The Ten Commandments
See also Ten Commandments
These are said to have been written by the finger of God (Deut. 9:10) and spoken directly by God to the people. They are thus distinguished from other collections of laws. They form in themselves a significant unity. They had a special place in the continuing life of Israel (cf. Deut. 6; Jer. 7:9). There are slight differences between the two biblical statements of the Decalogue (Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:1- 21). In Exodus, Sabbath observance is based on God's rest in His creative activity, whereas in Deuteronomy it is based on the rest required by a servant as a sign that God has redeemed him. In Deuteronomy, moreover, a man's wife is clearly distinguished from his servants and is accorded special status and protection.
The commandments were intended to be divided into two tables, the first teaching duty to God, the second teaching duty to the neighbor. Christ Himself referred to the commandments in His teaching, and summed up their meaning by combining the texts Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18, each of which sums up one of the two tables (Matt. 22:34-40). In the NT the commandments are sometimes directly quoted (Matt. 5:17,19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 7:7,8; 13:9; 1 Tim. 1:9,10). It has sometimes been supposed that the number ten had some religious significance, since it occurs in the description of the details of the Temple and in other similar connections. Goethe found ten commandments in Exodus 34:14-26, and it was later suggested that this formed a cultic decalogue corresponding to, and possibly rivaling, the ten moral commandments. It has recently been pointed out that in passages such as Psalm 15:2-5 commandments are grouped in tens.
The dividing and numbering of the commandments has created controversy. Philo divided the two tables equally, the first pental ending with the commandment to honor parents. Subsequent scholars felt the first table should end with the Sabbath commandment. The Talmudic tradition held that the commandments against idolatry and the forbidding of images formed one long, indivisible unit. Augustine, who was followed by the Roman and Lutheran traditions, accepted this suggestion and found two commandments under the rubric “thou shalt not covet.” A further tradition, following the lead of Origen, separated the commandment against images from that against idolatry; this is the view of Calvin and the Reformed tradition.
The more the Decalogue is listened to with faith, the more clearly will it impress itself upon us as a Word through which the commandment and grace of the living God reach us today. The more it is studied, the more it will be recognized that in spite of its brevity-and indeed perhaps because of its brevity-it says what is sufficient to establish the claim of God upon every aspect of our lives, each in its due place and proportion. Its significance has been recognized throughout church history. Irenaeus recognized it as a universal law common to Jews and Gentiles, and receiving new sanction rather than abrogation from Jesus Himself. It came to be commonly used in the instruction of catechumens and was identified by the Schoolmen with natural law. Luther gave fresh prominence to it through his use and exposition of it in his catechisms, and along with the Lord's Prayer it was used as the basis of instruction in the Christian life in all the Reformed tradition. Our interpretation of the commandments must take account of the fact that the law was fulfilled in Christ, and that its true meaning is found in His words and life.
R.W. Dale,(1895); J. Davidman, Smoke on the Mountain (1954); R.S. Wallace, The (1965); J.J. Stamm, The Ten Commandments in Recent Research (1967); E. Nielsen, The Ten Commandments in New Perspective (1968).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
See COMMANDMENT; TEN COMMANDMENTS.
I. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, AN ISRAELITISH CODE
II. THE PROMULGATON OF THE DECALOGUE
III. ANALYSIS OF THE DECALOGUE WITH BRIEF EXEGETICAL NOTES
1. How Numbered
2. How Grouped
3. Original Form
4. Brief Exegetical Notes
IV. JESUS AND THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
I.an Israelite Code.
The "ten words" were spoken by Yahweh to the people whom He had but recently delivered from Egyptian bondage, and then led out into the wilderness, that He might teach them His laws. It was to Israel that the Decalogue was primarily addressed, and not to all mankind. Thus, the reason assigned for keeping the 5th commandment applies to the people who were on their way to the land which had been given to Abraham and his descendants (
Of the "ten words," seven were perhaps binding on the consciences of enlightened men prior to the days of Moses: murder, adultery, theft and false witness were already treated as crimes among the Babylonians and the Egyptians; and intelligent men knew that it was wrong to dishonor God by improper use of His name, or to show lack of respect to parents, or to covet the property of another. No doubt the sharp, ringing words in which these evils are forbidden in the Ten Commandments gave to Israel a clearer apprehension of the sins referred to than they had ever had before; and the manner in which they were grouped by the divine speaker brought into bold relief the chief elements of the moral law. But the first two prohibitions were novelties in the religious life of the world; for men worshipped many gods, and bowed down to images of every conceivable kind. The 2nd commandment was too high even for Israel to grasp at that early day; a few weeks later the people were dancing about the golden calf at the foot of Sinai. The observance of the Sabbath was probably unknown to other nations, though it may have been already known in the family of Abraham.
II. The Promulgation of the Decalogue.
The "ten words" were spoken by Yahweh Himself from the top of the mount under circumstances the most awe-inspiring. In the early morning there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud. It is no wonder that the people trembled as they faced the smoking and quaking mount, and listened to the high demands of a holy God. Their request that all future revelations should be made through Moses as the prophet mediator was quite natural. The promulgation of the Ten Commandments stands out as the most notable event in all the wilderness sojourn of Israel. There was no greater day in history before the coming of theinto the world.
After a sojourn of 40 days in the mount, Moses came down with "the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God." At the foot of the mount, when Moses saw the golden calf and the dancing throng about it, he cast the tables out of his hands and broke them in pieces (
III. Analysis of the Decalogue with Brief Exegetical Notes.
That there were "ten words" is expressly stated (
1. How Numbered:
(1) Josephus is the first witness for the division now common among Protestants (except Lutherans), namely,
(a) foreign gods,
(c) name of God,
(i) false witness,
Before him, Philo made the same arrangement, except that he followed the Septuagint in putting adultery before murder. This mode of counting was current with many of the church Fathers, and is now in use in the Greek Catholic church and with most Protestants.
(2) Augustine combined foreign gods and images (
(3) A third mode of counting is that adopted by the Jews in the early Christian centuries, which became universal among them in the
The division of the prohibition of coveting into two commandments is fatal to the Augustinian scheme; and the reckoning of the initial statement in
2. How Grouped:
(1) The Jews, from Philo to the present, divide the "ten words" into two groups of five each. As there were two tables, it would be natural to suppose that five commandments were recorded on each tablet, though the fact that the tablets had writing on both their sides (
(2) Augustine supposed that there were three commandments on the first table and seven on the second. According to his method of numbering the commandments, this would put the command to honor parents at the head of the second table, as in the third method of grouping the ten words.
(3) Calvin and many moderns assign four commandments to the first table and six to the second. This has the advantage of assigning all duties to God to the first table and all duties to men to the second. It also accords with our Lord’s reduction of the commandments to two (
3. Original Form:
A comparison of the text of the Decalogue in
From the days of Ewald to the present, some of the leading Old Testament scholars have held that originally all the commandments were brief and without the addition of any special reasons for their observance. According to this hypothesis, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and the 10th commandments were probably as follows: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image"; "Thou shalt not take the name of Yahweh thy God in vain"; "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy"; "Honor thy father and thy mother"; "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house." This early critical theory would account for the differences in the two recensions by supposing that the motives for keeping the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th commandments, as well as the expansion of the 10th, were additions made through the influence of the prophetic teaching. If accompanied by a full recognition of the divine origin of the ten words in the Mosaic era, this hypothesis might be acceptable to a thorough believer in revelation. Before acquiescing in the more radical theories of some recent scholars, such a believer will demand more cogent arguments than the critics have been able to bring forward. Thus when we are told that the Decalogue contains prohibitions that could not have been incorporated into a code before the days of Manasseh, we demand better proofs than the failure of Israel to live up to the high demands of the 2nd and the 10th commandments, or a certain theory of the evolution of the history that may commend itself to the mind of naturalistic critics. Yahweh was at work in the early history of Israel; and the great prophets of the 8th century, far from creating ethical monotheism, were reformers sent to demand that Israel should embody in daily life the teachings of the Torah.
Goethe advanced the view that
Wellhausen (, 331 f) reconstructs this so-called decalogue as follows:
(1) Thou shalt worship no other god (
(2) Thou shalt make thee no molten gods (
(3) The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep (
(4) Every firstling is mine (
(5) Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks (
(6) And the feast of ingathering at the year’s end (
(7) Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread (
(8) The fat of my feast shall not remain all night until the morning (23:18b; compare 34:25b).
(9) The best of the first-fruits of thy ground shalt thou bring to the house of Yahweh thy God (
(10) Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk (
Addis agrees with Wellhausen that even this simpler decalogue must be put long after the time of Moses (EB, 1051).
Now, it is evident that the narrative in
4. Brief Exegetical Notes:
(1) The 1st commandment prohibits the worship of any god other than Yahweh. If it be said that this precept inculcates monolatry and not monotheism, the reply is ready to hand that a consistent worship of only one God is, for a people surrounded by idolaters, the best possible approach to the conclusion that there is only one true God. The organs of revelation, whatever may have been the notions and practices of the mass of the Israelite people, always speak in words that harmonize with a strict monotheism.
(2) The 2nd commandment forbids the use of images in worship; even an image of Yahweh is not to be tolerated (compare
(3) Yahweh’s name is sacred, as standing for His person; therefore it must be employed in no vain or false way. The commandment, no doubt, includes more than false swearing. Cursing, blasphemy and every profane use of Yahweh’s name are forbidden.
(4) As the 1st commandment inculcates the unity of God and the 2nd His spirituality, so also the 3rd commandment guards His name against irreverent use and the 4th sets apart the seventh day as peculiarly His day, reserved for a Sabbath.
(5) The transition from duties to God to duties to men is made naturally in the 5th commandment, which inculcates reverence for parents, to whom their children should look up with gratitude, as all men should toward the Divine Father.
(6) Human life is so precious and sacred that no man should dare to take it away by violence.
(7) The family life is safeguarded by the 7th commandment.
(8) The 8th commandment forbids theft in all its forms. It recognizes the right of personal ownership of property.
(9) The 9th commandment safeguards honor and good name among men. Slander, defamation, false testimony in court and kindred sins are included.
(10) The 10th commandment is the most searching of them all, for it forbids the inward longing, the covetous desire for what belongs to another. The presence of such a deeply spiritual command 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 Yahweh.
IV. Jesus and the Ten Commandments.
Our Lord embraced the whole range of human obligation in two, or at most three, commands: (1) "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind"; (2) "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (
Oehler, Old Testament Theology, I, 267 ff; Dillmann, Exodus-Leviticus, 200-219; Kuenen, Origin and Composition of the Hexateuch, 244; Wellhausen, Code of Hammurabi, 331 f; Rothstein, Das Bundesbuch; Baenstch, Das Bundesbuch; Meissaner, Der Dekalog; Driver, "Deuteronomy," ICC; Addis, Documents of the Hexateuch, I, 136 ff; R. W. Dale, The Ten Commandments; G. D. Boardman, University Lectures on the Ten Commandments (Philadelphia, 1889).