Doubt in a Triad

Because I write a weekly article and preach almost as often, I do get a good amount of time with Scripture. However, I’ve been trying to open up the Bible more outside of doing research–often in trying to dissect it during study we miss the forest through the trees, overlooking the whole point God was trying to communicate in a book or a passage.

If you want to read a whole book in a single sitting, Jude is a great one because it only has 25 verses :-)…and it’s quite interesting with it’s extraordinary allusions to items like angels pursuing unnatural desires, the Archangel Michael arguing with Satan over Moses’ body, and Enoch prophesying the Lord will come “with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14b-15, ESV).

So I broke out my handy compact TNIV on a plane and read through Jude’s thoughts…only to have verses 22 & 23 jump out at me:

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available via the player above or here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh (Jude 22-23, ESV).

Now…those of you who have digested Jude before know that the quote from Enoch isn’t the only harsh thing Jude shares. Verses 3-5 explain the tone of his work:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 3-5, ESV).

When I got to verse 22 I expected more of the same flavor, and then out of the blue Jude tells me to be merciful to those who doubt?! What’s up with that?!

However, as someone who has to wrestle with doubts, I found it heartwarming, not shocking. God inspired Jude to tell people to have mercy on humans like me…and…for that matter…genuine concern for those even worse off.

Why “Doubt in a Triad”?

To take a quick excursion into issues of translation, the reason I call this sermon “Doubt in a Triad” is because Jude liked speaking in threes. To demonstrate, let’s go ahead and look at his first two verses:

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you (Jude 1-2).

Did you catch the three triads in the first two verses?

  1. Jude
  2. Servant of Jesus Christ
  3. Brother of James
  1. Those who are called
  2. Beloved in God the Father
  3. Kept for Jesus Christ
  1. Mercy
  2. Peace
  3. Love

A triad of triads within his letter’s greeting…

What does it matter? Because not everyone agrees on how verses 22-23 should be translated. Although there is a good chance, if you are using a modern translation, your version also breaks it up the way the Today’s New International Version did, the New King James Version sided with those who think it is two parts instead of three:

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh (Jude 22-23, NKJV).

I debated sharing a bunch of information about the textual variants from Thomas Schreiner’s work in the New American Commentary…but realized even by now time would be ticking away on a reasonable-length sermon…and that such theological nerdiness might not be as interesting to you as it was to me. 🙂 However, Schreiner does summarize well why it is most likely a triad, not a duo:

Certainty on whether the text should be divided into two or three clauses cannot be attained. I believe, however, that the text as it is translated in the NRSV (and NIV) probably is original. The two-phrase form of the text is more easily accounted for if there was originally a triad rather than vice-versa. Ross argues that the third reading does not fit as “an expansion of any of the shorter ones, and there would have been no motive for complicating an already obscure passage by adding a third clause.” Stylistically, however, such a decision fits with Jude’s fondness for triads.1

Now, the question of whether it is a triad is not the only disagreement scholars have about how to translate those two verses…but we’ll go ahead and trust the majority of modern translations…and move on to what God can teach us from these verses as we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture…



Is doubt a bad thing? For instance, how many of you felt a sting reading these words from James?:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8, ESV).

Talk about depressing! I know I feel like “a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” after reading James’ harsh words!

Let us not forget, however, that there is context to every Scripture, so either we need to better understand the type of people James was writing to, or figure out a way to explain Jude’s apparently contradictory kindness.

Does anyone remember perhaps the most famous verse from James? “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

James was responding to people who claimed to have faith…but, from a lack of action, showed every indication that they weren’t saved. Praying without believing God could actually deliver itself is faith without works…which…per James…is dead.

Puritan Samuel Rutherford also had an interesting thought about certain types of doubters…as he noted, “It is common for men to make doubts when they have the mind to desert the truth.”2 Doubt that proves a lack of faith…or doubt that shows a desire to leave the faith…is something deserving of harsh words so as to alert us to the cliff we are fast approaching.

However, instead of looking to Rutherford or to James, let’s see at how Jesus treated doubt with a passage I brought up while we were studying ghosts two weeks back:

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them (Luke 24:36-43).

Did Jesus say, “Don’t you disciples expect anything from me…doubts arose in your hearts!” Of course not…instead…compassionate as ever…the risen Lord took time to calm their fears.

I would suggest one great way to deal with your doubt is to focus on that which Jesus had His disciples focus on–Jesus Himself! More specifically, the resurrection of Jesus…which, to someone who is willing to believe, is reasonably easy to “prove”…and once you know Jesus was resurrected everything else flows from there.

And speaking of how to deal with doubt, we can also learn from the father with a demon possessed boy:

20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:20-24).

So…advice for dealing with doubt #1 was to focus on Christ and His resurrection. #2 is to cry out to Jesus to help you in your unbelief. If we had even looked at the next verse in Jude, we can see He is the one to help us through our wavering: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). Jesus can keep us from stumbling…He who “had compassion on” the “great crowd” “because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34) will have compassion on you and your honest doubt. By the way, the English Standard has an interesting footnote about that final verse in Mark…it says that some manuscripts say that the father of the child cried out “with tears.” Seems fitting for a man who has seen his boy suffer so terribly and realized just how weak he is to change it–yet before Him is one who can heal his son…and his faith!

But let’s not think that all doubt is bad. Renaae Descartes rightly observed that “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things” and Miguel de Unamuno in “Salmo II” was wise in saying that “Life is doubt, and faith without doubt is nothing but death.”3 History has been littered with the bodies of those who followed in blind faith–who “drank the Koolaid” following men like Jim Jones.4

Doubt is a gift from God, just like fear, when it is kept in check. As Lucio advises in act 1 of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”:

Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.

Which sort of brings us back to James’ quote, doesn’t it? Instead of going to Lord Angelo as Lucio recommends to Isabella, go to the Lord of the heavens and the earth “who gives generously to all without reproach”…and, where needed, “cry out”…even “with tears” to Jesus for help with your unbelief…and He will have compassion on you.

Final thoughts

Two final thoughts. First…looking back to the fall in Genesis 3, how did the snake pull it off? He got Eve to doubt God, didn’t he? Considering that, Walt Allmand seems very intelligent in saying, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your beliefs.”5 Show some faith in the truth God has already given you.

Finally…let’s all consider the wisdom in this unknown poem:

How Often!
How often we trust each other.
And only doubt our Lord.
We take the word of mortals,
And yet distrust His word;
But, oh, what light and glory
Would shine o’er all our days,
If we always would remember
God means just what He says.6

God means just what He says…and He said to be merciful on those of us who doubt…and thus He will be merciful on us too. That is someone we can all have faith in!



1Schreiner, T. R. (2007). Vol. 37: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (486). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

2Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation.

3Merriam-Webster, I. (1992). The Merriam-Webster dictionary of quotations. (105-106). Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster.


5Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : A treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers. Garland TX: Bible Communications.


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Alan is an ordinary guy, living in a small, high plains Colorado town...and humbled to be a minister of God...

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