Doubt and faith

Throughout the Bible there are numerous stories of those who do not believe God or have doubted God, and of those who have had faith and so have acted on their trust in God. There are also many instances of people who have both doubted and had faith at different points in their lives.

Doubt and faith in the Old Testament


One of the most famous Old Testament stories of faith in God is that The sacrifice of Isaacof Abraham, whose faith was tested when God told him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18). Abraham's willingness to obey God, even though he did not understand this command, showed his complete faith in God (see Big ideas: Patriarchs).Ultimately, God did not require him to complete the sacrifice of Isaac; the sacrifice of a willing heart was enough.


Another famous story of faith in the Old Testament is that of Job, whom God allowed to be tested by Satan (see Big ideas: Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast). Job suffered great losses, terrible grief and bodily distress, and could not understand why God allowed evil people to prosper while good people suffered. Finally, however, Job accepted that this is part of the mystery of God, not to be explained by human logic.

Doubt and faith in the New Testament

Encounters with Jesus

During his life on earth, Jesus encountered both doubt and faith, not only in his own followers but in those who sought his help. This is recounted in the Gospel writings in the New Testament. One father who asked Jesus to help his son, who had violent fits, was told by Jesus, ‘Everything is possible for Jesus heals the bleeding womanhim who believes.' The man replied, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!' (Mark 9:23-24).

In another incident of healing, Jesus knew that someone amidst the huge crowd had deliberately touched the hem of his garment. It was a woman who had suffered haemorrhaging for many years, and who was convinced that the mere contact with Christ's clothing would heal her. Jesus told her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you' (Mark 5:34).


A well-known story of doubt concerns the disciple Thomas, whose initial doubt about the bodily resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion has caused him to be known as Doubting Thomas' (see Big ideas: Death and resurrection). Thomas said that he would not believe ‘unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were.' Once Thomas had seen and believed in the resurrected Christ, Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed' (John 20:25-29).

Faith and good works

The letters of Paul to believers in the early Christian church form part of the New Testament. They stress that it is through faith in Christ, and in the forgiveness won through his death and resurrection, that Christians receive the hope of redemption:

‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast' (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The letter of James also makes the point that it is inevitable that faith will be tested (James 1:2-3) and that true faith needs to show itself in action and changed behaviour (James 2:14-17).

The Reformation

During the period known in Europe as the Reformation (in the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries), there was much dispute as to whether faith alone was enough to ensure salvation (see Big ideas: Redemption, salvation). Many believed that doing good works would earn their salvation. Protestants, such as those belonging to the Lutheran church, following the teachings of Martin Luther, stressed that faith was the most important aspect of the Christian life. Luther based his teaching on the letters of Paul, emphasizing the importance of trusting in God's grace and mercy for forgiveness, rather than trying to earn acceptance by God through good deeds.

Related topics

Big ideas: Redemption, salvation; Death and resurrection; Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast; Patriarchs

Other cultural references

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