The Ten Commandments
What they are and who they are for
What are the Ten Commandments?
The Ten Commandments is an ancient set
of instructions for living. They are also called the "Decalogue"
or "Decalog." There are three versions of the Decalog in the
Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), in Exodus 20:2-17,
34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Exodus 20 is the
most commonly used grouping. They are accepted by Judaism,
and Christianity as a
summary of some of the important rules of behavior that God expects of humanity.
Muslims believe that modern versions of the book of Exodus and other books
in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) have been heavily modified from the
originals. However, there are passages in the Qur'an -- the Muslim holy book --
that agree closely with each of the Ten Commandments.
Religious conservatives generally agree that the Decalog:
||Was written by God.
||Was given by God to Moses more than 3 millennia ago.
||Is still binding on everyone today.
Religious liberals generally agree that:
||The Documentary Hypothesis is valid. i.e.
the first five books of the Bible, including Exodus and Deuteronomy,
were written by a number of anonymous authors:
||The Exodus 20 version was written circa 922 to 722 BCE,
by an unknown author who is traditionally referred to as "E."
||The Exodus 34 version was written by "J," sometime between 848
and 722 BCE.
||The Deuteronomy version was written circa 622 BCE by "D".
||There are many differences between today's culture, and the tribal society of the ancient
Israelites over 2,600 years ago. Slavery has been
abolished. Modern democracies extend religious freedom and tolerance to all
of its citizens. Women are able to vote and enjoy equal rights to men. North America
has a multi-cultural and multi-faith culture. Thus some of the Ten
Commandments no longer apply, for reasons described below. Attempting to promote them throughout the U.S.
or Canada would generate alienation, resentment, and anger. Violence,
including school violence is possible.|
Are the Ten Commandments for everyone?
Most people have only a vague idea of the contents of the Ten Commandments.
They might recall that some of the commandments prohibit behaviors
like adultery, murder, lying, etc. Thus they might believe that followers of all
religions, from Asatru to Zoroastrianism, should find them equally acceptable. However, these
beliefs are mistaken. The first four commandments (or five,
depending on the format that you use) require specific worship practices that
are unacceptable to people of many, perhaps most, religions.
The Ten Commandments raise some serious problems in modern
society. Using the Protestant/Eastern Orthodox format derived from Exodus 20:
||There are concerns about at least four of the commandments in a
multi-faith culture which is dedicated to religious freedom, religious
tolerance, personal responsibility and an end to sexism and racism:
||The first commandment prohibits the worship of any deity other than
Jehovah; this condemns such religions as Buddhism (some traditions),
Hinduism, Sikhism, Wicca, etc. It is in direct conflict with the
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees freedom of religious
belief. It is intolerant of other faiths and could generate hatred and
violence against minority religions.
||The second commandment prohibits the use of religious statues,
the taking of photographs, drawing of paintings. etc. It promises that God will punish anyone who worships
statues. In addition, their children, grand-children, great-grand-children
and perhaps great-great-grand children will also be punished by a God of
intolerance and wrath. These
concepts are deeply offensive to many people who believe that a person
should be held responsible for their own sins and crimes, not those
parents, grandparents, great-grand-parents, etc. Also, this is in conflict with
the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. Many religious groups and individuals use statues
in various ways. Prohibiting or belittling these practices could
also generate religious friction and
||The fourth commandment calls for people to not work on Saturday. This
intrudes on the lives and practices of many people, particularly
followers of faith groups that do not worship
||The tenth commandment treats women as objects that are owned by
their husbands. It recognizes human slavery as a normal part of society. The commandment
is sexist and has racist overtones.
||Another difficulty is the principle of separation
of church and state which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is implied by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Government offices and public schools cannot constitutionally promote one
religion over another; they also cannot promote religion as superior to a secular
belief system. Students are free to pray in most situations at
public schools: they are free to to carry religious texts, are free to wear
religious clothing, and are usually free to form Bible clubs. However, the school
administration itself cannot constitutionally post religious texts or institute a morning
prayer in the classroom. The Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments cannot
be posted in the classrooms of public schools, unless they are
part of a display that includes laws from other religions and
from secular sources. Displaying behavior laws from other religions is
unacceptable to many of the people who are promoting the display of the
Ten Commandments. Alternatives to the Ten
Commandments that can probably be legally placed have been
Enforcing the Ten Commandments:
The Society for the Practical establishment and Perpetuation of
the Ten Commandments is a somewhat radical group which promotes the replacements of
the world's national
constitutions and United Nation's documents with the Ten Commandments.
Some passages from their web site are:
||Every human, Jew, Christian, or other, is responsible to perfectly obey the Ten
Commandments. They are the only laws that are perfectly suited for
||A son or daughter who either curses or strikes his parent shall
be executed. Adulterers shall be executed. Persons engaging in
homosexual behavior shall be executed. A woman who has an
abortion, and her physician, shall be executed.
||Documents like the U.S. Constitution
and United Nations Universal Declaration of
Human Rights are "moral evils in the sight of God"
and need to be replaced by the Ten Commandments.
||"Atheism is deliberate effort
to never admit the truth about God."
||"Atheism is the ultimate [form] of satanism"
||"...in many, if not all cases, atheists are
||It is the Atheists who are perpetuating physician
assisted suicide, evolution,
access, equal rights for homosexuals,
pornography, pedophilia, etc.
||"God requires death for
homosexuality...homosexuality...can be and is often more
heinous than murder."
||"Any homosexual who thinks he or she is accepted by God
and His true holy Church has to be cursed with the deepest depths
of blindness and satanic depravity."
||The U.S. Constitution has a "poisonous effects upon the
society." It gives men rights and freedoms "to
think speak and act in ways opposite to their God-given and thus
rightful role as males." It also distorts the rightful
role of women. 1
- The Society for the
Practical establishment and Perpetuation of the Ten Commandments has a
web page at:
Copyright © 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-MAR-6
Latest update: 2007-SEP-25
Author: B.A. Robinson