(Jas. 1:6) Is it a sin to doubt?

CLAIM: James writes, “He must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:6-8). Does this mean that it is sinful to doubt?

RESPONSE: This passage has been misunderstood as referring to doubt, when really it should be categorized as unbelief.

James calls this person “double-minded” (dipsychos). This comes from the root words dis (“twice” or “doubly”) and psuchē (“soul” or “mind”). This can be rendered as “double-minded” (NASB, ESV, NIV). But what does it mean to be “double-minded” in this context? We would argue that this refers to a person’s conflicting commitments—not their intellectual doubts.

First, James uses the term “double-minded” (dipsychos) later in the letter (Jas. 4:8), where it refers to those engrossed in materialism and the world-system. This isn’t an intellectual dilemma, but a moral and spiritual one. The NLT captures James 1:8 well: “Their loyalty is divided between God and the world.” The NET note states, “A double-minded man is one whose devotion to God is less than total. His attention is divided between God and other things, and as a consequence he is unstable and therefore unable to receive from God.” The description is not that of a person choosing between two philosophical propositions, but that of a man choosing between his wife and his mistress.

Second, the reference to “doubt” (diakrino) also implies choosing between living for Christ or the world-system. “Doubt” (diakrino) comes from the root words dia (“through”) and krino (“to judge”). It means “to differentiate by separating, separate, arrange” or “to conclude that there is a difference, make a distinction, differentiate” (BDAG). This person needs to choose between Christ and the world-system.

Third, by contrast, God is “generous” (haplōs) or “single-minded” toward us. The term “generous” in verse 5 is the Greek word haplōs, which means “straightforward, simply, above board, sincerely, openly” (BDAG) or “single, simple.”[1] In other words, God is single-minded about giving us wisdom, but if we are double-minded, then we shouldn’t expect to hear anything from him.

This being said, the Bible doesn’t emphasize our amount of faith, as much as it values the object of our faith. For instance, a man could be scared to cross the Golden Gate Bridge—even though the bridge is structurally sound. Meanwhile, another man could be fully confident in crossing a rickety bridge—even though the bridge is dilapidated and falling apart. Here’s the point: Which man will cross the bridge? The man with little faith in the Golden Gate Bridge will get across safely, but the man with great faith in the unsafe bridge will likely perish.

In the same way, the Bible doesn’t emphasize the amount of our faith; instead, it emphasizes God as the object of our faith. Jesus told his followers that they could move mountains, if they had the faith of a “mustard seed” (Mt. 17:20). Elsewhere, Jesus healed a man’s son when the man made the rather pathetic affirmation: “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24) Jude writes, “Have mercy on some, who are doubting” (Jude 22). Moreover, when Thomas doubted Christ (Jn. 20:24), he was met with evidence—not judgment (Jn. 20:27-29). While unbelief is certainly sinful, doubt is not.

Doubt versus Unbelief



Wrestling with what God says

Refusing to believe what God says
Searching for evidence to support the Bible

Denying good evidence that supports the Bible (see John 20:27)

A crisis of our faith

A close-minded certainty against faith
Often stems from intellectual issues

Often stems from moral or spiritual issues

[1] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, pp. 65–66). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.