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  • Writer's pictureShannon Makujina

What Should She Not Do: A Biblical Critique of Jay Adams' Article "What Should She Do."

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

Jay E. Adams—the father of the nouthetic (Biblical) counseling movement, has a history of horrible of Bible interpretation, but the article in question today really takes the cake. I’m going to take you through an article written 30 years ago by Jay E. Adams. This article was republished by the Mid-America Institute for Nouthetic Studies in 2015. The link for it is provided here, as well as in the references. The article is titled What Should She Do. It is written in response to a question of what a wife should do with a husband who is domestically violent.

This article would better be titled What She Should NOT Do, or better yet, A Guide for How to Abuse Your Wife and Get Off Scot Free. Let’s take it from the top.

Adams starts out with an apology, saying even he does not like what he is about to say. He tells his readers that he doesn’t want to reveal to them his message from God.

“I’ve avoided the issue long enough. Not because there wasn’t an answer, but because of the answer itself. I simply didn’t like it. I had been hoping I could come up with a different or, at least, slightly modified answer. But I haven’t been able to.”

He then goes on to introduce the topic by giving one of his famous stories, of a young couple, madly in love, who marry. After marriage, the husband starts to be abusive towards the wife.

Adams leaves the topic for a minute and interjects how important it is to scan for signs of anger problems in premarital counseling. I think we could all agree that is important. Please don’t marry someone who is showing red flags of being an abuser.

Adams leads us back to the scenario and says we have two different options. This is where it starts getting messy. (Keep in mind, these are his instructions for pastors and counselors to follow).

“The first question to consider, as in all counseling, is whether the abuser is a Christian or at least professes to be one. This is altogether important. If he is a member of a Bible-believing church, then you may take one course of action; if he does not profess Christ, then you would take another.”

Time out. The first course of action is to encourage the wife to call the authorities and help her find a safe place to stay. The second course of action is to determine if there are any minor children involved in the situation and if so, call the police yourself.

Clergy are mandated reporters! If you suspect child abuse, you are required to contact the police. Of course, non-clergy, career “biblical counselors”, are not mandated reporters, just another reason they are not professionals, as much as they want to claim they are.

Remember, no matter how many degrees your “biblical counselor” has hanging in his office, they are worth less than the paper they are printed on. I think it is important for pastors to be able to give advice to their parishioners, but they need to give the right kind of advice, and they also need to know when to refer their parishioners to a licensed professional who has approved training in handling complicated situations like this. If you do not want the responsibility and potentially disastrous consequences of giving the wrong advice to be on your head, give that responsibility to someone whose job it is.

Secondly, let’s take a look at Adam’s flawed theology. He is frequent user of 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 to justify not taking Christians to court. In a domestic violence situation, a woman is only justified in calling the police if her husband is an unbeliever. However, if her husband claims to be a believer, handing the matter over to the authorities is not an option.

Considering how prevalent Adam’s influence in the Fundamentalist church was, does it at all surprise you that so many acts of pedophilia and sexual assault go unreported? This is part of the reason why. Members of the IFB are taught that what happens in church stays in church, even if there is someone in the church who just needs to be in jail. In a lot of cases that’s the pastor. Think back to Bill Gothard and his teachings on “gossiping” against the “Man of God”.

Make no mistake, teachings like this are DESIGNED to shield predators in your churches and allow them to continue with their actions.

Adams is openly advocating for domestic violence situations to be handled quietly inside the church. All the perpetrator has to do is claim to be a believer and he gets an automatic exemption from the consequences of the law.

It doesn’t stop with domestic violence. Adams gives an example of how to deal with a “Christian pedophile” in his book How to Help People Change. Rebecca Davis has an excellent 3 part article on her blog that breaks down the whole scenario Adams describes. I would highly recommend you read this. How Jay Adams Would Counsel a Pedophile | Here's the Joy (

I’ll let you get the details from her but let me share some takeaways that apply to what I’m discussing. Briefly, Adams gives his approach to counseling a man who confesses to actively “fondling” young girls and has done so for years. Adams gives a step-by-step approach for how he would deal with this situation, which involves a lot of Bible memorization, and sending this man home with Bible reading assignments each week, in hope that it helps. If not? If the Bible reading doesn’t keep him from abusing some little girls throughout the week…well then, we’ll try it again the next week because the Scripture is sufficient for everything, and we can’t take Christians to court.

Not even once does Adams mention calling the police or encouraging this man to turn himself in. He never mentions making restitution to the victims. He never mentions telling the parents of these girls what has been happening. He does mention how if this man repents, the matter should be dropped and not spoken of again.

If you have an ounce of human decency, this should make your blood boil. And I should not have to explain how much is wrong with this scenario. But for the sake of some of those who wandered onto this blog, I will.

Let’s go through the passage in 1 Corinthians 6, but first, let’s see what the Bible says about government in general. Two very basic rules of Bible interpretation: Context is king, and always interpret a hard verse by easier verses.

This passage in Corinthians can be confusing, but let’s look at some clearer verses, then some context.

Romans 13:3-5: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong (CSB).”

Here, Paul states twice that the authorities are “God’s servant” and their function is to bring justice to those who do wrong. It could not be more clear. Though authorities can be corrupt, their God ordained function is to be God’s instrument in bringing justice (Peter even uses the word ‘punishment’) to those who have done wrong. If you do wrong, Paul says you should be afraid of them.

Context: Paul is writing a letter to Christians, to a church, helping them understand Christian ethics. Far from saying, “If you are a Christian, you should not be afraid of the law, because your NANC certified nouthetic counselor will give you some Bible verses to read and tell your wife and kids to forgive you,” Paul says that if you do something wrong, you should “be afraid.” Paul is talking to Christians here, no question about it. And he is saying that when it comes to justice, in an ideal world, the government provides that.

We all know God cares about justice and that there should be consequences for crimes against humanity, especially things like violence and pedophilia, abuses against the sacredness of marriage and parenthood. So let me ask you this, if you seriously think your church should handle these situations in house, is your church going to set up a jail on the church property to punish evildoers? Are the deacons going to come by at dinner time and beat up the abusive husband of a battered wife?

This is what Paul is saying the government is for. This is what the church is NOT for. There is nothing in the Bible that even hints that the church should be involved in punishing crimes, beyond excommunicating members from a church as part of Biblical church discipline. And even that, is simply part of handling church matters, things that should be dealt with inside the church. Crimes are not to be handled inside the church. Your church should excommunicate abusive husbands AND turn them over to the authorities for a punishment that they should be afraid of.

When crimes of this nature are handled inside the church, it does not lead to justice for the abuser (because again, who has a church jail?) and it leaves the victims vulnerable and unprotected, with these men still at large. In many cases, the husband and wife are forced to “reconcile” and live together again. In most cases, the abuse starts all over.

Here's another similar verse, this time Peter talking. “Submit to every human authority because of the Lord,” he says in 1 Peter 2:13-15 CSB, “whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.”

Again, we see a very clear picture of the government’s role in society, one that matches Paul’s exactly. The government is the appropriate authority to handle crimes and punish crimes.

With a better idea of the Biblical picture of government, let’s examine 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.

If any of you has a dispute against another, how dare you take it to court before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?

2 Or don’t you know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the trivial cases? 3 Don’t you know that we will judge angels ​— ​how much more matters of this life? 4 So if you have such matters, do you appoint as your judges those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame! Can it be that there is not one wise person among you who is able to arbitrate between fellow believers? 6 Instead, brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers!

7 As it is, to have legal disputes against one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves do wrong and cheat ​— ​and you do this to brothers and sisters! -- 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 (CSB)

Before we jump in, let’s look at a third principle of Bible interpretation: Scripture does not contradict itself. If scripture contradicted itself than at least one contradiction must not be true. We know that Scripture is God’s word to us and God does not lie. Therefore, if two passages appear to be contradicting each other, we look at a middle route.

In this case, it is not too hard to find. It is telling believers not to take their church business and their petty quarrelling to court. Church business, mind you, not crimes.

Paul says that one day they will judge the world—not now. But now, he thinks that they should be capable of judging “trivial cases” (vs. 2). He goes onto complain about the lack of Godly leadership in the church; their church members are of such low caliber they cannot even handle these “trivial cases” or “disputes” (vs. 1). In verse 7, Paul refers to these matters as “legal disputes”, not criminal trials. Paul continually emphasizes their church is immature in dragging their infighting into court, when they should have mature leaders who can settle these matters among themselves.

Since they do not have a mature leadership, he does it for them. In fact, the entire book of Corinthians is Paul settling disputes of this very nature—disputes about money, hairstyles, speaking in tongues, prophecy, favorite pastors, food preferences, theological positions, and corporate worship.

Paul is not advocating for church members to handle criminal matters in house. In fact, he is stating that they are not even able to handle petty grievances and church politics themselves and are going to court over these things. He writes an entire letter to them to help them settle some of these issues. Seeing that there is no talk of bringing justice to criminals here, we must assume Paul still stands by what he says in Romans; that the authorities are God’s servants to bring justice to evildoers.

Unfortunately, Jay Adams, and many other pastors who want to cover their tracks and protect themselves or other abusers in their church, take this verse and somehow say it means that there is automatic protection for believers from the law, even if their crime is as heinous as pedophilia. Now that we understand there should be no difference in the legal aspects of how we deal with saved and unsaved abusers, let’s look at the rest of Adams’ article.

“In either case, you are able to offer him help: in the latter case, help will be the presentation of the Gospel, while in the former case, instruction in the way of overcoming anger and violence through the sanctifying work of the Spirit…. It is not your task, as a preacher of the Word, to reform him; you are called to evangelize him. By leading him to Christ, you can not only help him overcome the immediate problem but place him in a condition to overcome all sorts of problems as well, in ways that do please God.”

While I believe that the Gospel is able to transform people’s lives, the Gospel should not be a cop-out for receiving legal justice, which is exactly what Adams uses it for. Keep in mind, when he says, “It is not your task to reform him,” remember that Adams does not believe in separation (more on that later), so the wife in this scenario is STILL at home with her husband. And what is the solution? Preach the Gospel to him (like he isn’t in church every Sunday anyway?).

“You must tell him that wife-abuse is sin, a breach of the sixth commandment, with which he must deal at the root by the redeeming work of Christ.”

The sixth commandment says, “Thou shalt not murder.” I don’t even want to know what he was thinking when he wrote that down. Is there an assumption here that the husband is so violent the wife is at risk of being murdered? Again, just sickening, whatever this is.

What if he doesn’t trust Christ as Savior?” you ask. Then, he, being an unbeliever, may be taken to the legal authorities (1 Corinthians 6 deals with this.)”

How long do they spend pleading with him to receive Christ? Weeks? Months? It doesn’t specify. Only after this, presumably, repeated counseling sessions, he can be taken to the legal authorities.

The abuse continues indefinitely while the wife prays for him to get saved. Sickening.

“What about divorce? Separation?”

Here is where I find it hard to give the biblical answer. If I had my ‘druthers,’ I’d say, “Yes” to either one or both of the above, but I can find no biblical warrant for doing so. Abuse is not among the legitimate reasons for divorce found in the Bible; and separation is never an option.”

Separation is never an option. Taking your “Christian” husband to the authorities is never an option.

Staying and enduring abuse is her only option.

My heart breaks for women who have been told this, women like Anna Duggar, who believe that they have no choice but to stay with their pedophile husband.

Adams’ says that if a husband is drunk and smashing things, then a wife can pack “one night’s change of clothes” and take the kids and go to a neighbor’s house.

Is she supposed to go back the next night? And there is an assumption that kids are involved? Are they supposed to also endure this abuse, growing up in a home with a drunken father who smashes things in nightly fits of rage?

If he is a follower of Jesus, Adams says they must.

Women, hear me. If you are in an abusive situation, whether that abuse be sexual, physical, emotional, or verbal, God does not want your husband to continue to sin against you. Each time he does it, he is sinning. And if your church teaches that you have an obligation to stay with him and endure it, your church is telling you to give him unlimited opportunities to sin against you.

God takes divorce very seriously, yes. But God also takes abuse seriously. God burned down whole cities because of their rape culture. God said that his judgment on anyone who offends “these little ones” would be so bad that child abusers should wish they could just drown in the sea. When you look at the Bible’s numerous instructions for husbands to love their wives—a command that is repeated more times than it ever tells women to respect their husbands—do you really think a wife and her children are expected to remain with a man who is in breach of his marriage contract, causing them physical and emotional harm and devastation?

While I am still not entirely sure of all the ins and outs of what the Bible teaches about divorce, I can tell you that I do not judge anyone who divorces an abusive husband. And I know that God does not either. He is the one who comforts the widows and orphans and defends them. He is a God who came to save the world, not condemn it. And he is a God who champions justice and cries with the hurting.

The Bible never says anything about separation from a marriage partner. I don’t know where Adams gets the idea that a wife cannot temporarily separate from an abusive husband, but it is nowhere in Scripture. That is a decision for the abused party to make and I would never tell anyone to feel like they have to remain married to someone they are separated from. But Adams’ assumption that separation from a marriage is wrong, is completely unaffirmed by Scripture.

“But why is she required to remain with such a man?” Not only does the Bible hold out the hope that she may win him to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:10–14 and 1 Peter 3:1); it also has a good bit to say about enduring unjust persecution.

Adams then quotes this verse: “Who then will harm you if you are devoted to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear them or be intimidated,” 1 Peter 3:13-14 (CSB).

The way these men twist Scripture is nothing short of disgusting. The context of this verse is Christians in Rome who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus—thrown to lions in the arena—not wives enduring a private martyrdom in their homes.

And it gets worse.

Indeed, his (Peter’s) comment is that those who enthusiastically pursue good rarely encounter such suffering. That is the place for the counselor to begin.”

That is indeed where the counselor should begin, by pressing the wife to see if she has any sin in her life that may provoke her husband into anger. Maybe she is not having sex with him enough? Maybe she is not making the meals he likes? This is always the assumption with nouthetic counseling: that you are doing something wrong to bring suffering upon yourself. Thinking about what it must be like to endure such a counseling session as a battered wife, makes me want to be sick. “...Notice also that even in those rare cases, where violence was not provoked, one is not told to leave but to endure without fear (verse 14).”

“Rare” cases. No comment. Simply disgusting.

This is the hard part, but it is biblical. How does Peter conceive of this? Well, his answer is that the believer does not shirk his responsibilities because another treats him badly… Peter is saying those who suffer must continue doing what is right, assuming all their responsibilities (in this case that means fulfilling the marriage vow, which included the promise “for better or for worse”) and leaving the outcome to God, who not only, as Creator, is capable of so ordering His world that He can work the matter out for good but also, as a faithful Creator, can be depended on to do so.”

So not only are Christian wives expected to stay with their abusers and endure abuse without fear, they have to continue “fulfilling their marriage responsibilities” (i.e. sex). Again, no comment.

Lots of spiritual sounding jargon in the last part, intended to guilt trip you into following Adams commands.

I also believe God is fully capable of ordering his world, however I believe the whole Bible, which Adams doesn’t. I believe that God ordained authorities to punish evildoers. God USES the authorities as “servants of God”, remember?

“The Christian is forbidden to take her husband to law (1 Corinthians 6); instead, she is to call the elders of the church…But if he should fail to respond to all the help intelligently given, fail to change according to biblical principles, then the church must put him out and she then may treat him “as a heathen and a publican.” Practically speaking, that means she may call upon legal authorities if necessary to restrain him.”

Again, what is the timeline for all this to happen in?

Adams then recommends you to one of his gazillion unhelpful books, on church discipline, so you can learn how to practice church discipline as effectively as you’ve just learned how to safeguard abusers. Adams, who constantly talked about the “sufficiency of Scripture” for counseling, wrote over 100 books.

As recently as 2020, John Street, head of graduate studies in biblical counseling at The Master’s University, preached a sermon on marital abuse in John MacArthur’s church, where he told spouses to “be a missionary in their marriage.” He went on to praise a Puritan wife for saying that she would stay in her marriage even if her husband horsewhipped her every day. (28) John Street Praises Wife for Staying in Marriage Where She's 'Horsewhipped' Every Day - YouTube He compared spouses enduring marital abuse to missionaries enduring persecution.

In lectures for an Advanced Biblical Counseling class at TMU, Street is shown saying that the only reason for a wife to separate from her husband is if the church deems there is “imminent danger…of death.” He cautions his students against reporting abuse to the police otherwise. Head of Counseling at John MacArthur’s School: Wife Should Endure Abuse (

Jay Adams may be dead, but his message is still spreading. Most Fundamentalist colleges and universities offer majors in “nouthetic counseling” or “biblical counseling.” Sadly, this is creeping into evangelicalism, and several Southern Baptist seminaries, as well as other evangelical colleges are incorporating this into their education. Even the Gospel Coalition, a well respected evangelical movement, endorses Biblical counseling and has articles on their website referring to Adams.

While I do believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, I believe the entire thing, including that governments are to punish evildoers. And while I do believe God can change hearts and bring people to repentance, I think that repenting can best be done from behind bars.

If we ever want the tsunami of abuse to stop washing over our churches, we need to ride ourselves of these harmful and twisted teaching, cooperate with the authorities instead of hiding from them, and provide support for abuse survivors. I hope this challenges your view of nouthetic counseling and leads you to grieve with me for the injustice we have done the vulnerable in our midst.

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