"That We a Godly Life May Live"

Martin Luther and the Ten Commandments


The Ten Commandments occupy a place of special significance in the writings of Martin Luther. This focus may be surprising to some, since one of Luther’s chief contributions to the history of theology is the idea of salvation by faith alone. However, Luther did not regard the Ten Commandments as the legal basis of a system of ethics, but rather as the starting point for a moral life and a necessary reminder of human sinfulness and the need for God’s grace. As such, they are an appropriate starting point for the reformer’s Large and Small Catechisms. Luther also recommended that Christians should “pray the commandments” and even wrote a hymn about the Ten Commandments along with their interpretation–“Dies sind die heiligen zehn Gebot’”–better known in English hymnals as “That Man a Godly Life May Live.” Thus, for Luther the Ten Commandments do not belong to the realm of dogmatic theology, but rather to practical or pastoral theology.

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