What are the ten commands?
The ten commands are the basic principles of morality which God gave to His people Israel.
Why do you call them “basic principles of morality”?
Because they are not specific rules for specific situations but are general principles which must be applied to all the different circumstances of our life and experience. Each command guards a principle which is sacred to God and therefore should be sacred to us as well.
Explain your thought that each of the commands guards something sacred.
Note each command and the principle it protects:
|First command: You shall have no other gods before Me.||The sanctity of God Himself|
|Second command: You shall not make for yourself an idol…||The sanctity of God’s worship|
|Third command: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain||The sanctity of God’s Name|
|Fourth command: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy||The sanctity of God’s day|
|Fifth command: Honor your father and your mother…||The sanctity of authority|
|Sixth command: You shall not murder.||The sanctity of human life|
|Seventh command: You shall not commit adultery.||The sanctity of the sexual relationship|
|Eighth command: You shall not steal.||The sanctity of private property|
|Ninth command: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.||The sanctity of truth|
|Tenth command: You shall not covet … anything that belongs to your neighbor.||The sanctity of our thoughts|
What are the different enumerations of the ten commands?
All Christians recognize ten commands, but they differ as to how they are to be numbered. The Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches have merged what Protestants call the first and second commands. Then, they split the tenth command into two to get ten commands. Here is the list from the Baltimore catechism (Roman Catholic):
Question 1130. Which are the Commandments of God? Answer: The Commandments of God are these ten:
- I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
- Remember thou keep holy the Sabbath day.
- Honor thy father and thy mother.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
The Talmud has the following numbering:
- I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage;
- Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor 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 unto them, nor serve them, for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing lovingkindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments;
- Thou shalt not take God’s name in vain;
- Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day;
- Honor thy father and thy mother;
- Thou shalt not kill;
- Thou shalt not commit adultery;
- Thou shalt not steal;
- Thou shalt not bear false witness;
- Thou shalt not covet. source
To the objection that on this rendering, the first command is not really a command, it is pointed out that these are ten words כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, not necessarily commands.
Which of these numberings is correct?
Catholics usually defend their numbering based on the authority of the Catholic church (see here and here) while protestants argue that the tenth command cannot be divided as Catholics do. They point to the fact that the order is reversed in Exodus and Deuteronomy. This suggests a unity, not a division into two distinct commands.
|Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s. (Exodus 20:17)||
Neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor’s wife; neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor’s house, his field, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbor’s. (Deuteronomy 5:21)
- Augustine defended the Catholic numbering.
- Ewald says that no resolution is possible.
- Edersheim says: “It is well known that the Roman Catholics and the Lutheran Church combine the two first commandments Into one, and divide the tenth into two. But for this there is not the shadow of ground or authority, either in the Hebrew text or even in Jewish tradition.”
- Fairbairn comments on the division of the tenth command.
- Cumming points out that in his experience, the catholic numbering ends up just forgetting the second command.
In reference to the religion of Israel, it is important to bear in mind that, during the three and a half centuries since the death of Jacob, all direct communication from Heaven, whether by prophecy or in vision, had, so far as we know, wholly ceased. Even the birth of Moses was not Divinely intimated. In these circumstances the children of Israel were cast upon that knowledge which they had acquired from “the fathers,” and which, undoubtedly, was preserved among them. It need scarcely be explained, although it shows the wisdom of God’s providential arrangements, that the simple patriarchal forms of worship would suit the circumstances in Egypt much better than those which the religion of Israel afterwards received. Three great observances here stand out prominently. Around them the faith and the worship alike of the ancient patriarchs, and afterwards of Israel, may be said to have clustered. They are: circumcision, sacrifices, and the Sabbath. We have direct testimony that the rite of circumcision was observed by Israel in Egypt.2 As to sacrifices, even the proposal to celebrate a great sacrificial feast in the wilderness,3 implies that sacrificial worship had maintained its hold upon the people. Lastly, the direction to gather on the Friday two days’ provision of manna,4 and the introduction of the Sabbath command by the word “Remember,”1 convey the impression of previous Sabbath observance on the part of Israel. Indeed, the manner in which many things, as, for example, the practice of vows, are spoken of in the law, seems to point back to previous religious rites among Israel.
Alfred Edersheim, The Exodus and the Wanderings in the Wilderness (New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell, 1876), 29–30.