Heidelberg Catechism


The Heidelberg Catechism received its name from the place of its origin, Heidelberg, the capital of the German Electorate of the Palatinate. It was written at the request of Elector Frederick III, ruler of the most influential German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. This pious Christian prince, in order that the Reformed Faith might be maintained in his province, commissioned Zacharius Ursinus, twenty-eight years of age and professor of theology at the Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, twenty-six years old and Frederick’s court preacher, to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers. Frederick obtained the advice and cooperation of the entire theological faculty in the preparation of the Catechism.

The Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by a Synod in Heidelberg and published in German with a preface by Frederick III, dated January 19, 1563. Second and third German editions, each with some small additions, as well as a Latin translation were published in Heidelberg in the same year. While the first edition had 128 questions and answers, in the second and third editions, at the request of the Elector, the eightieth question and answer, which refers to the popish mass as an accursed idolatry, was added. In the third edition the 129 questions and answers were divided into 52 “Lord’s Days” with a view to the Catechism’s being explained in one of the services on the Lord’s Day.

In The Netherlands this Heidelberg Catechism became generally and favourably known almost as soon as it came from the press, mainly through the efforts of Petrus Dathenus, who translated it into the Dutch language and added this translation to his Dutch rendering of the Genevan Psalter, which was published in 1566. In the same year, Peter Gabriel set the example of explaining this catechism to his congregation at Amsterdam in his Sunday afternoon sermons. The National Synods of the sixteenth century adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, requiring office-bearers to subscribe to it and ministers to explain it to the churches. (The Three Forms of Unity are The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession of Faith, and The Canons of the Synod of Dordt.)

Question 1

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own,1 but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death,2 to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.3 He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood4, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.5 He also preserves me in such a way6 that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head;7 indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.8 Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life9 and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.10

[1] I Cor. 6:19-20
[2] Rom. 14:7-9.
[3] I Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14.
[4] I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 1:7; 2:2.
[5] John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; I John 3:8.
[6] John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; II Thess. 3:3; I Pet. 1:5.
[7] Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18.
[8] Rom. 8:28.
[9] Rom. 8:15, 16; II Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14.
[10] Rom. 8:14.

Question 2

Q. What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

A. First, how great my sins and misery are;1 second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery;2 third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.3

[1] Rom. 3:9, 10; I John 1:10.
[2] John 17:3; Acts 4:12; 10:43.
[3] Matt. 5:16; Rom. 6:13; Eph. 5:8-10; I Pet. 2:9, 10.

Question 3

Q. From where do you know your sins and misery?

A. From the law of God.1

[1] Rom. 3:20;

Question 4

Q. What does God’s law require of us?

A. Christ teaches us this in a summary in Matthew 22: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.1 This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.2

[1] Deut. 6:5.
[2] Lev. 19:18.

Question 5

Q. Can you keep all this perfectly?

A. No,1 I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour.2

[1] Rom. 3:10, 23; I John 1:8, 10.
[2] Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 7:23; 8:7; Eph. 2:3; Tit. 3:3.

Question 6

Q. Did God, then, create man so wicked and perverse?

A. No, on the contrary, God created man good1 and in His image,2 that is, in true righteousness and holiness,3 so that he might rightly know God His Creator,4 heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify Him.5

[1] Gen. 1:31.
[2] Gen. 1:26-27.
[3] Eph. 4:24.
[4] Col. 3:10.
[5] Ps. 8.

Question 7

Q. From where, then, did man’s depraved nature come?

A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise,1 for there our nature became so corrupt2 that we are all conceived and born in sin.3

[1] Gen. 3.
[2] Rom. 5:12, 18-19.
[3] Ps. 51:5.

Question 8

Q. But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil?

A. Yes,1 unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.2

[1] Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Job 14:4; Is. 53:6.
[2] John 3:3-5.

Question 9

Q. Is God, then, not unjust by requiring in His law what man cannot do?

A. No, for God so created man that he was able to do it.1 But man, at the instigation of the devil,2 in deliberate disobedience3 robbed himself and all his descendants of these gifts.4

[1] Gen. 1:31.
[2] Gen. 3:13; John 8:44; I Tim. 2:13, 14.
[3] Gen. 3:6.
[4] Rom. 5:12, 18, 19.

Question 10

Q. Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished?

A. Certainly not. He is terribly displeased with our original sin as well as our actual sins. Therefore He will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally,1 as He has declared:2 Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them (Galatians 3:10).

[1] Ex. 34:7; Ps. 5:4-6; 7:10; Nah. 1:2; Rom. 1:18; 5:12; Eph. 5:6; Heb. 9:27.
[2] Deut. 27:26.

Question 11

Q. But is God not also merciful?

A. God is indeed merciful,1 but He is also just.2 His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting, punishment of body and soul.3

[1] Ex. 20:6; 34:6, 7; Ps. 103:8-9.
[2] Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Deut. 7:9-11; Ps. 5:4-6; Heb. 10:30-31.
[3] Matt. 25:45-46.

Question 12

Q. Since, according to God’s righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how can we escape this punishment and be again received into favour?

A. God demands that His justice be satisfied.1 Therefore full payment must be made either by ourselves or by another.2

[1] Ex. 20:5; 23:7; Rom. 2:1-11.
[2] Is. 53:11; Rom. 8:3-4.

Question 13

Q. Can we ourselves make this payment?

A. Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily increase our debt.1

[1] Ps. 130:3; Matt. 6:12; Rom. 2:4, 5.

Question 14

Q. Can any mere creature pay for us?

A. No. In the first place, God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed.1 Furthermore, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it.2

[1] Ezek. 18:4, 20; Heb. 2:14-18.
[2] Ps. 130:3; Nah. 1:6.

Question 15

Q. What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?

A. One who is a true1 and righteous2 man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.3

[1] I Cor. 15:21; Heb. 2:17.
[2] Is. 53:9; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26.
[3] Is. 7:14; 9:6; Jer. 23:6; John 1:1; Rom. 8:3-4.

Question 16

Q. Why must He be a true and righteous man?

A. He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin.1 He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner cannot pay for others.2

[1] Rom: 5:12, 15; I Cor. 15:21; Heb. 2:14-16.
[2] Heb. 7:26-27; I Pet. 3:18.

Question 17

Q. Why must He at the same time be true God?

A. He must be true God so that by the power of His divine nature1 He might bear in His human nature the burden of God’s wrath,2 and might obtain for us and restore to us righteousness and life.3

[1] Is. 9:5.
[2] Deut. 4:24; Nah. 1:6; Ps. 130:3.
[3] Is. 53:5, 11; John 3:16; II Cor. 5:21.

Question 18

Q. But who is that Mediator who at the same time is true God and a true and righteous man?

A. Our Lord Jesus Christ,1 whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (I Corinthians 1:30).

[1] Matt. 1:21-23; Luke 2:11; I Tim. 2:5; 3:16.

Question 19

Q. From where do you know this?

A. From the holy gospel, which God Himself first revealed in Paradise.1 Later, He had it proclaimed by the patriarchs2 and prophets,3 and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law.4 Finally, He had it fulfilled through His only Son.5

[1] Gen. 3:15.
[2] Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 49:10.
[3] Is. 53; Jer. 23:5, 6; Mic. 7:18-20; Acts 10:43; Heb. 1:1.
[4] Lev. 1:7; John 5:46; Heb. 10:1-10.
[5] Rom. 10:4; Gal. 4:4, 5; Col. 2:17.

Question 20

Q. Are all men, then, saved by Christ just as they perished through Adam?

A. No. Only those are saved who by a true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all His benefits.1

[1] Matt. 7:14; John 1:12; 3:16, 18, 36; Rom. 11:16-21.