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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 5: Harmony of the Law, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

The Supplements of the Fifth Commandment

Exodus 21

Exod. 21:15, 17

15. And he that smiteth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death.

15. Qui percusserit patrem suum aut matrem, morte moriatur.

17. And he that curseth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

17. Qui maledixerit patri suo vel matri suae, morte moriatur.

Leviticus 20

Leviticus 20:9

9. For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.

9. Qui maledixerit patri suo aut matri suae morte moriatur: qui patri suo et matri suae maledixit, sanguis ejus super eum.


The commandment is now sanctioned by the denunciation of capital punishment for its violation, yet not so as to comprehend all who have in any respect sinned against their parents, but sufficient to show that the rights of parents are sacred, and not to be violated without the greatest criminality. We know that parricides  8 as being the most detestable of all men, were formerly sewn up in a leathern sack and cast into the water; but God proceeds further, when He commands all those to be exterminated who have laid violent hands on their parents  9 or addressed them in abusive language. For to smite does not only mean to kill, but refers to any violence, although no wound may have been inflicted. If, then, any one had struck his father or mother with his fist, or with a stick, the punishment of such an act of madness was the same as for murder. And, assuredly, it is an abominable and monstrous thing for a son not to hesitate to assault those from whom he has received his life; nor can it be but that impunity accorded to so foul a crime must straightway produce cruel barbarism. The second law avenges not only violence done to parents, but also, abusive words, which soon proceed to grosser insults and atrocious contempt. Still, if any one should have lightly let drop some slight reproach, as is often the case ill a quarrel, this severe punishment was not to be inflicted upon such, all inconsiderate piece of impertinence: and the word קלל, kalal, from which the participle used by Moses is derived, not only means to reproach, but also to curse, as well as to esteem lightly, and to despise. Whilst, therefore, not every insult, whereby the reverence due to parents was violated, received the punishment of death, still God would have that impious pride, which would subvert the first principles of nature, held in abhorrence. But, inasmuch as it might seem hard that a word,  10 however unworthy of a dutiful son, should be the cause of death; this objection is met, by what is added by God in Leviticus, “his blood shall be upon him, because he hath cursed his father or mother:” as if He would put a stop to what men might otherwise presume to allege in mitigation of the severity of the punishment.

Deuteronomy 21

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

18. If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them;

18. Quum quis habuerit filium perversum et rebellem, non obedientem voci patris sui et matris suae, et castigaverint illum, nec paruerit illis:

19. Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place:

19. Tum apprehendent cum pater eius et mater eius, educentque ad seniores urbis suae et portam loci sui:

20. And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.

20. Dicentque senioribus urbis, Filius iste noster perversus et rebellis est, non obediens voci nostrae, epulo est ac comessator.

21. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

21. Tunc lapidabunt eum omnes homines urbis suae lapidibus, et morietur: atque ita auferes malum e medio tui, universusque Israel audiet, et timebit.


18. If a man have a stubborn. What God had previously adverted to in two clauses, tie now embraces in a general law, for it cannot be doubted but that by rebellious children all are designated who are abusive or insulting to their father and mother. For if it be a capital crime to be disobedient to parents, much more is it to strike, or beat them, and to assail them with reproachful words. In sum, Moses declares that those are deserving of death who are of such a stubborn and intractable disposition as to reject the authority of their father and mother, and to hold them in contempt. Whence also we infer what it is to honor our father and mother, for the punishment is only denounced for the transgression of the Commandment. When, therefore, the law delivers over to death all who contumaciously rebel against the discipline of their parents, it follows that they have refused them their due honor. An admirable means, however, of moderating the severity of the law is introduced, when God requires the case to be decided on the evidence of the father and mother; and commands that it should be publicly heard, so that none may be condemned at the will of private individuals. By the Roman law the power of life and death over his children  11 was given to the father, because it was not probable that fathers would be carried away by such senseless inhumanity as to deal cruelly with their own bowels; but, since sometimes fathers are found who are not unlike wild beasts, and examples show us that many, blinded by hate or avarice, have not spared their own children, this concession of the Roman law is justly to be repudiated. I allow, indeed, that those who desired to inflict punishment on their children called their friends into council; but, whereas, the walls of a private dwelling conceal many disgraceful things, God imposed a much better restraint on parents when He did not suffer them to go further than to lay the information and to give their testimony. For, although he would have credit given to their testimony, still, when the children were brought to the tribunal of the judges, a legal trim undoubtedly ensued; and this form of proceeding is prescribed, viz., that the father and mother should bring their son and make their complaint before the judges of his incorrigible stubbornness. It is true that the sentence is immediately subjoined; yet we must infer, nevertheless, that the judges pronounced it before the criminal was stoned, else it would have been ridiculous that they should sit there like cyphers. The very mention of a trial, therefore, implies that the son was heard in his defense, so as to clear himself of the crime, if he was not guilty of it: for, suppose the moroseness of the father and mother were notorious; or that the father accused the son by the instigation of a stepmother; or that any unworthy spite were discovered; or that the father and mother had conspired to destroy their son in a fit of passion: the defense of the cause is, therefore, implied in the adverb then,  12 for it would have been more than absurd that the son should be condemned without being heard. Especially, when he was to be stoned by the whole people, it was necessary that he should be first convicted; and on this ground he was brought forth publicly, that he might be allowed to plead his cause. But although those were condemned who were addicted to other vices also, yet Moses expressly mentions gluttons and drunkards, to show that, although no capital crime were alleged, still, dissolute profligacy was sufficient, if the son could not be corrected by his parents; for it is plain that those are in a desperate state who have so east away submissiveness and shame as to receive no profit from the admonitions of their parents. From the end of the verse we gather what was the twofold object of the punishment — that the earth should be purged of the sins whereby it was in a manner, polluted, and that the death of him who had transgressed might be an example to all.

Exodus 22

Exodus 22:28

28. Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.

28. Diis non detrahes, et principi populi tui non maledices.

Deuteronomy 20

Deuteronomy 20:9

9. And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people.

9. Quum finem fecerint praefecti militares loquendi ad populum, constituent principes turmarum in capite populi.


Exodus 22:28. Thou shalt not revile the gods. These four passages confirm what I have said, that in the: Fifth Commandment are comprised, by synecdoche all superiors in authority.: For it was not the design of God to add to the Two Tables, as if something better and more perfect had afterwards come into His mind; which it is sinful to suppose. He was therefore content with the rule once laid down, although He afterwards spoke in a more explanatory manner. But the precepts here given would be unconnected with the Law, if they were not an adjunct, and therefore a part, of the Fifth Commandment.

First of all, He commands that we should think and speak reverently of judges, and others, who exercise the office of magistrate: nor is it to be questioned, that, in the ordinary idiom of the Hebrew language, He repeats the same thing twice over; and consequently that the same persons are called “gods,” and “rulers of the people.” The name of God is, figuratively indeed, but most reasonably, applied to magistrates, upon whom, as the ministers of His authority, He has inscribed a mark of His glory. For, as we have seen that honor is due to fathers, because God has associated them with Himself in the possession of the name, so also here His own dignity is claimed for judges, in order that the people may reverence them, because they are God’s representatives, as His lieutenants, and vicars. And so Christ, the surest expositor, explains it, when He quotes the passage from Ps 82:6, “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High,” (Joh 10:34,) viz., “that they are called gods, unto whom the word of God came,” which is to be understood not of the general instruction addressed to all God’s children, but of the special command to rule.

It is a signal exaltation of magistrates, that God should not only count them in the place of parents, but present them to us dignified by His own name; whence also it clearly appears that they are not to be obeyed only from fear of punishment, “but also for conscience sake,” (Ro 13:5,) and to be reverently honored, lest God should be despised in them. If any should object, that it would be wrong to praise the vices of those whom we perceive to abuse their power; the answer is easy, that although judges are to be borne with even if they be not the best,  13 still that the honor with which they are invested, is not a covering for vice. Nor does God command us to applaud their faults, but that the people should rather deplore them in silent sorrow, than raise disturbances in a licentious and seditious spirit, and so subvert political government.

Leviticus 19

Leviticus 19:32

32. Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord.

32. Ante canitiem assurge, et honora faciem senis, metueque Deum tuum: ego Jehova.


32. Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head. God teaches us that some sparks of His majesty shine forth in old men, whereby they approach to the honor of parents. It is not my purpose to gather quotations from profane authors in reference to the honor due to the old; let it suffice that what God here commands is dictated by nature itself. This appeared at Athens,  14 when an old man had come into the theater, and found no place among his fellow-citizens; but, when at length he was admitted with honor by the Spartan ambassador, (because old age is greatly reverenced among the Lacedemonians,) applause was raised on all sides; and then the Lacedemonian exclaimed, that “the Athenians knew what was right, but would not do it.” It was surely manifested by this universal consent of the people that it is a natural law in the hearts of all to reverence and honor old men. Many old men, indeed, either by their levity, or lewdness, or sloth, subvert their own dignity; yet, although gray hairs may not always be accompanied by courteous wisdom, still, in itself, age is venerable, according to God’s command.

Deuteronomy 16

Deuteronomy 16:18

18. Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment.

18. Judices et praefectos constitues tibi intra omnes portas tuas quas Jehova Deus tuus dabit tibi per tribus tuas, qui judicent populum judicio justitiae, hoc est recto.


18. Judges and officers shalt thou make. I have placed this passage among the Supplements of the Fifth Commandment, for, if it pleases God that judges should be appointed for ruling the people, it follows that their laws and edicts should be obeyed; and thus the parental authority extends also to them. But, in order that the people may more readily submit themselves to judges, God reminds them that the human race could not otherwise be preserved. Public utility, therefore, renders the authority of magistrates pleasant and agreeable, though it would else be hateful. But, although it be not conceded to all to elect their judges, because God honored His chosen people with this prerogative, still he here recommends in general a regular government, since He signifies that human society cannot hold together unless the lawful rulers have authority to execute justice. Whether, then, magistrates are appointed by the suffrages of the people, or imposed in any other way, let us learn that they are the necessary ministers of God, to confine all men under the yoke of the laws. The latter passage, which I have annexed from Deuteronomy 7, refers to the same thing, viz., that even in war discipline is necessary, lest all things should be thrown into confusion. Now, if it pleases God that certain superior officers should have the command, it follows that they must be obeyed; for it would be ridiculous to appoint governors, if it were lawful to despise them with impunity. When, therefore, God sets military commanders over the people, He enforces the duty of humble submission.



By the Roman law parricides were sewn up in a leathern sack with a dog, a cock, a viper, and a monkey, and east into the sea, or the nearest river. — Vide Cicero pro Rose. Amer., 2:25, 26.


“Ceux qui auront outrage pere ou mere, soit de faict, soit de parole;” those who shall have outraged father or mother either by act or word. — Fr.


“Une injure verbale;” a verbal injury. — Fr.


“A father among the Romans had the power of life and death over his children. He could not only expose them when infants, but, even when his children were grown up, he might imprison, scourge, send them bound to work in the country, and also put them to death by any punishment he pleased, if they deserved it. Sall. Cat., 39.; Liv., 2:41; 8:7; Dionys., 8:79.” — Adam’s Rom. Antiq.


The particle ו sometimes has this force, but is here translated in A V and


“Encore qu’ils ne sont pas tels qu’ils devroyent;” even though they be not what they should. — Fr.


Cicero, de Senectute, 18; and Val. Max., lib. 4:5.

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