What is the Second Commandment?


The questions and answers below are copied from different catechisms. Please see the note at the end of each question for the reference.

Which is the second commandment?1

The second commandment is, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

What is required in the second commandment?2

The second commandment requires the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances, as God has appointed in His Word. (Deuteronomy 32:46; Matthew 28:20; Deuteronomy 12:32)

What is forbidden in the second commandment?3

The second commandment forbids the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in His Word. (Romans 1:22,23; Deuteronomy 4:15,16; Matthew 15:9; Colossians 2:18)

Does it entirely prohibit us from sculpturing or painting any resemblance?4

No; it only forbids, us to make any resemblances for the sake of representing or worshipping God.

Why is it unlawful to represent God by a visible shape?5

Because there is no resemblance between him who is an eternal Spirit and incomprehensible, and a corporeal, corruptible, and lifeless figure. (Deuteronomy 4:15; Acts 17:29; Romans 1:23.)

What kind of worship is here condemned?6

When we turn to a statue or image intending to pray, we prostrate ourselves before it: when we pay honour to it by the bending of our knees, or other signs, as if God were there representing himself to us.

We are not to understand then that simply any kind of picture or sculpture is condemned by these words. We are only prohibited from making images for the purpose of seeking or worshipping God in them, or which is the same thing, for the purpose of worshipping them in honour of God, or abusing them in any way to superstition and idolatry.7


What does he intimate by the term jealousy?8

That he cannot bear an equal or associate. For as he has given himself to us out of his infinite goodness, so he would have us to be wholly his. And the chastity of our souls consists in being dedicated to him, and wholly cleaving to him, as on the other hand they are said to be polluted with idolatry, when they turn aside from him to superstition.

But why does he, here say a thousand generations, whereas, in the case of punishment, he mentions only three or four?9

To intimate that he is more inclined to kindness and beneficence than to severity. This he also declares, when he says that he is ready to pardon, but slow to wrath. (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8; 145:8.)


  1. Baptist Catechism (1677), Question 55.
  2. Baptist Catechism (1677), Question 56.
  3. Baptist Catechism (1677), Question 57.
  4. Geneva Catachism (1545), Question 144.
  5. Geneva Catachism (1545), Question 145.
  6. Geneva Catachism (1545), Question 147.
  7. Geneva Catachism (1545), Question 148.
  8. Geneva Catachism (1545), Question 152.
  9. Geneva Catachism (1545), Question 159.

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