Luther on Idolatry in the Appendix to the First Commandment

moses-ten-commandmentsWe all know the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods” (or more literally, You shall have no other gods before My face). Although we don’t recite these words when listing the Commandments in the Small Catechism, Moses records what the Lord had to say about these words:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).

For such a short commandment (at least by word count), Luther writes at great length in the Large Catechism (1529) about it, including a lengthy discourse on the Appendix. His words speak to issues in our day: What does God think of idolatry? Is it such a big deal to call on another god? Is God so loving and tolerant that He would share the spotlight with other gods? Hear Luther on the Appendix to the First Commandment (LC III.35-40):

He has also demonstrated this in all history, as the Scriptures abundantly show and daily experience still teaches. For from the beginning He has utterly extirpated all idolatry, and, on account of it, both heathen and Jews; even as at the present day He overthrows all false worship, so that all who remain therein must finally perish. Therefore, although proud, powerful, and rich worldlings [Sardanapaluses and Phalarides, who surpass even the Persians in wealth] are now to be found, who boast defiantly of their Mammon, with utter disregard whether God is angry at or smiles on them, and dare to withstand His wrath, yet they shall not succeed, but before they are aware, they shall be wrecked, with all in which they trusted; as all others have perished who have thought themselves more secure or powerful.

And just because of such hardened heads who imagine because God connives and allows them to rest in security, that He either is entirely ignorant or cares nothing about such matters, He must deal a smashing blow and punish them, so that He cannot forget it unto children’s children; so that every one may take note and see that this is no joke to Him. For they are those whom He means when He says: Who hate Me, i.e., those who persist in their defiance and pride; whatever is preached or said to them, they will not listen; when they are reproved, in order that they may learn to know themselves and amend before the punishment begins, they become mad and foolish so as to fairly merit wrath, as now we see daily in bishops and princes.

But terrible as are these threatenings, so much the more powerful is the consolation in the promise, that those who cling to God alone should be sure that He will show them mercy, that is, show them pure goodness and blessing, not only for themselves, but also to their children and children’s children, even to the thousandth generation and beyond that. This ought certainly to move and impel us to risk our hearts in all confidence with God, if we wish all temporal and eternal good, since the Supreme Majesty makes such sublime offers and presents such cordial inducements and such rich promises. (emphasis added)

About Pastor Daniel Hinton

Pastor Hinton is associate pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, having majored in poultry science, and of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was ordained on Holy Trinity 2011. He has been married to Amanda for fourteen years, and has five daughters and one son. He grew up in the ELCA, and left in 2004 over issues of scriptural authority. It was because of a faithful Lutheran campus ministry that he was exposed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Much of his ministry at Trinity involves the instruction of the students at Trinity Lutheran School, which has been open since 1892 and now uses a classical pedagogy. He will be writing on situations around “Steadfast in School” and “Steadfast among Others”.


Luther on Idolatry in the Appendix to the First Commandment — 5 Comments

  1. Rock music represents a blatant form of idolatry for many teenagers. Not only do they buy the recordings of their rock idols but they very emphatically with the stars by purchasing cheap magazines that contain the words to rock songs. They also search out sex-oriented pictures and pertinent details about their lives. Many hero-worshippers find out everything possible about their “god.” They pin up pictures of the star on their walls along with a kaleidoscope of songs and lyrics, and defy anyone to say a derogatory word about their idol. These “gods” are a reference point for teenage values, thoughts, and aspirations. Most rock entertainers are happy to exploit this power and influence on their young audiences. The sanctuary of worship for this religion may be a rock concert hall or a radio with ear plugs. Unfortunately the average age of those addicted in such a manner is usually somewhere between twelve and fourteen. Their god is not a graven image of stone or wood but their worship of him is nonetheless an abominable form of idolatry in the eyes of the true God. In their worship of rock entertainers, many teenagers have willfully broken the First Commandment.

    Bob Larson
    The Day Music Died

  2. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?c And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” Eph 10:14-15

  3. PMU :
    @“LC-MS Quotes” #1
    LCMS Quoter, Don’t forget to play the songs backwards! I tried it but it ruined my Ipod.

    Yeah, I never got that. People threw a fit about Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” because of what might have sounded like “my sweet Satan,” but apparently the regular lyrics to the song “Whole Lotta Love” weren’t blatant enough to suggest any unrighteous ideas….

  4. @ #4

    As rock experimented with a self-conscious sophistication, Led Zeppelin, led by lead guitarist Jimmy Page, focused upon the primitive power that had given rock its momentum. They could be sophisticated at times, but never lost the heavy core of raw feeling complete with sexually-oriented lyrics, like their hit “Whole Lotta Love.”

    The film Groupies which explored the life styles of rock groups focused on Led Zeppelin by interviewing one rock prostitute who spoke of the groovy times with the group sniffing cocaine. She intimately revealed that Page had a whip with which he sadistically whacked her.

    Bob Larson
    The Day Music Died

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