What are the Ten Commandments?

The Ten Commandments are laws that relate to worship and ethics in the Bible which are vital to Christianity and Judaism.


The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, are laws that relate to worship and ethics in the Bible which are vital to Christianity, and Judaism. These religions interpret them diversely and number the verses in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:4-21 differently into ten commandments. The Hebrew Bible contains these commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy. The first mention is in Exodus 19 when the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai. The Jewish traditions state that Exodus 20:1-17 is God’s first discourse of the commandments on two tablets, however Moses broke them during an act of anger towards the Israelites who, during his absence, collectively compelled Aaron to create a golden calf for them to worship. Much later Moses rewrote the ten commandments and placed in the ark of the covenant. Deuteronomy 5:6-21, repeats the commandments to the younger generations of Israelites.

Religious Interpretations

The Ten Commandments are not rules but rather guiding principles to different circumstances applied unanimously. In all the religious interpretations, none mentions any punishment for breaking the commandments.


These commandments form the foundation of Jewish Law and the basis of the rest of the commandments in the Torah. Jewish culture gives various interpretations to the arrangement of the commandments on the tablet. One interpretation states that each tablet contained five commandments while the other states that the tablets were duplicates. During the rule of the Sanhedrin, those who defied some of the commandments faced the death penalty while in the Second Temple, faithfuls recited them daily. Currently, synagogues read the commandments thrice a year.


Biblically, God wrote the commandments using his own fingers and the inscriptions went through both sides of the two tablets. However, Catholics and Protestants do not agree on the numbering of two of the commandments. Catholics consider the commandments to be essential to human growth while the early Protestant theologians considered them the basis of Christian morality. Most Christian traditions keep the Decalogue as Moral Law.

Main Points of Interpretive Differences

On Sabbath, the Abrahamic religions observe different days of Sabbath, Saturday in Judaism and Sunday in Christianity.

Regarding murder, the Hebrew Bible prohibits unlawful killing which results in bloodguilt but does not prohibit murder during wars, self-defense, and capital punishment. The New Testament, on the other hand, states that murder is a big moral evil.

Scholars like Albrecht Alt of Germany argued that initially, the commandment “thou shalt not steal,” only restrained people from stealing other people through acts of slavery and kidnapping though all the three religions agree that the commandment prohibits any form of stealing.

All Abrahamic religions forbid idol worship and interpret idols as representations of God, however, in Christianity, especially Catholicism, this does not restrict expression in art.

Finally, early interpretations of the commandment on adultery forbade an Israelite man from sexual intercourse with another man’s wife. However, they were free to have intercourse with slaves and with some single women. Over the years, this situation changed and today, Christians view adultery as intercourse outside the marriage union.

Display on Public Property in the US

Public display of the commandments in the US generates many legal and religious debates. For starters, many view such an act as imposing a religion on people. However, Texas State Capitol displays large replicas of the ten commandments. By law, the US prohibits the establishment of religion. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Fraternal Order of Eagles placed over ten thousand images of the Ten Commandments in schools and courthouses although they omitted the numbers as this made it appear sectarian. Consequently, during the early days of the 21st century, political and religious organizations filed lawsuits questioning the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. The opposers argued that this violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States while the proposers argued that the commandments represented moral and legal foundations of the society. The US courts continuously ruled that the Ten Commandments excluded other religions not related to Judeo-Christian religions. However, the courts did not rule against the display of the Ten Commandments in relation to the historical context of the development of law.


What Are The Ten Commandments?

The Ten Commandments are laws that relate to worship and ethics in the Bible which are vital to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.


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