In this article, we will focus on two basic questions:
- Does the Bible condemn people who have doubts about God or Jesus Christ?
- Is it wrong to want to see a miraculous sign that might eliminate doubt?
Does the Bible Condemn People Who Have Doubts about God or Jesus Christ?
One of the most famous biblical passages dealing with doubt is the one in which the Apostle Thomas expresses unbelief about Jesus Christ being resurrected from death, despite the fact that the 10 other remaining members of the 12 Apostles told him that they had seen Jesus while he (Thomas) was not with them. The report of what happened is found in John 20:24-29, which provides the following account:
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
And after eight days His disciples were again inside and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace to you!”
Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James (NKJ) version of the Bible, unless indicated otherwise.]
Although in this passage Jesus Christ commended people who believe in His resurrection despite not having seen Him in His resurrected body, He did not criticize Thomas for doubting. Some people may construe this to mean that doubting is not a sin. However, other scripture passages indicate that the consequences for certain types ofunbelief will be severe.
For example, in John 3:18, Jesus Christ said, “He who believes in Him [i.e., the Son of God] is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Similarly, in John 3:36, John the Baptist declared, “He who believes in the Son [of God] has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
So, how can we reconcile that the unbelief of the Apostle Thomas was not condemned, whereas the unbelief of other people was condemned? The answer is that the circumstances of Thomas’ unbelief were different from those of people whose unbelief is condemned.
Thomas’ doubts pertained to what the other members of the 12 Apostles told him about Jesus appearing to them while he (Thomas) was somewhere else. There is no reason to believe that what the other Apostles told Thomas was inspired by God; they merely told him what they had seen. In contrast, what Jesus said in John 3:18 and what John the Baptist stated in John 3:36 were by their very nature declarations inspired by God, not just reports of what they had observed.
Certainly, people who are sincerely seeking to separate fact from fiction may have honest doubts with regard to various biblical doctrines. Furthermore, doubt can lead to greater faith if a person does not surrender to his doubts and stop seeking to discover truth.
On page 127 of their book entitled Don’t Check your Brains at the Door, Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, assert,
Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is the forefather of faith. Doubt does not cancel faith; it should give way to faith. In fact, as in [the Apostle] Thomas’s case, doubt can be the impetus that leads us to the truth.
The Thomas Myth, that “real Christians don’t doubt,” does not come from the Bible. The lessons to be learned from Thomas’s experience are that doubt is natural, that we can be honest about our doubts, and that honest doubt should give way to faith when Jesus reveals the truth to us.
In his book entitled Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey states on page 41,
Doubt is the skeleton in the closet of faith, and I know no better way to treat a skeleton than to bring it into the open and expose it for what it is: not something to hide or fear, but a hard structure on which living tissue may grow.
Doubt always coexists with faith, for in the presence of certainty who would need faith at all?
However, the Bible makes it sufficiently clear that doubt is a sin in some circumstances, such as when disbelieving what God Himself has said. Furthermore, doubt will result in severe eternal consequences if it keeps a person from trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Each person must have sufficient faith at some time during their life to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior or else they will not be given God’s gift of eternal salvation.
The Bible provides ample instruction as to how a person can be assured of eternal salvation. Ignorance of what the Bible says in this regard is not a valid excuse if this ignorance is a result of indifference, laziness, stubbornness, or any other characteristic that indicates an unwillingness to learn the truth.
[To learn how a person can be assured of receiving eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]
Is It Wrong to Want to See a Miraculous Sign that Might Eliminate Doubt?
In Matthew 12:39-40, when asked by the scribes and Pharisees for a sign, Jesus said,
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
With regard to the use of the term that is translated as “adulterous is this passage,” The Fourfold Gospel says, “While the Jews of that generation could well be accused literally of adultery, Jesus here evidently uses it in its symbolic sense as used by the prophets. They represented Israel as being married to God and as being untrue to him. . . .”
Likewise, Matthew Henry’s Commentary states,
As an adulterous wife; they departed from that God, to whom by covenant they had been espoused: they were not guilty of the whoredom of idolatry, as they had been before the captivity, but they were guilty of infidelity, and all iniquity, and that is whoredom too: they did not look after gods of their own making, but they looked for signs of their own devising; and that was adultery. . . .
Matthew Henry goes on to say with regard to the request for a sign,
He [Jesus Christ] refuses to give them any other sign than he has already given them, but that of the prophet Jonas. Note, Though Christ is always ready to hear and answer holy desires and prayers, yet he will not gratify corrupt lusts and humours [sic]. Those who ask amiss, ask, and have not. Signs were granted to those who desired them for the confirmation of their faith, as to Abraham and Gideon; but were denied to those who demanded them for the excuse of their unbelief.
A scripture passage that is similar to Matthew 12:39-40is Matthew 16:4. In this passage, after Jesus had been asked by the Pharisees and Sadducees for a miraculous sign, He said, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” [Luke 11:29b has similar wording.]
Matthew Henry’s Commentary states with regard to Matthew 16:4,
The demand was of a sign from heaven; this they desired him to show them; pretending they were very willing to be satisfied and convinced, when really they were far from being so, but sought excuses from an obstinate infidelity. That which they pretended to desire was . . . some other sign than what they had yet had. They had great plenty of signs; every miracle Christ wrought was a sign, for no man could do what he did unless God were with him. But this will not serve, they must have a sign of their own choosing; they despised those signs which relieved the necessity of the sick and sorrowful, and insisted upon some sign which gratify the curiosity of the proud.
These scripture passages may seem to indicate that it is wrong for anyone to want to see a miraculous sign, but that interpretation is not correct. The passages do not say that generation of people was wicked because they were seeking a miraculous sign. Instead, the passages indicate that those who made the request were part of a generation of people who were wicked, and because they were, no sign would be given to them except for the sign of Jonah that Jesus mentioned. In other words, the generation of people to whom Jesus was speaking was evil for reasons other than that they had asked Him for a sign.
One particular scripture passage that supports the conclusion that asking for a miraculous sign is not inherently wrong is Matthew 24:3b. In this passage, when Jesus was asked by His disciples, “[W]hat will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” He did not criticize them for asking. In fact, He responded by mentioning a number of signs of what would occur during the end times. (Mark 13:4 has similar wording, with a similar subsequent response by Jesus.)
Although the preceding discussion indicates that it is not always wrong for people to doubt, the Bible makes it sufficiently clear that doubt will result in severe eternal consequences if it keeps a person from trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
[For discussions of matters that pertain to trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior, click on the titles of the following articles: “Does It Really Matter What You Believe?”, “Should Faith Be Based on Evidence?”, and “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]