The Ten Commandments

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The scriptures themselves call these the Decalogue (Greek, "ten words"): Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4.

There are actually more than ten commandments in the two scripture passages that detail the law given to Moses on Mt Sinai: Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

I count thirteen imperatives in each passage after the opening "word" that God is the LORD who rescued the Israelites from slavery. There are various methods of grouping the imperatives to arrive at just ten commandments. In the next two sections, I count the opening "word" as a commandment, since that is part of the Protestant tradition, which gives us fourteen commandments total instead of ten.

Comparison table

Topic Exodus 20:1-17 Deuteronomy 5:6-21
Prologue

1 Then God spoke all these words:

4 Face to face, the LORD spoke with you on the mountain from the midst of the fire,

5 while I was standing between the LORD and you at that time, to announce to you these words of the LORD, since you were afraid of the fire and would not go up the mountain:

I am GOD

2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 You shall not have other gods beside me.

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;

5 you shall not bow down before them or serve them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation;

6 but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

6 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

7 You shall not have other gods beside me.

8 You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;

9 you shall not bow down before them or serve them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, bringing punishment for their parents’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation,

10 but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Divine NAME

7 You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.

11 You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.

Sabbath rest

8 Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy.

9 Six days you may labor and do all your work,

10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates.

11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

12 Observe the sabbath day—keep it holy, as the LORD, your God, commanded you.

13 Six days you may labor and do all your work,

14 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or donkey or any work animal, or the resident alien within your gates, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do.

15 Remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

Honor parents

12 Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

16 Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and that you may prosper in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

No murder

13 You shall not kill.

17 You shall not kill.

No adultery

14 You shall not commit adultery.

18 You shall not commit adultery.

No stealing

15 You shall not steal.

19 You shall not steal.

No lying

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

20 You shall not bear dishonest witness against your neighbor.

No coveting

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

21 You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not desire your neighbor’s house or field, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exodus 20:1-17

God alone is God

1. I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.

2. You shall not have other gods besides me.

3. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;

4. You shall not bow down before them or worship them.

For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

5. You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain.

The Sabbath

6. Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God.

7. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you.

In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Parents

8. Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.

Murder

9. You shall not [murder]. [Lo tirtzach!]

Exodus 20:13
NAB footnote to Ex 20:13
"Kill": as frequent instances of killing in the context of war or certain crimes (see vv. 12–18) demonstrate in the Old Testament, not all killing comes within the scope of the commandment. For this reason, the Hebrew verb translated here as “kill” is often understood as “murder,” although it is in fact used in the Old Testament at times for unintentional acts of killing (e.g., Dt 4:41; Jos 20:3) and for legally sanctioned killing (Nm 35:30). The term may originally have designated any killing of another Israelite, including acts of manslaughter, for which the victim’s kin could exact vengeance. In the present context, it denotes the killing of one Israelite by another, motivated by hatred or the like (Nm 35:20; cf. Hos 6:9).
JPFO, "The Ten Commandments, Killing, and Murder: A Detailed Commentary."
Indeed, we find that by far the most common use of R-Tz-Ch is to describe a murderer who kills pre-meditated or with malice. (Deuteronomy 22; Judges 20; 1 Kings 21; 2 Kings 6; Isaiah 1; Jeremiah 7; Ezekiel 21; Hoshea 4, 6; Psalms 42, 62, 94; Proverbs 22; Job 24) When used in this way, the root R-Tz-Ch need not be modified with an adjective or adverb to clarify willful intent; the principle meaning of the word R-Tz-Ch is murder of at least the second degree, possibly first degree. The word implies criminal culpability and guilt, and thus the Sixth Commandment is clearly rendered into English as “do not MURDER.”
Genesis 9:6
Anyone who sheds the blood of a human being, by a human being shall that one’s blood be shed; For in the image of God have human beings been made.

Adultery

10. You shall not commit adultery.

Theft

11. You shall not steal.

Lying

12. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Coveting

13. You shall not covet your neighbor's house.

14. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him."

Deut 5:6-21

God alone is God

1. I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.

2. You shall not have other gods besides me.

3. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth.

4. You shall not bow down before them or worship them.

For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation but bestowing mercy, down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

5. You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.

For the LORD will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain.

The Sabbath

6. Take care to keep holy the sabbath day as the LORD, your God, commanded you.

7. Six days you may labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then, whether by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or ass or any of your beasts, or the alien who lives with you. Your male and female slave should rest as you do.

For remember that you too were once slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you from there with his strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

Parents

8. Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and prosperity in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.

Murder

9. You shall not murder. ["Lo tirtzach!" See the definition of "murder" above.]

Adultery

10. You shall not commit adultery.

Theft

11. You shall not steal.

Lying

12. You shall not bear dishonest witness against your neighbor.

Coveting

13. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

14. You shall not desire your neighbor's house or field, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything that belongs to him.

Jewish Tradition

See "Two Texts with numbering schemes" for an chart of the Philonic, Talmudic, and Augustinian methods of counting to ten in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:4-21.

Judaism 101, "Aseret ha-Dibrot: The "Ten Commandments.'"
But what about the so-called "Ten Commandments," the words recorded in Exodus 20, the words that the Creator Himself wrote on the two stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai (Ex. 31:18), which Moses smashed upon seeing the idolatry of the golden calf (Ex. 32:19)? In the Torah, these words are never referred to as the Ten Commandments. In the Torah, they are called Aseret ha-D'varim (Ex. 34:28, Deut. 4:13 and Deut. 10:4). In rabbinical texts, they are referred to as Aseret ha-Dibrot. The words d'varim and dibrot come from the Hebrew root Dalet-Beit-Reish, meaning word, speak or thing; thus, the phrase is accurately translated as the Ten Sayings, the Ten Statements, the Ten Declarations, the Ten Words or even the Ten Things, but not as the Ten Commandments, which would be Aseret ha-Mitzvot.
"The Ten Commandments."

1. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery in Egypt. 2. You shall have no other gods but me. 3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. 4. You shall remember and keep the Sabbath day holy. 5. Honor your father and mother. 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.


Catholic and Lutheran Traditions

The Catholic method of grouping the commandments into Ten follows the teaching of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).[1] The commandment against idolatry is combined with the prefatory statement and there are two separate kind of coveting prohibited in the ninth and tenth commandments.

1. I am the LORD your God; you shall have no other gods before me.

2. You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain.

3. Remember to keep holy the LORD's Day.

4. Honor your father and your mother.

5. You shall not [murder].

6. You shall not commit adultery.

7. You shall not steal.

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

Reformed Traditions

These traditions treat the first statement as a commandment and have only a single commandment against all kinds of coveting in the tenth commandment.

1. I am the LORD your God.

2. You shall make no graven images.

3. You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain.

4. Remember to keep holy the LORD's Day.

5. Honor your father and your mother.

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 wife or your neighbor's goods.

Gratitude for the Law

Every commandment is a gift. Only the fallen self perceives them as limitations. No good can come to us by breaking the commandments. It is the "glamor of sin" that makes it seem otherwise.

Our American culture gives us a love-hate relationship with the law. We tend to favor freedom and to hate the curbs that law places on our behavior. That distaste for law may be transferred unconsciously to our thinking about God's law.

The commandments act as guard rails. The ground that they leave free is open for exploration and is a source of joy and happiness for us. It is "the glamor of sin"[1] that leads us to think that the commandments are opposed to our happiness. But all sin is contrary to our nature. We can never obtain what is really good by doing what is evil. The life of the Commandments is the good life, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

1. We are designed for union with God. When we are separated from this infinite power supply, we dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. False gods promise us blessings, but they are liars. Putting the living God first in our lives is the foundation for eternal bliss; putting other created goods above God is the root of all evil. If we truly kept the first commandment, we could never break any of the others.
Matthew 22:37-40

37 Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

38 This is the greatest and the first commandment.

39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

2. God has blessed us with the privilege of calling Him by name. He is attentive to everything we say or do and everything fail to say or do. There never is a moment in our day when God is absent from us. He is creating and sustaining us right now. We do not have to go up to Heaven to bring God down to earth; all that is is in God. He is our "all in all" (1 Cor 15:28), for "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). God has revealed to us that the Name of Jesus is "the name above all other names" (Phil 2:9). When we call on that Name, God listens attentively and knows what is in our hearts even before the word is on our lips (Ps 139:4).
3. God invites us to share in His rest. It is a spiritual, psychic, and bodily law that we must sleep routinely and leave all of our cares and concerns in God's hands. God requires us to "let go and let God." He Himself stands watch over us as the Good Shepherd, and feeds us even in the middle of a battlefield (Ps 23:5). Keeping the Lord's day holy sanctifies us. All of our sins are washed away by our Master, just as at the Last Supper (Jn 13:1-7), and He allows us to feast on His Body and Blood.
4. We are eternally indebted to our parents. Every grace and blessing we have ever received or can ever receive comes to us through the life that they gave us. We cannot receive the love of God if we do not love the man and woman through whom He created us. To honor them is to open our hearts to all of God's subsequent blessings, "so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" (Eph 6:3).
5. It is a spiritual law that we cannot injure others without first damaging our own souls. It is good for us not to rage: "let not the sun go down on your wrath" (Eph 4:16). Forgiveness is the path to peace.
6. God designed us to be eternal lovers. Lust kills love. Chastity empowers us to sublimate our passions and appetites so that we truly seek and will the good of the other. "If we don't love those whom we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?" (1 John 4:20).
7. Everything God created is good, "very good" (Gen 1:31). The goods of the earth are good for us if we use them just as much as they help us to attain the end for which we were created, and refrain from using them just as much as doing so would frustrate God's plan for our lives. When we take what is not ours, we sin against both God the Creator and the children of God, whom He loves with His whole heart, His whole mind, and all His strength. God wants us to "eat, drink, and be merry": "Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favors your works. At all times let your garments be white, and spare not the perfume for your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of the fleeting life that is granted you under the sun. This is your lot in life, for the toil of your labors under the sun. Anything you can turn your hand to, do with what power you have" (Eccl 9:7-10). If we work with what God has given us, all will be well; if we take what is not ours, only evil will come from that evildoing.
8. Our minds and hearts are designed to feast on truth. When we lie, we cut ourselves off from "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 14:6). Telling the truth is a blessing to us as well as to those to whom we bear witness. "Honesty is the best policy."
9. Coveting our neighbor's spouse sows the seeds of sin in our lives. It is good for us to see the goodness and beauty of others, and honor all that is honorable in them. It is easier for us to remain chaste and to truly love our neighbors if, when tempted, we "nip it in the bud." This might also be called "building a fence around the Law," a lesson taught by the Jews, so that we avoid not just sin itself but "the near occasions of sin." The sin of lust undercuts the foundations of society.
10. Coveting our neighbor's goods makes us unhappy with the lot God has given us. It poisons our appreciation of who we are and the blessings God has given us. An "attitude of gratitude" is the antidote to this sin, and it makes every day Thanksgiving.

Reflections

God is the author, not the enemy of human happiness. He only forbids us to do things that would destroy our relationship with Him and with others. We lose nothing good by being forbidden to engage in destructive and self-destructive behavior.

References

  1. A phrase from one form for the renewal of our Baptismal promises: "Do you reject the glamor of sin?"

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