A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Second Commandment



O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8)


The Second Commandment.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

(Small Catechism)


These are the holy Ten Commands
Which our Lord God placed in our hands
Through Moses, His own servant true,
When he to Mount Sinai drew.

Thou shalt not take My name in vain
By idle word or speech profane,
And praise but that as good and true
Which I Myself say and do.

God hath giv’n us all these commands
That thou thy sin, O child of man,
Might know, and also well perceive
How unto God man should live.

Help us, Lord Jesus Christ, for we
A Mediator have in Thee.
With works we’d perish from the path;
They merit but endless wrath.
Kyrieleis! (TLH 287/LSB 581)


The Second Commandment.

49] Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.

50] As the First Commandment has instructed the heart and taught [the basis of] faith, so this commandment leads us forth and directs the mouth and tongue to God. For the first objects that spring from the heart and manifest themselves are words. Now, as I have taught above how to answer the question, what it is to have a god, so you must learn to comprehend simply the meaning of this and all the commandments, and to apply it to yourself.

51] If, then, it be asked: How do you understand the Second Commandment, or what is meant by taking in vain, or misusing God’s name? answer briefly thus: It is misusing God’s name when we call upon the Lord God, no matter in what way, for purposes of falsehood or wrong of any kind. Therefore this commandment enjoins this much, that God’s name must not be appealed to falsely, or taken upon the lips, while the heart knows well enough, or should know, differently; as among those who take oaths in court, where one side lies against the other. 52] For God’s name cannot be misused worse than for the support of falsehood and deceit. Let this remain the exact German and simplest meaning of this commandment.

53] From this every one can readily infer when and in how many ways God’s name is misused, although it is impossible to enumerate all its misuses. Yet, to tell it in a few words, all misuse of the divine name occurs, first, in worldly business and in matters which concern money, possessions, honor, whether it be publicly in court, in the market, or wherever else men make false oaths in God’s name, or pledge their souls in any matter. And this is especially prevalent in marriage affairs, where two go and secretly betroth themselves to one another, and afterward abjure [their plighted troth].

The most obvious abuse of the Second Commandment is using God’s name falsely in worldly affairs.  This includes not only swearing by God needlessly or falsely, but also cursing. We break this commandment when we make oaths in the name of God but do not follow through on keeping the oath (Matthew 12:33-37).  Our word is to be our bond, especially when the name of the Lord is invoked.

54] But, the greatest abuse occurs in spiritual matters, which pertain to the conscience, when false preachers rise up and offer their lying vanities as God’s Word.

55] Behold, all this is decking one’s self out with God’s name, or making a pretty show, or claiming to be right, whether it occur in gross, worldly business or in sublime, subtle matters of faith and doctrine. And among liars belong also blasphemers, not alone the very gross, well known to every one, who disgrace God’s name without fear (these are not for us, but for the hangman to discipline); but also those who publicly traduce the truth and God’s Word and consign it to the devil. Of this there is no need now to speak further.

However, the worst abuse of this commandment is false doctrine.  After all false doctrine is nothing more than claiming that God has said, commanded, or promised something that He has not.  This is a heinous sin for with it we lie about God or, even worse, make God a liar.  We also break the First Commandment with this sin as we point people to a false idol that cannot save them (Jonah 2).

In light of this serious sin, we reject unionism, that is worshiping jointly with other Christian denominations we are not in fellowship with. We should not worship with those who confess falsely about God as it confesses either that we agree with their false doctrine or that we don’t care about it.  False doctrine though is a sin because we are breaking the Second Commandment and blaspheming God.  The doctrinal differences between denominations are real and important, we cannot wallpaper them over with platitudes and togetherness.

56] Here, then, let us learn and take to heart the great importance of this commandment, that with all diligence we may guard against and dread every misuse of the holy name, as the greatest sin that can be outwardly committed. For to lie and deceive is in itself a great sin, but is greatly aggravated when we attempt to justify it, and seek to confirm it by invoking the name of God and using it as a cloak for shame, so that from a single lie a double lie, nay, manifold lies, result.

57] For this reason, too, God has added a solemn threat to this commandment, to wit: For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain. That is: It shall not be condoned to any one nor pass unpunished. For as little as He will leave it unavenged if any one turn his heart from Him, as little will He suffer His name to be employed for dressing up a lie. 58] Now, alas! it is a common calamity in all the world that there are as few who are not using the name of God for purposes of lying and all wickedness as there are those who with their heart trust alone in God.

59] For by nature we all have within us this beautiful virtue, to wit, that whoever has committed a wrong would like to cover up and adorn his disgrace, so that no one may see it or know it; and no one is so bold as to boast to all the world of the wickedness he has perpetrated; all wish to act by stealth and without any one being aware of what they do. Then, if any one be arraigned, the name of God is dragged into the affair and must make the villainy look like godliness, and the shame like honor. This is the common course of the world, which, like a great deluge, has flooded all lands. 60] Hence we have also as our reward what we seek and deserve: pestilences, wars, famines, conflagrations, floods, wayward wives, children, servants, and all sorts of defilement. Whence else should so much misery come? It is still a great mercy that the earth bears and supports us.

Using God’s name to cover up sin and shame is also a massive abuse (1 Peter 2:13-25).  Think back to the Garden (Genesis 3).  Adam blames God for giving him Eve.  Another example is all the evil covered up by the Roman Catholics in the name of God. Both the support for abortion among their own members and the pedophilia scandals that have rocked their church, to say nothing of the false doctrine of the papacy promulgated in their midst.

People try to justify their actions by saying the God permits their sin, twisting the Word.  They make their sin sound like the highest service to God.  This is a horrible abuse which both does harm to Christian witness but also angers God who will not hold them guiltless who say such things (Numbers 16).

61] Therefore, above all things, our young people should have this commandment earnestly enforced upon them, and they should be trained to hold this and the First Commandment in high regard; and whenever they transgress, we must at once be after them with the rod, and hold the commandment before them, and constantly inculcate it, so as to bring them up not only with punishment, but also in the reverence and fear of God.

62] Thus you now understand what it is to take God’s name in vain, that is (to recapitulate briefly), either simply for purposes of falsehood, and to allege God’s name for something that is not so, or to curse, swear, conjure, and, in short, to practise whatever wickedness one may.

The First and Second Commandments should be held in high regard.  They should be instilled in our children (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Proverbs 13:24, Ephesians 6:1-4).  Often the First Table of the Law is neglected in favor of the Second, this should not be the case.  The First Table is far more important than the Second Table as love for your neighbor flows from fear, love, and trust of God.

63] Besides this you must also know how to use the name [of God] aright. For when saying: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain, He gives us to understand at the same time that it is to be used properly. For it has been revealed and given to us for the very purpose that it may be of constant use and profit. 64] Hence it is a natural inference, since using the holy name for falsehood or wickedness is here forbidden, that we are, on the other hand, commanded to employ it for truth and for all good, as when one swears truly where there is need and it is demanded. So also when there is right teaching, and when the name is invoked in trouble or praised and thanked in prosperity, etc.; all of which is comprehended summarily and commanded in the passage Ps. 50:15: Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me. For all this is bringing it into the service of truth, and using it in a blessed way, and thus His name is hallowed, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

There are many positive uses of the Second Commandment which include right doctrine, right oaths, and right prayer (Numbers 30:1-2, Psalm 50, Matthew 6:9).  These are all ways to rightly use God’s name.  In fact, He wants us to use His name rightly.  After all, to say that something can be abused also means that there must be a proper use of it.

65] Thus you have the sum of the entire commandment explained. And with this understanding the question with which many teachers have troubled themselves has been easily solved, to wit, why swearing is prohibited in the Gospel Matt 5:24ff, James 5:12; Matt 5:33-37;26:29; Acts 21:20-26, and yet Christ, St. Paul, and other saints often swore. 66] The explanation is briefly this: We are not to swear in support of evil, that is, of falsehood, and where there is no need or use; but for the support of good and the advantage of our neighbor we should swear. For it is a truly good work, by which God is praised, truth and right are established, falsehood is refuted, peace is made among men, obedience is rendered, and quarrels are settled. For in this way God Himself interposes and separates between right and wrong, good and evil. 67] If one part swears falsely, he has his sentence that he shall not escape punishment, and though it be deferred a long time, he shall not succeed; so that all that he may gain thereby will slip out of his hands, and he will never enjoy it; 68] as I have seen in the case of many who perjured themselves in their marriage-vows, that they have never had a happy hour or a healthful day, and thus perished miserably in body, soul, and possessions.

Swearing in itself is not evil.  Rather it is swearing falsely or to a bad cause that is wrong.  It is clear then that swearing in and of itself is not wrong but one should never take an oath lightly.  Thus when we take oaths as citizens to the government, such as in court, we should be sure to keep all that we swear to.  Likewise with marriage vows.  The Lord will hold us accountable for all vows we take.

69] Therefore I advise and exhort as before that by means of warning and threatening, restraint and punishment, the children be trained betimes to shun falsehood, and especially to avoid the use of God’s name in its support. For where they are allowed to do as they please, no good will result, as is even now evident that the world is worse than it has ever been, and that there is no government, no obedience, no fidelity, no faith, but only daring, unbridled men, whom no teaching or reproof helps; all of which is God’s wrath and punishment for such wanton contempt of this commandment.

70] On the other hand, they should be constantly urged and incited to honor God’s name, and to have it always upon their lips in everything that may happen to them or come to their notice. For that is the true honor of His name, to look to it and implore it for all consolation, so that (as we have heard above) first the heart by faith gives God the honor due Him, and afterwards the lips by confession.

71] This is also a blessed and useful habit and very effectual against the devil, who is ever about us, and lies in wait to bring us into sin and shame, calamity and trouble, but who is very loath to hear God’s name, and cannot remain long where it is uttered and called upon from the heart. And, indeed, many a terrible and shocking calamity would befall us if, by our calling upon His name, God did not preserve us. 72] I have myself tried it, and learned by experience that often sudden great calamity was immediately averted and removed during such invocation. To vex the devil, I say, we should always have this holy name in our mouth, so that he may not be able to injure us as he wishes.

We should train our children to shun falsehood and to always have God’s name on their lips (Psalm 8, 34, 66, 105, Matthew 21:12-17, Hebrews 13:14-16).  Having the Lord’s name on our lips also defends us from Satan.  After all one little Word fells him (2 Timothy 2:14-26).  Thus we should train children in right doctrine so they may rightly praise God and rebuke evil.

73] For this end it is also of service that we form the habit of daily commending ourselves to God, with soul and body, wife, children, servants, and all that we have, against every need that may occur; whence also the blessing and thanksgiving at meals, and other prayers, morning and evening, have originated and remain in use. 74] Likewise the practice of children to cross themselves when anything monstrous or terrible is seen or heard, and to exclaim: “Lord God, protect us!” “Help, dear Lord Jesus!” etc. Thus, too, if any one meets with unexpected good fortune, however trivial, that he say: “God be praised and thanked; this God has bestowed on me!” etc., as formerly the children were accustomed to fast and pray to St. Nicholas and other saints. This would be more pleasing and acceptable to God than all monasticism and Carthusian sanctity.

Daily and routine prayers, such as at meals, are important bulwarks against the abuse of this commandment (Psalm 31, Exodus 29:38-46, Mark 8:1-10).  There are a wealth of orthodox resources that can be used for this such as the Lutheran Service Book, Treasury of Daily Prayer (Pray Now App), Oremus, etc.  No matter the shape of your piety one should have a regular pattern of prayer and study of God’s Word that extends outside the Divine Service.

Here also belong good responses to happy and sad events.  Bodily motions also can help, such as crossing oneself as a reminder of one’s Baptism, kneeling, genuflecting, bowing your head, and folding your hands to pray.  All of these actions reinforce a proper understanding and use of the Second Commandment in our lives.

75] Behold, thus we might train our youth, in a childlike way and playfully in the fear and honor of God, so that the First and Second Commandments might be well observed and in constant practise, Then some good might take root, spring up and bear fruit, and men grow up whom 76] an entire land might relish and enjoy. Moreover, this would be the true way to bring up children well as long as they can become trained with kindness and delight. For what must be enforced with rods and blows only will not develop into a good breed, and at best they will remain godly under such treatment no longer than while the rod is upon their back.

77] But this [manner of training] so spreads its roots in the heart that they fear God more than rods and clubs. This I say with such simplicity for the sake of the young, that it may penetrate their minds. For since we are preaching to children, we must also prattle with them. Thus we have prevented the abuse and have taught the right use of the divine name, which should consist not only in words, but also in practise and life, so that we may know that God is well pleased with this, and will as richly reward it as He will terribly punish the abuse.

Teaching our children need not be boring or stodgy either.  Table Talk Radio games are a great example, such as Ten Commandments in the News or Bible Bee.  You can also sing hymns, read books, or play games to teach all of these things.  Regardless of how one does it, fathers need to train their children (Proverbs 10:13, 22:6).

Fathers should be sure that when they train children they speak like them and not go over their heads.  Rather bring them up in the faith, let them grow, first on the pure milk and then move on to the solid food (1 Corinthians 3, 1 Peter 2:1-12).  In this way, you will end up with a joyful Christian who will love the Lord their whole life.

1 At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess Him King of glory now;
’tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

2 At His voice creation sprang at once to sight:
all the angel faces, all the hosts of light,
thrones and bright dominions, stars upon their way,
all the heavenly orders in their great array.

3 Humbled for a season, to receive a name
from the lips of sinners, unto whom He came;
faithfully He bore it spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious when from death He passed;

4 bore it up triumphant, with its human light,
through all ranks of creatures, to the central height,
to the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast,
filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

5 In your hearts enthrone him; there let Him subdue
all that is not holy, all that is not true.
Crown Him as your captain in temptations’ hour;
let His will enfold you in its light and power.

6 Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
in His Father’s glory with His angel train;
for all wreaths of empire meet upon His brow,
and our hearts confess him King of glory now.

7 Glory then to Jesus, who, the Prince of light.
To a world in darkness brought the gift of sight.
Praise to God the Father: in the Spirit’s love
Praise we all together Him who reigns above. Amen. (LSB 512)

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