Luther publishes (in German) A Brief Explanation of the Ten Commandments (Eine Kurze Erklärung der Zehn Gebote). It contains the Decalogue with brief explanations of each commandment, their transgression, and their fulfillment.[1] It is development of medieval confessional manuals, but Luther replaces their catalogs of virtues and vices with a confessional preparation and instruction based on the Ten Commandments. This is the beginning of Luther’s exposition of the chief parts of the catechism.[2]


The First Commandment
You shall have no other gods.  To “have a god” is to have someone or something you look to for help in all good things and protection from all bad — which is just what the one true God wants to be, and even is!

The Second Commandment
You shall not misuse the Name of God, your Lord.  For God’s Name is at once: Truth, Wisdom, Goodness, Power — as well as the name of every other good.  Let no one ascribe these names to themselves!

The Third Commandment
You shall hallow the Day of Rest.  The best way to “rest” is, in all you do on this day, to hope in the One who fills the hungry and needy with good things [Lk. 1:53].  For to “rest” is to be free of cares.  …

The First Commandment is transgressed:

  • When you, in your misfortune, seek spells, black magic, or alliances with the devil;
  • When you use magical letters, symbols, herbs, words, curses, and so forth;
  • When you go around with divining rods, seek treasure with incantations, try to seek the future in crystal balls, wear magic capes, or use spells to prevent animals from giving milk;
  • When you direct your work and life according to predetermined days, signs in the heavens, and the conjectures of fortune tellers;
  • When you attempt to protect your life, your cattle, your house, your children, or any kind of goods and possessions against wolves, frost, fire, water, and other injury, by blessing them with superstitious prayers and oaths;
  • When you ascribe misfortune and adversity to the devil or to evil men and don’t accept (with love and praise) both good and evil from God alone, bringing it back to him with thanksgiving and willing submission;
  • When you test God by putting your body or soul in unnecessary danger;
  • When you are arrogant on the basis of your own piety, understanding, or another spiritual gift;
  • When you honor God and the saints not out of spiritual need, but only for the sake of temporal gain.

The Second Commandment is transgressed:

  • When you swear (without needing to) casually, out of habit;
  • When you swear an oath falsely, or break your promise;
  • When you praise someone or swear with evil intent;
  • When you use God’s Name to curse;
  • When you discuss foolish stories about God or frivolously twist the words of Scripture;
  • When you don’t call on God’s name in adversity, and do not praise him whether happy or sad, in good times or bad;
  • When you seek glory and honor and recognition for your own capabilities, wisdom, etc.;
  • When you call on God’s Name in an improper way, like the heretics and all arrogant believers.

The Third Commandment is transgressed:

  • When you overeat or drink, engage in games of chance, dancing, idleness, or immodesty;
  • When you neglect worship, oversleeping (out of laziness), or just strolling about or being engaged in useless conversation … or when you work or carry on business without a special need;
  • When you fail to pray, or to meditate on Christ’s suffering, or don’t regret your sins and desire grace;
  • Also, when you only celebrate the Lord’s Day outwardly, getting dressed up and showing up to eat. …

The Fulfillment of the Ten Commandments of God

The First Commandment is fulfilled (kept):

  • When you fear and love God in true faith and steadfast trust, wholly pure and upright, and faithful to God in all things, whether bad or good.

The Second Commandment is fulfilled:

  • When you praise, honor, glorify, and call on God’s Name and do away with your own honor, so that God alone might be praised, for only he is and is at work in everything.

The Third Commandment is fulfilled:

  • When you present yourself to God and seek his grace, which comes through praying, hearing the Mass and the Gospel, meditating on Christ’s suffering, and in this way being spiritually prepared to go to the Sacrament. This commandment requires a humble soul, which, conscious of its own inability, surrenders itself to God, letting him be God so that his work and his Name might increase in you in conformity to the first two commandments. …

(translation: Daniel Kowert)


[1] Today’s excerpt includes the three parts (explanation of the Commandment, its transgression, and its fulfillment) for the first three Commandments only.

[2] Luther had preached a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments between July 1516 and February 1517, which was published (in Latin) in July 1518. The brief pamphlet quoted today was his first catechetical work for the German laity.

2 thoughts on “1518

  1. Luther’s explanation of the 10 Commandments in his Small Catechism is certainly some of his best work! It is insightful, profound, and succinct all at the same time.


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