What Are the Ten Commandments?

Take a fresh look at the ancient Laws of God

Modern Ten Commandments
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The Ten Commandments, or the Tablets of the Law, are the commands God gave to the people of Israel through Moses after leading them out of Egypt. In essence, the Ten Commandments are a summary of the hundreds of laws found in the Old Testament. These commands are considered the basis for moral, spiritual, and ethical conduct by Jews and Christians alike.

What Are the Ten Commandments?

  • The Ten Commandments refer to two tablets of stone that God gave to Moses and the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.
  • Inscribed on them were "ten words" that served as the foundation for the entire Mosaic Law.
  • The words were written by "the finger of God" (Exodus 31:18).
  • Moses broke the first tablets when he came down from the mountain and threw them on the ground (Exodus 32:19).
  • The Lord commanded Moses to bring him a second set on which God wrote “the words that were on the first tablets” (Exodus 34:1).
  • These tablets were later placed in the ark of the covenant (Deuteronomy 10:5; 1 Kings 8:9).
  • The full list of commandments are recorded in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
  • The title “Ten Commandments” comes from three other passages: Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; and 10:4.

In the original language, the Ten Commandments are called the "Decalogue" or "Ten Words." These ten words were spoken by God, the lawgiver, and were not the result of human lawmaking. They were written on two tablets of stone. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible explains:

"This does not mean that five commandments were written on each tablet; rather, all 10 were written on each tablet, the first tablet belonging to God the lawgiver, the second tablet belonging to Israel the recipient."
Moses breaking the two tablets of stone
Engraved illustration of Moses breaking the two tablets of stone, dated 1883.

TonyBaggett / Getty Images

Today's society embraces cultural relativism, which is an idea that rejects absolute truth. For Christians and Jews, God gave us the absolute truth in the inspired Word of God. Through the Ten Commandments, God gave his people basic rules of behavior for living upright and spiritual lives. The commands outline the absolutes of morality that God intended for his people.

The commandments apply to two areas: the first four pertain to our relationship with God, the last six deal with our relationships with other people.

Modern-day Paraphrase of the Ten Commandments

Translations of the Ten Commandments can vary widely, with some forms sounding antiquated and stilted to modern ears. Here is a modern paraphrase of the Ten Commandments, including brief explanations. 

  1. Do not worship any other god than the one true God. All other gods are false gods. Worship God alone.
  2. Do not make idols or images in the form of God. An idol can be anything (or anyone) you worship by making it more important than God. If something (or someone) has your time, attention and affections, it has your worship. It could be an idol in your life. Don't let anything take the place of God in your life.
  3. Do not treat God's name lightly or with disrespect. Because of God's importance, his name is always to be spoken of reverently and with honor. Always honor God with your words.
  4. Dedicate or set aside a regular day each week for rest and worship of the Lord.
  5. Give honor to your father and mother by treating them with respect and obedience.
  6. Do not deliberately kill a fellow human being. Don't hate people or hurt them with words and actions.
  7. Do not have sexual relations with anyone other than your spouse. God forbids sex outside of the bounds of marriage. Respect your body and other people's bodies.
  8. Do not steal or take anything that doesn't belong to you, unless you have been given permission to do so.
  9. Do not tell a lie about someone or bring a false accusation against another person. Always tell the truth.
  10. Do not desire anything or anyone that does not belong to you. Comparing yourself to others and longing to have what they have can lead to jealousy, envy, and other sins. Be content by focusing on the blessings God has given you and not what he has not given you. Be thankful for what God has given you.
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Fairchild, Mary. "What Are the Ten Commandments?" Learn Religions, Sep. 6, 2021, learnreligions.com/ten-commandments-p2-700221. Fairchild, Mary. (2021, September 6). What Are the Ten Commandments? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/ten-commandments-p2-700221 Fairchild, Mary. "What Are the Ten Commandments?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/ten-commandments-p2-700221 (accessed October 28, 2021).

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