The Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, are a set of laws which were given to Moses by God, as found in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. The biblical text of the Ten Commandments is differently divided according to denominational traditions. The Orthodox and Catholic tradition traces back to the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Protestant tradition traces back to the 16th century Reformation.
Catholic and Orthodox Ten Commandments
- 1. 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 beside me. Thou shalt not make to thyself an idol, nor likeness of anything, whatever things are in the heaven above, and whatever are in the earth beneath, and whatever are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them; for I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, recompensing the sins of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation to them that hate me, and bestowing mercy on them that love me to thousands of them, and on them that keep my commandments.
- 2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord thy God will not acquit him that takes his name in vain.
- 3. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days thou shalt labour, and shalt perform all thy work. But on the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; on it thou shalt do no work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy servant nor thy maidservant, thine ox nor thine ass, nor any cattle of thine, nor the stranger that sojourns with thee. For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, and the sea and all things in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.
- 4. Honour thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on the good land, which the Lord thy God gives to thee.
- 5. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- 6. Thou shalt not steal.
- 7. Thou shalt not kill.
- 8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
- 9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife;
- 10. thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house; nor his field, nor his servant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any of his cattle, nor whatever belongs to thy neighbor.
Protestant Ten Commandments
- 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 murder.
- 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.
There are two versions, generally similar but somewhat different in wording: Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. 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 and Deuteronomy 4:13, 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 include it as part of the first commandment against having other gods, and divide "Thou shalt not covet" into "...thy neighbor's wife" (9th) the wife having far more dignity than mere property (chattal), and "...thy neighbor's goods" (10th) which are property.
- "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife:
- "nor his house, nor his field, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his." (Deuteronomy 5:21, Douay-Rheims Bible)
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 "Thou shalt have no other gods before me: thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image...thou shalt not bow down thyself to them", and their listing of the remainder of their ten follows the Protestant listing, making wives property.
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).
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.
- 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.
- Similarly, the First Amendment forbids any legal means of enforcing the commandment about not worshiping idols.
- 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.
- 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 worldwide, and most people observe at least one day free from work.
- 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)
- The commandment against murder is enforced by U.S. law.
- Criminal laws against adultery 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 to allow remarriage after divorce. Many Christians believe that this commandment, which forbids adultery, also forbids fornication.
- The commandment against stealing is enforced by U.S. law.
- 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.
- 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. 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 chief justice Roy Moore was removed from office after refusing a court order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the central rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court Building.
The Ten Commandments is also the title of a famous 1956 motion picture, produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and released by Paramount Pictures, 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 claimed by liberals and atheists, particularly in recent years, as to whether they violate the claimed separation of Church and State.
- The English translation of the Septuagint by Sir Lancelot L.C. Brenton (in the public domain) is quoted here. Both lists of the commandments in the Septuagint have the same sequence: Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. However, the Douay-Rheims Bible translation of the Latin Vulgate from Jerome's translation of the Hebrew text, agrees with the King James Version in showing the same differences in sequence between the texts of Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21. The traditional Catholic and Orthodox teaching of the sequential division of the Ten Commandments is consistently according to the text of Deuteronomy instead of the text of Exodus emphasized by Protestant teaching. Italics in the English text have been inserted by the translator for the same reason as the King James translators inserted italics, to clarify the meaning and to indicate that they are not part of the original text.
- Catholic and Orthodox traditional understanding of this commandment interprets the intent of it as against the destruction of innocent human life, as distinct from capital punishment of the guilty and the conduct of righteous or just war against pagan idolaters in the promised land and aggressive invaders and oppressors, which was permitted and even commanded under the law of Moses.
- The 9th and 10th commandments. As in the book of Deuteronomy, a distinction is made between the neighbor's wife and the neighbor's property. This influenced Orthodox and Catholic doctrine regarding the dignity of women and wives.
- The King James Version is quoted here.
- The word "murder" has been inserted here in place of the original King James Version "kill". The Hebrew term, ratsach, can mean to kill, slay or to murder.
- Wives are regarded as property, in the same category as houses, land, slaves, beasts, and personal and household articles and furniture, including clothing and jewelry. This influenced Protestant doctrine regarding the dignity of women and wives.
- Exodus 20:2-17 (KJV)
- Deuteronomy 5:6-21 (KJV)
- Exodus 34:10-28 (KJV)
- Deuteronomy 4:13 (KJV)
- An atheistic website provides a comparison among faiths with respect to the Ten Commandments, and many sources: http://www.positiveatheism.org/crt/whichcom.htm
- Ibid. http://www.positiveatheism.org/crt/whichcom.htm
- Virginia Code § 18.2-365
- adultery, n. Second edition, 1989; online version November 2010. <http://www.oed.com:80/Entry/2845>; accessed 21 December 2010. Earlier version first published in New English Dictionary, 1884.
- "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
- "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.]