The Second Table of the Law

More in our series on THE SMALL CATECHISM. The first group of commandments is about loving God; the rest of the commandments are about loving our neighbors. Notice how the commandments zero in on vocation: loving and serving your neighbor in the course of ordinary life. Also how both avoiding doing wrong and positively doing right flow out of true faith and a right relationship with God (“we should fear and love God, so that. . .”).

Honor your father and your mother, that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise our parents or superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love and esteem them.
You shall not kill.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do no bodily harm to our neighbor, but help and befriend him in every need.
You shall not commit adultery.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and that husband and wife each love and honor the other.

You shall not steal.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or goods, nor get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his goods and means of making a living.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not craftily seek to gain our neighbor’s inheritance or home, nor get it by a show of right, but help and serve him in keeping it.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not tempt, force or coax away from our neighbor his wife or his workers, but urge them to stay and do their duty.


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  • WebMonk

    Any thought on why “kill” is used in the 5th? It doesn’t change things, but I’ve typically heard that the translation of the Hebrew into “kill” instead of “murder” was a happening peculiar to the KJV.

    Any particular reason it is translated as “kill” in the BoC instead of the more proper “murder”? I don’t read German, so I wouldn’t even begin to be able to find out if the translation to “kill” is in the German too, or just the English translation.

    Just a curiosity.

  • Which translation is this? I’m interested in the “parents or superiors” instead of “parents and other authorities.”

    Notice in all of these who Luther expands and intensifies each commandment. In the 5th and 6th commandments, he is following Jesus’ exposition in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus equates hatred with murder.

    I’ve often wondered whether Luther got 9 and 10 right. Coveting is desire, idolatry really (Col 3:5). Luther seems to describe the actual taking possession of the thing coveted.

  • In German the “kill” is “toeten”, which is “kill” not “murder” (ermorden).

    I think what Luther is stressing in the 9th and 10th is the dissimulation, the pretense of doing things in a legal but immoral fashion. Hence the desire, the scheming and the doing is all wrong.

  • WebMonk

    So perhaps the 5th is doing something similar in general principle as in the 9th and 10th.

    Instead of using the technically accurate word (murder), the more general word (kill) is used to help set the point that the commandment reaches beyond the strict commandment about murder to also encompass doing harm to others.

  • Webmonk,
    I find it quite peculiar that the word is kill and not murder as given the full council of the word of God we would have to go with murder and not kill as the meaning of the commandment. But I am not sure using the word kill sets any point of the word going beyond murdering to harming our neighbor in any manner.
    Most English Catechisms I am aware of use the word murder and not kill. Though Brigitte is correct the word used in the German is Toeten, and not ermorden.
    O.k I just did a bit a research here. According to my “Collins German Dictionary” Ermorden though strictly speaking means murder, it more generally carries the connotation of assassination. This is perhaps the reason Luther used Toeten instead of ermorden. It would also be interesting to see the development of these two words in the German.

  • This is the translation used by ELS. I like it because it retains “put the best construction on everything,” as opposed to interpret “in the kindest way.”

  • S. Bauer

    WHe Luther uses such phrases as “craftily seek”, “get it by a show of right”, “tempt, force or coax away” – he is emphasizing that the last commandments are not dealing with the outward act, but with the inward desire to do all these things the other commandments forbid under the guise of righteousness. That this is his understanding is bourne out by what he says in the Large Catechism, e.g. “This last commandment therefore is given not for rogues in the eyes of the world, but just for the most pious, who wish to be praised and be called honest and upright people, since they have not offended against the former commandments, as especially the Jews claimed to be, and even now many great noblemen, gentlemen, and princes. For the other common masses belong yet farther down, under the Seventh Commandment, as those who are not much concerned whether they acquire their possessions with honor and right. “