Star of David - Magen David - Shield of David
Bible Jokes and Study Online

Christian Cross - Latin Cross
Home Jesus FAQ Jesus Timeline Bible Info Stamps Encyclopedia Quizzes Jokes Q & A Resources

The Ten Commandments
Biblical Studies, Research, Archeology and Background Information

More Articles

  • Apocrypha

  • Apostles

  • Ark of the Covenant

  • Bible Code

  • Dead Sea Scrolls

  • Did Jesus Exist?

  • Gospel and Gospels

  • Gospel of Judas

  • Josephus Flavius

  • Jesus in The Talmud

  • Josephus on Jesus

  • Judges of Israel

  • Mount Sinai Location

  • Noah's Ark Location

  • Philistines

  • Pontius Pilate

  • Prophet and Prophecy

  • Prophets of Israel

  • Red Sea Crossing

  • Second Temple

  • Septuagint

  • Shroud of Turin

  • Solomon's Temple

  • Ten Commandments

  • Vulgate

  • Studies and Research

    What Are the Ten Commandments?

    The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, were a list of religious and moral imperatives that according to the Abrahamic religions were written and given by God to the people of Israel from Mount Sinai in the form of two stone tablets.


    The Ten Commandments feature prominently in Judaism and Christianity. The phrase "Ten Commandments" generally refers to the broadly identical passages in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

    The commandments passage in Exodus contains more than ten imperative statements, totaling 14 or 15 in all. However, the Bible itself assigns the count of "10", using a Hebrew phrase translated as the 10 words, statements or things (Deuteronomy 4:13). Religious groups have divided these statements in different ways. The table below highlights those differences using the NRSV translation.

    Commandment Jewish Protestant Catholic / Lutheran / New Church
    I am your God 1 1 1
    You shall have no other gods before Me 2
    You shall not make for yourself an idol 2
    You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God 3 3 2
    Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy 4 4 3
    Honor your parents 5 5 4
    You shall not murder 6 6 5
    You shall not commit adultery 7 7 6
    You shall not steal 8 8 7
    You shall not bear false witness 9 9 8
    You shall not covet your neighbor's wife 10 10 9
    You shall not covet your neighbor's house... 10


    According to Biblical text, the commandments represent the utterances of God on Mount Sinai. God inscribed them into "tables of stone" (Exodus 24:12), also referred to as "tables of testimony" (Exodus 31:18, 32:15) or "tables of the covenant" (Deuteronomy 9: 9, 11, 15), which he gave to Moses. Moses then gave them to the people of Israel in the third month after their Exodus from Egypt. Israel's receipt of the commandments occurred on the third day of preparations at the foot of the mount (Exodus 19).

    After receiving the commandments and returning to Mount Sinai, Moses saw that the Israelites had "defiled themselves", and that his brother, Aaron, had made a Golden Calf and an altar in front of it. Moses, in terrible anger, broke the tablets (Exodus 32:19). God later had Moses carve two other tablets, to replace the ones he smashed (Exodus 34:1, 34:27-28). God himself appears as the writer (Deuteronomy 4:13, 5:18, 9:10, 10:4). This second set, brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses (Exodus 34:29), was placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:16, 25:21, 40:20), hence designated as the "Ark of the Testimony." (Exodus 25:22, Numbers 4:5; cf. 1 Kings 8:9).

    The Bible also makes other references to the commandments. References to them and the consequences for not following them are found throughout the book of Deuteronomy. Jesus refers to the commandments in several verses (Matthew 19:16-19) and condenses them into two general commands: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:34-40).

    The Ten Commandments in Judaism

    Jewish tradition recognizes the Ten Commandments as the ideological basis for the rest 613 commandments mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures; a number of works (starting with Rabbi Saadia Gaon) have made groupings of the commandments according to their links with the Ten Commandments.

    According to Jewish medieval traditions, the first four statements concern the relationship between God and humans, while the next six statements concern the relationships between people. Rabbinic literature holds that the Ten Statements in fact contain 14 or 15 distinct instructions.

    The Ten Commandments in Samaritan Tradition

    Samaritans are an ethnic group of the Levant. Ethnically, they are descended from a group of inhabitants that have connections to ancient Samaria from the beginning of the Jewish Babylonian Exile up to the beginning of the Christian era. Religiously, they are the adherents to Samaritanism, a religion based on the Torah. Samaritans claim that their worship (as opposed to mainstream Judaism) is the true religion of the ancient Israelites, predating the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Their temple was at Mount Gerizim in Nablus, not in Jerusalem.

    In 2005 there were about 700 Samaritans, living mostly in Kiryat Luza on the holy Mount Gerizim near the city of Nablus (Shechem) in the West Bank in the Palestinian Authority, and in the city of Holon in Israel.

    The Samaritan Pentateuch varies in the Ten Commandments passages, both in that their Deuteronomical version of the passage is much closer to that in Exodus, and in the addition of a commandment on the sanctity of Mount Gerizim.

    The Ten Commandments in Christianity

    There are many views of the Ten Commandments supported by different Christian denominations and traditions.

    Most Christians, Protestant and Catholic, maintain that the Mosaic Law was only intended for the children of Israel of the OT and removed when Jesus died on the cross. However, many Christians today tend to regard the Ten Commandments as the basis of civil and moral laws of all humanity. This idea does not include the Sabbath (seventh day of the week) commandment since the majority of Christians, who accept the practice of worship on Sunday, suggest that Sunday is a Sabbatical day, a resting day set aside for worship of God through Jesus Christ, and see no continuing obligation to keep the Saturday ordinances in their Jewish form. Only Sabbaterian denominations, like the Seventh Day Adventists and Seventh Day Baptists, celebrate on Saturday. The same applies to the prohibition against "an idol whether in the form of anything..." (Deuteronomy 5:8), if interpreted literally, would seem to forbid a statue, cross, crucifix, or even a photograph of a person. However, many denominations do not interpret this passage literally. This allows Eastern Orthodox churches to display icons, Roman Catholic churches to contain statues, and many Protestant churches to contain images.

    Lutheran and Roman Catholic Christianity

    The Lutheran and Roman Catholic division of the commandments both follow the one established by St. Augustine (354 - 430), following the then current synagogue scribal division. The first three commandments govern the relationship between God and humans, the fourth through eighth govern public relationships between people, and the last two govern private thoughts.

    The Commandments are seen as general "subject headings" for moral theology, in addition to being specific commandments in themselves. Thus, the commandment to honor father and mother is seen as a heading for a general rule to respect legitimate authority, including the authority of the state. The commandment not to commit adultery is traditionally taken to be a heading for a general rule to be sexually pure, the specific content of the purity depending, of course, on whether one is married or not. In this way, the Ten Commandments can be seen as dividing up all of morality.

    Protestant Christianity

    There are many different denominations of Protestantism, and it is impossible to generalize in a way that covers them all. However, the various teachings can be summarized, in general terms.

    Lutherans, Reformed and Anglicans, and Anabaptists all taught, and their descendants still predominantly teach, that the Ten Commandments have both an explicitly negative content, and an implied positive content. Besides those explicit things that ought not to be done, there are implied things which ought not to be left undone. So besides not transgressing the explicit prohibitions, a faithful person abiding by the commands of God includes keeping the implied obligations of love. The implied ethic contained in the Ten Commandments and indeed in all of Scripture as condensed by Jesus is, "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself", and, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Matthew 22:34-40).

    Lutherans theorize that there is an antithesis between these two sides of the word of God, the positive and the negative. Love and gratitude is a guide to those under the Gospel, and the prohibitions are for unbelievers and profane people. This antithesis between Law and Gospel runs through every ethical command, according to Lutheran understanding.

    Reformed and Anglicans have taught the abiding validity of the commandments, and call it a summation of the "moral law", binding on all people. However, they emphasize the union of the believer with Christ - so that the will and power to perform the commandments does not arise from the commandment itself, but from the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Modern Evangelicalism commonly denies that the Ten Commandments have any abiding validity as a requirement binding upon Christians; however, they contain principles which are beneficial to the believer. This Doctrine is particularly emphatic about the dangers of legalism (Law), and thus, in a distinctive way de-emphasizes the importance of the Ten Commandments (Mosaic Law).

    The non-denominational evangelical ministry of The Way of the Master, headed up by evangelist Ray Comfort and actor Kirk Cameron also deny that the Ten Commandments are to be kept in any legalist sense, but further state that their primary purpose is to serve as a "mirror" for a person to see his or her sin. This is similar to the teachings of Martin Luther as codified in the Formula of Concord, Article VI, second use of the Law. [1]

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church)

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the continued practice of keeping the Ten Commandments as listed in KJV Exodus 20:2-17.

    Jehovah's Witnesses

    Jehovah's Witnesses hold that the commandments were given together with the Mosaic Law and the old covenant. While they understand the Bible as saying Christians are not bound by the Ten Commandments (Colossians 2:13-14), they recognize the importance the Bible places on these principles for living a Christian life (Galatians 6:2; Matthew 22:35-40). They believe that the Sabbatarian law is obsolete.

    The Ten Commandments in Muslim Tradition

    In Islam Moses / Musa is venerated as one of the greatest prophets of God; however, Islam also teaches that the texts of the Torah and the Gospels have been corrupted from their divine originals over the years, due to carelessness or self-interest. Despite this purported corruption, however, messages from the Torah and the Gospels still coincide closely with certain verses in the Qur'an. This is by-and-large the case with the Ten Commandments. Consequently, despite the Ten Commandments not being explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an there are substantially similar verses to the Ten Commandments in the Qur'an.

    The Ten Commandments in Other Faiths

    While other faiths do not generally recognize the Ten Commandments in their unity, many of them (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, etc.) have comparable laws or principles [2]. In atheist Soviet Union the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism had many notions much resembling the Ten Commandments. [3]

    Public Monuments and Controversy in the USA

    There is an ongoing dispute in the United States concerning the posting of the Ten Commandments monuments on public property. Certain conservative religious groups, alarmed by the banning of prayer from public schools by the U.S. Supreme Court, have taken this as a threat to the expression of religion in public life. As a result they have successfully lobbied many state and local governments to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings. As seen above, any attempt to post the Decalogue on a public building necessarily takes a sectarian stance; Protestants, Jews and Roman Catholics number the commandments differently. Hundreds of these monuments – including some of those causing dispute – were originally placed by director Cecil B. DeMille as a publicity stunt to promote his 1956 film The Ten Commandments.[4]

    Secularists and some liberals oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property, arguing that it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

    In contrast, many Conservative or religious groups claim that the commandments are not necessarily religious but represent the moral and legal foundation of society, and are appropriate to be displayed as a historical source of present day legal codes. Also, some conservatives argue that prohibiting the public practice of religion is a violation of the first amendment's freedom of religion. ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.")

    Secularist groups counter that several of the commandments are explicitly religious and that statements of monotheism like "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" are unacceptable to many religious viewpoints, such as atheists or followers of polytheistic religions. Putting aside the constitutional issue of whether the constitution prohibits the posting of the commandments, there is clearly a legitimate political and civil rights issue regarding whether the posting of what could be construed as religious doctrine alienated religious minorities and created the appearance of impropriety by making it appear that a state church had been established, creating the impression that the very intent of the establishment clause was being undermined. Even without establishing that a literal violation of the First Amendment had occurred, the appearance that it had been violated to people who do not accept the commandments, or religion itself, could be just as damaging and marginalizing.

    In addition, it has been argued if the Commandments are posted, it would require that members of other religions be allowed to post the particular tenets of their religions as well. For example, an organization by the name of Summum has won court cases against municipalities in Utah for refusing to allow the group to erect a monument of Summum aphorisms next to the Ten Commandments. The cases were won on the grounds that Summum's right to freedom of speech was denied and the governments had engaged in discrimination. Instead of allowing Summum to erect its monument, the local governments chose to remove their Ten Commandments.

    This incident shows another practical reason why not posting religious doctrine on government property is expedient; it is unlikely that a believer in the commandments would appreciate having a shrine to another religion placed next to them, and taken to its logical outcome (as shown by the Summum incident), it is clear that permitting religious speech through the mouthpiece of the state is impractical, given the reality of the diversity of religious belief and non-belief in the United States. Rather than enforcing any religious belief, or irreligion, some tend to merely feel that the state ought to be neutral on the subject of religion, and allow people to find their own faith, rather than have the state appear to endorse any particular beliefs.

    Some religious Jews oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, as they feel it is wrong for public schools to teach their children Judaism. The argument is that if a Jewish parent wishes to teach their child to be a Jew (as most do), then this education should come from practicing Jews, and not from non-Jews. This position is based on the demographic fact that the vast majority of public school teachers in the United States are not Jews; the same is true for the students. This same reasoning and position is also held by many believers in other religions. Many Christians have some concerns about this as well; for example, can Catholic parents count on Protestant or Orthodox Christian teachers to tell their children their particular understanding of the commandments? Differences in the interpretation and translation of these commandments, as noted above, can sometimes be significant.

    Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have launched lawsuits challenging the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Opponents of these displays include a number of religious groups, including some Christian denominations, both because they don't want government to be issuing religious doctrine, and because they feel strongly that the commandments are inherently religious. Many commentators see this issue as part of a wider kulturkampf (culture struggle) between liberal and conservative elements in American society. In response to the perceived attacks on traditional society other legal organizations, such as Liberty Counsel have risen to advocate the conservative interpretation.

    Cultural Aspects

    Two famous films of this name were directed by Cecil B. DeMille, a silent movie released in 1923, and another in 1956, starring Charlton Heston as Moses. The Decalogue is also a series of ten one-hour films written and directed by the famed Polish film maker Krzysztof Kieślowski in 1988 for Polish television, each based on one of the Ten Commandments.

    The form and content of the Decalogue have often been parodied and satirized. One eminent example from the Victorian era is Arthur Hugh Clough's poem The Latest Decalogue. [5]

    Follow us On:

    Privacy Policy - Site Map - About Us - Letters to the Editor

    Comments and questions could be addressed to:

    Last updated: June 2013
    Copyright © 2003-2013 Julian Rubin