General InformationAccording to Exodus 31:18, the Commandments were inscribed on two stone tablets by God himself. Moses is said to have destroyed the tablets in anger over his people's abandonment of their faith. He was then commanded by God to hew and inscribe new tablets; these were deposited in the Ark of the Covenant.
References in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:3-4, 11-13; Psalm 15:2-5, 24:4; Jeremiah 7:9; Hosea 4:2).
Two different versions of the commandments are given in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, but the substance is the same in both of them. The Exodus version differs from that in Deuteronomy in giving a religious motive, instead of a humanitarian one, for observing the Sabbath; also, in prohibiting covetousness, it classifies a man's wife with the rest of his possessions, instead of separately.
Traditionally, the commandments have been enumerated in three ways.
In Jewish tradition, the commandments are organized as follows:
Most Protestants and Orthodox Christians count them differently.
Roman Catholics and Lutherans also count them differently. They follow
the division used by 4th-century theologian Saint Augustine.
Some medieval scholastic philosophers and theologians, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Bonaventure, held that all the commandments are a part of the natural law. They maintained that God revealed the commandments to Moses to remind humankind of its obligations. These scholars were echoing earlier ideas expressed by early Fathers of the Church, such as Tertullian and Augustine, that the commandments had already been engraved on the human heart before they were written on the tablets of stone.
In the New Testament, all the commandments are mentioned but never in a list of ten.
Opinions on how the number of the Commandments were on the two Tablets vary. Some feel that the first Four were on one Tablet, the Commandments that were related to behavior toward God, with the other Six, regarding behavior to mankind, on the other Tablet. Others feel that five Commandments were on each of the two Tablets. No one knows for sure.
Modern religion seems to have broadened 'murder' to 'kill' and to reinterpret 'adultery' to 'fornication'. Nearly all modern Christian society has adopted these changes, which are enormous in scale! Some Protestant Christian Churches believe that one is not allowed to defend one's family or allowed to participate in a war to defend one's country. Most Christian Ministry severely criticize pre-marital sex, claiming (incorrect) basis in the Commandments!
A basic set of divine laws in the Bible, also called the Decalogue (from the Greek deka, "ten," and logos, "word"), the Ten Commandments form the fundamental ethical code of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to the biblical narrative, God gave the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai and inscribed them on two stone tablets. Moses broke the tablets in anger when he found his people worshiping the Golden Calf, but eventually he replaced them and enshrined them in the Ark of the Covenant. Two slightly different versions of the commandments are found in Exod. 20:1 - 17 and Deut. 5:6 - 21.
Two traditions are also adhered to for listing the commandments. Lutherans and Roman Catholics consider the opening prohibitions against false worship as one commandment, whereas most other Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox follow the Hebrew tradition of dividing them into two. The latter maintain the number at ten by combining the final prohibitions against covetousness.
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S Goldman, Ten Commandments (1963); E Nielsen, Ten Commandments in New Perspective (1968).
The Ten Commandments (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 10:4, marg. "ten words") i.e., the Decalogue (q.v.), is a summary of the immutable moral law. These commandments were first given in their written form to the people of Israel when they were encamped at Sinai, about fifty days after they came out of Egypt (Ex. 19:10-25). They were written by the finger of God on two tables of stone. The first tables were broken by Moses when he brought them down from the mount (32:19), being thrown by him on the ground. At the command of God he took up into the mount two other tables, and God wrote on them "the words that were on the first tables" (34:1). These tables were afterwards placed in the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10:5; 1 Kings 8:9). Their subsequent history is unknown. They are as a whole called "the covenant" (Deut. 4:13), and "the tables of the covenant" (9:9, 11; Heb. 9:4), and "the testimony." They are obviously "ten" in number, but their division is not fixed, hence different methods of numbering them have been adopted. The Jews make the "Preface" one of the commandments, and then combine the first and second. The Roman Catholics and Lutherans combine the first and second and divide the tenth into two. The Jews and Josephus divide them equally. The Lutherans and Roman Catholics refer three commandments to the first table and seven to the second. The Greek and Reformed Churches refer four to the first and six to the second table. The Samaritans add to the second that Gerizim is the mount of worship.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
Decalogue is the name given by the Greek fathers to the ten commandments; "the ten words," as the original is more literally rendered (Ex. 20:3-17). These commandments were at first written on two stone slabs (31:18), which were broken by Moses throwing them down on the ground (32:19). They were written by God a second time (34:1). The decalogue is alluded to in the New Testament five times (Matt. 5:17, 18, 19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 7:7, 8; 13:9; 1 Tim. 1:9, 10). These commandments have been divided since the days of Origen the Greek father, as they stand in the Confession of all the Reformed Churches except the Lutheran. The division adopted by Luther, and which has ever since been received in the Lutheran Church, makes the first two commandments one, and the third the second, and so on to the last, which is divided into two. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house" being ranked as ninth, and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife," etc., the tenth.
The Ten Commandments represents the basic law of the covenant formed between God and Israel at Mount Sinai; though the date of the event is uncertain, the commandments may be dated provisionally in the early part of the thirteenth century B.C. In Hebrew, the commandments are called the "Ten Words," which (via Greek) is the origin of the alternative English title of the commandments, namely the Decalogue. The commandments are recorded twice in the OT; they appear first in the description of the formation of the Sinai Covenant (Exod. 20:2-17) and are repeated in the description of the renewal of the covenant on the plains of Moab (Deut. 5:6-21).
The commandments are described as having been written on two tablets. Each tablet contained the full text; one tablet belonged to Israel and the other to God, so that both parties to the covenant had a copy of the legislation. The first five commandments pertain basically to the relationship between Israel and God; the last five are concerned primarily with the forms of relationships between human beings.
The commandments must be interpreted initially within the context of the Sinai Covenant, which was in effect the constitution of the state in process of formation during the time of Moses and his successor Joshua. Because God was the one who enabled Israel to move toward statehood, as a consequence of his liberating the chosen people from slavery in Egypt, he was also to be Israel's true king. As such, he had the authority to establish Israel's law, as is made clear in the preface to the commandments. Thus, the commandments were initially part of a constitution and served as state law of the emerging nation of Israel.
The fundamental principle upon which the constitution was established was love. God had chosen his people and freed them from slavery only because he loved them. In turn, he had one fundamental requirement of Israel, that they love God with the totality of their being (Deut. 6:5). This commandment to love is provided with a commentary and explanation. As to how the commandment to love might be fulfilled, the first five commandments indicated the nature of the relationship with God which would be an expression of love for God. The second five commandments go further and indicate that love for God also has implications for one's relationships with fellow human beings.
The interpretation of the commandments in their initial context is the source of debate; the following comments indicate in broad outline their primary thrust.
Within any nation, it is essential that the courts of law operate on the basis of true information; if law is not based on truth and righteousness, then the very foundations of life and liberty are undermined. If legal testimony is true, there can be no miscarriage of justice; if it is false, the most fundamental of human liberties are lost.
Thus, the commandment sought to preserve the integrity of Israel's legal system and it was, at the same time, a guard against encroachments on a person's liberties. The principle is maintained in most modern legal systems; it is evident, e.g., in the taking of an oath before giving evidence in court. But, in the last resort, the commandment points to the essential nature of truthfulness in all interhuman relationships.
The Ten Commandments functioned first as a part of the constitutional law of a nation; in the teaching of Jesus, they became the ethic of the kingdom of God, adding substance and direction to the "first and great commandment," that we to the "first and great commandment," that we love God with the totality of our beings (Matt. 22:37-38). The commandments as such are not the basis of salvation; rather, to those who have found salvation in the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are a guide toward that fulness of life in which love for God is given rich expression.
P C Craigie
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
W. Harrelson, The Ten Commandments and Human Rights; E. Nielsen, The Ten Commandments in New Perspective; A. Phillips, Ancient Israel's Criminal Law: A New Approach to the Decalogue; J. J. Stamm and M. E. Andrew, The Ten Commandments in Recent Research.
From: Home Bible Study Commentary by James M. Gray
How does this commandment show the responsibility of parents? Do you suppose this responsibility is limited to this sin? Did not Israel at this time have a striking illustration of it in Egypt? Had not their persection by that people begun just four generations before, and was not the nation now reaping what had been then sown? "Unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Me. Here two thoughts suggest themselves: (1) there is no difference between forsaking God and hating Him; (2) it is not only them that hate Him, i.e., follow in the footsteps of their fathers, who will be visited with the punishment (Ezek. 18:20). Perhaps also a third thought is pertinent, viz: that this warning only applies to the temporal effects of sin and not its eternal consequences, hence a son who turns to God, although he may through the working of divinely-ordained laws of nature suffer physical consequences here, will be spared eternal consequences hereafter.
"Mercy unto thousands of generations" the Revised Version reads. See also Deut. 7:9. Of this also Israel had an illustration before their eyes, as they were now gathering the mercy destined for them in the faithfulness of their father Abraham "Of them that love Me and keep My commandments." Behold what is meant by loving God, viz: keeping His commandments; a declaration which "gives a new character to the whole decalogue, which thus becomes not a mere negative law of righteousness, but a positive law of love"! Let us not conclude these reflections without remarking how far the Greek, Roman, and even some of the Protestant churches have fallen in this regard. From the use of crosses and relics as aiding their bodily senses and quickening devotion, it has been easy to advance to altars, images and pictures not only of the Holy Ghost and Christ but of the Virgin, and the saints and martyrs without number, until at last these objects have themselves become, at least to the ignorant, actual objects of worship. And what superstition, profanation and mockery have grown out of it all! And shall not a jealous God visit for these things?
Though the Jewish Sabbath was kept on Saturday, Christians are in accord with the spirit of the commandment in keeping Sunday enriching the original idea of the day of rest by including that of the new creation when our Redeemer rose from the dead. How does God provide for our hallowing of this day, and what is His definition of such hallowing? When He says: "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work," is it an injunction merely, or may it be considered as a permission? Some think there is a diffference between "labor" and "work," the latter term being the more inclusive as involving the management of affairs and correspondence to the word "business."
How is the equality of husband and wife recognized in the wording of this commandment (10)? The responsibility of parents and employers? The rights and privileges of employees? The proper treatment of the lower animals? To what further extent did the obligation of the Israelite extend? Has this any bearing on the present obligation of our nation to compel an observance of the Sabbath on the part of our alien population? Is anything more than secular or servile work intended in this prohibition? Did not Jesus both by precept and example give liberty for works of love, piety and necessity? (Mark 2: 23-28; John 5:16, 17).
What historical reason is assigned for this commandment (11)? And what additional in Deut. 5:15? We thus see that God's authority over and His loving care for us combine to press upon us the obligation of the Sabbath day to say nothing of its advantage to us along physical and other material lines. And thus its observance becomes the characteristic of those who believe in a historical revelation, and worship God as Creator and Redeemer. Questions 1. Can you recite Matthew 22:37- 40? 2. To what demonolatry are some professing Christians addicted? 3. Can you recite Ezekiel 18:20? 4. How do we show love to God? 5. Are you breaking the third commandment in ordinary conversation? 6. What two meanings should be attached to "Remember" in the fourth commandment? 7. Are the Sabbath and the seventh days necessarily identical? 8. To what do we bear testimony in observing the Sabbath?
(Skipping forward in the Commandments . . .)
Even more interesting, we think, is that the actual Original text of that Commandment, in both Exod. 20:14 and Deut. 5:18, is actually just a single word! It is the Strong's Hebrew word #5003, na'aph. There is NO subtlety involved! There is actually not even the word NOT presented! Just the word for adultery. We see this as a good example of how the Original texts have gotten expanded to be able to present full sentences for us to read! The Commandment about "thou shalt not kill" is similarly just a single word, Strong's #7523, ratsach, which Strong's says means slay or murder. Again, there is no NOT presented! It is implied!
The point being made is that modern people have "interpreted" the English translations to apply to wide ranges of things, while the reality is that only a single word was actually presented in the Original text. It might be appropriate to consider distinguishing what is actually from the Bible and what is from people who have specific desires to present certain understandings!
Called also simply THE COMMANDMENTS, COMMANDMENTS OF GOD, or THE DECALOGUE (Gr. deka, ten, and logos, a word), the Ten Words of Sayings, the latter name generally applied by the Greek Fathers.
The Ten Commandments are precepts bearing on the fundamental obligations of religion and morality and embodying the revealed expression of the Creator's will in relation to man's whole duty to God and to his fellow-creatures. They are found twice recorded in the Pentateuch, in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, but are given in an abridged form in the catechisms. Written by the finger of God on two tables of stone, this Divine code was received from the Almighty by Moses amid the thunders of Mount Sinai, and by him made the ground-work of the Mosaic Law. Christ resumed these Commandments in the double precept of charity--love of God and of the neighbour; He proclaimed them as binding under the New Law in Matthew 19 and in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). He also simplified or interpreted them, e.g. by declaring unnecessary oaths equally unlawful with false, by condemning hatred and calumny as well as murder, by enjoining even love of enemies, and by condemning indulgence of evil desires as fraught with the same malice as adultery (Matthew 5). The Church, on the other hand, after changing the day of rest from the Jewish Sabbath, or seventh day of the week, to the first, made the Third Commandment refer to Sunday as the day to be kept holy as the Lord's Day. The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, can. xix) condemns those who deny that the Ten Commandments are binding on Christians.
There is no numerical division of the Commandments in the Books of Moses, but the injunctions are distinctly tenfold, and are found almost identical in both sources. The order, too, is the same except for the final prohibitions pronounced against concupiscence, that of Deuteronomy being adopted in preference to Exodus. A confusion, however, exists in the numbering, which is due to a difference of opinion concerning the initial precept on Divine worship.
The system of numeration found in Catholic Bibles, based on the Hebrew text, was made by St. Augustine (fifth century) in his book of "Questions of Exodus" ("Quæstionum in Heptateuchum libri VII", Bk. II, Question lxxi), and was adopted by the Council of Trent. It is followed also by the German Lutherans, except those of the school of Bucer. This arrangement makes the First Commandment relate to false worship and to the worship of false gods as to a single subject and a single class of sins to be guarded against -- the reference to idols being regarded as mere application of the precept to adore but one God and the prohibition as directed against the particular offense of idolatry alone. According to this manner of reckoning, the injunction forbidding the use of the Lord's Name in vain comes second in order; and the decimal number is safeguarded by making a division of the final precept on concupiscence--the Ninth pointing to sins of the flesh and the Tenth to desires for unlawful possession of goods. Another division has been adopted by the English and Helvetian Protestant churches on the authority of Philo Judæus, Josephus, Origen, and others, whereby two Commandments are made to cover the matter of worship, and thus the numbering of the rest is advanced one higher; and the Tenth embraces both the Ninth and Tenth of the Catholic division. It seems, however, as logical to separate at the end as to group at the beginning, for while one single object is aimed at under worship, two specifically different sins are forbidden under covetousness; if adultery and theft belong to two distinct species of moral wrong, the same must be said of the desire to commit these evils.
The Supreme Law-Giver begins by proclaiming His Name and His Titles to the obedience of the creature man: "I am the Lord, thy God. . ." The laws which follow have regard to God and His representatives on earth (first four) and to our fellow-man (last six).
Being the one true God, He alone is to be adored, and all rendering to creatures of the worship which belongs to Him falls under the ban of His displeasure; the making of "graven things" is condemned: not all pictures, images, and works of art, but such as are intended to be adored and served (First).
Associated with God in the minds of men and representing Him, is His Holy Name, which by the Second Commandment is declared worthy of all veneration and respect and its profanation reprobated.
And He claims one day out of the seven as a memorial to Himself, and this must be kept holy (Third).
Finally, parents being the natural providence of their offspring, invested with authority for their guidance and correction, and holding the place of God before them, the child is bidden to honour and respect them as His lawful representatives (Fourth).
The precepts which follow are meant to protect man in his natural rights against the injustice of his fellows.
His life is the object of the Fifth;
the honour of his body as well as the source of life, of the Sixth;
his lawful possessions, of the Seventh;
his good name, of the Eighth;
And in order to make him still more secure in the enjoyment of his rights, it is declared an offense against God to desire to wrong him, in his family rights by the Ninth;
and in his property rights by the Tenth.
This legislation expresses not only the Maker's positive will, but the voice of nature as well--the laws which govern our being and are written more or less clearly in every human heart. The necessity of the written law is explained by the obscuring of the unwritten in men's souls by sin. These Divine mandates are regarded as binding on every human creature, and their violation, with sufficient reflection and consent of the will, if the matter be grave, is considered a grievous or mortal offense against God. They have always been esteemed as the most precious rules of life and are the basis of all Christian legislation.
Publication information Written by John H. Stapleton. Transcribed by Marcia L. Bellafiore. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
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