AskDefine | Define commandment

Dictionary Definition



1 something that is commanded
2 a doctrine that is taught; "the teachings of religion"; "he believed all the Christian precepts" [syn: teaching, precept]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Commandment



  1. something that must be obeyed; a command or edict


a command or edict
  • Czech: přikázání
  • Finnish: määräys
  • Icelandic: boðorð
  • Italian: comandamento
  • Russian: заповедь (zápov'ed')

Extensive Definition

The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, are a list of religious and moral imperatives that, according to Judeo-Christian tradition, were written by God and given to Moses on the mountain referred to as "Mount Sinai" (Bible verse |Exodus|19:23|HE) or "Mount Horeb" (Bible verse |Deuteronomy|5:2|HE) in the form of two stone tablets. They feature prominently in Judaism and Christianity. In Biblical Hebrew language, the commandments are termed עשרת הדברים (translit. Aseret ha-Dvarîm) and in Rabbinical Hebrew עשרת הדברות (translit. Aseret ha-Dibrot), both translatable as "the ten statements." The name "Decalogue" is derived from the Greek name δεκάλογος or "dekalogos" ("ten statements") found in the Septuagint (Bible verse |Exodus|34:28, Bible verse |Deuteronomy|10:4), which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name.
The phrase "Ten Commandments" generally refers to the very similar passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy . Some distinguish between this "Ethical Decalogue" and a series of ten commandments in Exodus 34 that are labeled the "Ritual Decalogue".
The commandments passage in Exodus contains more than ten imperative statements, totalling fourteen or fifteen in all. However, the Bible itself assigns the count of "ten" to the list, using the Hebrew phrase aseret had'varim. Various religions divide these statements among the Commandments in different ways, and may also translate the Commandments differently.

Text of the Ten Commandments

The lists which are commonly known as the Ten Commandments are given in passages in two books of the Bible: Bible verse |Exodus|20:2–17|HE and Bible verse |Deuteronomy|5:6–21|HE. These passages are provided in English below, using the New Revised Standard Version translation and formatting. Various religions and denominations group the commandments differently; see the Division of the commandments section for a detailed accounting.

Division of the Commandments

The commandments passage in Exodus contains more than ten imperative statements, totalling 14 or 15 in all. While the Bible itself assigns the count of "10", using the Hebrew phrase aseret had'varim—translated as the 10 words, statements or things, this phrase does not appear in the passages usually presented as being "the Ten Commandments". |- |style="text-align:right; vertical-align:top;" |** |Some Lutheran churches use a slightly different division of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments (9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; 10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his workers, or his cattle, or anything that is your neighbor’s). |- |style="text-align:right; vertical-align:top;" |*** |Sources within Judaism assert that this is a reference to kidnapping, whereas Leviticus 19:11 is the Biblical reference banning the stealing of property. This understanding is based on the Talmudical hermeneutic known as דבר הלמד מעניינו/davar ha-lamed me-inyano, (lit. Something proved by the context), by which this must refer to a capital offense just as the previous two commandments refer to capital offenses. |}

Biblical Origins

Roman Catholic and Lutheran Christianity

The Lutheran and Roman Catholic division of the commandments both follow the one established by St. Augustine, following the then current synagogue scribal division. The first three commandments govern the relationship between God and humans, the fourth through eighth govern public relationships between people, and the last two govern private thoughts. For additional information on the Catholic understanding of the Ten Commandments, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), sections 2052–2557. References to the Catechism are provided below for each commandment as well as the interpretation used by Lutherans and Catholics. The following text is from Bible verse |Deuteronomy|5:6–5:21|NRSV NRSV
  1. "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments."
    Catholic teaching distinguishes between dulia—paying honor to God through contemplation of objects such as paintings and statues—and latria—adoration directed to God alone. (See Catechism 2084–2141.)
  2. "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name."
    This commandment prohibits not just swearing but the misappropriation of religious language in order to commit a crime, participating in occult practices, and blaspheming against places or people that are holy to God. (See Catechism 2142–2167.)
  3. "Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day."
  4. "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you."
    This commandment emphasizes the family as part of God's design, as well as an extended metaphor that God uses for his relationship with his creation. (See Catechism 2197–2257.)
  5. "(Roman Catholic) You shall not kill / (Lutheran) You shall not murder"
    The right of states to execute criminals is not absolutely forbidden by this commandment. However, other methods of protecting society (incarceration, rehabilitation) are increasingly available and more in keeping with other Christian moral teaching. Catholics (along with many Protestants) also consider abortion sinful and a violation of this commandment. War, if rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy are met (that is, the "use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated"), is not a violation because "governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed." (See Catechism 2258–2330.)
  6. "Neither shall you commit adultery."
    Adultery is the breaking of the holy bond between husband and wife, and is thus a sacrilege. This commandment includes not just the act of adultery, but lust as well. (See Catechism 2331–2400.)
  7. "Neither shall you steal."
    (See Catechism 2401–2463.)
  8. "Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor."
    This commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in relations with others. This also forbids lying. (See Catechism 2464–2513.)
  9. "Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife."
    (See Catechism 2514–2533.)
  10. "Neither shall you desire your neighbor's house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
    (See Catechism 2534–2557.)
The Commandments are seen as general "subject headings" for moral theology, in addition to being specific commandments in themselves. Thus, the commandment to honor father and mother is seen as a heading for a general rule to respect legitimate authority, including the authority of the state. The commandment not to commit adultery is traditionally taken to be a heading for a general rule to be sexually pure, the specific content of the purity depending, of course, on whether one is married or not. In this way, the Ten Commandments can be seen as dividing up all of morality.

Protestant Christianity

There are many different denominations of Protestantism, and it is impossible to generalize in a way that covers them all. However, this diversity arose historically from fewer sources, the various teachings of which can be summarized, in general terms.
Lutherans, Reformed and Anglicans, and Anabaptists all taught, and their descendants still predominantly teach, that the Ten Commandments have both an explicitly negative content, and an implied positive content. Besides those things that ought not to be done, there are things which ought not to be left undone. So that, besides not transgressing the prohibitions, a faithful abiding by the commands of God includes keeping the obligations of love. The ethic contained in the Ten Commandments and indeed in all of Scripture is, "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself", and, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Lutherans theorize that there is an antithesis between these two sides of the Word of God, the positive and the negative. Love and gratitude is a guide to those under the Gospel, and the prohibitions are for unbelievers and profane people. This antithesis between Law and Gospel runs through every ethical command, according to Lutheran understanding.
The Anabaptists have held that the commandments of God are the content of the covenant established through Christ: faith is faithfulness, and thus, belief is essentially the same thing as obedience.
Reformed and Anglicans have taught the abiding validity of the commandments, and call it a summation of the "moral law", binding on all people. However, they emphasize the union of the believer with Christ - so that the will and power to perform the commandments does not arise from the commandment itself, but from the gift of the Holy Spirit. Apart from this grace, the commandment is only productive of condemnation, according to this family of doctrine.
Modern Evangelicalism, under the influence of dispensationalism, commonly denies that the commandments have any abiding validity as a requirement binding upon Christians; however, they contain principles which are beneficial to the believer. Dispensationalism is particularly emphatic about the dangers of legalism, and thus, in a distinctive way de-emphasizes the teaching of the law (see also antinomianism). Somewhat analogously, Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement typically emphasizes the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the freedom of the Christian from outward commandments, sometimes in antithesis to the letter of the Law. Quakers and Pietists have historically set themselves against the Law as a form of commandment binding on Christians, and have emphasized the inner guidance and liberty of the believer, so that the law is fulfilled not merely by avoiding what the Law prohibits, but by carrying out what the Spirit of God urges upon their conscience.

Typical Protestant view

For those Christians who believe that the Ten Commandments continue to be binding for Christians (see also Old Testament—Christian view of the Law), their negative and positive content can be summarized as follows.
Bible verse |Exodus|20|NRSV:
Preface: vs 1–2Implies the obligation to keep all of the commandments of God, in gratitude because of the abundance of his mercy.Forbids ingratitude to God and denial that he is our God.
  1. vs 3Enjoins that God must be known and acknowledged to be the only true God, and our God; and, to worship him and to make him known as he has been made known to us.Forbids not worshiping and glorifying the true God as God, and as our God; and forbids giving worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.
  2. vs 4–6Requires receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has appointed; and zeal in resisting those who would corrupt worship; because of God's ownership of us, and interest in our salvation.Prohibits the worshiping of God by images, or by confusion of any creature with God, or any other way not appointed in his Word.
  3. vs 7Enjoins a holy and a reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.Forbids all abuse of anything by which God makes Himself known. Some Protestants, especially in the tradition of pacifism, read this Commandment as forbidding any and all oaths, including judicial oaths and oaths of allegiance to a government, noting that human weakness cannot foretell whether such oaths will in fact be vain.
  4. vs 8–11Requires setting apart to God such set times as are appointed in his Word. Many Protestants are increasingly concerned that the values of the marketplace do not dominate entirely, and deprive people of leisure and energy needed for worship, for the creation of civilized culture. The setting of time apart from and free from the demands of commerce is one of the foundations of a decent human society. See Sabbath.Forbids the omission, or careless performance, of the religious duties, using the day for idleness, or for doing that which is in itself sinful; and prohibits requiring of others any such omission, or transgression, on the designated day.
  5. vs 12The only commandment with explicitly positive content, rather than a prohibition; it connects all of the temporal blessings of God, with reverence for and obedience to authority, and especially for father and mother.Forbids doing anything against, or failing to give, the honor and duty which belongs to anyone, whether because they possess authority or because they are subject to authority.
  6. vs 13Requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.Forbids taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor, unjustly (Just taking of life includes self-defense and times of War.); and, anything that tends toward depriving life.
  7. vs 14Enjoins protection of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.Forbids all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.
  8. vs 15Requires a defense of all lawful things that further the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.Prohibits whatever deprives our neighbor, or ourselves, of lawfully gained wealth or outward estate.
  9. vs 16Requires the maintaining and promoting of truth between people, and of our neighbor’s good name and our own, especially in witness-bearing.Forbids whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own, or our neighbor’s, good name.
  10. vs 17Enjoins contentment with our own condition, and a charitable attitude toward our neighbor and all that is his, being thankful for his sake that he has whatever is beneficial to him, as we are for those things that benefit us.Forbids discontent or envy, prohibits any grief over the betterment of our neighbor's estate, and all inordinate desires to obtain for ourselves, or scheming to wrest for our benefit, anything that is his.


In Islam Moses (Musa) is venerated as one of the greatest prophets of God. However, Islam also teaches that the texts of the Torah and the Gospels have been corrupted from their divine originals over the years, due to carelessness and self-interest. Despite this purported corruption, messages from the Torah and the Gospels still coincide closely with certain verses in the Qur'an. This is by-and-large the case with the Ten Commandments. Consequently, despite the Ten Commandments not being explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an they are substantially similar to the following verses in the Qur'an (using Jewish numbering of the Commandments):
  1. "There is no other god beside God." ()
  2. "My Lord, make this a peaceful land, and protect me and my children from worshiping idols." ()
  3. "Do not subject God's name to your casual swearing, that you may appear righteous, pious, or to attain credibility among the people." ()
  4. "O you who believe, when the Congregational Prayer (Salat Al-Jumu`ah) is announced on Friday, you shall hasten to the commemoration of GOD, and drop all business." ()The Sabbath was relinquished with the revelation of the Quran. Muslims are told in the Quran that the Sabbath was only decreed for the Jews. () God, however, ordered Muslims to make every effort and drop all businesses to attend the congregational (Friday) prayer. The Submitters may tend to their business during the rest of the day.
  5. "....and your parents shall be honoured. As long as one or both of them live, you shall never (even) say to them, "Uff" (the slightest gesture of annoyance), nor shall you shout at them; you shall treat them amicably." ()
  6. "....anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people." ()
  7. "You shall not commit adultery; it is a gross sin, and an evil behaviour." ()
  8. "The thief, male or female, you shall mark their hands as a punishment for their crime, and to serve as an example from God. God is Almighty, Most Wise." ()
  9. "Do not withhold any testimony by concealing what you had witnessed. Anyone who withholds a testimony is sinful at heart." ()
  10. "And do not covet what we bestowed upon any other people. Such are temporary ornaments of this life, whereby we put them to the test. What your Lord provides for you is far better, and everlasting." ()
It can also be noted that in the 17th chapter, "Al-Israa" ("The Night Journey"), verses , the Qur'an provides a set of moral stipulations which are "among the (precepts of) wisdom, which thy Lord has revealed to thee" that can be reasonably categorised as ten in number. According to S. A. Nigosian, Professor of religious studies at the University of Toronto, these resemble the Ten Commandments in the Bible and "represents the fullest statement of the code of behavior every Muslim must follow". It should be noted however, that these verses are not regarded by Islamic scholars as being somehow set apart from any other moral stipulations in the Qur'an, nor are they regarded as a substitute, replacement or abrogation of some other set of commandments as found in the previous revelations.
  1. Worship only God: Take not with Allah another object of worship; or thou (O man!) wilt sit in disgrace and destitution. (17:22)
  2. Be kind, honourable and humble to one's parents: Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. (17:23) And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: "My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." (17:24)
  3. Be neither miserly nor wasteful in one's expenditure: And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. (17:26) Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful. (17:27) And even if thou hast to turn away from them in pursuit of the Mercy from thy Lord which thou dost expect, yet speak to them a word of easy kindness. (17:28) Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard's) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute. (17:29)
  4. Do not engage in 'mercy killings' for fear of starvation: Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin. (17:31)
  5. Do not commit adultery: Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils). (17:32)
  6. Do not kill unjustly: Nor take life - which Allah has made sacred - except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). (17:33)
  7. Care for orphaned children: Come not nigh to the orphan's property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength...(17:34)
  8. Keep one's promises: ...fulfil (every) engagement [i.e. promise/covenant], for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (17:34)
  9. Be honest and fair in one's interactions: Give full measure when ye measure, and weigh with a balance that is straight: that is the most fitting and the most advantageous in the final determination. (17:35)
  10. Do not be arrogant in one's claims or beliefs: And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (17:36) Nor walk on the earth with insolence: for thou canst not rend the earth asunder, nor reach the mountains in height. (17:37)

Analogues in other traditions

In atheist Soviet Union the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism had many notions much resembling the Ten Commandments.


Sabbath day

Most Christians believe that Sunday is a special day of worship and rest, every week commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week on the Jewish calendar. Most Christian traditions teach that there is an analogy between the obligation of the Christian day of worship and the Sabbath-day ordinance, but that they are not literally identical—for a believer in Christ the Sabbath ordinance has not so much been removed as superseded, because God's very work of creation has been superseded by a "new creation" (Bible verse 2|Corinthians|5:17|), according to this Christian view. For this reason, most teach that the obligation to keep the Sabbath is not the same for Christians as in Judaism, and for support they point to examples in the New Testament, and other writings surviving from the first few centuries. Some conservative Christians, most of them within the Reformed tradition, are "Sabbatarians," believing the first day of the week or Lord's Day to be the new covenant Sabbath (the 4th commandment never having been revoked and Sabbath-keeping being in any case a creation ordinance).
Still others believe that the Sabbath remains as a day of rest on Saturday, reserving Sunday as a day of worship. In reference to Acts 20:7, the disciples came together on the first day of the week (Sunday) to break bread and to hear the preaching of the apostle Paul. This is not the first occurrence of Christians assembling on a Sunday; Jesus appeared to the Christians on the "first day of the week" while they were in hiding. One can maintain this argument in that Jesus himself maintained the Sabbath, although not within the restrictions that were mandated by Jewish traditions; the Pharisees often tried Jesus by asking him if certain tasks were acceptable according to the Law (see: Luke 14:5). This would seem to indicate that while the Sabbath was still of importance to the Jews, Sunday was a separate day for worship and teaching from Scriptures.
The Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-Day Baptists, True Jesus Church, United Church of God, Living Church of God and some other churches disagree with some of these views. They argue that the custom of meeting for worship on Sunday originated in paganism, specifically Sol Invictus and Mithraism (in which sun-god worship took place on Sunday) and constitutes an explicit rejection of the commandment to keep the seventh day holy. Instead, they keep Saturday as the Sabbath as a memorial to God's work of creation (Bible verse |Genesis|2:1–3|9, Bible verse |Exodus|20:8–11|9, Bible verse |Exodus|16:23,29–30|9) believing that none of the ten commandments can ever be destroyed (Bible verse |Matthew|5:17–19|9, Bible verse |Exodus|31:16|9). Seventh-day sabbatarians claim that the seventh day Sabbath was kept by the majority of Christian groups until the 2nd and 3rd century, by most until the 4th and 5th century, and a few thereafter, but because of opposition to Judaism after the Jewish-Roman wars, the original custom was gradually replaced by Sunday as the day of worship. The history of these changes is certainly not altogether lost regardless of any belief in a suppression of the facts by a conspiracy of the pagans of the Roman Empire and the clergy of the Catholic Church. See Great Apostasy.
Jews had come to be loathed in the Roman Empire after the Jewish-Roman wars, and this led to the criminalization of the Jewish Sabbath. Hatred of Jews is apparent in the Council of Laodicea (4th Century AD) where Canon 37–38 states: "It is not lawful to receive portions sent from the feasts of Jews or heretics, nor to feast together with them." and "It is not lawful to receive unleavened bread from the Jews, nor to be partakers of their impiety." In keeping with this rejection of the Jews, this Roman council also criminalized the Jewish Sabbath as can be seen in Canon 29 of the Council Laodicea: "Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema (excommunicated) from Christ."

Killing or murder

Multiple translations exist of the sixth commandment; the Hebrew words לא תרצח are variously translated as "thou shalt not kill" or "thou shalt not murder." Older Protestant translations of the Bible, those based on the Vulgate and Roman Catholic translations usually render it as "Thou shalt not kill," whereas Jewish and newer Protestant versions tend to use "You shall not murder." There is controversy as to which translation is more faithful, and both forms are quoted in support of many opposing ethical standpoints.
The Vulgate (Latin) translation has Non occides, i.e. "Thou shalt not kill." English translations using "kill" include the King James (Authorised) (1611) [although note Matthew "do no murder," following the Vulgate non homicidium facies], the American Standard (1901) and Revised Standard (American Protestant, 1952) Versions. Almost all Roman Catholic translations, including the Douay-Rheims Bible (1609/1752), the New American Bible (1970), the New Jerusalem Bible (1985) and the Christian Community Bible (1986), have "kill." Martin Luther (German, 1534) also uses töten (kill).
Protestant translations using "murder" include the New International Version (American, 1978), New American Standard Bible (American, 1971), New English Bible (British Protestant, 1970), and the New King James (American, 1982), New Revised Standard (American, 1989) and English Standard (American Protestant, 2001) Versions. Jewish translations almost all use "murder," including the Jewish Publication Society of America Version (1917), the Judaica Press tanach (1963) and the Living Torah (1981). A Jewish exception to this pattern is the Artscroll or Stone Edition tanach (1996).
The Old Testament's examples of killings sanctioned by God are often cited in defense of the view that "murder" is a more accurate translation. Additionally, the Hebrew word for "kill" is הרג (harog), while the Hebrew word for "murder" is רצח (retzach), which is found in the Ten Commandments לא תרצח (lo tirtzach).

You shall not steal

Significant voices of academic theologians (such as German Old Testament scholar A. Alt: Das Verbot des Diebstahls im Dekalog (1953)) suggest that commandment "you shall not steal" was originally intended against stealing people—against abductions and slavery, in agreement with the Jewish interpretation of the statement as "you shall not kidnap" (e.g. as stated by Rashi).


Christianity holds that the essential element of the commandment not to make "any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above" is "and bow down and worship it". Another understanding on this comes from Roman Catholicism, they hold that one may build and use "likenesses", as long as the object is not worshipped. As a result, many Roman Catholic Churches and services feature images, some feature statues, and in some Orthodox services, icons are venerated. For most Roman Catholics, this practice is understood as fulfilling the observance of this commandment, as they understand these images are not being worshipped.
Eastern Orthodoxy traditionally teaches that while images of God, the Father, remain prohibited, depictions of Jesus as the incarnation of God as a visible human are permissible. To emphasize the theological importance of the incarnation, the Orthodox Church encourages the use of icons in church and private devotions, but generally prefers a non-naturalistic, two-dimensional depiction as a reminder of this theological aspect. In modern use (usually as a result of Roman Catholic influence), more naturalistic images and images of the Father, however, also appear occasionally in Orthodox churches, but statues, ie, three-dimensional depictions, continue to be banned.
For Jews and Muslims veneration violates this commandment. Jews and Muslims read this commandment as prohibiting the use of idols and images in any way.
Some Protestants will picture Jesus in his human form, while refusing to make any image of God or Jesus in Heaven.
Very few Christians oppose the making of any images at all, but some groups have been critical of the use others make of images in worship. (See iconoclasm.) In particular, the Orthodox have criticized the Roman Catholic use of decorative statues, Roman Catholics have criticized the Orthodox veneration of icons, and some Protestant groups have criticized the use of stained-glass windows by many other denominations. Jehovah's Witnesses criticize the use of all of the above, as well as the use of the cross. Amish people forbid any sort of graven image, such as photos.

Public monuments in the United States

There is an ongoing dispute in the United States concerning the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property. Certain conservative religious groups have taken the banning of officially-sanctioned prayer from public schools by the U.S. Supreme Court as a threat to the expression of religion in public life. In response, they have successfully lobbied many state and local governments to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Posting the Decalogue on a public building can take a sectarian stance, if numbered. Protestants and Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Jews number the commandments differently. However, this problem can be circumnavigated by simply not numbering the commandments, as was done at the Texas capitol (shown here). Hundreds of these monuments—including some of those causing dispute—were originally placed by director Cecil B. DeMille as a publicity stunt to promote his 1956 film The Ten Commandments.
Others oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property, arguing that it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
In contrast, groups supporting the public display of the Ten Commandments claim that the commandments are not necessarily religious but represent the moral and legal foundation of society, and are appropriate to be displayed as a historical source of present day legal codes. Also, some argue that prohibiting the public practice of religion is a violation of the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion.
Those in the opposition counter that several of the commandments are explicitly religious and that statements of monotheism like "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" are unacceptable to many religious viewpoints, such as atheists or followers of polytheistic religions. Putting aside the constitutional issue of whether the constitution prohibits the posting of the commandments, there is clearly a legitimate political and civil rights issue regarding whether the posting of what could be construed as religious doctrine alienated religious minorities and created the appearance of impropriety by making it appear that a state church had been established, creating the impression that the very intent of the establishment clause was being undermined. Even without establishing that a literal violation of the First Amendment had occurred, the appearance that it had been violated to people who do not accept the commandments, or religion itself, could be just as damaging and marginalizing.
In addition, it has been argued if the Commandments are posted, it would require that members of other religions be allowed to post the particular tenets of their religions as well. For example, an organization by the name of Summum has won court cases against municipalities in Utah for refusing to allow the group to erect a monument of Summum aphorisms next to the Ten Commandments. The cases were won on the grounds that Summum's right to freedom of speech was denied and the governments had engaged in discrimination. Instead of allowing Summum to erect its monument, the local governments chose to remove their Ten Commandments.
This incident shows another practical reason why not posting religious doctrine on government property is expedient; it is unlikely that a believer in the commandments would appreciate having a shrine to another religion placed next to them, and taken to its logical outcome (as shown by the Summum incident), it is clear that permitting religious speech through the mouthpiece of the state is impractical, given the reality of the diversity of religious belief and non-belief in the United States. Rather than enforcing any religious belief, or irreligion, many feel that the state ought to be neutral on the subject of religion, and allow people to find their own faith, rather than have the state endorse or appear to endorse any particular beliefs.
Some religious Jews oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, as they feel it is wrong for public schools to teach their children Judaism. The argument is that if a Jewish parent wishes to teach their child to be a Jew, then this education should come only from practicing Jews. This position is based on the demographic fact that the vast majority of public school teachers in the United States are not Jews; the same is true for the students. This same reasoning and position is also held by many believers in other religions. Many Christians have some concerns about this as well; for example, can Catholic parents count on Protestant or Orthodox Christian teachers to tell their children their particular understanding of the commandments? Differences in the interpretation and translation of these commandments, as noted above, can sometimes be significant.
Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have launched lawsuits challenging the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Opponents of these displays include a number of religious groups, including some Christian denominations, both because they don't want government to be issuing religious doctrine, and because they feel strongly that the commandments are inherently religious. Many commentators see this issue as part of a wider kulturkampf (culture struggle) between liberal and conservative elements in American society. In response to the perceived attacks on traditional society, other legal organizations, such as the Liberty Counsel, have risen to advocate the conservative interpretation.

The Ritual Decalogue

The term "Ten Commandments" without a modifier generally applies to the lists mentioned in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. However, there is a continuous narrative starting in Exodus 31:18 (where the stones are created), Exodus 32:19 (where the tablets are broken) and Exodus 34, which lists a very different set of commandments, sometimes referred to as the "Ritual Decalogue". Later sources, starting with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and later the proponents of the documentary hypothesis, note that Exodus 34:28 seems to refer to these Ten Commandments rather than the traditional ones. These commentators have theorized that the commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 represent a later set of Ten Commandments, and that the ten listed in Exodus 34 were the original Ten Commandments, now known as the Ritual Decalogue (as opposed to the better-known "Ethical Decalogue"). The differences between the two Decalogues highlight the development of sacred texts over vast amounts of time and from differing narrative traditions by incorporating two differing sets of Ten Commandments.

Cultural references

The phrase "Ten Commandments" is highly familiar in Western culture and is often extended to any immutable code of conduct.
Two famous films of this name were directed by Cecil B. DeMille, a silent movie released 1923, and another in 1956, starring Charlton Heston as Moses.
The Decalogue is also a series of ten one-hour films written and directed by the famed Polish film maker Krzysztof Kieślowski in 1988 for Polish television, each based on one of the Ten Commandments.
The form and content of the Decalogue have often been parodied and satirized. One eminent example from the Victorian era is Arthur Hugh Clough's poem The Latest Decalogue.
Mel Brooks' film History of the World, Part I contains a segment where Moses originally receives fifteen commandments from God on three stone tablets, but he accidentally drops one and goes on to proclaim there are ten commandments.
In 2007, David Wain directed and co-wrote a movie called "The Ten," which was a series of vignettes loosely based on the Ten Commandments. Paul Rudd plays the character Jeff Reigert who introduces each story while standing in front of two large stone tablets depicting the Roman Catholic version of the 10 Commandments.

See also

Further reading

  • Ancient Israel's Faith and History: An Introduction To the Bible In Context
  • Who Wrote the Bible?
  • The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition
  • The Religion of Israel, From Its Beginnings To the Babylonian Exile
  • The Nine Commandments. Uncovering a Hidden Pattern of Crime and Punishment in the Hebrew Bible
  • The Egyptian Book of the Dead
  • The Ten Commandments in History: Mosaic Paradigms for a Well-Ordered Society


External links

commandment in Afrikaans: Tien Gebooie
commandment in Arabic: وصايا عشر
commandment in Guarani: Tupã oheja ñandéve pa porokuaitáva
commandment in Min Nan: Cha̍p-tiâu-kài
commandment in Bosnian: Deset Božijih zapovijedi
commandment in Bulgarian: Десетте Божи заповеди
commandment in Catalan: Deu Manaments
commandment in Cebuano: Ang napulo ka mga sugo
commandment in Czech: Desatero
commandment in Danish: De 10 bud
commandment in German: Zehn Gebote
commandment in Estonian: Kümme käsku
commandment in Modern Greek (1453-): Δέκα εντολές
commandment in Spanish: Diez Mandamientos
commandment in Esperanto: La Dekalogo
commandment in Basque: Hamar Manamenduak
commandment in French: Décalogue
commandment in Friulian: Dîs Comandaments
commandment in Galician: Dez Mandamentos
commandment in Korean: 십계명
commandment in Hausa: Dokokin nan goma
commandment in Croatian: Deset Božjih zapovijedi
commandment in Indonesian: Sepuluh Perintah Allah
commandment in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Dece Commandamentos
commandment in Icelandic: Boðorðin tíu
commandment in Italian: Dieci comandamenti
commandment in Hebrew: עשרת הדיברות
commandment in Georgian: ათი მცნება
commandment in Swahili (macrolanguage): Amri Kumi
commandment in Latin: Decalogus
commandment in Lithuanian: Dešimt Dievo įsakymų
commandment in Limburgan: Tièn Gebode
commandment in Hungarian: Tízparancsolat
commandment in Macedonian: Десет Божји заповеди
commandment in Malagasy: Didy Folo
commandment in Maori: Ture tekau
commandment in Malay (macrolanguage): Sepuluh Rukun
commandment in Min Dong Chinese: Sĕk Gái
commandment in Burmese: 10 Commandments
commandment in Fijian: Na Vunau e Tini
commandment in Dutch: Tien geboden
commandment in Japanese: モーセの十戒
commandment in Norwegian: De ti bud
commandment in Norwegian Nynorsk: Dei ti bodorda
commandment in Polish: Dekalog
commandment in Portuguese: Dez Mandamentos
commandment in Romanian: Cele zece porunci
commandment in Quechua: Chunkantin Kamachiykuna
commandment in Russian: Десять заповедей
commandment in Samoan: E Sufulu 'Upu
commandment in Albanian: Dhjetë urdhëresat
commandment in Simple English: Ten Commandments
commandment in Slovak: Desatoro
commandment in Slovenian: Deset Božjih zapovedi
commandment in Serbian: Десет Божјих заповести
commandment in Serbo-Croatian: Deset zapovijedi
commandment in Finnish: Kymmenen käskyä
commandment in Swedish: De tio budorden
commandment in Tamil: பத்துக் கட்டளைகள்
commandment in Telugu: పది ఆజ్ఞలు
commandment in Thai: บัญญัติ 10 ประการ
commandment in Vietnamese: Mười điều răn
commandment in Turkish: On Emir
commandment in Ukrainian: Десять заповідей
commandment in Yiddish: עשרת הדיברות
commandment in Chinese: 十誡

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

behest, bidding, canon, code, command, convention, dictate, dictation, dictum, direct order, form, formula, general principle, golden rule, guideline, guiding principle, hest, imperative, law, maxim, mitzvah, moral, norm, order, ordinance, pleasure, principium, principle, regulation, rubric, rule, say-so, settled principle, special order, standard, tenet, will, word, word of command, working principle, working rule
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