Word Study #116 — Admonish, Admonition, Exhort, Exhortation

Here is another requested word that is frequently misunderstood as a result of the evolution of the English language. Most people presently tend to associate it uniformly with giving orders, if not overtly scolding, when that concept, although present, is only a minimal part of classical usage. Traditional translators have used “admonish” or “admonition” to represent four different Greek words.

Two, noutheteo (v.) and nouthesia / nouthetia (n), are related, and derived from nous, one of the words translated “mind.”(W.S.#96). Their classical uses include “to give advice, to warn, to put in mind (remind)”, and only secondarily “to chastise” and “rebuke”. The verb form appears 8x in the New Testament: 4x rendered “admonish” (Rom.15:14, Col.3:16, I Thes.5:12, II Thes.3:15) – of which three refer to mutual activity among the brotherhood – and 4x as “warn” (Ac.20:31, I Cor.4:14, Col.1:28, II Thes.5:14). Frequently, both are associated with teaching, and only twice (II Thes.3:15 and I Thes.5:14) with correction. Note that both of these are addressed to the group, and not to any individual or official. The noun appears only 3x, twice (I Cor.10:11 and Eph.6:4) regarding instruction and once (Tit.3:10) correction.

Chrematizo, only once rendered “admonish” (Heb.8:5), regarding God’s instructions to Moses, is translated “warn” (also with respect to God’s instructions) 4x: Mt.2:12 – the Magi, Mt.2:22 – Joseph, Ac.10:22 – Cornelius, and Heb.11:7 – Noah. Specific revelation is referenced in Lk.2:26 (Simeon), and the giving of the law in Heb.12:25, whereas Ac.11:26 and Rom.7:3 are simply labeling.

In classical writings, chrematizo could also refer to business dealings, negotiations in public assemblies, the administration of justice, or the instructions received from an oracle. A very versatile word!

Hupodeiknumi, which is also translated “warn” in Mt.3:7, Lk.3:7, and Lk.12:5, as well as “show” (as in “reveal”) in Lk.6:47, Ac.9:16, 20:35, is never rendered “admonish”. Please note also that none of these references to “warning” are ever in the context of a threat to the hearers. They represent simply the provision of information and instructions for action. Contemporary speakers who claim to speak for the Lord would do well to remember this!

Paraineo, used only twice in the New Testament, is translated once as “admonish” (Ac.27:9) and once “exhort” (Ac.27:22), both describing Paul’s advice to the sailors on the voyage to Rome. These fit well with the classical usage, “to recommend or advise, to propose a course of action.”

The alternate translation of paraineo, “exhort”, is more commonly used to render parakaleo (19x). Please refer to W.S.#53 for additional exploration of this concept. Parakaleo, historically, was used “to summon or send for” a person, or “to invoke the gods.” subsequently, it was used of a summons for a trial, the calling of a witness, or an appeal in court. Etymologically, it is made up of “kaleo”, to call or invite, and “para”, alongside of. Later, it was used of proposals, demands and requirements, or exhortation, encouragement, and entreaty. Only traditional translators of the Septuagint and the New Testament ever rendered it “comfort”. They did so 23x. There is no classical precedent for that choice, which has led to serious misunderstandings of the Biblical message.  Please see #138.

“Beseech”, used 43x for parakaleo, with its later connotations of abject begging, is rather weak for this word. “Exhort, urge, encourage, or admonish” would much more accurately convey the force of the word.

Parakaleo usually (25x in the synoptics) appears in people’s appeals to Jesus for healing, where it has traditionally been rendered “beseech/besought, pray, or entreat”, and only once refers to the preaching of John the Baptist (Lk.3:18) as “exhortation.”

In the usage of parakaleo in Acts, the idea of requests persists, but is almost equally balanced with “exhortation”, directed both toward “the brethren” (11:23, 14:22, 15:32, 16:40, 20:2) and toward groups who were yet to become committed (2:40).
It is not surprising that in the epistles, which were, after all, written for the instruction and encouragement of the brethren in each locality, parakaleo appears more frequently than in the gospels and Acts combined – 61x. Its ubiquity is somewhat obscured by the traditional translators’ shifting among “beseech, comfort, desire, and exhort” – when in every instance, it is instruction or encouragement that is in view.

As you can easily see, these observations are rather widely scattered. Perhaps the best summary can be gleaned from brother Paul:

“I myself have been persuaded about you all, my brothers,…. that you are also able to keep reminding [admonishing]each other…”.(Rom.15:14)

“Christ’s word must continually reside among you , richly, in all wisdom, as you keep teaching and admonishing each other ….” (Col.3:13)

and the writer to the Hebrews:

Keep on coaching [exhorting] each other, every day … so that not one of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of failure [sin]…” (Heb.3:13).

“Admonition” and “exhortation” of and for one another is the best insurance for remaining faithful disciples.

May we continually encourage one another in this direction!


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