Ten Commandments

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Moses holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
Moses smashing the Tables of the Law is a painting by Rembrandt van Rijn

The Ten Commandments are a set of rules or laws, God gave to the people of Israel.[1] The commandments exist in different versions. One version can be found in the Book of Exodus of the Bible. Another version can be found in the Book of Horeb. In the book of Exodus, the mountain is called Mount Sinai, the book of Horeb talks about Mount Horeb.[2] Both are probably different names for the same mountain. The rules were written on stone tablets. These rules are important for Judaism and Christianity and for all societies based on their principles.

Sometimes these rules are also called Decalogue (from Greek, can be translated as ten statements). The name decalogue first occurs in the Septuagint. The Israelites received the commandments after they had left Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose. There are different texts talking about the commandments. Most of them are in the Bible: The Book of Exodus, Chapter 20 and the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 5. The Qu'ran mentions the tablets but does not list exactly the same commandments. For instance Quran 17:23-39 starts with worshipping God alone and honouring your parents.

The Ten Commandments[change | change source]

(Exodus 20:2-17)

  1. I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not worship Gods before me.
  2. Thou shall not make idols.
  3. Thou shall not take the lord's name in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  6. Thou shall not kill.
  7. Thou shall not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shall not steal.
  9. Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  10. Thou shall not covet thy neighbour's goods.

In the Bible[change | change source]

The Bible in Basic English[3] translates the commandments from Exodus in this way:

  • 1 And God said all these words: 2 I am - the Lord, took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the prison-house. 3 You are to have no other gods but me.
  • 4 You are not to make an image or picture of anything in heaven or on the earth or in the waters under the earth: 5 You may not go down on your faces before them or give them worship: for I, the Lord your God, am a God who will not give his honour to another; and I will send punishment on the children for the wrongdoing of their fathers, to the third and fourth generation of my haters; 6 And I will have mercy through a thousand generations on those who have love for me and keep my laws.
  • 7 You are not to make use of the name of the Lord your God for an evil purpose; whoever takes the Lord's name on his lips for an evil purpose will be judged a sinner by the Lord
  • 8 Keep in memory the Sabbath and let it be a holy day. 9 On six days do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on that day you are to do no work, you or your son or your daughter, your man-servant or your woman-servant, your cattle or the man from a strange country who is living among you: 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and everything in them, and he took his rest on the seventh day: for this reason the Lord has given his blessing to the seventh day and made it holy.
  • 12 Give honour to your father and to your mother, so that our life may be long in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
  • 13 Do not murder.
  • 14 Do not be false to the married relation.
  • 15 Do not take the property of another.
  • 16 Do not give false witness against your neighbor.
  • 17 Let not your desire be turned to your neighbor's house, or his wife or his man-servant or his woman-servant or his ox or his ass or anything which is his.

Differences in teachings and interpretation[change | change source]

These commandments are translated from ancient Hebrew to Basic English, so the exact words chosen may not mean to us exactly what they meant to the Hebrews. There are a variety of interpretations of these commandments:

The Creation of the Sun and the Moon is a fresco in the Sistine Chapel. It was done by Michelangelo. It shows an image of God.

One understanding on the commandment to not make "any image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above" is as from Roman Catholicism: they hold that "likenesses" may be built and used, as long as the object is not worshipped. The Eastern Orthodox Church has a very similar position. Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that the incarnation of an invisible God as a visible human, Jesus, makes it alright to worship images (see Iconoclasm). But, for Jews, Muslims, and most other Christians that violates the commandment.

Jehovah's Witnesses criticize the use of all of the above, as well as the use of the cross. The Amish forbid any sort of image, such as photos.

Sabbath day

Jews honor the Sabbath (Shabbat) from sundown on Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night, the seventh day of the week on the Jewish calendar.

Most Christians honor the Sabbath on Sunday to remember the Resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week on the Jewish calendar.

Some conservative Christians are "Sabbatarians" (most of these follow the Reformed traditions). Sabbatarians think the first day of the week or Lord's Day is the new Sabbath, because the 4th commandment has never been revoked and Sabbath-keeping is in any case a creation ordinance.

Others believe that the Sabbath remains as a day of rest on Saturday, while Sunday as a day of worship, in reference to Acts 20:7: the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread and to hear the preaching of the apostle Paul. Also, Jesus appeared to his followers on the "first day of the week" while they were in hiding.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, and some others, believe that the custom of meeting for worship on Sunday originated in paganism, specifically Sol Invictus and Mithraism (in which sun god worship took place on Sunday). Instead, Adventists keep Saturday as the Sabbath as a memorial to God's work of creation[4] believing that none of the Ten Commandments can ever be destroyed.[5] Seventh-day Sabbatarians claim that the seventh day Sabbath was kept by the majority of Christian groups until the 2nd and 3rd century, but because of opposition to Judaism after the Jewish-Roman wars, the original custom was gradually replaced by Sunday as the day of worship.

Married relations

To "be false to the married relation", called adultery, is when a married person has sexual relations with a person other than his or her spouse. Having sex without marriage is fornication and is a sin, King James Bible the original unchanged English version.

Killing or murder

There are different translations of this commandment; the Hebrew words לא תרצח are translated either as "thou shal not kill" or "thou shalt not murder". Older Protestant translations of the Bible, those based on the Vulgate and Roman Catholic translations usually translate it "Thou shalt not kill". Jewish and newer Protestant versions tend to use "You shall not murder". There are different opinions as to which translation is more faithful to the original.

The many examples in the Old Testament of killing sanctioned by God, are quoted in defense of the view that "murder" is more accurate. Furthermore, the Hebrew word for "kill" is "הרג" - "harog", while the Hebrew word for "murder" is "רצח" - "retzach", which is found in the Ten Commandments "לא תרצח" - "lo tirtzach".

In the New Testament, Jesus talked about who was guilty of breaking these commandments. He said that even if someone was just angry and rude to another person, he might be judged for murder, and if he just looked with desire or lust at a woman, he had committed adultery in his heart.[6]


Many theologians (such as German Old Testament scholar A. Alt: Das Verbot des Diebstahls im Dekalog (1953)) suggest that commandment "you shall not steal" was originally intended against stealing people—abductions and slavery. This would be the same as the Jewish interpretation of the statement as "you shall not kidnap" (e.g. as stated by Rashi).

False witness

To "give false witness" called lying, includes all lying. Lying in court is called perjury. To knowingly give a false truth.

Different numbering[change | change source]

The Bible does not number the commandments. Different religious groups have numbered them in different ways. The Jews, followed by Christian Protestants, end the first commandment with "You are to have no other gods but me." as above. Catholics and Lutherans end the first commandment at "I will have mercy through a thousand generations on those who have love for me and keep my laws." and separate in their last two commandments the desire for a man's wife from the desire for other things he owns.

The commandments passage in Exodus has more than ten important statements, there are 14 or 15 in all. While the Bible itself gives the count as "10", using the Hebrew phrase ʻaseret had'varim—translated as the 10 words, statements or things, this phrase does not appear in the passages usually presented as being "the Ten Commandments".[7] Various religions divide the commandments differently. The table below shows those differences.

Division of the Ten Commandments by religion/denomination
Commandment Jewish Orthodox Roman Catholic, Lutheran** Most other Christians
I am the Lord your God 1 1 1 preface
You shall have no other gods before me 2 1
You shall not make for yourself an idol 2 2
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God 3 3 2 3
Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy 4 4 3 4
Honor your Father and Mother 5 5 4 5
You shall not murder* 6 6 5 6
You shall not commit adultery 7 7 6 7
You shall not steal 8 8 7 8
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor 9 9 8 9
You shall not covet your neighbor's house 10 10 9 10
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife 10


* The Roman Catholic Church uses the translation 'kill' (less specific than 'murder').[8]
** Some Lutheran churches use a slightly different division of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments (9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; 10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his workers, or his cattle, or anything that is your neighbor’s).[9]

Other religions[change | change source]

In general, religions other than those mentioned (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) do not recognise the Ten Commandments as ethical standards. Many of them (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, etc.) have similar laws or principles though.[10] In the atheist Soviet Union the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism was a set of rules that resembled the Ten Commandments.

Comparison between the Ten Commandments and the Buddhist Five Precepts[source?]
Ten Commandments Buddhist Five Precepts
I am the Lord your God
You shall have no other gods before me
You shall not make for yourself an idol
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God
Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
Honor your Father and Mother
You shall not murder abstain from hurting and killing both human and animals
You shall not commit adultery abstain from sexual misconduct
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife
You shall not steal abstain from taking what is not given (e.g. stealing, displacements that may cause misunderstandings)
You shall not covet your neighbor's house
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor abstain from bad speech (e.g. telling lies, hurting words, deceiving, manipulating)
abstain from intoxicating drugs and drinks which lead to carelessness

The Ritual Decalogue[change | change source]

The term "Ten Commandments" generally applies to the list mentioned in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. However, there is a continuous story being told starting in Exodus 31:18 (where the stones are created), Exodus 32:19 (where the tablets are broken) and Exodus 34. This story lists a very different set of commandments. This version is sometimes called "Ritual Decalogue". Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the people after him who followed the documentary hypothesis, note that Exodus 34:28 seems to refer to these Ten Commandments rather than the traditional ones. These people thought that the commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 show a later set of Ten Commandments, and that the ten listed in Exodus 34 were the original Ten Commandments, now known as the Ritual Decalogue (as opposed to the better-known "Ethical Decalogue"). The differences between the two Decalogues highlight the development of sacred texts over a long time and from differing narrative traditions by incorporating two differing sets of Ten Commandments.

Influence[change | change source]

The commandments have influenced Jewish ethics and law and, through Judaism and Christianity, Western ethics and law since the Roman Empire.[11] Moses is the founder of basis of the philosophy of law as well as such modern legal doctrines as independent judiciary and separation of powers.[12]

In the arts[change | change source]

Film[change | change source]

There have been two famous films of this name; both were directed by Cecil B. DeMille, a silent movie in 1923, and a movie in 1956, starring Charlton Heston as Moses. The movie was the biggest money making movie of the year.

References[change | change source]

  1. (Exodus 19:23), "Did God speak at Mt. Sinai". SimpleToRemember.com. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  2. Deuteronomy 5:2
  3. "Exodus 20: Bible in Basic English". BasicEnglishBible.com. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  4. Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-11, Exodus 16:23,29-30
  5. Matthew 5:17-19, Exodus 31:16
  6. Matthew 5:28
  7. Exodus  34:28, Deuteronomy  4:13, Deuteronomy  10:4
  8. "Catechism of Catholic Church". , also see Killing or murder
  9. Catechism Christian Doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland Church Council Helsinki 2000) [1]PDF (126 KiB)
  10. "World Scripture: The Decalogue by Andrew Wilson". Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  11. *Coogan, Michael (2014). The Ten Commandments; A Short History of an Ancient Text. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300178715. 
  12. Barenboim Peter, Biblical Roots of Separation of Powers, Moscow, Letny Sad, 2005. ISBN 5943811230, Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2006400578

Other websites[change | change source]