The words we read in the Bible often have layers of meaning. A single word can convey different ideas depending on the context and the original language. The word “admonish” is one such example that appears many times in scripture but can leave some uncertainty around its exact meaning.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: To admonish means to warn, advise, or caution someone. In the Bible, it often refers to offering guidance or correction to follow God’s laws.
In this comprehensive article, we will explore the origins, definitions, and uses of “admonish” throughout both the Old and New Testaments to understand the full, nuanced meaning of this impactful word.
The Etymology and Definition of Admonish
Derived from the Latin Admonere
The English word “admonish” is derived from the Latin verb “admonere,” which means to warn, advise, or notify. The prefix “ad-” indicates direction or motion toward something, while “monere” means to advise. So the literal meaning is to direct advice or a warning toward someone.
This Latin root word made its way into English through the Old French word “amonester” in the 1200s. By the mid-1400s it had taken on the specific religious meaning of gently reproving or urging someone to fulfill their obligations.
Definitions in Greek and Hebrew
In the original biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew, various words relating to admonishing appear. For example:
- The Greek noun “nouthesia” means calling attention to a fault in a mild, friendly way. It is providing cautious and reasoned reproof in order to correct behavior and prevent further missteps.
- The Greek verbs “noutheteō” and “elenchō” focus more on convincing someone of their fault to produce improvement.
- The Hebrew “yāsar” has the sense of instructing, correcting, warning, or disciplining someone to teach them.
So while the specifics range from gentle encouragement to reasoned arguments aimed at improvement, all have the sense of authoritative guidance toward better behavior, not condemnation.
Appears Over 25 Times in Scripture
Forms of the word “admonish” appear over 25 times across the King James Bible. The Apostle Paul, in teaching church leaders on qualifications for oversight roles, says an overseer must be “able to convince those who contradict” the truth (Titus 1:9).
Most uses relate to providing positive correction within the church on matters of false doctrine or sin. It is always paired with patience, care, and reason – not hostility or attack.
|Verses with “Admonish”
|Used by Jesus
|New Testament Verses
|Old Testament Verses
So the biblical concept originated from Hebrew and Greek terms meaning gently but firmly helping others correct faults and improve. Through Latin and Old French it entered English with that specifically religious sense.
The word maintains that connotation today of positively correcting through patient explanation and reasoned guidance.
Admonish in the Old Testament and Torah
Moses Admonishing the Israelites
In the Old Testament, Moses often admonished the Israelites when they strayed from God’s laws. For example, after the Israelites worshipped the golden calf, Moses sternly admonished them for their idolatry (Exodus 32:30-35).
He reminded them of their covenant with God and called them to repent and return to righteous living. Moses exhorted the people to wholeheartedly obey God’s commands, warning of the consequences if they rebelled.
His admonishments were rooted in his desire to guide the Israelites into faithful covenant relationship with God.
Calling People Back to God’s Laws
The prophets of the Old Testament frequently admonished the people of Israel and Judah for their disobedience to God’s laws. The prophets urgently called them to turn away from idolatry and injustice and realign their lives with God’s standards of righteousness and justice.
For example, Jeremiah admonished the people for their hypocrisy and failure to amend their ways (Jeremiah 7). Ezekiel confronted the people for their idolatry and violations of God’s holy law (Ezekiel 20:4-32).
The prophets warned that ignoring God’s admonishments would lead to judgment, but that repentance could lead to renewed blessings from God. Their passionate admonishments aimed to convict people of their wrongdoing and realign society with God’s laws.
Admonish as Guidance from Elders
In ancient Israel, elders and leaders of tribes, clans and families had a responsibility to admonish members of their group. Their admonishments provided authoritative guidance, wisdom and correction to ensure right living within the community.
For example, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 outlines a process for parents to bring rebellious children before the city elders to admonish them. Elders had authority to investigate charges and hand down discipline.
Admonishment from elders carried great weight as they were trusted for their wisdom and judgment. Their warnings and advice encouraged the younger generation to learn from their forefathers’ experiences with God. This helped pass on faith and obedience to God’s laws from one generation to the next.
Admonish in the New Testament Letters
Paul’s Admonishments to the Early Churches
The apostle Paul wrote extensively to the early Christian churches, often including loving yet firm words of correction and guidance. For example, Paul urged the Roman church members to “admonish one another” regarding unity and spiritual growth (Romans 15:14).
To the Corinthians, he wrote bluntly that he did not want to have to “come again and admonish” them regarding unrepentant sin (2 Corinthians 13:2). Paul also told the Colossians that as fellow believers, they should “admonish one another with all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16).
His words revealed both his deep care for the spiritual well-being of the churches, as well as his understanding that admonishment comes from a place of love.
Admonishing Fellow Believers
The New Testament epistles contain additional instructions regarding admonishing fellow Christians. For example, Paul told the Thessalonians to “admonish the idle” (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and the book of Hebrews instructs believers to “encourage one another daily…so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).
Peter also wrote that believers should “be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” and to not “repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9).
Such direct yet compassionate words provide helpful principles for offering Biblical admonishment.
Links to Teaching, Warning, and Correcting
There is considerable overlap between the Biblical understanding of admonishment, and the connected practices of teaching, warning against sin or false doctrine, and correcting wayward behavior. For instance, Paul told Timothy that all Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Peter also linked admonishing to teaching when he described how Christian husbands should live with their wives in an understanding way so that “their prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Overall there is a clear pattern in Scripture that compassionate yet truth-grounded admonishment has an integral role to play in the discipleship and sanctification of believers.
Admonish as an Act of Love and Restoration
Not Harsh Criticism but Gentle Correction
When Christians admonish one another, it should not be done in a harsh, condemning way. Rather, admonishment is meant to be gentle and loving, with the aim of building the other person up in Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Here are some key points to keep in mind:
In short, biblical admonishment focuses on reconciliation and redemption. It seeks to call wayward brothers and sisters back to the Lord through compassionate truth-telling.
Aim is to Build Up in Christ
When Christians admonish one another in love, the aim is to build up and restore the other person for their good and God’s glory (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Here are some key reasons we admonish:
In admonishing others, we should have their spiritual welfare in view, desiring that they become more like Christ in mind, heart and actions. Our words should be carefully chosen to constructively reprove and spur them on to godliness.
A Community Responsibility
In the body of Christ, admonishing one another is a communal responsibility. We are called to look out for and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Scripture urges us to admonish:
This prevents sin from spreading unchecked and helps foster a culture of holiness, integrity and fidelity to Christ. Admonishment involves honesty, courage and care.
Of course, we also need humility and wisdom to admonish in a truly biblical way, without hypocrisy or harshness (Matthew 7:1-5; Galatians 6:1). Our words should be rooted in love, grace and truth.
Applying “Admonish” to Our Faith Today
Humility and Discernment Needed
When approaching the act of admonishing fellow believers, we must do so with humility, wisdom and discernment. We should first examine ourselves and our motivations, being sure we are acting out of love and care for the person, not out of pride or self-righteousness (Matthew 7:1-5).
We must be prayerful and thoughtful in deciding if, when and how to admonish – taking into account factors like relationship, maturity level, openness to correction, etc. Admonishing should happen privately at first in most cases (Matthew 18:15).
We should speak gently and respectfully, aiming to build up rather than tear down (Ephesians 4:29).
Speak the Truth in Love
While admonishing can be uncomfortable, there are times when speaking difficult truths in love is necessary for a fellow Christian’s growth and spiritual health (Proverbs 27:6, Ephesians 4:15). We are called to humbly and lovingly challenge one another to turn from sinful patterns and harmful behaviors that can jeopardize our walks with God.
But we must ensure our words are bathed in grace, compassion and care for the individual. Speaking the truth without love profits nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Our goal should be restoration and growth, not condemnation (Galatians 6:1-2).
Accept Admonishment Wisely
When we are on the receiving end of loving admonishment, we must be open and humble enough to hear what is being said rather than become defensive or resentful. We should pray for wisdom to discern if there is any truth we need to apply (Proverbs 19:20).
If the admonisher is approaching us in the right spirit, with humility and care, then we can benefit greatly from heeding godly counsel (Proverbs 12:1). We all have blind spots and weaknesses. Let us welcome loving input that can help us better align our lives to God’s word and will.
“Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31).
Throughout its many uses in both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, we see complex meanings emerge around the word “admonish.” At its core, it calls people to return to righteous living under God. But there are also connotations of gentleness, wisdom, and community responsibility in how we must admonish fellow believers.
When understood fully, this concept challenges us to offer careful correction within the church. Admonishing is not condemning nor attacking. It should come from a place of love and desire for restoration.
We must humbly speak truth with discernment, but also accept admonishment ourselves with wisdom and grace.
Just as those in scripture were guided back to holiness by admonishment, we too can help build each other up in Christ through this practice. As with many teachings in the Bible, putting it into action requires prayer, patience, and faith.