5 God’s commandments

308 What is the Second Commandment?


“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

309 What does the Second Commandment mean?


The Second Commandment warns that one should keep all things that have to do with God and His name holy.

310 What is the significance of the Second Commandment in the Old Testament?


When God identified Himself to Moses in the burning bush, He gave His name. “I AM WHO I AM.” Here the name is not merely a mark of distinction. This name also describes the being of its bearer. Thereby God announces that He is changeless and eternal in His being. Individual human beings experience God in different ways, but God nevertheless remains changeless.

The being and majesty of God must not be infringed in any way. Out of reverence, devout Jews never utter the name “I AM WHO I AM” (Hebrew: Yahweh) aloud. Thereby they seek to avoid any—even unintentional—misuse of God’s name.

“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’.”  Exodus 3: 14

311 What is the significance of the Second Commandment in the New Testament?


Human beings are to speak of God in love, reverence, and full awareness of their responsibility.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He instructed them to address God as the “Father in heaven” (cf. Matthew 6: 9).

When Jesus brought to expression: “And I have declared to them Your name” (John 17: 26), He was thereby illustrating the nature of God, namely love (cf. 1 John 4: 16).

312 What does the Second Commandment mean for us today?


We are to keep all things that have to do with God and His name holy. This applies to our thoughts, speech, and conduct of life.

As Christians we are especially committed to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. As children of God, who bear the name of the Father and the Son, we have a great responsibility to keep the name of God holy.

313 How might one take the name of God in vain?


Blasphemy is a serious abuse of the name of God, by way of which God is intentionally vilified, derided, or berated. Anyone who curses using the name of God or invokes God while telling a lie is taking the name of God in vain. Even the careless use of the names “God”, “Jesus Christ”, or “Holy Spirit” in loose talk or jokes is a violation of the Second Commandment.

In the course of history, people have frequently taken God’s name in vain in order to enrich themselves, wage wars, (e.g. the crusades), discriminate against other human beings, or to torture and kill—all in the name of God.

314 What is the consequence of violating the Second Commandment?


The Second Commandment is the only Commandment that contains a threat of punishment in the case of its violation. The Bible does not tell us what this punishment consists of. For us, the primary motivation for keeping this commandment should be love for God and reverence, not the fear of punishment.

315 Is it a violation of the Second Commandment to swear while invoking the name of God?


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus forbade swearing. It should be understood that this applies to frivolous swearing in daily life, but not, for example, to taking an oath in a court of law.

If someone calls upon God as witness in a mandatory oath formulation (“So help me God”) in order to bring to expression his obligation to be truthful to God, he thereby publicly professes his faith in the omnipotent, omniscient God.

316 What is the Third Commandment?


“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

317 What is the meaning of the Third Commandment?


The Third Commandment is an exhortation to set aside one day of the week in order to worship God and occupy oneself with His word. For Christians this is the Sunday—the day on which Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead.

318 What is the significance of the Third Commandment in the Old Testament?


God rested on the seventh day of the creation and hallowed it. The day of rest has been given to us as a holiday in which we are to thank God for His work of creation and honour Him.

Already before the law was given on Sinai, God had designated the Sabbath as the day that was to be kept holy. During the journey of the people of Israel through the desert, Moses proclaimed: “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord” (Exodus 16: 23).

On the Sabbath, the people of Israel were to rest from their work and turn to God without distraction. The Sabbath served to praise the Creator and commemorate the liberation of Israel from captivity in Egypt. Those who honoured the Sabbath and avoided personal business and idle talk (cf. Isaiah 58: 13-14) were promised blessing.

319 What is the significance of the Third Commandment in the New Testament?


Keeping the Sabbath—the seventh day of the Judaic calendar—holy was part of the law for the Israelites. Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and healed the sick, which was a kind of work, according to the understanding of the Israelites, and thus a violation of the commandment. Here Jesus, the Lord over the Sabbath, made it clear that doing good to others is more valuable than a purely formal fulfilment of the Third Commandment.

‘Synagogues’ are places of worship in which Judaic congregations have gathered for divine service since their captivity in Babylon. These were verbal divine services that consisted of prayer, reading from Holy Scripture, and interpreting it.

“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  Mark 2: 27

320 Why do Christians hallow the Sunday as the “Sabbath”?


Christians hallow the Sunday as the“Sabbath” because Jesus resurrected  from the dead on a Sunday. Thus thefact that Christians hallow the Sunday is also a profession of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A reference to the significance of the Sunday as the holy day of the Christians can be found in Acts 20: 7: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul [...] spoke to them...” Here as well as in 1 Corinthians 16: 2, it is the first day of the week—the Sunday—that is set aside.

321 How do we keep the Sunday holy?


The Sunday should be a day of restand a day of celebration for the soul. Above all, we keep the Sunday holy by worshipping God in divine service, absorbing His word in faith, having our sins forgiven, and partaking worthily of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Keeping the Sunday holy also entails that we preserve and intensify the effects of the divine service upon us.

Those who cannot attend divine services hallow the Sunday by seeking a connection with God and the congregation in prayer. This applies, for example, to those who have to work, as well as the sick, the disabled, or the aged.

The commandment to keep the Sabbath holy calls upon believers to examine their activities to determine the degree to which these are consistent with the purpose of the day that is dedicated to the Lord.

322 What is the Fourth Commandment?


“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”

323 What is the meaning of the Fourth Commandment?


The Fourth Commandment is directed to all people of all ages and requires them to show the respect and appreciation due their father and mother. It is the only commandment that promises a reward.

324 What is the significance of the Fourth Commandment in the Old Testament?


Like the Mosaic Law in general, the Fourth Commandment is linked to the desert migration of the Israelites. The people were to provide help and support to older members of their families, and thereby show them honour. The promise of “long days” was understood as wellbeing in earthly life.


In Israel, the commandment was also understood as an instruction to adults to take care of those who had grown old and tend to them in the case of illness.


Mosaic Law: see Questions 272→ et seq.

325 What is the significance of the Fourth Commandment in the New Testament?


We read that the twelve-year-old Jesus was obedient to His mother Mary and her husband Joseph: “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them” (Luke 2: 51). Jesus’ care for His mother can be clearly inferred when He commended her to the care of Apostle John, even in the hour of His death (cf. John 19: 27).

The letters of Apostle Paul expressly admonish children to be obedient to their parents.

326 What does the Fourth Commandment mean for us today?


No matter their age, children have a duty to honour their parents. The way in which this commandment is concretely put into practice may vary depending on age, social environment, and societal practices.

A child’s duty to obey is, however, limited by the reference of Apostle Peter: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5: 29).

The term “social environment” refers to a person’s living conditions, which include heritage, family and relatives, income and wealth, education, profession, religious affiliation, and other conditions of life.

327 How is the promise of a “long life” to be understood today?


When children honour their parents out of love and gratitude, and thus appreciate them, obey them, and take care of them, the blessing of God will rest upon them. This blessing will reveal itself primarily in spiritual gifts.

In the understanding of the people of the Old Testament, “long life” was an expression of God’s blessing. In the new covenant, the blessing of God is demonstrated primarily in spiritual gifts.


Spiritual blessing: see Question 268→

Spiritual gifts come from God and make the believer “rich”. Among others, these spiritual gifts include love, patience, joy out of the Holy Spirit, knowledge of the truth of the gospel, childhood in God, forgiveness of sins, the sacraments, hope in the fulfilment of God’s promises, and sharing in these promises.

328 Does the Fourth Commandment also imply certain duties for the parents?


Yes. In their lifestyle and in their duty to raise the children, parents carry a great responsibility and are to see to it, through their own God-pleasing conduct, that they do not make it difficult for their children to esteem their parents. If parents do not fulfil these duties, they cannot expect obedience from their children either.

Under no circumstances can the Fourth Commandment be used to justify a child’s duty to obey if such obedience would result in a violation of a divine commandment by either the parents or the child.

329 What is the Fifth Commandment?


“You shall not murder.”

330 What is the meaning of the Fifth Commandment?


Life is given by God. He alone is Lord over life and death. No human being has the right to terminate a human life.

331 What is the significance of the Fifth Commandment in the Old Testament?


The literal translation of the commandment from the Hebrew text is: “You shall not murder”. Accordingly, the Fifth Commandment forbade the unauthorised killing of human beings. It quite expressly did not apply to military service or the death penalty.

332 What is the significance of the Fifth Commandment in the New Testament?


Jesus did not confine the observance of this commandment to its literal fulfilment. The important thing for Him was the individual’s inner attitude. It was for this reason that He said: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgement.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement’” (Matthew 5: 21-22). In 1 John 3: 15 the Apostle supplements this as follows: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer.”

333 What is the significance of the Fifth Commandment for us today?


The beginning and end of human life lies in the hand of God alone. Only He is Lord over life and death.

This commandment continues to apply today even though violence often prevails on earth and though many people have little regard for the lives of others. In addition to the prohibition against terminating human life, it also implies a duty to respect, protect, and preserve human life.

Any violation of the Fifth Commandment is sin. The guilt before God resulting from it may vary (cf. Question 230→).

334 Is an abortion a violation of the Fifth Commandment?


Yes. Unborn life is to be respected and protected because it is to be assumed that a human life given by God exists from the moment of conception onward.

335 Does the Fifth Commandment also apply to suicide?


Yes, because a human life given by God is terminated.