The Greek, two-termination adjective dipsuchos only occurs twice in the New Testament and both of these are in the letter attributed to James (1:8; 4:8). The standard lexicon of NT Greek (BDAG) defines it as “pertaining to being uncertain about the truth of something” and therefore “doubting, hesitating, lit. double-minded” (253). Montanari (Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, 542), suggests “uncertain, hesitant, dubious.” According to the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG), this is the first attestation of the term in Greek literature. A cognate noun dipsuchia occurs in post-NT writings and refers to “the state or condition of being uncertain about something, indecision, doubt” (BDAG, 253). Further, a cognate verb dipsucheō also occurs in post-NT writings (e.g., Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, 1 & 2 Clement), with the sense “to be uncertain about the truth of something, be undecided, be changeable, doubt” (BDAG, 253).
Xenophon, the Greek historian (c. 5th century BCE), in his composition “The Education of Cyrus,” relates the following story:
Yes, Cyrus,” said he; “for I evidently have two souls. I have now worked out this doctrine of philosophy in the school of that crooked sophist, Eros. For if the soul is one, it is not both good and bad at the same time, neither can it at the same time desire the right and the wrong, nor at the same time both will and not will to do the same things; but it is obvious that there are two souls (dua…psucha), and when the good one prevails, what is right is done; but when the bad one gains the ascendency, what is wrong is attempted.
This is an example of speculation In ancient Greek society regarding the moral disposition of humans and how to explain good and bad actions performed by the same person. Whether James is referring to a similar idea with the adjective dipsuchos, but appropriate to a Jewish worldview, is unclear.
The adjective is formed from di-, a shortened form of the adverb dis “doubly,” and the noun psuchē, “life, self, moral or intellectual self, soul.” Greek created a number of terms similarly, such as di-glōssos, “able to speak two languages,” di-gamos, “married to two people at the same time,” di-gnōmōn, “double-minded, fickle,” di-drachmon, “double drachma.”
The usage of this adjective follows the repeated use of the present participle ho diakrinomenos (v. 6), that means “the one disputing” or possibly “the one who is uncertain, at odds with oneself, doubting, wavering” (BDAG, 231.5, 6), a meaning that BDAG says “appears first in the NT.” The context is encouragement to pray with faith, i.e., presuming some confidence, in God’s sincerity and his desire to assist those in need (v. 5). In contrast the person who is ho diakrinomenos is like a billowing or surging sea, driven by the wind and tossed about. The picture is of restlessness, lack of direction, or even fickle instability.
An explanation in v. 7 indicates the danger of petitioning God either when hesitant about the character of God, or the impropriety of petitioning God when one’s own confidence in God, for whatever reason, is uncertain. The writer is sure the deity will not respond to petitions offered in such circumstances. Verse 8 then describes such a person as anēr dipsuchos. Some English translations construe v. 8 as a separate sentence, but others consider that the two phrases in v. 8 function appositionally to define ho anthrōpos ekeinos (that person), the subject of the previous clause of indirect discourse (“that he will receive anything from the Lord”).
In addition to the adjective dipsuchos, this person is also said to be akatastatos “unstable, restless” (BDAG, 35) or perhaps “vacillating, erratic.” This adjective helps to define contextually the general idea of the adjective dipsuchos. About forty to fifty years after the letter of James was written, the verb cognate to this adjective, dipsucheō, occurs in the Didache (4.4) where the writer urges “thou shalt not be of two minds whether it shall be or not.” This occurs in a context that warns against supporting schism and showing favoritism in settling disputes within the congregation. It seems to suggest that some moral and spiritual consistency is important.
Some commentators also draw attention to the wording in Psalm 11:2(12:3LXX) about people who “in the heart and in the heart they spoke,” a comment upon the previous statement about “lips are deceitful.” A double heart is considered a source of deceit, and the psalmist asserts that such people the Lord will destroy. However, the context of James 1:8 is not about deceitful people, unless there are deceiving themselves, but people who have uncertainty about either God’s goodness or lack assurance about the strength of their own faith.
In my opinion, by using this adjective James describes a person who experiences indecision about one of two things. Either it is inappropriate to ask God for wisdom in such a situation because one is uncertain how he will respond; or the person does not consider his faith to be sufficiently strong to endorse such a request. The result is that such people vacillate and hesitate to petition God for help, thereby leaving themselves vulnerable to the temptation or test. The use of this same adjective in 4:8 where the writer similarly encourages people to draw near to God in humility and submission. Such people need “to purify their hearts.” People uncertain about this response to God are dipsuchos.