The 10 Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, are a set of Biblical Principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Abrahamic Religions. The commandments include instructions to worship only GOD, to honour one’s parents, and to keep the rest day (Sabbath), as well as prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, and coveting.
The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Hebrew Bible, first at Exodus 20:1–17, and then at Deuteronomy 5:6–21. Both versions state that GOD inscribed them on two stone tablets, which he gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.
In biblical Hebrew, the Ten Commandments are called עשרת הדברים (transliterated aseret ha-d’varîm) and in Rabbinical Hebrew עשרת הדברות (transliterated asereth ha-dibrot), both translatable as “the ten Words”, “the ten Sayings”, or “the ten Matters”. The Tyndale and Coverdale English translations used “ten verses”. The Geneva Bible used “tenne Commandements”, which was followed by the Bishops’ Bible and the Authorized Version (the “King James” version) as “ten Commandments”. Most major English versions use “Commandments.”
The English name “Decalogue” is derived from Greek δεκάλογος, dekalogos, the latter meaning and referring to the Greek translation (in accusative) δέκα λόγους, deka logous, “ten words”, found in the Septuagint (or LXX) at Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 10:4.
The stone tablets, as opposed to the Commandments inscribed on them, are called לוחות הברית, Luchot HaBrit, meaning “the tablets of the Covenant”.
Passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy
The biblical narrative of the revelation at Sinai begins in Exodus 19 after the arrival of the children of Israel at Mount Sinai (also called Horeb). On the morning of the third day of their encampment, “there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud”, and the people assembled at the base of the mount. After “the LORD came down upon mount Sinai”, Moses went up briefly and returned and prepared the people, and then in Exodus 20 “GOD spoke” to all the people the words of the covenant, that is, the ” ten Commandments” as it is written. Modern biblical scholarship differs as to whether Exodus 19-20 describes the people of Israel as having directly heard all or some of the decalogue, or whether the laws are only passed to them through Moses.
The people were afraid to hear more and moved “afar off”, and Moses responded with “Fear not.” Nevertheless, he drew near the “thick darkness” where “the presence of the LORD” was to hear the additional statutes and “judgments”, all which he “wrote” in the “Book of the Covenant” which he read to the people the next morning, and they agreed to be obedient and do all that the LORD had said. Moses escorted a select group consisting of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and “seventy of the elders of Israel” to a location on the mount where they worshipped “afar off” and they “saw the GOD of Israel” above a “paved work” like clear sapphire stone.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. 13 And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of GOD.— First mention of the tablets in Exodus 24:12–13
The mount was covered by the cloud for six days, and on the seventh day Moses went into the midst of the cloud and was “in the mount forty days and forty nights.” And Moses said, “the LORD delivered unto me two tablets of stone written with the finger of GOD; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.” Before the full forty days expired, the children of Israel collectively decided that something had happened to Moses, and compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf, and he “built an altar before it” and the people “worshipped” the calf.
After the full forty days, Moses and Joshua came down from the mountain with the tablets of stone: “And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” After the events in chapters 32 and 33, the LORD told Moses, “Hew thee two tablets of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tablets the words that were in the first tablets, which thou brakest.” “And he wrote on the tablets, according to the first writing, the ten commandments, which the LORD spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the LORD gave them unto me.”
According to Jewish tradition, Exodus 20:1–17 constitutes GOD’s first recitation and inscription of the ten commandments on the two tablets, which Moses broke in anger with his rebellious nation, and were later rewritten on replacement stones and placed in the Ark of the Covenant; and Deuteronomy 5:4–20 consists of GOD’s re-telling of the Ten Commandments to the younger generation who were to enter the Promised Land. The passages in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 contain more than ten imperative statements, totalling 14 or 15 in all.
The Ten Commandments concern matters of fundamental importance in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: the greatest obligation (to worship only GOD), the greatest injury to a person (murder), the greatest injury to family bonds (adultery), the greatest injury to commerce and law (bearing false witness), the greatest inter-generational obligation (honour to parents), the greatest obligation to community (truthfulness), the greatest injury to moveable property (theft).
The Ten Commandments are written with room for varying interpretation, reflecting their role as a summary of fundamental principles. They are not as explicit or detailed as rules or many other biblical laws and commandments, because they provide guiding principles that apply universally, across changing circumstances. They do not specify punishments for their violation. Their precise import must be worked out in each separate situation.
The Bible indicates the special status of the Ten Commandments among all other Torah laws in several ways:
- They have a uniquely terse style.
- Of all the biblical laws and commandments, the Ten Commandments alone are said to have been “written with the finger of GOD” (Exodus 31:18).
- The stone tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:21, Deuteronomy 10:2,5).
The Ten Commandments form the basis of Jewish law, stating God’s universal and timeless standard of right and wrong – unlike the rest of the 613 commandments in the Torah, which include, for example, various duties and ceremonies such as the kashrut dietary laws, and now unobservable rituals to be performed by priests in the Holy Temple. Jewish tradition considers the Ten Commandments the theological basis for the rest of the commandments; a number of works, starting with Rabbi Saadia Gaon, have made groupings of the commandments according to their links with the Ten Commandments.
The traditional Rabbinical Jewish belief is that the observance of these commandments and the other mitzvot are required solely of the Jewish people and that the laws incumbent on humanity in general are outlined in the seven Noahide laws, several of which overlap with the Ten Commandments. In the era of the Sanhedrin transgressing any one of six of the Ten Commandments theoretically carried the death penalty, the exceptions being the First Commandment, honouring your father and mother, saying God’s name in vain, and coveting, though this was rarely enforced due to a large number of stringent evidentiary requirements imposed by the oral law.
The arrangement of the commandments on the two tablets is interpreted in different ways in the classical Jewish tradition. Rabbi Hanina ben Gamaliel says that each tablet contained five commandments, “but the Sages say ten on one tablet and ten on the other”, that is, that the tablets were duplicates. This can be compared to diplomatic treaties of the ancient Near East, in which a copy was made for each party.
According to the Talmud, the compendium of traditional Rabbinic Jewish law, tradition, and interpretation, one interpretation of the biblical verse “the tablets were written on both their sides”, is that the carving went through the full thickness of the tablets, yet was miraculously legible from both sides.
Use in Jewish ritual
The Mishna records that during the period of the Second Temple, the Ten Commandments were recited daily, before the reading of the Shema Yisrael (as preserved, for example, in the Nash Papyrus, a Hebrew manuscript fragment from 150–100 BCE found in Egypt, containing a version of the ten commandments and the beginning of the Shema); but that this practice was abolished in the synagogues so as not to give ammunition to heretics who claimed that they were the only important part of Jewish law, or to dispute a claim by early Christians that only the Ten Commandments were handed down at Mount Sinai rather than the whole Torah.
In later centuries rabbis continued to omit the Ten Commandments from daily liturgy in order to prevent a confusion among Jews that they are only bound by the Ten Commandments, and not also by many other biblical and Talmudic laws, such as the requirement to observe holy days other than the sabbath.
Today, the Ten Commandments are heard in the synagogue three times a year: as they come up during the readings of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and during the festival of Shavuot. The Exodus version is read in parashat Yitro around late January–February, and on the festival of Shavuot, and the Deuteronomy version in parashat Va’etchanan in August–September. In some traditions, worshipers rise for the reading of the Ten Commandments to highlight their special significance though many rabbis, including Maimonides, have opposed this custom since one may come to think that the Ten Commandments are more important than the rest of the Mitzvot.
In printed Chumashim, as well as in those in manuscript form, the Ten Commandments carry two sets of cantillation marks. The ta’am ‘elyon (upper accentuation), which makes each Commandment into a separate verse, is used for public Torah reading, while the ta’am tachton (lower accentuation), which divides the text into verses of more even length, is used for private reading or study. The verse numbering in Jewish Bibles follows the ta’am tachton. In Jewish Bibles the references to the Ten Commandments are therefore Exodus 20:2–14 and Deuteronomy 5:6–18.
Most traditions of Christianity hold that the Ten Commandments have divine authority and continue to be valid, though they have different interpretations and uses of them. The Apostolic Constitutions, which implore believers to “always remember the ten commands of GOD,” reveal the importance of the Decalogue in the early Church. Through most of Christian history the decalogue was considered a summary of GOD’s law and standard of behaviour, central to Christian life, piety, and worship.
References in the New Testament
During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explicitly referenced the prohibitions against murder and adultery. In Matthew 19:16-19 Jesus repeated five of the Ten Commandments, followed by that commandment called “the second” (Matthew 22:34-40) after the first and great Commandment.
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, GOD: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the Commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.— Matthew 19:16-19
In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul the Apostle also mentioned five of the Ten Commandments and associated them with the neighbourly love commandment.
Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.— Romans 13:8-10 KJV
In Roman Catholicism, Jesus freed Christians from the rest of Jewish religious law, but not from their obligation to keep the Ten Commandments. It has been said that they are to the moral order what the creation story is to the natural order.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church—the official exposition of the Catholic Church’s Christian beliefs—the Commandments are considered essential for spiritual good health and growth, and serve as the basis for social justice. Church teaching of the Commandments is largely based on the Old and New Testaments and the writings of the early Church Fathers. In the New Testament, Jesus acknowledged their validity and instructed his disciples to go further, demanding a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees. Summarized by Jesus into two “great commandments” that teach the love of GOD and love of neighbour, they instruct individuals on their relationships with both.
The Eastern Orthodox Church holds its moral truths to be chiefly contained in the Ten Commandments. A confession begins with the Confessor reciting the Ten Commandments and asking the penitent which of them he has broken.
After rejecting the Roman Catholic moral theology, giving more importance to biblical law and the Gospel, early Protestant theologians continued to take the Ten Commandments as the starting point of Christian moral life. Different versions of Christianity have varied in how they have translated the bare principles into the specifics that make up a full Christian ethic.
- “Say: “Come, I will rehearse what ALLAH hath (really) prohibited you from”:
 worship not anything with Him (GOD);
 be good to your parents;
 kill not your children on a plea of want;- We provide sustenance for you and for them;-
 come not near indecent deeds (adultery). Whether open or secret;
 do not kill the soul, which ALLAH has made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.
 and come not near the property of the orphan, except to improve it, until he attain the age of full strength;
 give measure and weight with (full) justice;- no burden do we place on any soul, but that which it can bear;
 when you speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned;
 and fulfill the covenant of ALLAH. thus doth He command you, that ye may remember.
 and this is GOD’s straight path, so follow it and do not follow other ways, lest you be separated from His way. This He has instructed you that you will be righteous.”
“ Do not make [as equal] with ALLAH another deity and [thereby] become censured and forsaken And your LORD has decreed that you not worship except Him,
 and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word. And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, “My LORD, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.”Your LORD is most knowing of what is within yourselves. If you should be righteous [in intention] – then indeed He is ever, to the often returning [to Him], Forgiving.
 And give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully. Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his LORD ungrateful. And if you [must] turn away from the needy awaiting mercy from your LORD which you expect, then speak to them a gentle word. And do not make your hand [as] chained to your neck or extend it completely and [thereby] become blamed and insolvent.Indeed, your LORD extends provision for whom He wills and restricts [it]. Indeed He is ever, concerning His servants, Acquainted and Seeing. And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.
 And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.
 And do not kill the soul which ALLAH has forbidden, except by right. And whoever is killed unjustly – We have given his heir authority, but let him not exceed limits in [the matter of] taking life. Indeed, he has been supported [by the law].
 And do not approach the property of an orphan, except in the way that is best, until he reaches maturity. And fulfill [every] commitment. Indeed, the commitment is ever [that about which one will be] questioned.
 And give full measure when you measure, and weigh with an even balance. That is the best [way] and best in result.
 And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.
 And do not walk upon the earth exultantly. Indeed, you will never tear the earth [apart], and you will never reach the mountains in height.All All that – its evil is ever, in the sight of your LORD, detested.That is from what your LORD has revealed to you of wisdom.
 And, [O mankind], do not make [as equal] with ALLAH another deity, lest you be thrown into Hell, blamed and banished.”.
According to Abdullah Ibn Abbas °the verses of Chapter 17 Al-Isra are the Quranic version of the ten Commandments Verses 22 to 39
Main points of interpretative difference
All Abrahamic Religions observe a weekly day of rest, often called the Sabbath, although the actual day of the week ranges from Friday in Islam, Saturday in Judaism (both reckoned from dusk to dusk), and Sunday, from midnight to midnight, in Christianity. Sabbath in Christianity is a day of rest from work, often dedicated to religious observance, derived from the Biblical Sabbath.
Observing the Sabbath on Sunday, the day of resurrection, gradually became the dominant Christian practice from the Jewish-Roman wars onward. The Church’s general repudiation of Jewish practices during this period is apparent in the Council of Laodicea (4th century AD) where Canons 37–38 state: “It is not lawful to receive portions sent from the feasts of Jews or heretics, nor to feast together with them” and “It is not lawful to receive unleavened bread from the Jews, nor to be partakers of their impiety”. Canon 29 of the Laodicean council specifically refers to the sabbath: “Christians must not judaize by resting on the [Jewish] Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.”
Killing or murder
Multiple translations exist of the fifth/sixth commandment; the Hebrew words לא תרצח (lo tirtzach) are variously translated as “thou shalt not kill” or “thou shalt not murder”.
The imperative is against unlawful killing resulting in bloodguilt. The Hebrew Bible contains numerous prohibitions against unlawful killing, but does not prohibit killing in the context of warfare (1Kings 2:5–6), capital punishment (Leviticus 20:9–16) and self-defence (Exodus 22:2–3), which are considered justified. The New Testament is in agreement that murder is a grave moral evil, and references the Old Testament view of bloodguilt.
Some academic theologians, including German Old Testament scholar Albrecht Alt: Das Verbot des Diebstahls im Dekalog (1953), suggest that the commandment translated as “thou shalt not steal” was originally intended against stealing people—against abductions and slavery, in agreement with the Talmudic interpretation of the statement as “thou shalt not kidnap” (Sanhedrin 86a).
Idolatry is forbidden in all Abrahamic Religions. In Judaism there is a prohibition against worshipping an idol or a representation of GOD, but there is no restriction on art or simple depictions. Islam has a stronger prohibition, banning representations of GOD (ALLAH), and in some cases of Muhammad, humans and, in some interpretations, any living creature.
In Christianity’s earliest centuries, some Christians had informally adorned their homes and places of worship with images of Christ and the saints, which others thought inappropriate. No church council had ruled on whether such practices constituted idolatry. The controversy reached crisis level in the 8th century, during the period of iconoclasm: the smashing of icons.
In 726 Emperor Leo III ordered all images removed from all churches; in 730 a council forbade veneration of images, citing the Second Commandment; in 787 the Seventh Ecumenical Council reversed the preceding rulings, condemning iconoclasm and sanctioning the veneration of images; in 815 Leo V called yet another council, which reinstated iconoclasm; in 843 Empress Theodora again reinstated veneration of icons. This mostly settled the matter until the Protestant Reformation, when John Calvin declared that the ruling of the Seventh Ecumenical Council “emanated from Satan”. Protestant iconoclasts at this time destroyed statues, pictures, stained glass, and artistic masterpieces.
The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Theodora’s restoration of the icons every year on the First Sunday of Great Lent. Eastern Orthodox tradition teaches that while images of GOD, the FATHER, remain prohibited, depictions of Jesus as the incarnation of GOD as a visible human are permissible. To emphasize the theological importance of the incarnation, the Orthodox Church encourages the use of icons in church and private devotions, but prefers a two-dimensional depiction as a reminder of this theological aspect. Icons depict the spiritual dimension of their subject rather than attempting a naturalistic portrayal. In modern use (usually as a result of Roman Catholic influence), more naturalistic images and images of the Father, however, also appear occasionally in Orthodox churches, but statues, i.e. three-dimensional depictions, continue to be banned.
The Roman Catholic Church holds that one may build and use “likenesses”, as long as the object is not worshipped. Many Roman Catholic Churches and services feature images; some feature statues. For Roman Catholics, this practice is understood as fulfilling the Second Commandment, as they understand that these images are not being worshipped.
For Jews and Muslims, veneration violates the Second Commandment. Jews and Muslims read this commandment as prohibiting the use of idols and images in any way. For this reason, Jewish Temples and Islamic Mosques do not have pictures of GOD, saints or prophets.
Some Protestants will picture Jesus in his human form, while refusing to make any image of GOD or Jesus in Heaven.
Originally this Commandment forbade male Israelites from having sexual intercourse with the wife of another Israelite; the prohibition did not extend to their own slaves. Sexual intercourse between an Israelite man, married or not, and a woman who was neither married or betrothed was not considered adultery. This concept of adultery stems from the economic aspect of Israelite marriage whereby the husband has an exclusive right to his wife, whereas the wife, as the husband’s possession, did not have an exclusive right to her husband.
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