The Ten Commandments


     One of the greater historic events that the world has known is the giving of the Ten Commandments by God to Moses. There were moral codes in place before the Ten Commandment Law, but with the giving of the Ten Commandments, God provided the first written code (this law is called the "ten commandments" or "ten words," Ex. 34: 28). These Ten Commandments constituted the foundation of God's laws and covenant with the Nation of Israel (Deut. 5: 1-3, this text contains the second recording of the issuance of these laws, vs. 6-21). The giving of these laws involved a solemn occasion: Israel had just been freed from about 360 years of bondage in Egypt and the ten plagues had been given to assure Israel's continued release (Ex. 3-19). After they crossed the Jordan (about three months after), Moses was instructed to ascend Mount Sinai (Ex. 19: 24). God wrote or engraved the words making up the Ten Commandments on two tables of stone (Ex. 31: 18). Moses literally and physically broke the original and God wrote them again (Ex. 32: 19; 34: 1). The Ten Commandments are:

     "3: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4: 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: 5: 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; 6: And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. 7: 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.8: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9: Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10: 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: 11: 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. 12: Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. 13: Thou shalt not kill. 14: Thou shalt not commit adultery. 15: Thou shalt not steal. 16: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. 17: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's" (Ex. 20).

     An analysis of the Ten Commandments. How do we number and delimit or divide the Ten Commandments, especially in view of the two stones containing them? Josephus (a Jewish historian who was a contemporary of Christ) is accredited with the division that is now common among "Protestants" (except Lutherans). The division is: (1) prohibition against foreign gods (Ex. 20: 3); (2) idolatrous images (vs. 4-6); (3) taking God's name in vain (vs. 7); (4) the Sabbath (vs. 8-11); (5) honor parents (vs. 12); (6) murder forbidden (vs. 13); (7) adultery condemned (vs. 14); (8) theft forbidden (vs. 15); (9) bearing false witness (vs. 16); (10) and coveting (vs. 17). The Greek Catholic Church also recognizes the foregoing enumeration. Augustine combined foreign gods and images (vs. 3-6) into the first commandment and following the order of Deuteronomy 5, made the ninth commandment a prohibition against the coveting of a neighbor's wife, while the tenth law governed coveting a neighbor's house and property. Roman Catholics and Lutherans accept Augustine's numbering with small exception (they follow the order in Exodus 20: 17 so that the ninth commandment forbids the coveting of a neighbor's house, while the tenth includes his wife and all other property). The Jews about the time of Christ adopted the view that Exodus 20: 2 is the first, vs. 3-6 is the second and then the following eight (vs. 7-7-18). This Jewish view became popular in the Middle Ages and is basically followed today.

     As to how these Ten Commandments were listed on the two stones, there have been various views. The Jews (from the time of Philo, First Century) divide into two divisions of five each (each stone containing five commandments, remember also that these laws were written on both sides, Ex. 32: 15). Augustine held there were three commandments on the first stone and the remaining seven on the second table. John Calvin and many scholars assign four to the first stone and six to the second. The truth of the matter is that we do not know for sure how these Ten Commandments were originally grouped on the two tables of stone.

     Some observable facts relative to the Ten Commandments. All the Ten Commandments are negative in structure, except for two (fourth and fifth, vs. 8, 12). Following Josephus' order (which I personally embrace), commandments two and three are reinforced by warnings (vs. 4-6, 7). All the Ten Commandments are addressed to individuals (notice "thou," vs. 7, 12, 17). Commands number one, five, and ten concern inner commitment and attitudes (vs. 1, 12, 17). When these statues are examined, there is no conflict between love and commandments (vs. 6, cp. I Jn. 5: 6). Four of the Ten Commandments pertain directly to man's duty to God and six to man's duty to man (this is a strong argument in favor of Calvin's position of the first four commandments on the first stone, etc., vs. 3-11; 12-17).

     A brief exposition of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments uncompromisingly set forth the basic concept of one true God (command number one, vs. 3). No images or facsimiles are allowed (commandment number two, vs. 4-6). God's name must not be abused or viewed lightly (command number three, vs. 7). The seventh day is set aside (command number four, the Sabbath Day law is peculiar to Israel and is the only one of the Ten Commandments that is not a moral law, cp. Deut. 5: 13-15). Parents must be respected and honored (command number five, vs. 12) and human life is to be cherished, as seen in the murder prohibition (command number six, vs. 13). Sins against one's fellow man such as adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, and coveting what belong to another are all condemned (commands number seven, vs. 14; number eight, vs. 15; number nine, vs. 16; and command number ten, vs. 17).

     The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia states thus regarding the nature of the Ten Commandment Code: "The presence of such a deeply spiritual command (referring to command number ten, dm) among the 'ten words' shows that we have before us no mere code of laws defining crimes, but a body of ethical and spiritual precepts for the moral education of the people of Jehovah" (Vol. 5, pg. 2946).

     Christ's teaching relative to the Ten Commandments. In view of the greatness of the occasion of the giving of the Ten Commandments and their innate spirituality and civility, how did Jesus view this code? In the first place, it should be realized that Jesus lived and died under the Law of Moses or the Ten Commandments (Gal. 4: 4). It was the Ten Commandment Law that Jesus flawlessly kept (Heb. 4: 15, Gal. 4: 4, cp. I Jn. 3: 4). Jesus fulfilled the Law containing the Ten Commandments (Matt. 5: 17; Rom. 10: 4). Jesus not only perfectly kept the Ten Commandment Law, but also he taught others to observe and obey it (Matt. 19: 16, 17-19, notice commands number six, seven, eight, nine, and five). Jesus sought to restore the law among the Jews to its original and intended purity (Matt. 5: 21-23; command number six, 27-30, command number seven). Jesus challenged the rigid view of the Jews relative to the Sabbath law and exposed their misunderstandings (Mk. 2: 23-28). Jesus also exposed the Jew's perversion of the fifth commandment (Matt. 15: 3-9). Jesus provided the ultimate summation of the Ten Commandment Law (Matt. 22: 34-40).

     The Christian and the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandment Law as a system (including the onerous ceremonial and peculiar laws that pertained endemically to Israel) was expressly designed for the Jew. Paul wrote, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3: 24). Paul continues, "But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" (vs. 25, see also Gal. 2: 20, 19, 21; 2 Cor. 3: 7-13). However, the nine moral laws (all the Ten except for the Sabbath Law) are found in the climate of the New Testament (Rom. 13: 8, 9, commands number seven, six, eight, nine, and ten). "Honoring parents" is obviously applied as part of the New Testament (Eph. 6: 1-3, command number five). Abuse of God's name is forbidden (Jas. 5: 12, command number three), and idolatry (I Jn. 5: 21, command numbers one and two). To say that the Ten Commandment Law that God gave to Israel was simply brought over to Christianity is misleading. The nine moral declarations are found in the New Testament, but in a sublimated and superior setting, having more severe consequences for neglecting them and greater attendant blessings for obeying them (Heb. 10: 25-31). These moral codes are now in the climate of grace, no meritorious service (cp. Rom. 11: 6; Gal. 5:1-6; 4: 21-31). These ultimate moral guides have the perfect motivation for keeping them: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…" (Jn. 3: 16).

     In conclusion, God is the perfect lawgiver (Jas. 4: 12). The Ten Commandment System with all of its shadows, types, and prophetic anticipations looked to Jesus and his Law for fulfillment (Matt. 5: 17; Gal. 6: 2). Embodied in Jesus, we see the "end of the law" (the Greek word telos, "end," means culmination, Rom. 10: 4). It is not even possible to observe the Ten Commandment System today, as it was a national or theocratic government. However, the moral enunciation found engraved on the ancient tables of stone have been repeatedly shown to be a perfect moral code, especially viewed in the atmosphere of the New Testament.  (To read some related material, click on "The Old and New Covenants," "Jesus and the Law of Moses," and "The Gospels, Old Law or Jesus' Law?")