A Comparative Analysis of John Calvin and Martin Luther Concerning the First and Second Commandments -- By: Timothy Shaun Price

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 40:0 (NA 2008)
Article: A Comparative Analysis of John Calvin and Martin Luther Concerning the First and Second Commandments
Author: Timothy Shaun Price


A Comparative Analysis of John Calvin and Martin Luther Concerning the First and Second Commandments

by Timothy Shaun Price*

In the Ten Commandments one is able to see a clear expression of God’s moral law presented to the human agent. Though its applicability has at times been in question, throughout Christian history the Ten Commandments have been central to the manner in which believers were instructed in how one is to act. Interestingly, both Calvin and Luther wrote at length concerning their view of the Ten Commandments. Though most church historians focus on the manner in which the Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic traditions differed in the areas of faith and works, or law and gospel, David Steinmetz states, “Some of the fiercest Reformation controversies centered on specific commandments and their meaning for the life of the Christian churches.”1 Examining Luther’s and Calvin’s perspectives upon this topic should provide some insight into the manner in which the Christian should implement the Ten Commandments into his or her life. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to provide a brief introduction and comparison of Luther and Calvin concerning the Ten Commandments with reference to how these two Reformers differed in their interpretation of the Commandments. To provide the reader with some insight into Luther’s and Calvin’s thoughts concerning the Commandments, this paper will deal specifically with the First and Second Commandments.2

Martin Luther

Luther once said:

I have often said, and I will say it again: Whoever rightly understands the Ten Commandments and especially the First Commandment, I will gladly sit at his feet and let him be my doctor (teacher). I consider myself more learned than the fanatics because they do not understand the Ten Commandments. Thank God, I understand them, but I also know that the Ten Commandments remain my Donatus, my ABC book, yes, my Bible, in which I must ever remain a pupil, although I have read through the Bible over and over.3

Luther primarily provides his exposition of the Ten Commandments within his Treatise on Good Works.4 This treatise grew out of Luther being asked to write a sermon on good works in response to being accused by his enemies that his stress upon justification by faith alone would lead to a total neglect of good works, and therefore, to lawlessness and immorality.5 Luther has at least three guiding principles in dealing w...

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