Other Religions Atheism and Agnosticism Analysis of the Ten Commandments Background, Meaning, Implications of Each Commandment Share Flipboard Email Print Atheism and Agnosticism Belief Systems Atheism and Agnosticism Logic Ethics Key Figures in Atheism Evolution Atheism Myths and Misconceptions By Austin Cline Atheism Expert M.A., Princeton University B.A., University of Pennsylvania Austin Cline, a former regional director for the Council for Secular Humanism, writes and lectures extensively about atheism and agnosticism. our editorial process Austin Cline Updated April 26, 2019 Most people know the Ten Commandments — or perhaps it is better to say that they think they know the Ten Commandments. The commandments are one of those cultural products that people imagine that they understand, but in reality, they frequently can't even name all of them, let alone explain them or justify them. People who already think they know all they need are unlikely to take the time to research the subject with any great care and precision, unfortunately, especially when some of the problems are so obvious. First Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Have Any Gods Before MeIs this the first commandment, or is it the first two commandments? Well, that’s a good question the question. Right at the start of our analysis we're already embroiled in controversy both between religions and denominations. Second Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Make Graven ImagesWhat is a “graven image”? This has been hotly debated by Christian churches over the centuries. It's important to note that Protestant version of the Ten Commandments includes this, the Catholic does not. Yes, that's right, Protestants and Catholics don't have exactly the same Ten Commandments! Third Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord in VainWhat does it mean to “take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”? This has been hotly debated as well. According to some, it's limited to using the name of God in a frivolous manner. According to others, it includes using the name of God in magical or occult practices. Who is right? Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath, Keep It HolyThis commandment is surprisingly unique among ancient cultures. Nearly all religions have some sense of “sacred time,” but the Hebrews seem to have been the only culture to set aside an entire day every week as sacred, reserved for honoring and remembering their god. Fifth Commandment: Honor Thy Father and MotherHonoring one’s parents is generally a good idea, and it's understandably why ancient cultures would have emphasized it, given how important group and family cohesion was at a time when life was much more precarious. Saying that it's a good principle is not, however, the same making it an absolute command from God. Not all mothers and not all fathers are good enough to merit being honored. Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not KillMany religious believers regard the sixth commandments as the most basic and easily accepted of the entire set, especially when it comes to publicly-funded displays. After all, who will complain about the government telling citizens not to kill? The truth, though, is that this commandment is far more controversial and problematic than it first appears - especially in the context of a religion where adherents report being ordered by the same god to kill quite often. Seventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Commit AdulteryWhat does “adultery” mean? These days people tend define it as any form of sex outside of marriage, or at least any act of sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than their spouse. That makes perfect sense in today's world, but not many realize that that's not how the ancient Hebrews defined it. So when applying the commandment today, whose definition should be used Eighth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not StealThis is one of the simplest commandments - so simple in fact, that the obvious interpretation may actually be correct for a change. Then again, maybe not. Most people read it as a ban on stealing, but that doesn't seem to be how everyone understood it originally. Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Bear False WitnessWhat does “bearing false witness” mean? It might have been originally been limited to lying in legal cases. For the ancient Hebrews, anyone found to be lying during their testimony could be forced to endure the punishment that would have been imposed upon the accused — even death. Today, though, most people seem to treat it as a blanket ban on any form of lying. Tenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not CovetThis may be the most contentious of all the commandments, and that's saying something. Depending upon how it is read, it can be the most difficult to adhere to, the most difficult to justify imposing upon others, and in some ways the least reflective of modern morality.