August 29, 2009

The Ten Commandments

With Positive Calls to Love and Freedom


During a U.S. House of Representatives session in 1999, members of Congress were arguing the merits of allowing schools to post a copy of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. During the argument, one Representative demanded to know “whose Ten Commandments” would be posted: the Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish? While all three agree on the Scriptures involved, there are minor differences in grouping. This page does not take a position on whether the commandments should be posted or judge who is following them. They are merely posted with a few thoughts on each.


The Ten Commandments (also called the Decalogue) were given to Moses, the great leader of the Hebrews, over 3,000 years ago after the Hebrews were delivered from slavery in Egypt. While the Law of Moses is made up of over 600 rules, the Ten Commandments were a succinct list of rules from which the others were developed. They are recorded in two chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures (specifically the Pentateuch): Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.

When Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, he replied: “You know the Commandments, keep these and you will live.” For now, just notice that Jesus attests to the importance of the Ten Commandments. This is why Christians still accept them.

About the numbering: there are at least two sets of numbering used, and both are very old, at least 1,600 years. Most Protestants use the numbering adopted by Josephus and Origen, but Catholics and Lutherans use the numbering of St. Augustine, who took it from a Hebrew list in the fifth century. The numbering is not in the Bible.

The Ten Commandments

The Jewish tradition (according to Scripture) viewed the Law as a gift from God, not an option or curse. Christian tradition views sin as enslavement rather than something fun we are denied. To accept salvation is to be freed from slavery to sin and raised to a new life. In the table below, you can see the commandments and how they free us from sin and free us for a new life.


The Commandment

The Call



I am the LORD your God, you shall have no other gods before me.

Faith (Trust in God)

All faith in God, freedom from lesser gods: wealth, sex, power, popularity.


You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain.



Respect for God and the things of God: prayer, worship, religion.


Keep holy the Sabbath day.


Not just the Sabbath rest, but setting aside time for prayer, good recreation, quiet reflection.


Honor your father and your mother.


Loving care and respect for all family members, elders and younger siblings, too. Respect for elders in general.


You shall not kill.

Respect For Life

Courtesy to all, speaking respectfully to all, seeking the best for all. Respecting others’ freedom while still defending all human life.


You shall not commit adultery.


Faithfulness (Fidelity)

Faithful actions beyond just abstaining from sexual contact outside of marriage. Respect for sex and marriage.


You shall not steal.

Justice (Honesty)

 Concern for the rights of others, especially when they get in the way of what we desire. A commitment to fairness and a willingness to suffer loss rather than depriving another.


You shall not bear false witness.


 A dedication to what is real and true, even if that reality is against our interests.


You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.


 A desire to want only what God wills. A single-hearted devotion to God’s way.


You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.


 A cooperation in God’s own generosity that sees all goods as belonging to God and freely given for the good of all.

The Ten Commandments are found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the section on living the Christian life (2052 – 2557).

When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” he responded with two:

Love God and love your neighbor. (cf. Mark 12:28-31)

In accord with this, we see the first three commandments as directed toward the first of these (love of God), and the last seven as relating to the second: love of neighbor.

Scripture References

Exodus 20:2-17
Deuteronomy 5:6-21
Matthew 5; 12:1-13
Mark 2:23 – 3:5; 7:8-13; 10:17-22; 12:28-31
Luke 18:18-23
John 13:34-35

The Ten Commandments in Hebrew –

Other References

The Ten Commandments: Sounds of Love from Sinai, by Fr. Alfred McBride, O.Praem.
This book expresses the Ten Commandments as “values for loving,” rather than laws.

Ten Principles for Daily Living – Another Ten Commandments site that puts the Decalogue in terms of what we must do. – A good article on the history of the Ten Commandments – A Lutheran Ten Commandments for children

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