Nouthetic Counseling is Not New
While the name is new, the sort of counseling done by nouthetic counselors is not. From Biblical times onward, God’s people have counseled nouthetically. The word itself is Biblical. It comes from the Greek noun nouthesia (verb: noutheteo). The word, used in the New Testament primarily by the apostle Paul, is translated “admonish, correct or instruct.” This term, which probably best describes Biblical counseling, occurs in such passages as Romans 15:14:
I myself am convinced about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and competent to counsel one another.
In that passage, the apostle was encouraging members of the Roman church to do informal, mutual counseling, something that all Christians today should learn, as well. On the other hand, the leaders of a congregation are to counsel nouthetically in a formal manner as a part of their ministry:
Now we ask you, brothers, to recognize those who labor among you, and manage you in the Lord, and counsel you (1 Thess. 5:12).
Nouthetic Counseling Embraces Three Ideas
Because the New Testament term is larger than the English word “counsel,” and because it doesn’t carry any of the “freight” that is attached to the latter term, we have simply imported the Biblical term into English. In that way, the full force of the Biblical concept of counseling may be set forth while avoiding the many contradictory connotations surrounding the English one. The three ideas found in the word nouthesia are confrontation, concern,and change. To put it simply, nouthetic counseling consists of lovingly confronting people out of deep concern in order to help them make those changes that God requires.
By confrontation we mean that one Christian personally gives counsel to another from the Scriptures. He does not confront him with his own ideas or the ideas of others. He limits his counsel strictly to that which may be found in the Bible, believing that
All Scripture is breathed out by God and useful for teaching, for conviction, for correction and for disciplined training in righteousness in order to fit and fully equip the man from God for every good task. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)
The nouthetic counselor believes that all that is needed to help another person love God and his neighbor as he should, as the verse above indicates, may be found in the Bible.
By concern we mean that counseling is always done for the benefit of the counselee. His welfare is always in view in Biblical counseling. The apostle Paul put it this way: “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to counsel you as my dear children.” (1 Corinthians 4:14) Plainly, the familial nature of the word noutheteo appears in this verse. There is always a warm, family note to biblical counseling which is done among the saints of God who seek to help one another become more like Christ. Christians consider their counseling to be a part of the sanctification process whereby one Christian helps another get through some difficulty that is hindering him from moving forward in his spiritual growth.
By change we mean that counseling is done because there is something in another Christian’s life that fails to meet the biblical requirements and that, therefore, keeps him from honoring God. All counseling—Biblical or otherwise—attempts change. Only Biblical counselors know what a counselee should become as the result of counseling: he should look more like Christ. He is the Standard. Biblical counseling is done by Christians who are convinced that God is able to make the changes that are necessary as His Word is ministered in the power of the Spirit. It is their hope to help every interested church develop a nouthetic counseling program that will be a blessing to all of the members of that congregation. The importance of such counseling in churches is underscored by the words of Paul as he described his ministry in Ephesus:
Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years, night and day, I didn’t stop counseling each one of you with tears. (Acts 20:31)
The regularity and intense nature of Paul’s counsel during his three-year ministry at Ephesus is emphasized by these words. If Paul found it necessary to counsel nouthetically for that entire period, as he said, surely our churches need it, too.
Jay E Adams