’t want her to be like Him, she immediately was convinced by his words (Gen. 3:4-6). Her curiosity regarding the forbidden fruit led her obey the devil’s lie. If God has forbidden us something, there is no danger greater than trying to conduct a scientific analysis of the forbidden thing. It is no surprise then why the Ephesian believers burnt all books of curious and magical arts[1] when they accepted the Lord (Ac. 19:19, KJV, Amplified).

Feelings of anxiety due to uncertainty may come to suspend our souls in doubt, but they should not be allowed to take hold of our lives; in other words, worry or anxiety should not become the condition of our lives.

This is so because such curiosity can lead to a departure from faith. It is in this regard that the Mosaic Law commanded the Israelites to destroy all images and things related to false belief to prevent their influence from corrupting the Israelites (Deut. 7:3-5). The images represent the symbols of false beliefs that stand against the faith of God. They are doors to disbelief. Therefore, sympathetic curiosity towards what is logically known to be wrong must be avoided. By “logically wrong” is meant those ideas that contradict the rational sense. For instance, in the story of Eve she turned towards the illogical belief that she could become like God (who is spiritual and infinite in wisdom) by eating a physical fruit and to the false idea that God was either jealous or afraid of her becoming like Him; as if she could become like Him and that God was afraid of His own creation. Similarly, the sympathy towards idols is absurd since an idol is not only a lifeless object but also symbolic of the vanity and falsehood of man. Therefore, one must guard oneself against any fear or excitement that is both irrational and godless.

…unwanted curiosity can also be fatal to faith as seen in Eve’s case…. Her curiosity regarding the forbidden fruit led her obey the devil’s lie. If God has forbidden us something, there is no danger greater than trying to conduct a scientific analysis of the forbidden thing.

REASONING OR ARGUMENTATION
The third kind of doubt is more intriguing. It appears in the form of reasoning or argumentation and is indicated by the word dialogismos meaning that form of argumentation that is controversial, unending, or false. It is in this sense that it is sometimes rendered as “imaginations” for its speculative nature is averse to any conclusion. In other words, dialogismos is doubt that expects no final answer. The imagination keeps going on finding no final ground to stand on; thus, hanging suspended (meterorizo) in curiosity and doubt all the time. I think our age understands this form of doubting better than any age before since, in our age, it is this kind of a scholar that is highly appreciated while the one who claims to have the answer is labeled as fundamentalist and narrow-minded. While in the past the wise man was he who had more answers and fewer questions, now he is one who has more questions and fewer answers. The modern wise man is like the Greek sophist who excelled in clever arguments but had no belief in absolute truth: his arguments generated more doubts than solutions. Our English word “sophistry” comes from this “sophist” and means “clever, misleading, and deceptive argument”.

I think our age understands this form of doubting better than any age before… While in the past the wise man was he who had more answers and fewer questions, now he is one who has more questions and fewer answers. The modern wise man is like the Greek sophist who excelled in clever arguments but had no belief in absolute truth… Our English word “sophistry” comes from this “sophist” and means “clever, misleading, and deceptive argument”.

Obviously, this form of doubt or methodological skepticism is deliberate, proceeding from the bias that detests absolute solution to any problem. That is the reason why the Scripture warns several times to keep away from such love for show of cleverness and unhealthy disputing that signifies pride and rebellion instead of humility (Phil. 2:14; Rom. 14:1; 1Tim. 2:8; cf. 1Tim. 6:3-5).

DOUBLE-MINDEDNESS AND INSTABILITY
The next kind of doubt is diakrino meaning “to judge by analysis” or “to make a difference”. In relation to doubt it means “to make a different judgment”, “to think otherwise”, or “allow for some other possibility as well”. It is in this sense that it is used in Matthew 21:21 when Jesus tells His disciples “Truly I say to you, If you have faith and do not doubt (me diakrithete), you shall not only do this miracle of the fig tree, but also; if you shall say to this mountain, Be moved and be thrown into the sea; it shall be done.” (Mt. 21:21, MKJV). Similarly, James says: “let him ask in faith, doubting nothing (meden diakrinomenos). For he who doubts (diakrinomenos) is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed” (Jas. 1:3, MKJV). Obviously, this kind of doubting is antithetical to faith since it introduces a rival element (a foreign particle) into one’s framework of belief. This kind of double-thinking is what leads to distazo or to the inability of holding on to faith, thus becoming unstable (as in Peter’s case when he walked on water and then started sinking due to fear); for the natural thoughts of the mind are set in conflict against the supernatural truths of God leading to a weakening of faith. The imbalance and instability caused by diakrino can be compared to an airplane (on flight) that loses its balance due to some technical failure to keep up with the laws of aerodynamics. That technical failure may be compared to diakrino when the plane wobbles between the law of aerodynamics and the law of gravity, for instance. The loss of balance is due to the plane’s inability to totally comply with the law of aerodynamics. The problem is solved if the airplane keeps to the purpose of its design, which is to be in air till it lands safely on the ground; the tragedy is when it fails to do that by giving in to anti-elements.

The imbalance and instability caused by diakrino can be compared to an airplane (on flight) that loses its balance due to some technical failure to keep up with the laws of aerodynamics. That technical failure may be compared to diakrino when the plane wobbles between the law of aerodynamics and the law of gravity, for instance….The problem is solved if the airplane keeps to the purpose of its design….

Now, the anti-element may not be false in itself; for instance, the law of gravity is true as well as the fact that Peter could not naturally walk on water. However, in matters of faith the natural must submit to the supernatural and not vice versa. Even as the airplane is designed to fly in air, a man of faith is designed to sail on the winds of God’s promises. Abraham was a man of faith. He was not a man of a double-opinion or double-thinking. Therefore, there were no regrets about his obedience to God; neither was there any possibility of a return for him. The Scripture testifies about him that “he staggered not (ou diekrithe) at the promise of God through unbelief (apistia); but was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Rom. 4:20). Apistia is the antonym of pistis which is faith. Thus, Abraham didn’t allow an anti-faith element to make him double-think about and doubt the promises of God.

Abraham was a man of faith…. The Scripture testifies about him that “he staggered not (ou diekrithe) at the promise of God through unbelief (apistia); but was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Rom. 4:20).


[1] The Greek periergos means “busy about trifles” indicating curiosity about unwanted things. The English word “occult” used for all such curious arts comes from the Latin occultare meaning “hidden” or “concealed” indicating the non-normalcy and unhealthiness of all such practices.

© Domenic Marbaniang, 2009

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s