Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- "Decalogue" redirects here; for the film series by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, see The Decalogue.
The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, are a list of religious and moral imperatives that feature prominently in Judaism and Christianity. The name decalogue is derived from the Greek name δέκα λόγοι or dekalogoi ("Ten Words") found in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Aseret ha-Dibrot עשרת הדברות, "The Ten Utterances".
The Ten Commandments are found, in two very similar versions in Exodus 20:2-17  and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 , in the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament. Jews and Christians have historically believed that these rules were dictated to Moses by God at Mount Sinai; Muslims do not recognize the validity of the Ten Commandments as such.
According to the Bible itself, the commandments represent the solemn utterances of God on Mount Sinai (sometimes called Mount Horeb), directly revealed by God to Moses and then by Moses to the people of Israel in the third month after their Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites are said to have seen manifestations of divine power marked by thunder and lightning and thick smoke (Exodus 19):
- "...God said to Moses, 'I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that all the people will hear when I speak to you. They will then believe in you forever.'...The third day arrived. There was thunder and lightning in the morning, with a heavy cloud on the mountain, and an extremely loud blast of a ram's horn. The people in the camp trembled. Moses led the people out of the camp toward the Divine Presence. They stood transfixed at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was all in smoke because of the Presence that had come down on it. God was in the fire, and its smoke went up like the smoke of a lime kiln. The entire mountain trembled violently. There was the sound of a ram's horn, increasing in volume to a great degree. Moses spoke, and God replied with a Voice. God came down on Mount Sinai, to the peak of the mountain. He summoned Moses to the mountain peak, and Moses climbed up...Moses went down to the people and conveyed this to them." 
God had already revealed his true name to Moses in the past  (Exodus 6).
- "God spoke all these words, saying: I am God your Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, from the place of slavery. Do not have any other gods before Me. Do not represent [such] gods by any carved statue or picture of anything in the heaven above, on the earth below, or in the water below the land. Do not bow down to [such gods] or worship them. I am God your Lord, a God who demands exclusive worship. Where My enemies are concerned, I keep in mind the sin of the fathers for [their] descendants, to the third and fourth [generation]. But for those who love Me and keep My commandments, I show love for thousands [of generations]. Do not take the name of God your Lord in vain. God will not allow the one who takes His name in vain to go unpunished. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. You can work during the six weekdays and do all your tasks. But Saturday is the Sabbath to God your Lord. Do not do anything that constitutes work. [This includes] you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maid, your animal, and the foreigner in your gates. It was during the six weekdays that God made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on Saturday. God therefore blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and mother. You will then live long on the land that God your Lord is giving you. Do not commit murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not testify as a false witness against your neighbor. Do not be envious of your neighbor's house. Do not be envious of your neighbor's wife, his slave, his maid, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that is your neighbor's." 
Written in stone
According to the Bible, God inscribed the Ten Commandments into stone: "God said to Moses, 'Come up to Me, to the mountain, and remain there. I will give you the stone tablets, the Torah and the commandment that I have written for [the people's] instruction.'"  (Exodus 24:12) also referred to as "tables of testimony" (Exodus 24:12, 31:18, 32:16) or "tables of the covenant" (Deuteronomy 9:9, 11, 15), which he gave to Moses. Traditional belief is that the commandments were inscribed on two stone tablets, with five commandments on each tablet.
Breaking the first tablets
God subsequently commanded Moses to carve two other tablets like the first (Exodus 34:1). In Exodus 34:27,28 Moses was commanded to rewrite, and did rewrite, the Commandments himself. In Deuteronomy 4:13, 5:18, 9:10, and 10:24, however, God himself appears as the writer. This second set, brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses (Exodus 34:29), was placed in the Ark, also known as the Ark of the Covenant, (Exodus 25:16, 21; 40:20), hence designated as the "Ark of the Testimony" (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 4:5; compare also I Kings 8:9). Various theories have been advanced as to why the text in Deuteronomy differs on some points with the text in Exodus (see below).
10 Commandments or more?
While Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism all agree that the Bible lists the ten commandments in chapter 20 of the book of Exodus, that passage contains more than ten imperative statements. Reflecting this, the Hebrew term for them translates as "the Ten Utterances" or "the Ten Statements", as Jewish law sees each imperative as representing a separate commandment, totalling 14 or 15 in all. (See Jewish understanding below). Some scholars also believe that there may have been at one time more than 10 commandments, but that these additional edicts have been lost over millennia.
Texts of the commandments
Although the Ten Commandments in the Douay Rheims Bible and King James Version of the Bible are the most well-known in the English-speaking world, they do not conform to today's usage: "Thou shalt not kill" instead of "You shall not murder."
Different groups have divided the commandments in different ways. For instance, Catholics see the first six verses as part of the same command prohibiting the worship of pagan gods, while Protestants separate all six verses into two different commands (one being "no other gods" and the other being "no graven images"). The initial reference to Egyptian bondage is important enough to Jews that it forms a separate commandment. Catholics separate the two kinds of coveting (namely, of goods and of the flesh), while Protestants and Jews group them together.
A very similar, but not completely identical, list of commandments is found in Deuteronomy 5:1-22. Reference to each of the commandments and the consequences for not following them as a part of Hebrew Law are found throughout this book. In the New Testament book of Matthew 19 and elsewhere, Jesus refers to the commandments, but condenses them into two general commands: love God and love other people.
Popular belief holds that these are "the commandments" of the Hebrew Bible. In fact, the Torah has over 600 commandments. The Jewish tradition does, however, recognize these "ten commandments" as the ideological basis for the rest of the commandments (see below). According to the Medieval Sefer ha-Chinuch , the first five statements concern the relationship between God and human beings, while the second five statements concern the relationship between human beings. Rabbinic literature holds that the Ten Statements contain 14 or 15 distinct instructions.
The ten statements
- "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt..." - This commandment is to believe in the existence of God.
- "You shall have no other gods besides Me...Do not make a sculpted image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above..."
- "You shalt not swear falsely by the name of the Lord..." - This commandment is to never take the name of God in a vain oath. In Exodus, the text reads "in a vain oath" (לא תשא את שם ה' לשוא), while in Deuteronomy it reads "in a false oath" (לא תשא שם ה' לשקר).
- "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" (the version in Deuteronomy mentions "Keep" rather than "Remember")
- "Honor your father and your mother..." - This commandment is a development when compared to other laws of the Ancient East (for example, the Code of Hammurabi) that do not call for equal respect of the father and the mother.
- "You shall not murder" - The Hebrew Bible makes a distinction between murdering and killing, and explicitly notes that murder is always a heinous sin, while killing is sometimes necessary, and in these cases just in the eyes of God. Thus, Jews take offense at translations which state "Thou shall not kill", which Jews hold to be immoral. Many Protestant and most Catholic Christians hold that this verse forbids abortion; in Judaism, this law is based on other sources.
- "You shall not commit adultery"
- "You shall not steal" (sometimes interpreted as kidnapping, since there are other injunctions against stealing property in the Bible).
- "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor"
- "You shall not covet your neighbor's house..." (in Exodus, the text reads "... neighbour's house, ... neighbour's wife, nor his manservant..." etc. while in Deuteronomy, "thy neighbour's wife, ... thy neighbour's house, his field" etc.)
The first five statements: The relationship between God and human beings.
- "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt..."
The belief in the existence of God, that God exists for all time, that God is the sole creator of all that exists, that God determines the course of events in this world. This is the foundation of Judaism. To turn from these beliefs is to deny God and the essence of Judaism. (1)
- "You shall have no other gods besides Me...Do not make a sculpted image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above..."
One is required to believe in God and God alone. This prohibits belief in or worship of any additional deities, gods, spirits or incarnations. To deny the uniqueness of God, is to deny all that is written in the Torah. (2)
It is also a prohibition against making or possessing objects that one or other may bow down to or serve such as crucifixes, and any forms of paintings or artistic representations of God. (3)
One must not bow down to or serve any being or object but God. (4)
One is prohibited from making sculpture of human beings even for the fine arts. (5)
- "You shalt not swear falsely by the name of the Lord..."
This commandment is to never take the name of God in a vain oath. Note that in Exodus 20, the Hebrew Bible reads "in a vain oath" (לא תשא את שם ה' לשוא), while in Deuteronomy it reads "in a false oath" (לא תשא שם ה' לשקר). This includes four types of prohibited oaths: an oath affirming as true a matter one knows to be false, an oath that affirms the patently obvious, an oath denying the truth of a matter one knows to be true, and an oath to perform an act that is beyond one's capabilities. (6)
- "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy"
One is to declare of the greatness and the holiness of the Sabbath, each Sabbath day, on the Sabbath day that God defined for the Jews during the Exodus. Each day of the Exodus, God provided food to the Jews to collect except on the Sabbath. Instead a double portion was provided the day before the Sabbath. (7)
One is enjoined from performing work on the Sabbath. One may not change the day of the Sabbath. (8)
- "Honor your father and your mother..."
The obligation to honor one's parents is an obligation that one owes to God and fulfills this obligation through one's actions towards one's parents. This commandment is an interesting development when compared to other laws of the Ancient East (for instance, the Code of Hammurabi) that do not call for equal respect of the father and the mother. (9)
The second five statements: the relationship between human beings.
- "You shall not murder"
The Hebrew word is unambiguously murder; kill is a mistranslation. The Hebrew Bible makes a distinction between murdering and killing, and explicitly notes that murder is always a heinous sin, while killing is sometimes necessary, and in these cases just in the eyes of God. Thus, Jews take offense at translations which state "Thou shall not kill", which Jews hold to be a flawed interpretation, for there are circumstances in which one is required to kill, such as if killing is the only way to prevent one person from murdering another. Another case is killing in self-defense. (10)
Many Protestant and most Catholic Christians hold that this verse forbids abortion; Judaism does not see abortion as murder (c.f Ex. 21:22-23, and Rashi thereon), although Orthodox Judaism prohibits it in certain circumstances on other grounds.
- "You shall not have sexual relations with another man's wife." (11)
- "You shall not kidnap"
Theft of property is forbidden elsewhere. Theft of property is not a capital offense. (12)
- "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor"
in a court of law or other proceeding. Lying is forbidden elsewhere. Lying is not a capital offence. (13)
- "You shall not covet your neighbor's house..."
One is forbidden to desire and plan how one may obtain that which God has given to another. (14)
(Jewish sages note that the 5th commandment, on the border between the two groups, is to "Honor your father and your mother...", and draw lessons from this that a person should respect parents (and by implication, elders) only somewhat less than one would God himself, and that parents should be moral guidance to a person as god is to society)
Jewish thought generally accepts that the commandments contained in the Ten Statements apply solely to the Jewish people, and that the laws incumbent on the rest of humanity are outlined in the seven Noahide Laws.
In the era of the Sanhedrin, transgressing any one of these theoretically carried the death penalty. It should be noted that it was rarely enforced due to a large number of stringent evidentiary requirements imposed by the oral law.
The special status of the Ten Commandments in Judaism has sometimes been contentious. Indeed, when undue emphasis was being placed on them, daily communal recitation of them was discontinued (Talmud, tractate Berachot 12a). Still, the Ten Commandments are generally considered to be subject headings to larger groups or subdivisions of the 613 commandments of the Torah; a number of works (starting with Rabbi Saadia Gaon) has made groupings of the commandments according to their links with the Ten Commandments.
Catholic and Orthodox Christianity
Catholic and Orthodox Christians understand the Ten commandments in the following way:
- The first three commandments govern the relationship between God and humans.
- "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness 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 serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. - The text of what Catholics recognize as the first commandment precedes and follows the "no graven images" warning with a prohibition against worshipping false gods. Some Protestants have claimed that the Catholic version of the ten commandments intentionally conceals the biblical prohibition of idolatry. But the Bible includes numerous references to carved images of angels, trees, and animals (Exodus 25:18-21; Numbers 21:8-9; 1 Kings 6:23-28l 1 Kings 6:29ff; Ezekiel 41:17-25) that were associated with worship of God. Catholics and Protestants alike erect nativity scenes or use felt cut-outs to aid their Sunday-school instruction. (While not all Catholics have a particularly strong devotion to icons or other religious artifacts, Catholic teaching distinguishes between veneration (dulia) -- which is paying honor to God through contemplation of objects such as paintings and statues, and adoration (latria) -- which is properly given to God alone.)
- "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." -- The moral lesson here involves more than simply a prohibition of swearing; it also prohibits the misappropriation of religious language in order to commit a crime, to participate in occult practices, or blaspheming against places or people that are holy to God.
- "Observe the sabbath day, to 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; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your manservant, or your maidservant, or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day." - By healing the sick on the sabbath, Jesus supported the idea that performing works of charity would be an appropriate way of keeping the sabbath holy. Restaurant and entertainment workers must work on Sundays in order to provide traditional leisure activities. People who provide necessary services such as police, firefighters, and doctors are not seen as being in violation of this commandment for working on Sundays, either.
The next group of commandments govern public relationships between people.
- "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the LORD your God gives 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.
- "You shall not kill." - Since respect for life includes an obligation to respect one's own life and the lives of people under one's protection, it is legitimate to use force -- even fatal force -- against the threats of an agressor who cannot be stopped any other way. While Catholic teaching recognizes the right of states to execute criminals when necessary to preserve the safety of citizens, the Church argues that other methods of protecting society (incarceration, rehabilitation) are increasingly available in the modern world; thus, there are now few if any cases that really necessitate capital punishment.
- "Neither shall you commit adultery." - For Catholics, marriage is a sacrament; unlike most Catholic sacraments, which are performed by a priest, in marriage, the husband and wife convey sanctifying graces upon each other. For the Orthodox, marriage is conferred by the priest, but is still seen as a sacred bond. Adultery is the breaking of this holy bond, and is thus a sacrilege.
- "Neither shall you steal."
- "Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor."
These last two commandments govern private thoughts.
- "Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife"
- "and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.'
Moreover, within the Catholic tradition, the Commandments are also 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.
There are many different denominations of Protestantism, and it is impossible to generalise 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 descendents still predominantly teach that, the ten commandments have both an explicitly negative content, and an implied positive content. Besides those things that ought not be done, there are things which ought not 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, especially, influentially theorized 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 Gospel and Law 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-emphasises the teaching of the law. 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 pietism 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.
For those Christians who believe that the Ten Commandments continue to be binding for Christians, their negative and positive content can be summarized as follows:
Typical Protestant view
- Preface: vs 1-2
Implies 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.
- vs 3.
Enjoins 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
- vs 4-6
Requires 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.
- vs 7
Enjoins a holy and 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.
- vs 8-11
Requires 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 civilised 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.
- vs 12
The 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.
- vs 13
Requires 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; and, anything that tends toward depriving life.
- vs 14
Enjoins protection of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.
Forbids all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.
- vs 15
Requires 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.
- vs 16
Requires 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.
- vs 17
Enjoins 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.
Jehovah's Witnesses' perspective
While Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the Bible as saying Christians are not bound by the Ten Commandments, (Colossians 2:13, 14) they recognize the importance the Bible places on these principles for living a Christian life. (Galatians 6:2; Matthew 22:35-40)
The first four commandments define the correct relationship between God and man.
First - Jehovah exacts exclusive devotion; He tolerates no rivalry with other gods. (Ex.20:3)
Second - Images are never to be used in worship - all forms of idolatry are an open affront to Jehovah. (Vs.4-6)
Third - The use of God’s name is to be dignified, never disrespectful. When the Israelites became unfaithful they, as representatives of Jehovah by bearing his name, "took it up" or "carried" it "in vain"(Vs.7)
Fourth - The Sabbath day was reserved for reflection on spiritual things, a day of rest from work so that the Israelites could meditate on Jehovah's Laws without distraction. (Vs.8-10)
Fifth- This commandment can be seen as the linking together of the first four (defining man's proper relationship with God) and the final six, (showing the proper relationships between humans) It is the obedience children owe their parents. This is a relationship which extends beyond childhood. To respect one’s parents is to show respect for the ultimate parent – Jehovah God.(Vs.12)
Sixth through Ninth - Murder, Adultery, Stealing and Lying are very pointed thus leaving no room for interpretation. These things are not to be practiced. (Vs.13-16)
Tenth – This makes it clear that not only were the Israelites not to practice the things mentioned in the previous nine commands, but that they were also to not allow a desire for these things to take root in their hearts and minds. (Vs.17)
Muslims accept Moses and Jesus as prophets, but they reject the Biblical versions of the Ten Commandments. Islam teaches that the Biblical text used in Judaism and Christianity has been corrupted over the years, by carelessness or malice, from its divine original. Muslims believe that the Qur'an is a revelation from God continuing the revelations on which they believe the Torah and Gospels to be based, intended to restore the original Adamic and Abrahamic faith.
The Qur'an has verses that in many ways are similar to the Ten Commandments:
"Say, come, I will recite what God has made a sacred duty for you: Ascribe nothing as equal with God;
Be good to your parents;
You shall not kill your children on a plea of want; we provide sustenance for you and for them;
You shall not approach lewd behavior whether open or in secret,
You shall not take life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does God command you, that you may learn wisdom.
And you shall not approach the property of the orphan, except to improve it, until he attains the age of maturity.
Give full measure and weight, in justice; no burden should be placed on any soul but that which it can bear.
And if you give your word, do it justice, even if a near relative is concerned; and fulfill your obligations before God. Thus does God command you, that you may remember.
Verily, this is my straight path: follow it, and do not follow other paths which will separate you from God's path. Thus does God command you, that you may be righteous."
Views of other faiths
While other faiths do not generally recognise the Ten Commandments in their unity, many of them (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jain, etc.) have comparable laws or principles.
For many Christians, Sunday is a special day of worship, in observance of the Easter Sunday fulfillment of the new covenant of Jesus. But for many Jews, this Christian practice of worshipping on the first day of the week constitutes an explicit rejection of the commandment to keep the seventh day holy.
And for other Christians, the commandment is to be taken in its original form. They keep Saturday as the Sabbath, believing God commanded it thus as early as creation. These sabbatarians claim that the seventh day Sabbath was kept by all Christian groups until the 2nd and 3rd century, by most until the 4th and 5th century, and by many after that but gradually adopted Sunday as the day of worship.
Others reject this belief system, noting that the choice of one day or another as the "seventh" in a repeating cycle is inevitably arbitrary; for most people, the week begins on Monday in any case. So long as one day of seven is kept as a sabbath, the principle has been kept. They point to evidence of Sunday worship within the New Testament, and to historical evidence in the second century.
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". Thus, they hold that one may build and use "likenesses", as long as the object is not worshipped. As a result, many Christian buildings and services feature images, some feature statues, and in some Orthodox services, icons are venerated. For most Christians, this practice is understood as fulfilling the observance of this commandment, as the images are not being worshipped.
Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that the incarnation of God as a human, Jesus, makes it permissible and necessary to venerate icons
For Jews (and some Protestants as well), veneration seems to violate this commandment. Jews read this commandment as prohibiting the use of idols and images in any way.
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, some Protestant groups have criticized the use of stained-glass windows by many other denominations, and Jehovah's Witnesses criticize the use of all of the above, as well as the use of a cross. No Christian group forbids the use of images in secular life (as Islam does).
Public monuments in the USA
There is an ongoing dispute in the United States concerning the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property. Certain conservative religious groups, alarmed by the banning of officially-sanctioned prayer from public schools by the U.S. Supreme Court, have sought to protect their right to express their religious beliefs in public life. As a result they have successfully lobbied many state and local governments to display the ten commandments in public buildings. As seen above, any attempt to post the Decalogue on a public building necessarily takes a sectarian stance; Protestants and Roman Catholics number the commandments differently. 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 movie The Ten Commandments.
Secularist liberals oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property, arguing that it is violating the separation of church and state. Conservative groups claim that the commandments are not necessarily religious, but represent the moral and legal foundation of society. Liberal groups counter that they 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. In addition, if the Commandments were posted, it would also require members of all religions to likewise be allowed to post the particular tenets of their religions as well.
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 (as most do), then this education should come from practicing Jews, and not from non-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 Liberty Counsel have risen to defend the traditional interperetation.
Fred Phelps sued the city of Boise, Idaho to place a monument stating that gay student Matthew Shepard went to hell because of his sexual orientation. The argument was based partially upon the fact that a Ten Commandments monument was also in the park. The city of Boise, in an attempt to avoid legal costs, moved the Ten Commandments monument to a nearby church yard. Phelps continues his efforts to place the monument over objections of city fathers and gay rights groups.
Recently, adherents to the Summum philosophy have added a new twist to this controversy by suing for placement of their "seven aphorisms" next to the ten commandments in several public parks in Utah. On March 2nd, 2005, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of whether the Ten Commandments are permissible on public land. The court agreed not to order the removal of the ten commandments from all public lands, but struggled on where to draw the line when it comes to the ten commandments in courthouses. "I'm looking for a key. What's too far, what's not?" said Justice Stephen Breyer.
Many historians have argued that the Ten Commandments originated from ancient Egyptian religion, and postulate that the Biblical Jews borrowed the concept after their Exodus from Egypt. Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead (the Papyrus of Ani) includes a list of things to which a man must swear in order to enter the afterlife. These sworn statements bear a remarkable resemblance to the Ten Commandments in their nature and their phrasing. These statements include "not have I defiled the wife of man," "not have I committed murder," "not have I committed theft," "not have I lied," "not have I cursed god," "not have I borne false witness," and "not have I abandoned my parents." The Book of the Dead has additional requirements, and, of course, doesn't require worship of Jehovah.
- Friedman, Richard E. Who Wrote The Bible?, Harper and Row, NY, USA, 1987.
- Kaufmann, Yehezkel, Greenberg, Moishe (translator) The Religion of Israel, from Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile, University of Chicago Press, 1960.
- Mendenhall, George E. The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.
- Mendenhall, George E. Ancient Israel's Faith and History: An Introduction to the Bible in Context, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
- Analytical interpretation of the Ten Commandments from Jewish point-of-view
- Ten Commandments from a Christian point of view.
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