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The Fifth Commandment

The Text

The Institutes

The Catechism

The Text

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Exodus 20:12

Rules for Understanding the Commandments

Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law

(links coming in y2k!)
  1. The Authority of the Family
  2. The Promise of Life
  3. The Economics of the Family
  4. Education and the Family
  5. The Family and Delinquency
  1. The Principle of Authority
  2. The Family and Authority
  3. The Holy Family
  4. The Limitation of Man's Authority

The Westminster Larger Catechism (1648)

Question 123: Which is the fifth commandment?
: 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?
: By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant,  

Note: This is one of the most important questions in the Catechism, in my not-so-humble opinion. The ability to honor is the foundation of a prosperous civilization. The inability to honor leads to theft, adultery, and murder, and the violation of all the other commandments. 

For each commandment, one must look to all of these kinds of people to examine ourselves: "Have I offended any of these through my violations of God's Law?" The Fifth Commandment in particular applies to


  • your birth parents,
  • your foster parents,
  • your adoptive parents,


  • your guard in jail,
  • your employer,

Those who are talented and excel you in gifts and graces

  • the guy who knows more about algebra than you do and sometimes helps you with your homework,
  • and the guy who is much better than you are at basketball and continually insults you when you miss an easy lay-up.

Those in authority over us:

  • family
    • your older brother,
    • your aunts and uncles,
  • church
    • your priest or pastor,
  • commonwealth
    • your mayor,
    • your popularly-elected president,
    • your totalitarian dictator

The ability to HONOR someone who excels you in some way is one of the most effective antidotes to pride. It truly separates the men from the boys. And that's ironic, because it says that the test of maturity is the ability to act as an obedient child. Tyrants are childish. Those who can submit to them with grace are true men. They are then, like Joseph, exalted over all of Egypt.

The Commandment also applies to those the Catechism calls "inferiors." This doesn't mean people who are in some way "defective." It means those whom God has entrusted to you to care for in some way, whether for a life or only for a moment. Parents care for their children as "inferiors," employers care for employees, babysitters care for their "inferiors," and those who have developed the gifts given them by God have duties to those who are less gifted or have not yet developed their talents. Parents, employers, governors, adults, and all those in authority have duties to their "inferiors" and must be careful not to abuse their authority and sin against their "inferiors."

Finally, each of us have duties to others as "equals."

When we more thoroughly study this commandment, we will see a vast array of personal relationships open up before us, relationships we have de-personalized, relationships to which all the other commandments can be applied. We sometimes forget that our boss or our maid or our neighbor are human beings and we have duties toward them all. This commandment helps us remember our relationships and our duties.

Question 125: Why are superiors styled father and mother?
: Superiors are styled father and mother,


Question 126: What is the general scope of the fifth commandment?
Answer: The general scope of the fifth commandment is, the performance of those duties which we mutually owe in our several relations, as inferiors, superiors, or equals.

Question 127: What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors.?
Answer: The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is,

  • fidelity to,
  • defense and
  • maintenance of
their persons and authority,
according to their several ranks,
and the nature of their places;

that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.

Question 128: What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
Answer: The sins of inferiors against their superiors are,

  • envying at,
  • contempt of, and
  • rebellion against,
  • their persons and
  • places,

Question 129: What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?
Answer: It is required of superiors,
according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand,
  • countenancing,
  • commending, and
  • rewarding
such as do well;                                              
  • and discountenancing,
  • reproving, and
  • chastising
such as do ill;
  • and by
    • grave,
    • wise,
    • holy, and
    • exemplary carriage,
  • to procure
    • glory to God,
    • honor to themselves, and
    • so to preserve that authority which God has put upon them.

Question 130: What are the sins of superiors?
: The sins of superiors are,

  • counseling,
  • encouraging,
  • or favoring them
in that which is evil;
  • dissuading,
  • discouraging, or
  • discountenancing them
in that which is good;

correcting them unduly;

  • careless exposing, or
  • leaving them to
  • wrong,
  • temptation, and
  • danger;
  • or any way dishonoring themselves,
  • or lessening their authority,
  • by an unjust,
  • indiscreet,
  • rigorous, or
  • remiss behavior.

Question 131: What are the duties of equals?
: The duties of equals are,

Question 132: What are the sins of equals?
: The sins of equals are,

Question 133: What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment, the more to enforce it?
: The reason annexed to the fifth commandment, in these words,

That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God gives thee,

is an express promise of long life and prosperity, as far as it shall serve for God's glory and their own good, to all such as keep this commandment.

The Westminster Larger Catechism (1648) explains our duties under the Fifth Commandment. You will notice that the brilliant Puritan Theologians who compiled the Catechism discerned duties in passages of Scripture which do not begin with the words "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not." Every word of God is a command for us.   But even the "thou shalts" and the "thou shalt nots" demand more from us than we might first think: How to Study the Ten Commandments

How to use the Catechism for a Moral Inventory

First, you must agree that the Catechism has correctly explained the implications of the Commandment. Assuming it has, you must agree with God that you are obligated to carry out those principles in your life.

Second you must ask yourself if you have violated each aspect of the command.

Third, you must take steps to develop the Character of Christ, and eliminate "character defects" from your life.

The Ten Commandments Home Page

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