Ten Commandments, The

The giving of the Ten Commandments

Moses and the Ten CommandmentsThe Ten Commandments (‘Decalogue') are found in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The Old Testament states that during the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, they encamp near Mount Sinai while Moses ascends to receive the commandments from God, surrounded by a cloud, thunderstorms and dazzling light. The commandments are said to be written by God himself on two tablets of stone. The many detailed instructions which expand on this concise formulation are known collectively as the Law.

When Moses goes back down to the people after forty days, he finds they have despaired of his return and asked Aaron to make them a Golden Calf to worship. Moses is furious to find them feasting and dancing around an idol, and he throws the tablets down and breaks them. He pleads with God to forgive the people, and a second pair of stone tablets is provided, and stored in the Ark of the Covenant.

The content of the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments fall into two groups: 1 to 4 concern worship and reverence for what the Bible considers to be the one true God; 5 to 10 concern right behaviour towards other people. These two sections are summarised as: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength,' and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5; and quoted in Jesus' conversation with a teacher of the Law in Luke 10:27.) They are seen as one side of the old Covenant or agreement between God and his people, whereby he promises them his steadfast love and mercy, if they obey his laws and worship him alone.

A ‘new commandment'

In the New Testament, Jesus is depicted at the Last Supper giving his disciples a ‘new commandment' to ‘love one another as I have loved you', (John 13:34) and speaking of a ‘new covenant in my blood' (Luke 22:20). New Testament writers explain that whereas previously priests had to continue offering sacrifices to gain God's forgiveness, due to people's inability to keep God's laws, the death of Jesus brings forgiveness once-for-all for those who believe in him (Hebrews 9:25-28).

The influence of the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments have proven to be very influential in forming the basis for the legal system and moral code of England and many other countries for centuries.

Related topics

Big ideas: Forgiveness, mercy and grace; Sin; Redemption, salvation; Judgement

Other cultural references

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