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]

  1. (Exodus 20:2-17 ESV) THE HOLY BIBLE[3]
  1. “You shall have no other gods before me."
  2. “You shall not make yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God are only worthy of worship, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments."
  3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."
  6. “You shall not murder."
  7. “You shall not commit adultery."
  8. “You shall not steal."
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.”

Ten Commandments in the Old Testament Torah[change | change source]

The Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy Chapter 5: verses 1-22 NKJV[4]

5 And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. 4 The Lord talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. 5 I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain. He said:

6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

7 ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.

8 ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 9 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

11 ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

12 ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

16 ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

17 ‘You shall not murder.

18 ‘You shall not commit adultery with somebody’s spouse.

19 ‘You shall not steal.

20 ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

21 ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’

22 “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.

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[5] believing that none of the Ten Commandments can ever be destroyed.[6] 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. He taught his audience that the outward act of adultery does not happen apart from sins of the heart: "From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”[7] In The New Testament Jesus says "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."[8]

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". The Catholic Church believes that endangerment of human life or safety (e.g., by drunkenness, a love of speed on the road, at sea, or in the air, or gross negligence) is a mortal sin that breaks The Fifth Commandment. This includes things such as all air forces in the world, use of atomic weapons or drone warfare. Furthermore, the Catholic Church does not believe in a difference between murder and manslaughter the way the law does. With the exceptions of killing in self-defense (a form of manslaughter in many nations' laws) and killing in war (but not with air force, atomic weapons or drone warfare), the Catholic Church believes all other forms of killing or attempting to kill violate The Fifth Commandment. Another example of violating The Fifth Commandment would be driving on an interstate highway or autobahn. 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".


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). It has also been pointed out time and again that people such as horse thieves or buffalo hunters on the Great Plains of North America were both stealing and, therefore, breaking this Commandment. Furthermore, horse thievery in that era could get a man hanged, as it deprived the victim of the ability to fend for himself.

False witness

To "give false witness" called lying, includes all lying, with the exception of a white lie. 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".[9] 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 and worship it 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 with somebody's spouse 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').[10]
*** The Roman Catholic Church combine the original 2nd commandment with the 1st commandment (although no single biblical passage contains a complete definition of idolatry, the subject is addressed in numerous passages, so that idolatry may be summarized as the worship of idols or images; the worship of polytheistic gods by use of idols or images e.g. ancient Greek gods and their statues. In Abrahamic religions, namely Christianity, Islam and Judaism, idolatry connotes the worship of something or someone other than God as if it were God.) and moving the 3rd to 9th commandment down into 2nd to 8th while dividing the original 10th commandment into two commandments re-arranging them into 9th and 10th instead.
** 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).[11]

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.[12] 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 Buddhists worship their parents as gods.
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.[13]

In the arts[change | change source]

Movies[change | change source]

There have been two famous movie called the Ten Commandments. They both were directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The first was a silent movie in 1923, and the second in 1956, starring Charlton Heston as Moses, was the biggest money making movie of that year.

In Animation[change | change source]

In the anime series Seven Deadly Sins, a Japanese manga and anime by mangaka Nakaba Suzuki, there is a group of characters called the Ten Commandments. These individuals all possess a title and supernatural ability named after each commandment.

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. "Bible Gateway passage: Exodus 20:1-17 - English Standard Version". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2018-07-06.
  4. "Bible Gateway passage: Deuteronomy 5 - New King James Version". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2018-07-06.
  5. Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-11, Exodus 16:23,29-30
  6. Matthew 5:17-19, Exodus 31:16
  7. Mark 7:21-23 (NAB), see also Matthew 15:19-20
  8. Matthew 5:28
  9. Exodus  34:28, Deuteronomy  4:13, Deuteronomy  10:4
  10. "Catechism of Catholic Church"., also see Killing or murder
  11. Catechism Christian Doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland Church Council Helsinki 2000) [1]PDF (126 KiB)
  12. "World Scripture: The Decalogue by Andrew Wilson". Retrieved 2008-01-26.
  13. *Coogan, Michael (2014). The Ten Commandments; A Short History of an Ancient Text. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300178715.

Other websites[change | change source]