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Luther's Small Catechism

  1. The Ten Commandments
  2. The Apostles' Creed
  3. The Lord's Prayer
  4. Baptism
  5. Confession
  6. The Sacrament of the Altar
  7. Appendix: Devotions

Originally translated in 1994 by the Rev. Robert E. Smith; language significantly altered. Public domain. Apostles' Creed proper is ELLC translation, with traditional "descended into hell" replacing "descended to the dead."


The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
Part One: The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, is found at Exodus 20:1-20 and Deuteronomy 5:1-22.

The Lutheran numbering of the Decalogue differs somewhat from other systems. Often the Second Commandment is You shall not make for yourself any idol, which is not to be found in the Lutheran reckoning. The remainder of the Commandments are shifted by one. Commandments 9 and 10 (Lutheran) are often joined as You shall not covet.

Three translations of the commandments are given below. BCP refers to the Episcopal (USA) Book of Common Prayer.


The First Commandment

Traditional: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
BCP Traditional: Thou shalt have none other gods but me.
BCP Contemporary: You shall have no other gods but me.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect, love, and trust God more than anything else.

The Second Commandment

Traditional: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
BCP Traditional: Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.
BCP Contemporary: You shall not invoke with malice the Name of the Lord your God.
Alternative: You must not misuse your God's name.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect and love God, so that we will not use God's name to curse, swear, cast a spell, lie or deceive, but will use it to call upon God, pray to God, praise and thank God in all times of trouble.

The Third Commandment

Traditional: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Or: Thou shalt sanctify the Holy Day.
BCP Traditional: Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.
BCP Contemporary: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect and love God, so that we will not look down on preaching or God's Word, but consider it holy, listen to it willingly, and learn it.

The Fourth Commandment

Traditional: Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
BCP Traditional: Honor thy father and thy mother.
BCP Contemporary: Honor your father and your mother.
Alternative: You must honor your father and mother [so that things will go well for you and you will live long on earth].

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect and love God, so that we will neither look down on our parents or superiors nor irritate them, but will honor them, serve them, obey them, love them, and value them.

The Fifth Commandment

Traditional: Thou shalt not kill.
BCP Traditional: Thou shalt do no murder.
BCP Contemporary: You shall not commit murder.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect and love God, so that we will neither harm nor hurt our neighbors' bodies, but help our neighbors and care for them when they are ill.

The Sixth Commandment

Traditional: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
BCP Traditional: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
BCP Contemporary: You shall not commit adultery.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect and love God, so that our words and actions will be clean and decent and so that everyone will love and honor their spouses.

The Seventh Commandment

Traditional: Thou shalt not steal.
BCP Traditional: Thou shalt not steal.
BCP Contemporary: You shall not steal.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect and love God, so that we will neither take our neighbors' money or property, nor acquire it by fraud or by selling them poorly made products, but will help them improve and protect their property and career.

The Eighth Commandment

Traditional: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
BCP Traditional: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
BCP Contemporary: You shall not be a false witness.
Alternative: You must not tell lies about your neighbor.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect and love God, so that we will not deceive by lying, betraying, slandering or ruining our neighbors' reputations, but will defend them, say good things about them, and see the best side of everything they do.

The Ninth Commandment

Traditional: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.
BCP Traditional: Thou shalt not covet.
BCP Contemporary: You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Alternative: You must not desire your neighbor's house.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect and love God, so that we will not attempt to trick our neighbors out of their inheritance or house, take it by pretending to have a right to it, etc., but help them to keep and improve it.

The Tenth Commandment

Traditional: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.
BCP Traditional: Thou shalt not covet.
BCP Contemporary: You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Alternative: You must not desire your neighbor's spouse, servant, maid, animals or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We must respect and love God, so that we will not release our neighbors' cattle, take their employees from them or seduce their spouses, but urge them to stay and do what they ought to do.

The Conclusion to the Commandments

Q. What does God say to us about all these commandments?

A. This is what God says:

"I am the Lord Your God. I am a jealous God. I plague the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who hate me with their ancestor's sin. But I make whole those who love me for a thousand generations." (Exodus 20:5b-6 and Deuteronomy 5:9b-10)

Q. What does it mean?

A. God threatens to punish everyone who breaks these commandments. We should be afraid of God's anger because of this and not violate such commandments. But God promises grace and all good things to those who keep such commandments. Because of this, we, too, should love and trust God, and willingly do what God's commandments require.


The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
Part Two: The Apostles' Creed

I. The First Article: On Creation

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Q. What does this mean?

A. I believe that God created me, along with all creatures. God gave to me: body and soul, eyes, ears and all the other parts of my body, my mind and all my senses and preserves them as well. God gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and land, spouse and children, fields, animals, and all I own. Every day God abundantly provides everything I need to nourish this body and life. God protects me against all danger, shields and defends me from all evil. God does all this because of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, not because I've earned it or deserved it. For all of this, I must thank, praise, serve, and obey God. Yes, this is true!

II. The Second Article: On Redemption

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Q. What does this mean?

A. I believe that Jesus Christ is truly God, born of the Father in eternity and also truly human, born of the Virgin Mary. Christ is my Lord! Christ redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, bought and won me from all sins, death, and the authority of the Devil. It did not cost him gold or silver, but his holy, precious blood, his innocent body -- his death! Because of this, I am Christ's very own, will live under Christ in his kingdom and serve Christ righteously, innocently and blessedly forever, just as Christ is risen from death, lives and reigns forever. Yes, this is true!

III. The Third Article: On Becoming Holy (Sanctification)

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Q. What does this mean?

A. I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with her gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as she calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith. In this Church, she generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, she will raise me and all the dead from the grave. She will give eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. Yes, this is true!


The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
Part Three: The Lord's Prayer

The Lord's Prayer, or Our Father, is found at Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.

Introduction

Traditional: Our Father, who art in heaven,
Contemporary: Our Father in heaven,

Q. What does this mean?

A. In this introduction, God invites us to believe that God is our real Father and we are God's real children, so that we will pray with trust and complete confidence, in the same way beloved children approach their beloved Father with their requests.

The First Petition

Traditional: hallowed by thy Name,
Contemporary: hallowed be your Name,
Alternative: may your name be holy,

Q. What does this mean?

A. Of course, God's name is holy in and of itself, but by this request, we pray that God will make it holy among us, too.

Q. How does this take place?

A. When God's Word is taught clearly and purely, and when we live holy lives as God's children based upon it. Help us, Heavenly Father, to do this! But anyone who teaches and lives by something other than God's Word defiles God's name among us. Protect us from this, Heavenly Father!

The Second Petition

Traditional: thy kingdom come,
Contemporary: your kingdom come,

Q. What does this mean?

A. Truly God's Kingdom comes by itself, without our prayer. But we pray in this request that it come to us as well.

Q. How does this happen?

A. When the Heavenly Father gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we believe God's holy Word by God's grace and live godly lives here in this age and there in eternal life.

The Third Petition

Traditional: thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Contemporary: your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Alternative: may your will be accomplished, as it is heaven, so may it be on earth.

Q. What does this mean?

A. Truly, God's good and gracious will is accomplished without our prayer. But we pray in this request that is be accomplished among us as well.

Q. How does this happen?

A. When God destroys and interferes with every evil will and all evil advice, which will not allow God's Kingdom to come, such as the Devil's will, the world's will and will of our bodily desires. It also happens when God strengthens us by faith and by the Word and keeps living by them faithfully until the end of our lives. This is God's will, good and full of grace.

The Fourth Petition

Traditional: Give us this day our daily bread.
Contemporary: Give us today our daily bread.

Q. What does this mean?

A. Truly, God gives daily bread to evil people, even without our prayer. But we pray in this request that God will help us realize this and receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

Q. What does "Daily Bread" mean?

A. Everything that nourishes our body and meets its needs, such as: Food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, yard, fields, cattle, money, possessions, a devout spouse, devout children, devout employees, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and other things like these.

The Fifth Petition

Traditional: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Contemporary: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Alternative: And forgive our guilt, as we forgive those guilty of sinning against us.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We pray in this request that our Heavenly Father will neither pay attention to our sins nor refuse requests such as these because of our sins and because we are neither worthy nor deserve the things for which we pray. Yet God wants to give them all to us by God's grace, because many times each day we sin and truly deserve only punishment. Because God does this, we will, of course, want to forgive from our hearts and willingly do good to those who sin against us.

The Sixth Petition

Traditional: And lead us not into temptation,
Contemporary: Save us from the time of trial,

Q. What does this mean?

A. God tempts no one, of course, but we pray in this request that God will protect us and save us, so that the Devil, the world and our bodily desires will neither deceive us nor seduce us into heresy, despair or other serious shame or vice, and so that we will win and be victorious in the end, even if they attack us.

The Seventh Petition

Traditional: but deliver us from evil.
Contemporary: and deliver us from evil.
Alternative: but set us free from the Evil One.

Q. What does this mean?

A. We pray in this request, as a summary, that our Father in Heaven will save us from every kind of evil that threatens body, soul, property and honor. We pray that when at last our final hour has come, God will grant us a blessed death, and, in God's grace, bring us to Godself from this valley of tears.

Amen.

Amen.

Q. What does this mean?

A. That I should be certain that such prayers are acceptable to the Father in Heaven and will be granted, that God has indeed commanded us to pray in this way and that God promises to answer us. Amen. Amen. This means: Yes, yes it will happen this way.


The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
Part Four: The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

I.

Q. What is Baptism?

A. Baptism is not just plain water, but it is water contained within God's command and united with God's Word.

Q. Which Word of God is this?

A. The one which our Lord Christ spoke in the last chapter of Matthew:
"Go into all the world, teaching all nations, and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (
Matthew 28:18-20)

II.

Q. What does Baptism give? What good is it?

A. It gives the forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the Devil, gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, just as God's words and promises declare.

Q. What are these words and promises of God?

A. Our Lord Christ spoke one of them in the last chapter of Mark:
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be damned." (Mark 16:15-16)

III.

Q. How can water do such great things?

A. Water doesn't make these things happen, of course. It is God's Word, which is with and in the water. Because, without God's Word, the water is plain water and not Baptism. But with God's Word it is a Baptism, a grace-filled water of life, a bath of new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul said to Titus in the third chapter:
"Through this bath of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, which was poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that we, justified by the same grace are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying." (Titus 3:4-8)

IV.

Q. What is the meaning of such a water Baptism?

A. It means that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, in turn, a new person daily come forth and rise from death again. He will live forever before God in righteousness and purity.

Q. Where is this written?

A. St. Paul says to the Romans in chapter six: "We are buried with Christ through Baptism into death, so that, in the same way Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, thus also must we walk in a new life." (Romans 6:4)


The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
Part Five: Confession

I.

Q. What is confession?

A. Confession has two parts:

  • First, a person admits his or her sin
  • Second, a person receives absolution or forgiveness from the confessor, as if from God Godself, without doubting it, but believing firmly that his or her sins are forgiven by God in Heaven through it.

II.

Q. Which sins should people confess?

A. When speaking to God, we should plead guilty to all sins, even those we don't know about, just as we do in the "Our Father," but when speaking to the confessor, only the sins we know about, which we know about and feel in our hearts.

Q. Which are these?

A. Consider here your place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Are you a father? A mother? A son? A daughter? A husband? A wife? A servant? Are you disobedient, unfaithful or lazy? Have you hurt anyone with your words or actions? Have you stolen, neglected your duty, let things go or injured someone?


The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
Part Six: The Sacrament of the Altar

I.

Q. What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

A. It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under bread and wine for us Christians to eat and to drink, established by Christ himself.

II.

Q. Where is that written?

A. The holy apostles Matthew, Mark, and Luke and St. Paul write this:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the night on which he was betrayed, took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said: "Take. Eat. This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me." In the same way he also took the cup after supper, gave thanks, gave it to them, and said: "Take and drink from it, all of you. This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you to forgive sins. This do, as often as you drink it, to remember me."

III.

Q. What good does this eating and drinking do?

A. These words tell us: "Given for you" and "Shed for you to forgive sins." Namely, that the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given to us through these words in the Sacrament. Because, where sins are forgiven, there is life and salvation as well.

IV.

Q. How can physical eating and drinking do such great things?

A. Of course, eating and drinking do not do these things. These words, written here, do them: "given for you" and "shed for you to forgive sins." These words, along with physical eating and drinking are the important part of the sacrament. Anyone who believes these words has what they say and what they record, namely, the forgiveness of sins.

V.

Q. Who, then, receives such a sacrament in a worthy way?

A. Of course, fasting and other physical preparations are excellent disciplines for the body. But anyone who believes these words, "Given for you," and "Shed for you to forgive sins," is really worthy and well prepared. But whoever doubts or does not believe these words is not worthy and is unprepared, because the words, "for you" demand a heart that fully believes.


The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
Appendix: Devotions

Morning Devotions

As soon as you get out of bed in the morning, you should bless yourself with the sign of the Holy Cross and say:

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, say the Creed and pray the Lord's Prayer. If you wish, then you may pray this little prayer as well:

My Heavenly Father, I thank you, through Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, that you kept me safe from all evil and danger last night. Save me, I pray, today as well, from every evil and sin, so that all I do and the way that I live will please you. I put myself in your care, body and soul and all that I have. Let your holy Angels be with me, so that the evil enemy will not gain power over me. Amen.

After that, with joy go about your work and perhaps sing a song inspired by the Ten Commandments or your own thoughts.

Evening Devotions

When you go to bed in the evening, you should bless yourself with the sign of the Holy Cross and say:

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, say the Creed and pray the Lord's Prayer. If you wish, then you may pray this little prayer as well:

My Heavenly Father, I thank you, through Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, that you have protected me by your grace. Forgive, I pray, all my sins and the evil I have done. Protect me, by your grace, tonight. I put myself in your care, body and soul and all that I have. Let your holy angels be with me, so that the evil enemy will not gain power over me. Amen.

After this, go to sleep immediately with joy.

Saying Grace and Returning Thanks at Meals

The children and servants should come to the table modestly and with folded hands and say:

All eyes look to you, O Lord, and you give everyone food at the right time. You open your generous hands and satisfy the hunger of all living things with what they desire. (Psalm 145:15-16)

Note: 'What they desire" means that all animals get so much to eat, that they are happy and cheerful. Because, worry and greed interferes with such desires.

After this, pray the Lord's Prayer and the following prayer:

Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us and these gifts, which we receive from your generous hand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.