Ten Commandments

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File:Moses Ten Commandments by Rembrandt 1659.jpg
Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt (1659)

The Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, are a set of laws which were given to Moses by God.

There are two versions, generally similar but somewhat different in wording: Exodus 20:2-17[1] and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.[2] The version in Deuteronomy adds the detail of Moses saying that God "delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God." (KJV)

The Bible itself refers to there being "ten commandments" in Exodus 34:28[3] and Deuteronomy 4:13,[4] but it is not clear how to parcel out the fifteen or sixteen verses into ten commandments, and different religious groups have done this in different ways.

The Protestant Ten Commandments, stressing their opposition to statues, contain "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" as the 2nd commandment. The Catholic Ten Commandments omit this, shifting the Commandments up while splitting "Thou shalt not covet" into "...thy neighbor's wife" (9th) and "...thy neighbor's goods" (10th).[5]

The Jewish Ten Commandments contain "I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" as the 1st commandment, with their 2nd commandment combining the first two Protestant commandments, and the remainder following the Protestant listing.[6]

However, as Jewish people would also recognize, the Torah, or Law (the first five books of the Old Testament) actually contains not ten, but 613 positive and negative commandments. Thus, when Jesus is asked (at Matthew 22:34-36) which is the greatest commandment in the Law, he picks two of the other 603: 'You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength' (Deuteronomy 6:5) and 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18).


Text of the Ten Commandments (King James Version, KJV)

  1. I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
  6. Thou shalt not kill. [7]
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.

The Ten Commandments in US law

In several controversies over the legality of displaying the Ten Commandments on government property, and especially outside courthouses, the influence of the Ten Commandments on US law (and western law in general) becomes relevant as proponents of the displays argue that these commandments form part of the foundation of the US legal system.

  1. Some official U.S. documents accept the existence of God, although there is no specifics in U.S. law as to who this God is, and the First Amendment to the Constitution is interpreted as opposing any attempt to impose the belief or non-belief in God.
  2. Similarly, the First Amendment forbids any legal means of enforcing the commandment about not worshiping idols.
  3. Nothing in current state or federal law specifically prohibits the taking in vain of God's name in general, but it may be in violation of broadcast decency laws if shown on television or radio.
  4. Past state laws have enforced the sabbath by forbidding various activities, such as the sale of specific goods, on Sundays. These, however, are all almost now repealed or struck down. Closure of shops on Sundays is by convention, but not legally enforced. However, some states still restrict the sale of alcohol on Sundays. The seven-day week, however, is accepted world-wide, and most people observe at least one day free from work.
  5. No law enforces the commandment about honoring parents, and it is doubtful that it could be enforced. Liberals are currently attempting to undermine this commandment, by trying to make disciplining children illegal. In contrast, the Bible tells us the correct way to bring up a child and teach him to respect his parents: "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." (Proverbs 13:24)
  6. The commandment against murder is enforced by U.S. law.
  7. Criminal laws against adultery[8] are largely unenforced and of doubtful enforceability, but a showing of adultery will influence civil divorce proceedings and affect the distribution of assets. Jesus clarified the definition of adultery, for instance in Matthew 8:27-32, to include remarriage after divorce in most cases. Until recently, it was difficult to get a divorce in most states other than Nevada for this reason; previously one had to prove fault with one's spouse, but since the 1950s that has changed in every state except New York. Today all states and many Christian denominations define adultery by the modern English definition[9] to allow remarriage after divorce. Many Christians believe that this commandment, which forbids adultery,[10] also forbids fornication.[11]
  8. The commandment against stealing is enforced by U.S. law.
  9. When used during litigation, or otherwise spoken under oath (see perjury), the commandment against bearing false witness is enforced by U.S. law. For someone to bear false witness against a neighbor in a less formal setting (e.g. lying to a third party about a neighbor in the course of private conversation) could, in some circumstances, be a tort, but rarely a crime.
  10. As a prohibition on a form of thought, the commandment against coveting what belongs to another cannot be enforced by legal means.

Controversies about displaying the Ten Commandments

In recent years, liberal attorneys and judges have opposed the display of the Ten Commandments on public property by exploiting the judicial system. Obama appointment, Judge Michael F. Urbanski, put forward the ridiculous idea of censoring the Ten Commandments by removing the first four to render them more secular[12][13] . The ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, and other liberal organizations regularly file lawsuits in an attempt to censor the display of the Ten Commandments.

In 2003, Alabama Supreme Court justice Roy Moore was removed from office because he refused to take down a copy of the Ten Commandments in his office.

The movie

The Ten Commandments is also the title of a famous 1956 motion picture, produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston as Moses. It tells the story of Moses essentially as told in the Book of Exodus, with a few changes.

As publicity for the film, and in conjunction with a project of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, Paramount helped finance the placement of hundreds of stone tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments. These were placed at courthouse squares, at city halls and in public parks, and became a controversy, particularly in recent years, as to whether they violate the separation of Church and State.[14]

See Also


  1. Exodus 20:2-17 (KJV)
  2. Deuteronomy 5:6-21 (KJV)
  3. Exodus 34:10-28 (KJV)
  4. Deuteronomy 4:13 (KJV)
  5. An atheistic website provides a comparison among faiths with respect to the Ten Commandments, and many sources: http://www.positiveatheism.org/crt/whichcom.htm
  6. Ibid. http://www.positiveatheism.org/crt/whichcom.htm
  7. (The Hebrew term, ratsach, can mean to kill, slay or to murder)
  8. Virginia Code § 18.2-365
  9. adultery, n. Second edition, 1989; online version November 2010. <http://www.oed.com/Entry/2845>; accessed 21 December 2010. Earlier version first published in New English Dictionary, 1884.
  10. "voluntary sexual intercourse by a married man with another than his wife or by a married woman with another than her husband"—Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged, 1934
  11. "illicit sexual intercourse on the part of an unmarried person; the act of such illicit sexual intercourse between a man and a woman as does not by law amount to adultery" [op. cit.]
  12. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/judge-suggests-stripping-10-commandments-down-to-6-to-remove-religious-elements-in-aclu-led-lawsuit/
  13. http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/308501
  14. Ten Commandments Monoliths, from the [March 2002 issue of Eagle Magazine http://www.foe.com/tencommandments/mar_2002_ten_commandments.html]
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