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The Ten Commandments (a.k.a. The Decalogue)

Three versions of the Decalogue.
Grouping the Exodus 20 commandments.

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Text of all three versions of the Ten Commandments:

There are three versions of the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). They are at Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

Exodus 20 version:

This is the most commonly used set of Commandments. In the King James' Version. Conservative Jews and Christians generally believe that the text was written by God on stone tablets and given to Moses during the Exodus, circa 1450 BCE. Liberals typically follow the Documentary Hypothesis, and attribute the writing to an anonymous author generally referred to as "E" who lived sometime between 922 and 722 BCE. More details.

The text reads:
2
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
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.

Exodus 34 version:

Religious conservatives generally accept the Bible as inerrant and believe that Yahweh dictated this version to Moses who wrote it down in brush and ink circa 1450 BCE. Liberals generally accept that this version was written by an anonymous author generally referred to as "J" sometime between 848 and 722 BCE. 

The text reads:
12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:
13 But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
15 Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
16 And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
17 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
18 The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.
19 All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
20 But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.
21 Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.
22 And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
23 Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.
24 For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.
25 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
26 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

Deuteronomy 5 version

Religious conservatives generally regard this version as having been written on tablets by God as in the Exodus 20 version circa 1450 BCE. Religious liberals generally regard this as having been written by an anonymous author called "D" circa 622 BCE during the time of the exile to Babylon..

The text reads:
6 I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
7 Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
8 Thou shalt not make 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 waters beneath the earth:
9 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto 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,
10 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
11 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.
12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.
13 Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work:
14 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, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.
15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
16 Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
17 Thou shalt not kill.
18 Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
20 Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
21 Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.

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Grouping the Exodus 20 commandments:

"Literally read, the Decalogue includes 19 different commands and prohibitions." 1 If the text is further divided into component parts, there are a total of 25 instructions. Christians and Jews believe that there are precisely ten commandments. This is based on the biblical passages: Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13 and Deuteronomy 10:4 which confirm that there are ten. They have grouped them differently in order to add up to 10: 2

Tradition 1st Commandment 2nd Commandment 9th Commandment 10th Commandment
Ancient Judaism, most Protestants & Eastern Orthodox Exodus 20:3 Exodus 20:4-6 Exodus 20:16 Exodus 20:17
Current Judaism Exodus 20:2  Exodus 20:3-6 Exodus 20:16 Exodus 20:17
Roman Catholics, some Lutherans Exodus 20:3-6 Exodus 20:7 Coveting of neighbor's wife in Exodus 20:17  Rest of Exodus 20:17

The Protestant/Eastern Orthodox order comes from the 1st century Jewish practice; they regard Exodus 20:2 as a preamble. Historians Philo and Josephus from that era were familiar with this grouping. The Roman Catholic sequence was established by St. Augustine. He based it on the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures that many scholars believe was translated from circa 250 BCE.

Lack of agreement among various divisions with Christianity and Judaism makes it very difficult to reach a consensus about how the Ten should be printed for display in public locations. Usually, the preferences of Jews, Roman Catholics and some Lutherans are overruled, and the Protestant format is chosen.

The Bible makes

"frequent reference to "two" tablets...(Exodus 31:18; 32:15; 34:1, 4, 29; Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:22; 9:10, 11, 15, 17; 10:1, 3; 1 Kings 8:9; 2 Chronicles 5:10). According to rabbinic tradition, the purpose for having two tablets was to divide the Ten Commandments under two rubrics. The first tablet, we are told, contained the so-called religious commandments, describing obligations owed to God. The second tablet contained ethical or moral commandments, describing obligations we owe to one another as creatures of God and as fellow human beings." 3

An alternative interpretation is that the full Ten Commandments was replicated on two duplicate tablets. This would follow the Hittite tradition of making two copies of each treaty: one for the Hittite king and the other for the vassals.    

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Related essay on this web site:

bullet Sources of the three versions of the Decalogue

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Alan M. Dershowitz, "Ten Commandments Aren't Gun Control Politics: Religion isn't a constitutionally acceptable alternative," Los Angeles Times, 1999-JUN-20. See:
    http://www.latimes.com
  2. C.M. Laymon, Editor, "The Interpreters One-volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon, (1971), Pages 53-55.
  3. Ronald Youngblood, "Counting the Ten Commandments," Biblical Review, 1994-DEC. See: http://www.bib-arch.org/

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Copyright 1999 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-AUG-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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