The 5th Commandment and the Two Tables of the Law

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au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
"This law, after his Fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man."
-WCF XIX.II

I have read some theologians positing that the 5th commandment might be considered part of the first table - part of our duty before God in some sense. Now, I think it's clear the Confession is right to place it in the second table because clearly parents are people (duh ;) ), but do you think there might be some merit in the idea that obedience to parents might, in some way, fit in the first of the two greatest commandments as much as the second? I'm interested to hear some thoughts on this. :popcorn:

Edit: In other words,, could the 5th commandment fit under "Love the Lord your God" as much as under "Love your neighbor"?
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I have heard this similar thinking within the last 10 years. I think the there is a close tie between honouring your parents as you would God but there is a dividing line. Honouring your Father and your Mother do not carry the same weight as putting God first.

Remember Jesus' words?

(Mat 10:32) Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

(Mat 10:33) But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

(Mat 10:34) Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

(Mat 10:35) For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

(Mat 10:36) And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

(Mat 10:37) He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.


(Mat 10:38) And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

At the same time this is no warrant for disobeying or dishonoring our Parents.

I agree with the Westminster.
 

Christusregnat

Puritan Board Professor
The fifth Commandment likewise entails duties of superiors to their inferiors, and therefore, can't be placed in the first table. God owes duty to none of His inferiors.

Cheers,
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Here's another thought -- that the two tables may not be an enumeration of "what man is to believe concerning God" and "what duty God requires of man" but may be referring to the two copies needed for a covenant. In other words each tablet may have held all of the 10 commandments.

In some ways, the 5th does fall in both sides because all authority is derived from God, but the 5th also established authority within the family.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
The Westminster Standards summarize the doctrine of Scripture to group together, in a general way, the first through fourth and fifth through tenth commandments:

Westminster Larger Catechism

Question 102: What is the sum of the four commandments which contain our duty to God?

Answer: The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.


Question 122: What is the sum of the six commandments which contain our duty to man?

Answer: The sum of the six commandments which contain our duty to man is, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to do to others: What we would have them to do to us.

Notice how the fifth commandment is described in terms of authoritative relationships:

Question 123: Which is the fifth commandment?

Answer: The fifth commandment is, Honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God gives thee.

Question 124: Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?

Answer: By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God's ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.

It recognizes that all these authoritative relationships are ordained by God (e.g. family, church and civil government). Certainly in church we would recognize that God is the authority, e.g. specifically the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture, Christ being the head of His Church, baptism being submitted to in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, etc.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Good stuff all around. Thanks everyone. Please note that in my OP, I said I believe the WCF is right; I was just looking for some thoughts on the merit or lack thereof of this other perspective I have heard.

The fifth Commandment likewise entails duties of superiors to their inferiors, and therefore, can't be placed in the first table. God owes duty to none of His inferiors.

Cheers,

I had never thought to look at the commandment as having obligations from the other side before, but I can definitely see how that makes sense, especially in light of Paul's instructions to parents, masters, etc. Thanks.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Good stuff all around. Thanks everyone. Please note that in my OP, I said I believe the WCF is right; I was just looking for some thoughts on the merit or lack thereof of this other perspective I have heard.

The fifth Commandment likewise entails duties of superiors to their inferiors, and therefore, can't be placed in the first table. God owes duty to none of His inferiors.

Cheers,

I had never thought to look at the commandment as having obligations from the other side before, but I can definitely see how that makes sense, especially in light of Paul's instructions to parents, masters, etc. Thanks.

The Fifth Commandment is an appropriate "bridge" between Commandments 1-4 and the rest of the 10C.

Re God's duties to His creatures, is it not true that in some sense God owes justice to His creatures?

It would be wrong for God to cast Lucifer or Adam and Eve into Hell, before they sinned? It would be wrong of God to cast the unfallen angels into Hell?
 

Skyler

Puritan Board Graduate
The WCF doesn't seem to be saying necessarily that Commandments 1-4 were on the first tablet and 5-10 on the second; I concur with JWithnell that it's more likely to be two identical copies of the ten commandments, since that's the way covenants seem to have been made at that time between a king and his vassals.

Then I think that there is a sense in which obeying the authorities God has placed over you is showing your respect to God, who instituted those authorities--not only parents, but also government, as per Romans 13.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The WCF doesn't seem to be saying necessarily that Commandments 1-4 were on the first tablet and 5-10 on the second; I concur with JWithnell that it's more likely to be two identical copies of the ten commandments, since that's the way covenants seem to have been made at that time between a king and his vassals.

Then I think that there is a sense in which obeying the authorities God has placed over you is showing your respect to God, who instituted those authorities--not only parents, but also government, as per Romans 13.

I wasn't so much referring to the actual physical tablets that the 10C were inscribed on as I was to the division of the commandments into the categories of the two greatest commandments - love of God and love of neighbor.

Good stuff all around. Thanks everyone. Please note that in my OP, I said I believe the WCF is right; I was just looking for some thoughts on the merit or lack thereof of this other perspective I have heard.

The fifth Commandment likewise entails duties of superiors to their inferiors, and therefore, can't be placed in the first table. God owes duty to none of His inferiors.

Cheers,

I had never thought to look at the commandment as having obligations from the other side before, but I can definitely see how that makes sense, especially in light of Paul's instructions to parents, masters, etc. Thanks.

The Fifth Commandment is an appropriate "bridge" between Commandments 1-4 and the rest of the 10C.

Re God's duties to His creatures, is it not true that in some sense God owes justice to His creatures?

It would be wrong for God to cast Lucifer or Adam and Eve into Hell, before they sinned? It would be wrong of God to cast the unfallen angels into Hell?

No, I'm not sure I can agree to that. He is the potter, after all. I would be willing to say that it would be a violation of God's nature not to give perfect justice, but I would not be willing to say he "owes" it to his creatures. More like he owes it to himself. :2cents:

I think your statement about the 5thC being a bridge seems reasonable, though. So it's the beginning of the second category, but it makes a good transition, perhaps? In other words,, it makes sense that it's the first of the second category.
 
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Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
No, I'm not sure I can agree to that. He is the potter, after all. I would be willing to say that it would be a violation of God's nature not to give perfect justice, but I would not be willing to say he "owes" it to his creatures. More like he owes it to himself.

That's probably a more correct way of saying things. God cannot be unjust without violating His own character.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Mt 22:40 reads, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

It seems plain that Jesus is refering to the two basic, natural divisions of the moral law--love to God and love to neighbor. Even if the original tablets each contained all Ten Commandments, it makes little difference to the logical division of them.

So, where does the 5C belong? Most have put it with the latter section, dealing with duty toward neighbor. And we would do well not to confess differently. Let us assign the 5C to the second table.

However, that confession doesn't preclude us from recognizing that there are clear affinities in the 5C to the first table. God, at the highest place, is most deserving of our obedience; and his representative authorities in the world are owed obedience in part because of their derivative authority.

In short, the 5C functions as the transitional Commandment. If there had been only five commandments given in summary of the moral law, it would have been a most fitting conclusion to "the Five Commandments."

One reason for that is that it is not hard to see how the last five commandments are related to the 5C. All the remaining commandments have to do with duties we owe to the neighbor--which the 5C (when it is unpacked, see WLC 103-148) enjoins when it commands our several duties to peers, to inferiors, and to superiors.

So, we could call the relation of the last five commandments to the 5C an example of a biblical "nesting" principle, an initial unpacking of a command. If you want an illustration, think of one of those game shows, that includes a "prize package." Let us say there is awarded 1) a plane trip to Acapulco, 2) an inclusive hotel stay with all activities gratis, 3) meals for the length of the stay, 4) clothes, camera, spending money, and 5) a travelling wardrobe that comes with a set of luggage. The last gift has many pieces, which are individually distinguished from the set; in fact they have such widely divergent functions, someone might not conceive of all as having a relation to the wardrobe.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Mt 22:40 reads, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

It seems plain that Jesus is refering to the two basic, natural divisions of the moral law--love to God and love to neighbor. Even if the original tablets each contained all Ten Commandments, it makes little difference to the logical division of them.

So, where does the 5C belong? Most have put it with the latter section, dealing with duty toward neighbor. And we would do well not to confess differently. Let us assign the 5C to the second table.

However, that confession doesn't preclude us from recognizing that there are clear affinities in the 5C to the first table. God, at the highest place, is most deserving of our obedience; and his representative authorities in the world are owed obedience in part because of their derivative authority.

In short, the 5C functions as the transitional Commandment. If there had been only five commandments given in summary of the moral law, it would have been a most fitting conclusion to "the Five Commandments."

One reason for that is that it is not hard to see how the last five commandments are related to the 5C. All the remaining commandments have to do with duties we owe to the neighbor--which the 5C (when it is unpacked, see WLC 103-148) enjoins when it commands our several duties to peers, to inferiors, and to superiors.

So, we could call the relation of the last five commandments to the 5C an example of a biblical "nesting" principle, an initial unpacking of a command. If you want an illustration, think of one of those game shows, that includes a "prize package." Let us say there is awarded 1) a plane trip to Acapulco, 2) an inclusive hotel stay with all activities gratis, 3) meals for the length of the stay, 4) clothes, camera, spending money, and 5) a travelling wardrobe that comes with a set of luggage. The last gift has many pieces, which are individually distinguished from the set; in fact they have such widely divergent functions, someone might not conceive of all as having a relation to the wardrobe.
Brilliant. I suppose another way of putting it would be to say that the second greatest commandment (love of neighbor) is itself derivative of the absolute greatest commandment (love of God).
 
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