Home > Collateral Studies, Nouthetic Counseling, Psychology > Intro to Nouthetic Counseling

Intro to Nouthetic Counseling

See assignment at the conclusion of this teaching.

Dr. Jay Adams [1]

DEFINITION: Nouthetic counseling is a Christian leader instructing a person from scripture about how their life needs to change to be more like Christ.

The nouthetic counseling movement has produced substantial[peacock term] literature (see below), and several organizations specializing in its techniques. It is offered as a graduate degree at several accredited schools.

OVERVIEW: Nouthetic Counseling is a form of Christian counseling developed by Jay E. Adams,[1] and published in his 1970 book, Competent to Counsel. It is well known within evangelical hristianity.[citation needed] Adams named his approach after the New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as “admonish”, “correct”, “exhort”, or “instruct”. Adams himself particularly emphasized the meaning “confront” in the development of his system.[2] The word NOUTHESIA is “the training by the word, whether of encouragement, or, if necessary, by reproof or remonstrance.” [2]

What is Christian Counseling?

Since there seems to be a considerable amount of confusion over the subject I thought I’d [3]take a shot at defining it by describing what Nouthetic Counselors believe and do.

Counseling is not a science; it’s an art. In biblical terms, that means it is a function of divine wisdom. It does not conflict with true science, but reaches beyond science into venues about which the latter has no competence to speak.

In the wisdom literature of Scripture, truth is set forth in life-experiences. In Proverbs, for example, you will find principles pictured in pithy, portable form. In Job, there is high drama through controversy between failed counselors, a counselee, and the divine Counselor. In Ecclesiastes, short sections coupled with briefer portions comprise a book that demonstrates that life is impermanent (the proper translation of the word “vanity” as it is found in the KJV).

So, if you are looking for me to spell out what counseling is, let me say that these biblical books, not to disparage the rest, plainly point to a working definition. In simple terms, Nouthetic counseling is the wise application of biblical truth to persons who have experienced a breakdown of the normal, sanctification process, in order to remove the various causes of the breakdown while, at the same time, endeavoring to help them seize upon the breakdown as an opportunity to achieve greater spiritual growth.

In this descriptive definition three major factors stand out:

  1. Nouthetic counseling is the wise application of biblical truth to persons whose lives dishonor God through the cessation (or slowing) of the progress of sanctification.
  2. Nouthetic counseling functions so as to reinstitute the normal process of Christian sanctification in the counselee.
  1. Nouthetic counseling seeks, in addition, to capitalize upon overcoming hindrances to spiritual growth by using the opportunity to promote greater ongoing growth.

And, it must always be remembered that, at every point, it is through the Holy Spirit Who, in accordance with Philippians 2:13, gives to obedient counselors and counselees both the willingness and the ability to do those things that please God, that all is achieved.

What is Nouthetic Counseling?

Jesus Christ is at the center of all true Christian counseling. Any counseling which moves Christ from that position of centrality has to the extent that it has done so ceased to be Christian. We know of Christ and his will in his Word. Let us turn to Scripture, therefore, to discover what directions Christ, the King and Head of the Church, has given concerning the counseling of people with personal problems. The Scriptures have much to say concerning the matter. Perhaps the best place to begin is with a discussion of what I have called “nouthetic confrontation.”


The words nouthesis and noutheteo are the noun and verb forms in the New Testament from which the term “nouthetic” comes. A consideration of most of the passages in which these forms occur will lead inductively to an understanding of the meaning of nouthesis.


Nouthetic Confrontation: By the Whole Church

First, whatever nouthetic activity may be, it is clear that the New Testament assumes that all Christians, not simply ministers of the Gospel, should engage in it. In Colossians 3:16 Paul urged:

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and [for the moment we shall simply transliterate the next word] confronting one another nouthetically.”


According to Paul, all Christians must teach and confront one another in a nouthetic fashion. In support of this proposition Paul also wrote (Romans 15:14):


“Concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to confront one another nouthetically.”


In both Colossians and Romans then, Paul pictured Christians meeting in nouthetic confrontation as normal everyday activity. He was sure the Christians in Rome were able to do so because they were filled with knowledge and goodness. These qualities equipped them to confront one another nouthetically. So the first fact is plain: nouthetic activity is a work in which all of God’s people may participate.1


Peculiarly the Work of the Ministry

But while all Christians ought to engage in such confrontation, nouthetic activity particularly characterizes the work of the ministry. Paul considered nouthetic confrontation a vital part of his own ministry. Incidental remarks in several passages indicate clearly that such activity was central. In Colossians 1:28, for instance, Paul declared:


“We proclaim him confronting every man nouthetically, and teaching every man with all wisdom in order that we may present every man complete in Christ.”


Paul’s proclamation of Christ involved confronting every man nouthetically. Certainly public confrontation in preaching was a part of Paul’s nouthetic activity, but he was engaged also in the nouthetic confrontation of individuals. Colossians 1:28 does not refer primarily to Paul’s public ministry, but principally to his private ministry to individuals. This is apparent when he speaks of “nouthetically confronting every man.” Paul confronted people nouthetically in the day-by-day contacts of pastoral work. The fullest biblical account of Paul’s private nouthetic activity occurs in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. This is a moving scene; they would see one another no more. In his remarks, Paul reviewed his three-year ministry at Ephesus, recalling the past, looking into the future, and describing the present. He warned about problems likely to arise, described the kind of activity in which he engaged while he was with them, and urged them to continue this same work among their people. Verse 31 is an informative statement that most fully describes nouthetic confrontation. His words give us a deep insight into the ministry of Paul in the place where he ministered (as far as we know) longer than any other. In Ephesus Paul carried on not merely an evangelistic but also a pastoral ministry. He ministered to the Ephesian congregation for three years. What did Paul do during that time? He says:


“Be on the alert [i.e., as I was], remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to confront each one nouthetically with tears.”


It is important to notice first that nouthetic confrontation took up a fair share of Paul’s time if he engaged in it night and day for three years without ceasing. Paul continually confronted people nouthetically. We seldom think about Paul involved in pastoral work. His basic image is that of the missionary, crossing vast territories, sailing across the sea. We think of his remarkable ministry which spread the Christian faith through the oikoumene.2 Of course he was that, but wherever he stayed for any length of time, Paul engaged in the solid pastoral work that is necessary to build up individuals in their faith. He says that nouthetic activity was a prominent part of that work. That is one reason why his letters are studded with the names of specific individuals with whom he became involved very intimately. Paul not only preached in the market places, but he dealt with people as individuals, as groups and as families; and he confronted them nouthetically.


Three Elements in Nouthetic Confrontation

It is important to define nouthetic confrontation precisely. What does the word nouthesis mean? The term contains more than one fundamental element. That is one reason why it is difficult to translate. Traditional translations have vacillated between the words “admonish,” “warn,” and “teach.” A. T. Robertson (in his exposition of Colossians 1:28) rendered it “put sense into.” A few of the newer versions (e.g., the New English Bible and Williams’ Version) sometimes translate it “counsel.” Yet no one English word quite conveys the full meaning of nouthesis. Since it is a rich term with no exact English equivalent, the word has been transliterated in this book. It is probably important to continue to transliterate nouthesis. Since the word has no exact English equivalent, the concepts inherent in the term probably do not exist widely in the English-speaking world. An attempt to bring the Greek term over into English perhaps ought to be made as the first step in endeavoring to establish nouthesis both as a concept and as a practice.

  1. Nouthetic confrontation consists of at least three basic elements.3 The word is used frequently in conjunction with didasko (which means “to teach”). But in Colossians 3:16 and elsewhere it is distinguished from that word. Nouthetic confrontation always implies a problem, and presupposes an obstacle that must be overcome; something is wrong in the life of the one who is confronted. Cremer says, “Some degree of opposition has been encountered, and one wishes to subdue or remove it, not by punishment, but by influencing the nous.”4 Didasko does not imply any problem. Didasko simply suggests the communication of data (teaching); making information known, clear, understandable and memorable. The word didasko implies nothing about the listener, but refers exclusively to the activity of the instructor. The person taught may or may not be anxious to receive instruction. He may pay great sums of money or travel long distances at great personal sacrifice to be taught, or his may be the typical response of the recalcitrant schoolboy, but the word didasko says nothing (one way or the other) about this. On the other hand, the word nouthesis focuses on both confronter and the one confronted. Nouthesis specifically presupposes the need for a change in the person confronted, who may or may not put up some resistance. In either case there is a problem in his life that needs to be solved. Nouthetic confrontation, then, necessarily suggests first of all that there is something wrong with the person who is to be confronted nouthetically. The idea of something wrong, some sin, some obstruction, some problem, some difficulty, some need that has to be acknowledged and dealt with, is central. In short, nouthetic confrontation arises out of a condition in the counselee that God wants changed. The fundamental purpose of nouthetic confrontation, then, is to effect personality and behavioral change.

  1. The second element inherent in the concept of nouthetic confrontation is that problems are solved nouthetically by verbal means. Trench says:


“It is training by word-by the word of encouragement, when this is sufficient, but also by that of remonstrance, of reproof, of blame, where these may be required; as set over against the training by act and by discipline which is paideia. . . . The distinctive feature of nouthesia is the training by word of mouth.”


Trench quoted as evidence, Plutarch’s use of nouthetikoi logo I (nouthetic words) and continued: “Nouthetein had continually, if not always, the sense of admonishing with blame,” and finally says that the idea of rebuke is affirmed by the derivation “from nous and tithemi” which indicate that “whatever is needed to cause the monition to be taken home, to be laid to heart, is involved in the word.”5 So to the concept of nouthesis must be added the additional dimension of person-to-person verbal confrontation. Nouthesis presupposes a counseling type confrontation in which the object is to effect a characterological and behavioral change in the counselee. In itself, the word neither implies nor excludes a formal counseling situation but is broad enough to encompass both formal and informal confrontation. Nouthetic confrontation, in its biblical usage, aims at straightening out the individual by changing his patterns of behavior to conform to biblical standards.6


Specific biblical instances of such nouthetic activity may be seen in Nathan’s confronting David after his sin with Uriah and Bathsheba, or Christ’s restoring Peter after His resurrection. The failure to confront nouthetically may be seen in the blameworthy behavior of Eli recorded in I Samuel 3:13:


“You tell him that I will execute justice over his family forever, because he knew that his sons were bringing a curse upon themselves, and he failed to discipline them” (Berkeley Translation).

In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) the word “discipline” is the verbal form enouthetei. Eli’s sin was failure to confront his sons nouthetically. He failed to speak soon enough, strictly enough, and seriously enough, to effect genuine changes in them. In I Samuel 2:22 ff. there is, to be sure, the record of one feeble, futile, final attempt made much too late:


“Now Eli was very old, and when he heard everything his sons were doing to all Israel; and how they cohabited with the women who served at the entrance of the meeting tent, he said to them, Why do you behave this way? I hear all the people talk about your misconduct. . . . This will not do, my sons; for what I hear is not a good report. You lead the Lord’s people to transgress. When one person sins against another, the judges will do him justice; but when a person sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him? But they would not listen to their father’s warning;7 so the Lord was inclined to slay them.”


The word “discipline” (I Samuel 3:13) in the Berkeley (Amplified and R. S. V. have “restrain”) is not as good a translation as, perhaps, a transliteration of the Septuagint, enouthetei, by “nouthetically confront” or “counsel in a nouthetic fashion” would be. The Hebrew means, “to weaken” and seems to have the idea of subduing the sinful activities of another.


It is most interesting to note that in I Samuel 2:23 Eli said, “I hear all the people talk about your misconduct.” He described his sons’ behavior as “misconduct,” i.e., literally, “sinful things” (deeds). Something was wrong if Eli had to discover his sons’ misconduct from others. Indeed Eli himself should have been among the first to know and confront his sons nouthetically about these deeds. It is of even greater interest to note that when Eli did finally speak to his sons, he began with the fatal word, “Why”:


“Why do you behave this way? I hear all the people talk about your misconduct. This will not do, my sons; for what I hear is not a good report.”


Eli’s stress upon “why” may indicate one of his failures as a father. It was not his business to speculate about the causes of his sons’ wicked deeds beyond the fact that he already knew that they were sinners. It was his task to stop them. Too great an emphasis upon “why” may indicate an attempt to find extenuating reasons for excusing conduct which otherwise must be described as sinful. Did Eli fail to confront his sons nouthetically in the past because he was always engaged in finding excuses for their bad behavior?8 Eli would have done better to have emphasized the word “what” instead. If he had compared the behavior itself to God’s standards, he might have been able to help his boys.


Usual counseling methods recommend frequent long excursions back into the intricacies of the whys and wherefores of behavior. Instead, nouthetic counseling is largely committed to a discussion of the what. All the why that a counselee needs to know can be clearly demonstrated in the what. What was done? What must be done to rectify it? What should future responses be? In nouthetic counseling the stress falls upon the “what” rather than the “why” because the “why” is already known before counseling begins. The reason why people get into trouble in their relationships to God and others is because of their sinful natures. Men are born sinners.


Much time is wasted by asking why.9 The question “Why” may lead to speculation and blame-shifting; “What” leads to solutions to problems. “What have you been doing?” is a very significant question to ask. Having answered that question, counselors may then ask: “What can be done about this situation? What does God say must be done?” Because nouthetic counseling seeks to correct sinful behavior patterns by personal confrontation and repentance, the stress is upon “What”– what is wrong? and what needs to be done about it? People never understand the why more clearly than when the focus is upon the what. The second element in nouthetic contact, therefore, is personal conference and discussion (counseling) directed toward bringing about change in the direction of greater conformity to biblical principles and practices. Any biblically legitimate verbal means may be employed.


  1. The third element in the word nouthesis has in view the purpose or motive behind nouthetic activity. The thought is always that the verbal correction is intended to benefit the counselee. This beneficent motive seems never to be lost, and often is quite prominent. For example, in I Corinthians 4:14, Paul uses the verbal form of the word in this fashion:


“I did not write these things to shame you but to confront you nouthetically as my beloved children.”


The antithesis in that sentence brings out the tender concern inherent in the term. Because of this element, the term appropriately describes the concern of the parent for his child, and is used frequently in familial contexts. The Septuagint translators evidenced their preference for the word in the relationship of Eli as a father to his sons. The parent-child relationship also appears in Ephesians 6:4. There Paul spoke about bringing up children “in the nurture and the nouthetic confrontation of the Lord.” In the parallel passage in Colossians 3:21, Paul warned parents not to “exasperate” their children. In Ephesians he urged, “Do not provoke them to wrath.” Even in the most serious circumstances, an unruly Christian is to be “confronted nouthetically as a brother” (II Thessalonians 3:15).
So then, the third element in nouthetic confrontation implies changing that in his life which hurts the counselee. The goal must be to meet obstacles head on and overcome them verbally, not in order to punish but to help him. Cremer wrote, “Its fundamental idea is the well-intentioned seriousness with which one would influence the mind and disposition of another by advice, admonition, warning, putting right according to circumstances.”10 The thought of punishment, even the idea of disciplinary punishment, is not contemplated in the concept of nouthetic confrontation.11 Nouthesis is motivated by love and deep concern, in which clients are counseled and corrected by verbal means for their good, ultimately, of course, that God may be glorified.12 As Paul wrote in Colossians 1:28, every man must be confronted nouthetically in order that every man may be presented to Christ mature and complete. These, then, are the three basic concepts in the word nouthesis.


Nouthesis and the Purpose of Scripture

Nouthesis accords quite fully with what Paul says elsewhere about the purpose and use of Scripture. In II Timothy 3:16,


“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for training in righteousness.”


Here, the same nouthetic goals that Paul had previously stated in Colossians 1:28 seem to be in view. There he spoke about confronting every man nouthetically in order that every man might be presented perfect in Christ. One might say that the Scriptures themselves are nouthetically oriented. In II Timothy Paul indicated that the Scriptures are useful to perfect the man of God, by what might be called nouthetic means (teaching, reproving, correcting and training).


The Scriptures then, are useful for the nouthetic purposes of reproving, teaching, correcting and training men in righteousness. Because this is the classic passage concerning inspiration, its primary purpose often has been overlooked. Paul was concerned to discuss not only inspiration but primarily the purpose of the Scriptures. He argued that because they were God-breathed, the Scriptures are useful for nouthetic purposes.


In the fourth chapter Paul continued this discussion. Based on his conclusions in chapter 3, Paul urged Timothy to use the Scriptures concretely in accordance with their nouthetic purposes. He wrote:


“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction (II Timothy 4:2).”


Timothy could fulfill that mandate only by using the Scriptures nouthetically. So nouthetic confrontation must be scriptural confrontation. Nouthetic confrontation is, in short, confrontation with the principles and practices of the Scriptures. Paul’s words in Colossians and II Timothy pertain to the same matter. In both passages Paul thought of bringing God’s Word to bear upon people’s lives in order to expose sinful patterns, to correct what is wrong, and to establish new ways of life of which God approves. Since it embraces all of these ideas, the term “nouthetic” seems to be an appropriate modifier for “counseling.”13


Nouthetic Involvement

Turning again to the 20th chapter of Acts, notice Paul’s comment about nouthetic pastoring “with tears.” Today counselors seldom cry in counseling sessions, though from time to time nouthetic counselors find that it is impossible not to shed tears. But probably there is no need to cry as Paul did. Modern American culture is different. Paul lived in a society that encouraged people to express their emotions freely. Until very recently, our culture has considered free emotional expression taboo.14 A Hebrew was likely to tear his shirt in half and throw ashes on his head when he became upset.15 To modern Americans this is “losing one’s cool.” Most Americans simply do not “weep and wail and gnash their teeth” even when deeply grieved. Whether this stifling of emotion is good or bad is another issue. But Paul’s tears plainly reveal one fact: that he became deeply involved in the problems of his people. Involvement may differ not only in intensity, but also in kind. Tears show that Paul’s involvement was a total involvement both of intensity and of kind. To the Corinthians Paul wrote:


“Who is weak without my being weak; who is led into sin without my intense concern” (II Corinthians 11:29)?


In his third letter, John too showed evidence of nouthetic involvement:

“I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my own children walk in the truth” (vs. 4). 16


Nouthetic counseling, then, necessarily embodies involvement of the deepest sort.
There is a prevalent view of counseling which says, “Don’t become involved too deeply with your counselee.” The image of the ideal counselor according to this view is that of a professional who is stoically clinical, and who maintains a sterile white-coated manner.17 Like the physician’s bedside manner, the counselor is sometimes thought to need a couch-side manner. Even though he may feel strongly empathetic inside, ideally he should not respond in any way which might reveal his true feelings. He must never appear shocked. He always must maintain a neutral nonjudgmental posture regardless of whether what the counselee reveals is good or bad. His stance is neutral. He must never express his own feelings or his own viewpoint on the subject. While the counselee is to be wholly open, the counselor must never be known in his total personality. There is a double standard.


Any idea that such neutrality is possible must be dispelled. We shall attend to this matter later. Perhaps it is sufficient to note here that biblical counseling frequently gets so exciting that nouthetic counselors might get up and walk around the room, shout, laugh uproariously and on occasion even shed tears.


Love Is the Goal

What are the goals of nouthetic counseling? In I Timothy 1:5 Paul put it this way:

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”


The word “authoritative” might be added to that translation: “The goal of our authoritative instruction is love.” The original word (parangelia) is more than simply instruction; it is instruction imposed authoritatively. The authority of God is presupposed. The purpose of preaching and counseling is to foster the love toward God and love toward one’s neighbor which God commands. Jesus summed up the keeping of the whole law as love. Any notion of authority as antithetical to love is inconsistent with Scripture.
Love is precisely man’s problem, however. How can sinful man love? Since the fall, in which Adam’s sin led to a guilty conscience, hypocrisy, and doubt, it has been impossible for natural men to keep their hearts pure, their consciences good, or their faith unhypocritical. All are born with a warped sinful nature that vitiates any such possibility. And yet love depends upon these very qualities. That is why Paul conditioned love upon the solution to these problems (note: “love from,” i.e., “which issues from”). God’s authoritative instruction through the ministry of his Word, spoken publicly (from the pulpit) or privately (in counseling), is the Holy Spirit’s means of producing love in the believer.


The overarching purpose of preaching and counseling is God’s glory. But the underneath side of that splendid rainbow is love. A simple biblical definition of love is: The fulfillment of God’s commandments. Love is a responsible relationship to God and to man. Love is a relationship conditioned upon responsibility, that is, responsible observance of the commandments of God. The work of preaching and counseling, when blessed by the Holy Spirit, enables men through the gospel and God’s sanctifying Word to become pure in heart, to have peaceful consciences, and to trust God sincerely. Thus the goal of nouthetic counseling is set forth plainly in the Scriptures: to bring men into loving conformity to the law of God.


Authoritative Counseling

But notice that Christian counseling involves the use of authoritative instruction. “Authoritative instruction” requires the use of directive, nouthetic techniques. Technique, and all methodology, must grow out of and be appropriate to purpose and content. The end does not justify the means; rather, it regulates the means. Love will blossom as counselors focus their attention upon purification of the heart, the clearing of the conscience, and the building of genuine trust. Counseling will seek to reverse those sinful patterns which began in the Garden of Eden. When he disobeyed God, his conscience was awakened, and out of fear, sinful man fled, covered himself and tried to hide from God. When confronted by God, finding that he could not successfully avoid him, he resorted to blameshifting and excuses. In antithesis to running and hiding, nouthetic counseling stresses turning to God in repentance. Instead of excuse-making or blameshifting, nouthetic counseling advocates the assumption of responsibility and blame, the admission of guilt, the confession of sin, and the seeking of forgiveness in Christ. In his dealings with Adam and Eve, God literally did not allow them to get away with what they had done. Adam tried to make a getaway into the woods. But God confronted him nouthetically, in order to change him by words. The relationship between God and Adam had been established on the basis of God’s Word, broken by Satan’s challenge to that Word, and had to be reestablished by God’s Word. God elicited a confession from him. He probed until he got satisfactory answers. God gave hope and promised salvation in Christ.


The same nouthetic methods were used when God, through Nathan, confronted David and when God, in Christ, confronted Peter after his denial. Christ did not hide in the garden or run from the cross but, open and naked he exposed himself to direct encounter with a God of wrath. He pled for no mercy in that hour, and made no excuses. He did not attempt to cover or protect himself, but rather bore the full brunt of the fury of God in the stead of guilty sinners. Nouthetic counseling rests upon the dynamics of redemption, and reflects this fact at every point. Therefore, its power (as well as its fearful responsibility) stems from the fact that nouthetic confrontation necessarily utilizes the full authority of God.



1) The priesthood of all believers, a biblical doctrine revived in the Reformation, led to calling the minister pastor pastorum (shepherd of shepherds). All believers have a ministry to all others, which Paul says involves counseling, or nouthetic confrontation.

2) The civilized Greek-Roman Mediterranean world.

3) For a good discussion of the term, see Behm in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume IV (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1967), pp. 1019-1022. Also Hermann Cremer, BibiloTheological Lexicon of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1895), pp.441,442.

4) Cremer, p.441 (nous means “mind”).

5) R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp. 112-1 14.

6) Personality change in Scripture involves confession, repentance, and the development of new biblical patterns. None of this is viewed legalistically, but rather, all must be understood as the work of the Holy Spirit. Nouthetic confrontation involves the verbal ministry of the Word. All such ministry is made effectual by the power of the Spirit alone.

7) There is no word for “warning”; the original reads, “They did not listen to the voice of their father.”

8) Perhaps the word “why” is used only rhetorically in this passage, as it is in other places where information is not actually sought (cf. Genesis 4:6). But in any case, the point is that Christians do not have to ask the question; they already know why fallen human nature acts sinfully. God has revealed clearly why sinful acts take place. Such knowledge justifies nouthetic confrontation.

9) This is one reason why nouthetic counseling may be spoken of in terms of weeks rather than months or years (as most psychiatrists are compelled to speak).

10) Op. cit., p.442.

11) Of course disciplinary punishment is taught elsewhere in Scripture; cf. Trench, op. cit., on paideia. He says that Christians, who had learned the lessons of the book of Proverbs, added an idea to the Greek word paideia (“education”), so that it came to mean in the New Testament, education which “includes and implies chastening,” pp.111, 112. Discipline is also viewed as beneficial in Scripture. In Ephesians 6:4 fathers are urged not to provoke their children to anger parorgizete, the word used here, also occurs in 4:26), but to nurture them in the paideia and nouthesia of the Lord (both words occur together).

12) Cf. esp. I Thessalonians 2:7, 8 for a fuller explanation of Paul’s view of loving parental involvement. The love of a parent, by which she gives herself to her child is prominent.

13) I have no great zeal for the label “nouthetic” beyond its obvious advantages. However, since every school of thought eventually must be identified by an adjective, I should prefer to choose that adjective for myself. The importance of the word, however, as describing a regulative central activity involved in the ministry of the Word should not be missed.

14) A change may be taking place. The popularity of the word “demonstrate” itself (and of course, the activities it is used to describe) signals what seems to be a radical change of viewpoint. The next generation is likely to be a good bit more “demonstrative” than past generations have been. It remains to be seen whether the outward demonstration is truly an expression of deep inner emotion (“soul” it would be called at present) or whether it is merely a passing fad.

15) Cf. Lamentations 2:10.

16) Cf. also l Thessalonians 2:7, 8, supra; Galatians 4:19; Philippians 1:7, 8.

17) Frieda Fromm-Reichmann wrote: “Freud taught that, ideally, the analyst, as nearly as it is possible, must be a blank to the patient.” Cf. “Advances in Analytic-Therapy,” Interpersonal Relations, Patrick Mullahy, ed., (New York: Science House, 1967), p.125. Laurence Le Shan agreed: “One cornerstone of therapy has been that the therapist’s personality must come into the picture as little as possible. This view held he should be a ‘faceless mirror,’ essentially ‘silent’ as a human being” op. cit., pp. 454-463.


That First Session

What should your goals be in that first counseling session? Let me list five goals for you. But remember, no two sessions are alike. When you think you’ve seen ‘em all, along comes a “doosey” that you never dreamed of, let alone expected to encounter. So, what I am speaking about is nothing more than the “ordinary’ things to shoot for. In the more-or-less ordinary cases that are never really ordinary at all. In other words, each case is unique. You should treat it as such. So, the goals I set forth here are ideals rarely to be attained in total.


First, remember, the first session—whether you like it or not—will set patterns. That’s why you ought to consciously aim at good patterns. If you’re going to expect homework in later sessions, for instance, don’t wait until a later session to assign it. You can always assign a data-gathering homework assignment, if nothing else.


Second, you will gather facts. Of course, preceding the session itself, you will have the counselee fill in a Personal Data Inventory form [you can find a sample in The Christian Counselor’s Manual]. But in the session itself, you will want to expand your understanding of what he has written. Further probing will gather much additional data which you will need to feed into the mix in order to determine how to go about handling this case.


Third, You will want to give hope. A counselee without hope is usually a counselee lost. Why should he return if he has no expectation of receiving help? There is every reason for a biblical counselor to offer hope. He counsels believers who are capable of pleasing God [unbelievers are not—see Romans 8:8]. God has made promises [such as those in Romans 8:28; I Corinthians 10:13], and the Word of God has everything necessary for life and godliness.


Fourth, you should strive for a commitment to counseling itself. This will be a commitment to come to sessions regularly, and to do whatever God requires. The commitment ought not to be to do what you say or think, but to do what God demonstrably requires in His Word. Obviously, the commitment may not involve much detail at this point, but to the extent that you can frame anything that God does want at this early point, call your counselee to commit himself to it. If the Scriptures insist upon it, you should ask for commitment to it; there is no reason to hesitate to do so.


Fifth, you should create the proper atmosphere. That means that by your words and actions, you should communicate to the counselee that he is dealing with God. Yes, he must deal with a counselor—but a counselor who, himself, is under the rule and authority of God, and who acknowledges this fact in all he does and says. He should be made aware that all his decisions to obey or disobey Him are made fundamentally to God, not to you. He should be helped to understand that the Bible is the basis for all that will be done.


Of course, much more could be said. These brief ideas–and many more—are dealt with in depth in the INS course, Three Vital Sessions. Since the first session is so important for establishing patterns, it is crucial to know how to handle it. These samples are but glimpses of what ought to be known. Do you know what to do in the first session? And—what about those sessions that follow? The course just mentioned takes you through from the first to the last session.


Another Explicit Statement

Often biblical counselors who understand what Paul’s use of the word “noutheteo” means turn to II Timothy 3:15ff to prove that we have, in the Bible, all we might ever need to do effective counseling. They rightly point out the fact that it provides what it takes to carry a counselee through the four stage process of change mentioned there, to a place where he is able to live rightly in the future. Three times in that context, in various ways, the apostle says that the inspired Scriptures are sufficient to make the man of God adequate to deal with every difficulty that has to do with loving God and one’s neighbor. The passage should be so used.


In addition, another portion of the Bible frequently cited to provide the same thing is II Peter 1:3, where we are told that the Bible contains all that we need to find eternal life and live in a godly way. This, too, is a powerful testimony to Biblical sufficiency. If “all things necessary” are provided, what else could we possible wish for?


Yet, there is another passage, often omitted in such discussions, to which I want to call attention today. It is found in Hebrews where the writer tells us that God will “equip you with every good thing for doing His will, producing in us what pleases Him through Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 13:21).


That verse ought to be more frequently on the lips of those who contend for the sufficiency of Nouthetic counseling. Let’s take a second glance at it:


The verse affirms that equipping necessary for doing God’s will can be found in Jesus Christ. The information and the know-how that it takes to counsel correctly is what Hebrews is referring to. It is precisely what a biblical counselor must have. And here, we are assured, he does—if and when he is willing to search it out. What an important fact that is!


In addition, the verse states that “every good thing” for doing God’s will is available for the Christian counselor and counselee. That means in every case where there is a problem of loving God or one’s neighbor—the goal of all biblical counseling—what is needed is there for the taking. There is no excuse for claiming he doesn’t have all he needs, or for turning to non-biblical counseling for help.


Along with the Scriptural information that He provides, we are told that God is at work using it to produce in those who need it those changes which please Him. It is important to help others, of course, but what biblical counseling, at its core , is all about is pleasing God. This happens whenever a counselor honors God by presenting the biblical way to help, and when a counselee accepts and follows it.


Help to Help

There are problems wherever you go, so you’d better learn how to handle them.

“I’d sure like to know how to.”


Well, that’s one thing that biblical counseling is all about—how God tells us to solve problems. Contrary to what some people think about the Bible, it isn’t a book full of problems, it’s a book of solutions. These solutions reach all of life’s problems in one way or another, beginning with the problem of how you may find eternal life. Have you read its message about the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

“Yes, I know that He died for my sins and that His resurrection from the dead proved that God accepted His substitutionary, penal death.”


Good. But knowing isn’t enough. Do you believe that He died in your place, bearing the punishment for your sins?


“Yes. I have repented of my sins and trusted in Him as my Savior. But where do I go from here? There are so many other problems in life to solve. And I’d like to know how to help my friends at church and members of my family when they have to solve some of these problems. But I just don’t know where to begin—there’s so much in the Bible, and I don’t have a system for finding where God has said what I need to know about the many problems we face. Any help you can give?”


You’re not the only one who has to deal with problems and is baffled about how to accesses Bible instructions for solving them. I’d suggest that you begin to do regular Bible study-not just skipping around in the Bible. Take one New testament book and slowly go through it trying to understand each section before moving on to the next. Using a commentary or two when you do this might also help.

“That’s helpful, I agree; but how can I get a lot of other help fast while I’m doing that?”


You can take the biblical counseling program offered on this website. That will give you a wealth of information about problem solving in the shortest time possible. And you can study at you own pace.

“Thanks. Any other suggestions?”


In the margins of the Christian Counselor’s New Testament with Proverbs you will find a lot of helpful information accompanying the text, and there is a section in the back that covers all sorts of issues.

“Thanks. That’s helpful. Think I’ll do that. Where can I get the CCNT/P?”



That’s one of the chief problems encountered in counseling. Did I say in counseling? In life in general!

But if you find that there are many who are irresponsible in ordinary life, imagine how many irresponsible counselees there must be! Multiply the number by . . . . , and you’ll probably have it.


People are irresponsible and, by their actions, train their children to be irresponsible too. It can soon become a family trait. They make irresponsible purchases and wonder why they are in debt up to their armpits. They are irresponsible at work and wonder why they get fired. They are irresponsible with things they own, and wonder why they deteriorate so soon. Irresponsibility is rife among the populace for sure!

Like James’ double-minded man who is unstable in all his ways, irresponsibility is a way of life affecting all one does. The irresponsible counselee leaves things around, and wonders who took them. He doesn’t have his car serviced and has to pay large bills down the road when the motor blows up. He cannot be trusted to fulfill a task at church—even though he volunteered to do it. He is in trouble on every front.

How do you deal with irresponsibility?


Since it is a life-dominating sin, it pervades all one does. That means a total restructuring of his lifestyle is necessary. He must recognize the overall pattern, desire to change it, and determine how to live differently in every slice of the pizza of life. Slice the pizza into the following pieces, if you will: physical life, church life, work/school life, social life, family life (and/or as many other slices as you fancy). Then, probe in each area to see how irresponsibility is affecting the counselee.


Having gathered sufficient data, set him to work on learning to handle life in each area in a responsible way. Of course, this will take time, effort and heavy coaching on your part—at least at the beginning. That is a sketch of the basic counseling program—there is no way to get into details in a blog!

We might add this, however: don’t even begin to undertake this vast task unless the counselee

  1. recognizes his problem
  2. is repentant over it
  3. genuinely wants to change
  4. promises to (and does) work responsibly at the homework you give him
  5. and, you are willing to undertake the task—which usually is formidable.

As you can see, irresponsibility—which leads to many complicating problems that he may have to resolve along the way—can be devastating. These may have to be cleared up as you proceed. As you counsel him, you will have to be constantly on the lookout for his irresponsible ways of dealing with irresponsibility. That is a dilemma you are certain to face.


Best wishes as you undertake the task. You’ll need all the help that God’s Word provides. Be sure to call upon the Spirit to enable you to use it wisely. Then dig in for the long haul!



If you want to counsel effectively, it will take time to learn how to do so. I am appalled at the way some jump right into counseling after a short course or reading a few books as if they knew all there is to know about the task.


Certainly, any believer can counsel someone out of the knowledge of the Scriptures that he has—so far as that goes. And, in situations where no one is available, God may graciously enable the “counselor” to provide some significant help from the Bible. But I am not speaking of such occasional, casual, Informal, emergency counsel. I’m talking about a preacher or elder who intends to do counseling regularly at his church.


What he received in seminary, or Bible College by way of counseling—even if it was truly of a biblical sort (which is rare)—hardly supplies enough information and experience to enable one, who recognizes a calling to counsel as a part of his ordination, to do so. He will have to devote himself to the work, learning all he can of the Scriptures and how to apply them practically to counseling cases. This will, as I said, mean devotion to the task—and it will take time.

One of the ways in which he may improve is to sit in with a truly biblical counselor who is successfully helping others. There is no better way to discover how the principles and practices that he has learned should be applied. To sit down before and after a case in which he participated as a trainee, and discuss the case with the counselor whom he has observed will probably be as helpful an adjunct to his reading and formal work in school as is possible. Indeed, he may discover that it is far more helpful.


I have heard would-be counselors during a course remark that there was so much material to remember. They seem frustrated with it: “How will I ever get it all accomplished whrn actually counseling?” But I point out that when you are putting principles into practice, you don’t move from one to another in sequence, the way you learn them when studying. Rather, you use many of them in tandem–at the same time. It is amazing to see how four or five principles, learned separately in a class, come together as you actually use them during a session.


Once a student discovers this fact by seeing it in practice in another, and by beginning to see various practices coalesce in his own counseling, it all comes clear. But observation, and counseling under supervision are the two key factors that help new counselors make rapid effective progress. We can help you at INS with all of the information you will need (and you will need it all); but you will have to obtain the rest by  observation. Let me warn you however, when you choose and begin to observe a counselor, be absolutely certain that his practice conforms to the teachings you have learned and to the biblical counseling practice he affirms. What a person does in counseling is what he really believes; even though it man not conform to what he says he does. Not that he lies about his practice; he may have simply fallen into practices that are of less value, less comprehensive, or different from, those that he learned and still (wrongly) believes he is still following.


However, if you find a good counselor to observe and discuss cases with and you will be glad you did.



Confidence comes! You shouldn’t expect it right away. Indeed, if you become confident in your counseling or preaching from the outset, you are probably over-confident!


There is a wisdom that comes from learning what God has to say—only long periods of careful study lie behind that. And there is also a wisdom that comes from putting the truth into practice.

Both take time. And so, confidence doesn’t come overnight.


God has a way of knocking the stuffings out of those who grow proud after a little preaching or counseling. He sends an old lady to you after the service who tells you that someday you really ought to learn how to preach. He sends you a counseling case that you haven’t the faintest idea how to handle. You’re utterly stumped!


Then, rather than go spiraling down into the depths in a whirlwind, stop. Think. Pray. Then, go see another preacher or counselor who can help you. You need to grow. Growth often comes in spurts. Spurts often come as the result of difficulty—but only difficulty that is overcome!

So, don’t be too greatly perturbed by the difficulties that come. Be perturbed—but only enough to motivate you to do something about them.



Talk to another pastor who has been through the ropes. Study some more. Work at solving all known problems. Don’t give up—instead, give it your best!


Confidence—ah, confidence. It will come if you mean business with the LORD! Do you? If not, stop preaching/stop counseling until you do!


[1] All of this is from Dr. Adams unless otherwise noted.

[2] The above is quoted from wikipedia.

[3] This was written by Dr. Jay Adams, the father of modern Nouthetic Counseling.



  • Study this material carefully.
  • Prepare 30 scholarly questions and answer them in 25-50 words each.
  • Prepare a 300-500 word summary of this material.

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