Ten Commandments

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According to Exodus 31:18, the Commandments were inscribed on two stone tablets by God himself. Moses is said to have destroyed the tablets in anger over his people's abandonment of their faith. He was then commanded by God to hew and inscribe new tablets; these were deposited in the Ark of the Covenant.

References in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:3-4, 11-13; Psalm 15:2-5, 24:4; Jeremiah 7:9; Hosea 4:2).

Two different versions of the commandments are given in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, but the substance is the same in both of them. The Exodus version differs from that in Deuteronomy in giving a religious motive, instead of a humanitarian one, for observing the Sabbath; also, in prohibiting covetousness, it classifies a man's wife with the rest of his possessions, instead of separately.

Traditionally, the commandments have been enumerated in three ways. In Jewish tradition, the commandments are organized as follows:

(1) the prologue;
(2) prohibition of the worship of any deity but Yahweh, and prohibition of idolatry;
(3) prohibition of the use of the name of God for vain purposes;
(4) observance of the Sabbath;
(5) honoring of one's father and mother;
(6) prohibition of murder;
(7) prohibition of adulter;
(8) prohibition of stealing;
(9) prohibition of giving false testimony; and
(10) prohibition of coveting the property or wife of one's neighbor.

Most Protestants and Orthodox Christians count them differently.
(1a) (J1-2a) They combine the prologue and the prohibition of the worship of any deity but Yahweh as the first commandment,
(2) (J2b) treat the prohibition of idolatry as the second commandment, and
(3-10) (J3-10) follow the traditional Jewish enumeration of the remaining commandments.

Roman Catholics and Lutherans also count them differently. They follow the division used by 4th-century theologian Saint Augustine.
(1b) (J1-2) The prologue and first two prohibitions are combined, and
(2-8) (J3-9) most of the commandments are numbered one less, and
(9-10) (J10) the last is divided into two that prohibit, individually, the coveting of a neighbor's wife and of his property.
Thus, the enumeration of most of the commandments for Roman Catholics and Lutherans differs by one.

Some medieval scholastic philosophers and theologians, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Bonaventure, held that all the commandments are a part of the natural law. They maintained that God revealed the commandments to Moses to remind humankind of its obligations. These scholars were echoing earlier ideas expressed by early Fathers of the Church, such as Tertullian and Augustine, that the commandments had already been engraved on the human heart before they were written on the tablets of stone.

In the New Testament, all the commandments are mentioned but never in a list of ten.

Opinions on how the number of the Commandments were on the two Tablets vary. Some feel that the first Four were on one Tablet, the Commandments that were related to behavior toward God, with the other Six, regarding behavior to mankind, on the other Tablet. Others feel that five Commandments were on each of the two Tablets. No one knows for sure.

Modern religion seems to have broadened 'murder' to 'kill' and to reinterpret 'adultery' to 'fornication'. Nearly all modern Christian society has adopted these changes, which are enormous in scale! Some Protestant Christian Churches believe that one is not allowed to defend one's family or allowed to participate in a war to defend one's country. Most Christian Ministry severely criticize pre-marital sex, claiming (incorrect) basis in the Commandments!

Ten Commandments


General Information

A basic set of divine laws in the Bible, also called the Decalogue (from the Greek deka, "ten," and logos, "word"), the Ten Commandments form the fundamental ethical code of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to the biblical narrative, God gave the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai and inscribed them on two stone tablets. Moses broke the tablets in anger when he found his people worshiping the Golden Calf, but eventually he replaced them and enshrined them in the Ark of the Covenant. Two slightly different versions of the commandments are found in Exod. 20:1 - 17 and Deut. 5:6 - 21.

Two traditions are also adhered to for listing the commandments. Lutherans and Roman Catholics consider the opening prohibitions against false worship as one commandment, whereas most other Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox follow the Hebrew tradition of dividing them into two. The latter maintain the number at ten by combining the final prohibitions against covetousness.

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The opening commandments concern reverence for the one God, who will tolerate no rivals; the making and worship of graven images is forbidden, as is taking God's name in vain; observance of the Sabbath is enjoined. The other commandments regulate human relationships: the injunctions to honor one's parents and the bans on killing, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. The New Testament summarizes the Decalogue in the two great commandments (Mark 12:28 - 31).

S Goldman, Ten Commandments (1963); E Nielsen, Ten Commandments in New Perspective (1968).

Ten Commandments

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The Ten Commandments (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 10:4, marg. "ten words") i.e., the Decalogue (q.v.), is a summary of the immutable moral law. These commandments were first given in their written form to the people of Israel when they were encamped at Sinai, about fifty days after they came out of Egypt (Ex. 19:10-25). They were written by the finger of God on two tables of stone. The first tables were broken by Moses when he brought them down from the mount (32:19), being thrown by him on the ground. At the command of God he took up into the mount two other tables, and God wrote on them "the words that were on the first tables" (34:1). These tables were afterwards placed in the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10:5; 1 Kings 8:9). Their subsequent history is unknown. They are as a whole called "the covenant" (Deut. 4:13), and "the tables of the covenant" (9:9, 11; Heb. 9:4), and "the testimony." They are obviously "ten" in number, but their division is not fixed, hence different methods of numbering them have been adopted. The Jews make the "Preface" one of the commandments, and then combine the first and second. The Roman Catholics and Lutherans combine the first and second and divide the tenth into two. The Jews and Josephus divide them equally. The Lutherans and Roman Catholics refer three commandments to the first table and seven to the second. The Greek and Reformed Churches refer four to the first and six to the second table. The Samaritans add to the second that Gerizim is the mount of worship.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)


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Decalogue is the name given by the Greek fathers to the ten commandments; "the ten words," as the original is more literally rendered (Ex. 20:3-17). These commandments were at first written on two stone slabs (31:18), which were broken by Moses throwing them down on the ground (32:19). They were written by God a second time (34:1). The decalogue is alluded to in the New Testament five times (Matt. 5:17, 18, 19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 7:7, 8; 13:9; 1 Tim. 1:9, 10). These commandments have been divided since the days of Origen the Greek father, as they stand in the Confession of all the Reformed Churches except the Lutheran. The division adopted by Luther, and which has ever since been received in the Lutheran Church, makes the first two commandments one, and the third the second, and so on to the last, which is divided into two. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house" being ranked as ninth, and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife," etc., the tenth.

The Ten Commandments

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The Ten Commandments represents the basic law of the covenant formed between God and Israel at Mount Sinai; though the date of the event is uncertain, the commandments may be dated provisionally in the early part of the thirteenth century B.C. In Hebrew, the commandments are called the "Ten Words," which (via Greek) is the origin of the alternative English title of the commandments, namely the Decalogue. The commandments are recorded twice in the OT; they appear first in the description of the formation of the Sinai Covenant (Exod. 20:2-17) and are repeated in the description of the renewal of the covenant on the plains of Moab (Deut. 5:6-21).

The commandments are described as having been written on two tablets. Each tablet contained the full text; one tablet belonged to Israel and the other to God, so that both parties to the covenant had a copy of the legislation. The first five commandments pertain basically to the relationship between Israel and God; the last five are concerned primarily with the forms of relationships between human beings.

The commandments must be interpreted initially within the context of the Sinai Covenant, which was in effect the constitution of the state in process of formation during the time of Moses and his successor Joshua. Because God was the one who enabled Israel to move toward statehood, as a consequence of his liberating the chosen people from slavery in Egypt, he was also to be Israel's true king. As such, he had the authority to establish Israel's law, as is made clear in the preface to the commandments. Thus, the commandments were initially part of a constitution and served as state law of the emerging nation of Israel.

The fundamental principle upon which the constitution was established was love. God had chosen his people and freed them from slavery only because he loved them. In turn, he had one fundamental requirement of Israel, that they love God with the totality of their being (Deut. 6:5). This commandment to love is provided with a commentary and explanation. As to how the commandment to love might be fulfilled, the first five commandments indicated the nature of the relationship with God which would be an expression of love for God. The second five commandments go further and indicate that love for God also has implications for one's relationships with fellow human beings.

The interpretation of the commandments in their initial context is the source of debate; the following comments indicate in broad outline their primary thrust.

The Ten Commandments functioned first as a part of the constitutional law of a nation; in the teaching of Jesus, they became the ethic of the kingdom of God, adding substance and direction to the "first and great commandment," that we to the "first and great commandment," that we love God with the totality of our beings (Matt. 22:37-38). The commandments as such are not the basis of salvation; rather, to those who have found salvation in the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are a guide toward that fulness of life in which love for God is given rich expression.

P C Craigie
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

W. Harrelson, The Ten Commandments and Human Rights; E. Nielsen, The Ten Commandments in New Perspective; A. Phillips, Ancient Israel's Criminal Law: A New Approach to the Decalogue; J. J. Stamm and M. E. Andrew, The Ten Commandments in Recent Research.

The Ten Commandments

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From: Home Bible Study Commentary by James M. Gray

Exodus Chapter 20:1-11

The Division of the Commandments

The commandments have generally been divided into two "tables": the first including the first four commandments embracing our duty to God, and the second the last six embracing our duty to man (Matt. 22:37-40). The Roman Catholic Church has a different arrangement from the Protestant, making but one commandment of the first two, and in order to maintain the number ten dividing the last into two. The result is that some of their devotional books omit altogether the last half of the first commandment, or what we call the second, which forbids idolatry. Their motive for doing this, to any who are familiar with the worship of that Church, is easily discerned.

Exodus Chapter 20:1-11

The First Table of the Law

The Preface

vv. 1, 2 What is meant by "God spake"? Compare Deut. 5:12, 13, 32, 33, and the conclusion seems irresistible that, as was stated in a preceding lesson, they refer to an articulate voice. Notice the authority by which He speaks: "I am the LORD" (Jehovah), the self-existent, independent, eternal fountain of all being, who has the right to give law to all the creatures He has made. Notice the restriction to the Israelites: "thy God," not only by creation but by covenant relationship and by the great redemption He has wrought in their behalf: "Which have brought thee out, etc." How inexcusable their disobedience under these new circumstances! And ours also, who as Christians have been redeemed by Christ from a bondage infinitely worse, and at a cost unspeakable!

Exodus Chapter 20:12-26

First Commandment

v. 3 "None other gods before Me" means as antagonists in My eyes, "as casting a shade over My eternal being and incommunicable glory in the eye of the worshipper." The primary reference is to the idols the heathen worshipped, not that they really worshipped the idols, but the gods supposedly represented by them. Nor yet are we to imagine these were real gods, for there is none other God save One, but rather demons (Lev. 17:7; Deut. 32:17; Psalm 106:37; 1 Cor. 10:19, 20). How awful to think that even now, professing Christians worship demons through Spiritism, clairvoyance, palmistry and related occultisms (Deut 18:9-22)! Moreover, in the application of this and all the commandments, we should remember that they lay their prohibitions not on the outer conduct merely but the inner actings of the spirit. See Christ's Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:20-48) and Paul in Romans 7;7-11. Hence there may be idolatry without idols in the vulgar sense, and also without worshipping demons in any form. "Whatsoever seeks happiness in the creature instead of the Creator, violates this commandment."

Exodus Chapter 20:12-26

Second Commandment

vv. 4-6 A "graven image" is made of wood, stone or metal; a "likeness" is a picture of any kind as distinguished thereform. The "water under the earth" means "lower in level" than the earth. Was any manifestation of God seen at Sinai (Deut. 4:12, 15)? The Israelities were not to make these things. What command was laid upon them when others made them? What warning is contained in this commandment? Is God "jealous" in the sense of passion, or as expressing the feeling of a holy Being against evil (Deut. 32:21, etc.)?

How does this commandment show the responsibility of parents? Do you suppose this responsibility is limited to this sin? Did not Israel at this time have a striking illustration of it in Egypt? Had not their persection by that people begun just four generations before, and was not the nation now reaping what had been then sown? "Unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Me. Here two thoughts suggest themselves: (1) there is no difference between forsaking God and hating Him; (2) it is not only them that hate Him, i.e., follow in the footsteps of their fathers, who will be visited with the punishment (Ezek. 18:20). Perhaps also a third thought is pertinent, viz: that this warning only applies to the temporal effects of sin and not its eternal consequences, hence a son who turns to God, although he may through the working of divinely-ordained laws of nature suffer physical consequences here, will be spared eternal consequences hereafter.

"Mercy unto thousands of generations" the Revised Version reads. See also Deut. 7:9. Of this also Israel had an illustration before their eyes, as they were now gathering the mercy destined for them in the faithfulness of their father Abraham "Of them that love Me and keep My commandments." Behold what is meant by loving God, viz: keeping His commandments; a declaration which "gives a new character to the whole decalogue, which thus becomes not a mere negative law of righteousness, but a positive law of love"! Let us not conclude these reflections without remarking how far the Greek, Roman, and even some of the Protestant churches have fallen in this regard. From the use of crosses and relics as aiding their bodily senses and quickening devotion, it has been easy to advance to altars, images and pictures not only of the Holy Ghost and Christ but of the Virgin, and the saints and martyrs without number, until at last these objects have themselves become, at least to the ignorant, actual objects of worship. And what superstition, profanation and mockery have grown out of it all! And shall not a jealous God visit for these things?

Exodus Chapter 20:12-26

Third Commandment

v. 7 The "name" of God is that by which He makes Himself known, the expression of His Godhead; hence to take that name "in vain" is to violate His essence. The word for "vain" signifies what is false as well as vain, so that all false swearing or perjury which would make God a witness to a lie, as well as all light or frivolous uses of His name or attributes in conversation, are here prohibited. This does not mean judicial oaths, however, which, as we see by Christ and His apostles, may be acts of Worship in which we solemely call God to witness to the truth (Jer. 4:2). But what of blasphemy and profanity by which some interlard their speech, using such expressions as "God," "Lord," "Christ," "the Lord knows," "O heavens!" "My goodness!" and the like (Matt. 5:33-37)? God "will not hold him guiltless" that does these things. Look at Psalm 139:20, and see who they are that take His name in vain, and then read Mal. 3:5. The third commandment, is of the same gravity as the two preceding, guarding the deity of God as those do His unity and spirituality (Murphy).

Exodus Chapter 20:12-26

Fourth Commandment

vv. 8-11 How does the first word here indicate an earlier origin than Sinai for the institution of the Sabbath? How early was that origin? How does this show that the Sabbath is an obligation for all men, Christians as well as Jews? But "remember" points not simply to an act of memory but a commemoration of the event. Lev. 23:3 and Num. 28:9, 10 confirms this. But it is the "Sabbath" day and not necessarily the seventh day that is to be remembered. This means one day of rest after every six, but not according to any particular method of computing the septenary cycle.

Though the Jewish Sabbath was kept on Saturday, Christians are in accord with the spirit of the commandment in keeping Sunday enriching the original idea of the day of rest by including that of the new creation when our Redeemer rose from the dead. How does God provide for our hallowing of this day, and what is His definition of such hallowing? When He says: "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work," is it an injunction merely, or may it be considered as a permission? Some think there is a diffference between "labor" and "work," the latter term being the more inclusive as involving the management of affairs and correspondence to the word "business."

How is the equality of husband and wife recognized in the wording of this commandment (10)? The responsibility of parents and employers? The rights and privileges of employees? The proper treatment of the lower animals? To what further extent did the obligation of the Israelite extend? Has this any bearing on the present obligation of our nation to compel an observance of the Sabbath on the part of our alien population? Is anything more than secular or servile work intended in this prohibition? Did not Jesus both by precept and example give liberty for works of love, piety and necessity? (Mark 2: 23-28; John 5:16, 17).

What historical reason is assigned for this commandment (11)? And what additional in Deut. 5:15? We thus see that God's authority over and His loving care for us combine to press upon us the obligation of the Sabbath day to say nothing of its advantage to us along physical and other material lines. And thus its observance becomes the characteristic of those who believe in a historical revelation, and worship God as Creator and Redeemer. Questions 1. Can you recite Matthew 22:37- 40? 2. To what demonolatry are some professing Christians addicted? 3. Can you recite Ezekiel 18:20? 4. How do we show love to God? 5. Are you breaking the third commandment in ordinary conversation? 6. What two meanings should be attached to "Remember" in the fourth commandment? 7. Are the Sabbath and the seventh days necessarily identical? 8. To what do we bear testimony in observing the Sabbath?

(Skipping forward in the Commandments . . .)

Exodus Chapter 20:12-26

Seventh Commandment

v. 14 The Hebrew word for "adultery" refers to the unlawful act taking place between man and woman where either or both are married, thus differing from another word commonly translated "fornication" and where the same act is referred to between unmarried persons. Nevertheless, as the sanctity of the marriage relation is the object aimed at it prohibits everything contrary to the spirit of that institution in thought, word or deed. See Matt. 5:27-32. We may therefore include not only lustful looks, motions and verbal insinuations, but modes of dress, pictures, statues, books, theatrical displays, etc., which provoke the passions and incite to the unlawful act. Sins of this character are more frequently forbidden in Scripture and more fearfully threatened than any other, and they are the cause of more shame, crime, misery and death. Moreover, they have one striking characteristic, viz: that "you cannot think or talk about them without being more or less excited and led into temptation." How continually need we be praying the prayer of the Psalmist, 19:12.

The Ten Commandments

Catholic Information

Called also simply THE COMMANDMENTS, COMMANDMENTS OF GOD, or THE DECALOGUE (Gr. deka, ten, and logos, a word), the Ten Words of Sayings, the latter name generally applied by the Greek Fathers.

The Ten Commandments are precepts bearing on the fundamental obligations of religion and morality and embodying the revealed expression of the Creator's will in relation to man's whole duty to God and to his fellow-creatures. They are found twice recorded in the Pentateuch, in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, but are given in an abridged form in the catechisms. Written by the finger of God on two tables of stone, this Divine code was received from the Almighty by Moses amid the thunders of Mount Sinai, and by him made the ground-work of the Mosaic Law. Christ resumed these Commandments in the double precept of charity--love of God and of the neighbour; He proclaimed them as binding under the New Law in Matthew 19 and in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). He also simplified or interpreted them, e.g. by declaring unnecessary oaths equally unlawful with false, by condemning hatred and calumny as well as murder, by enjoining even love of enemies, and by condemning indulgence of evil desires as fraught with the same malice as adultery (Matthew 5). The Church, on the other hand, after changing the day of rest from the Jewish Sabbath, or seventh day of the week, to the first, made the Third Commandment refer to Sunday as the day to be kept holy as the Lord's Day. The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, can. xix) condemns those who deny that the Ten Commandments are binding on Christians.

There is no numerical division of the Commandments in the Books of Moses, but the injunctions are distinctly tenfold, and are found almost identical in both sources. The order, too, is the same except for the final prohibitions pronounced against concupiscence, that of Deuteronomy being adopted in preference to Exodus. A confusion, however, exists in the numbering, which is due to a difference of opinion concerning the initial precept on Divine worship.

The system of numeration found in Catholic Bibles, based on the Hebrew text, was made by St. Augustine (fifth century) in his book of "Questions of Exodus" ("Quæstionum in Heptateuchum libri VII", Bk. II, Question lxxi), and was adopted by the Council of Trent. It is followed also by the German Lutherans, except those of the school of Bucer. This arrangement makes the First Commandment relate to false worship and to the worship of false gods as to a single subject and a single class of sins to be guarded against -- the reference to idols being regarded as mere application of the precept to adore but one God and the prohibition as directed against the particular offense of idolatry alone. According to this manner of reckoning, the injunction forbidding the use of the Lord's Name in vain comes second in order; and the decimal number is safeguarded by making a division of the final precept on concupiscence--the Ninth pointing to sins of the flesh and the Tenth to desires for unlawful possession of goods. Another division has been adopted by the English and Helvetian Protestant churches on the authority of Philo Judæus, Josephus, Origen, and others, whereby two Commandments are made to cover the matter of worship, and thus the numbering of the rest is advanced one higher; and the Tenth embraces both the Ninth and Tenth of the Catholic division. It seems, however, as logical to separate at the end as to group at the beginning, for while one single object is aimed at under worship, two specifically different sins are forbidden under covetousness; if adultery and theft belong to two distinct species of moral wrong, the same must be said of the desire to commit these evils.

The Supreme Law-Giver begins by proclaiming His Name and His Titles to the obedience of the creature man: "I am the Lord, thy God. . ." The laws which follow have regard to God and His representatives on earth (first four) and to our fellow-man (last six).

Being the one true God, He alone is to be adored, and all rendering to creatures of the worship which belongs to Him falls under the ban of His displeasure; the making of "graven things" is condemned: not all pictures, images, and works of art, but such as are intended to be adored and served (First).

Associated with God in the minds of men and representing Him, is His Holy Name, which by the Second Commandment is declared worthy of all veneration and respect and its profanation reprobated.

And He claims one day out of the seven as a memorial to Himself, and this must be kept holy (Third).

Finally, parents being the natural providence of their offspring, invested with authority for their guidance and correction, and holding the place of God before them, the child is bidden to honour and respect them as His lawful representatives (Fourth).

The precepts which follow are meant to protect man in his natural rights against the injustice of his fellows.

His life is the object of the Fifth;

the honour of his body as well as the source of life, of the Sixth;

his lawful possessions, of the Seventh;

his good name, of the Eighth;

And in order to make him still more secure in the enjoyment of his rights, it is declared an offense against God to desire to wrong him, in his family rights by the Ninth;

and in his property rights by the Tenth.

This legislation expresses not only the Maker's positive will, but the voice of nature as well--the laws which govern our being and are written more or less clearly in every human heart. The necessity of the written law is explained by the obscuring of the unwritten in men's souls by sin. These Divine mandates are regarded as binding on every human creature, and their violation, with sufficient reflection and consent of the will, if the matter be grave, is considered a grievous or mortal offense against God. They have always been esteemed as the most precious rules of life and are the basis of all Christian legislation.

Publication information Written by John H. Stapleton. Transcribed by Marcia L. Bellafiore. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

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