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Which Ten Commandments?

Updated on December 30, 2017
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We all the know the story of the Ten Commandments: Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, where Yahweh (the Jewish/Christian god) gives him his rules carved into two stone tablets. Moses descends from the mountain, finds his people sinning and cavorting, and smashes the tablets in anger.

But you probably don't know the story as it's actually told in the Bible, in the book of Exodus. In that narrative, Moses makes numerous trips up and down the mountain, receives HUNDREDS of commandments from Yahweh, and receives TWO pairs of tablets (the first is destroyed by Moses, which Yahweh replaces). On both sets of tablets are written the following commandments:

1. Thou shalt worship no other god:

2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

3. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep.

4. All that openeth the matrix is mine...All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

5. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.

6. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

7. Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God.

8. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

9. The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.

10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

A little confused?

If this list (from Exodus chapter 34) doesn't look familiar, you shouldn't be surprised. It's not what they teach you in church, Sunday school or the movies. However, it's the ONLY set of instructions directly referred to in the Bible as "the ten commandments" (it actually contains at least thirteen specific commands, and some of them are a paragraph long, but I've done my best to abbreviate them and consolidate them into ten, since that's how they're identified).

According to Exodus, the ten commandments that you know (from chapter 20), which are so revered as a supposed source of moral guidance, were NEVER written down on a pair of stone tablets. There is a conflicting account in Deuteronomy chapter 5, where Moses insists that they WERE, but his narrative is a recollection of the events forty years after the fact, while the Exodus narrative is presumably a first-hand account.

In the original Exodus story, these earlier commandments were given VERBALLY by Yahweh to Moses, who then descended Mount Sinai. After a brief discussion with the still-behaving Israelites -- during which Moses quoted NOTHING Yahweh had said to him -- he returned up the mountain to receive (again, VERBALLY) additional commandments, more than ninety of them. The narrative tells us that when Moses descended this time he actually relayed Yahweh's instructions to the people and wrote them down.

It is only the morning AFTER Moses relayed this first list to the people of Israel that Yahweh tells him that he will give him "tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written." So Moses went back up the mountain and waited for seven days. Then Yahweh called him in, and spent the next forty days giving him hundreds more instructions, mostly regarding the construction and operation of the tabernacle (covering roughly seven chapters of Exodus). Finally, he gave Moses "two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God."

These are the tablets Moses smashed when he descended back down the mountain, and these are the tablets Yahweh promised to replace: "Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest." So Moses went back up the mountain and waited another forty days and nights while Yahweh gave him more rules, as well as the replacement set of tablets, which contain the commandments I've listed above.

The story of the ten commandments is one of the best examples of the difference between what we traditionally "know" of the Bible and what's actually in it, and there are many, many more. It's an integral part of the Christian apologetic narrative, replacing one set of commandments (the ACTUAL list identified above) that are wholly religious in their instruction, with another set that includes at least SOME moral directives (thou shalt not kill, steal, etc.).

According to the Bible, Yahweh gave Moses hundreds of commandments on Mount Sinai, all of them presumably carrying the same weight and force. However, it's much easier to justify the whole as a moral code when we can narrow our focus to a small handful of them (the more familiar ten) that include at least some measure of humanistic morality.

But if the decalogue is not the moral compass we thought -- if it turns out to be nothing more than a list of instructions on how to worship Yahweh -- we're once again left to sort through the entire list of hundreds of commandments given to Moses, including items like "he that curseth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death" and "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." We're then faced with the more obvious choice of obeying them all, ignoring them all, or picking and choosing which one's we'll follow.


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  • Paladin_ profile imageAUTHOR

    Paladin_ 

    4 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Thanks, LetusPonder -- especially for the link back to this hub! I've now provided a link to yours as well at the end of the text.

    I wasn't aware, when I wrote this nearly a year ago, that there was already another hub which made similar observations. Though we disagree on some minor points, I'm glad that there's more exposure on this silly story.

    Well done!

  • LetusPonder profile image

    Rob Daugherty 

    4 years ago from Cheshire, MA

    Excellent! You brought up the bigger points and issues with these. I also wrote an article which details exactly what you mentioned.

    Our two articles perfectly complement each other. People should read BOTH:

    https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Ten-Comma...

  • Robert Pummer profile image

    Robert Pummer 

    6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

    Well, that's one on me too. I thought I knew something.

  • Paladin_ profile imageAUTHOR

    Paladin_ 

    6 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Thanks, Heathen! I appreciate any incoming links I can get!

  • GodlessHeathen profile image

    GodlessHeathen 

    6 years ago from Arizona

    Another great hub, and very interesting, I was not even aware of this and I thought I had heard of every absurdity there was to hear of about the Bible.

    I am going to include your hub as a link in my article I have if that's okay with you.

    http://www.squidoo.com/god-is-just-pretend

  • profile image

    Gusser 

    6 years ago

    Oh contrere::: Since the fall of Adam, The penalty of sin was death. God knew what sin was long before the Sinaitic Laws were given. There absolutely was law. Sin is defined as breaking God's Law. THEREFORE: if sin was in the world--so was Gods law.

  • pastorreachout profile image

    pastorreachout 

    6 years ago

    Interesting question Gusser: Enoch did not see death. Enoch was also not under the law. (The Sinaitic law was not given by God until after the flood.) Since Enoch was born from a sinful father, he must have sinned even though He walked with God. Just a side note: There are two prophets who will call down fire and judgements upon opposers during the trumpet call of the seventh angel.(Rev Rev.10:7) (Revelation 11)I am guessing it may (speculation on my part) that it may be Enoch and Elijah. Both those men were taken by God and God said it is appointed for each person to die once. If those two never died then when they are killed (Rev.11:7) after they have brought plagues on those who seek to harm them then they would have fulfilled the prophetic pronouncement that each person is appointed to die once. (Heb. 9:27)

  • profile image

    Gusser 

    6 years ago

    Enoch went to be with God without death. The penalty of sin is death. He obeyed the law. So Jesus wasn't the only one. Jesus said he did not come to make the law no longer in effect, He came to fulfill the law of sacrifice. Did he lie?

  • pastorreachout profile image

    pastorreachout 

    6 years ago

    A little story: My Maseratti does 185. I never know this for sure because I drive it on the street where speed limits are posted. Then I take my Maserati to the Racetrack and sure enough it does 185 or more if I burn jet fuel. The Maserati always could go fast but I could not drive it fast because of the laws. When I set it free, I can drive it slow or fast. This story is limited but illustrates why the Law was given in the first place. It made people aware that they could not 100 percent obey the laws. They could try but no one beside Jesus was ever able to do it. So Jesus did not deserve to die for sin. He was able to sacrifice once for all time for our Sin.

    We are no longer under the Law, the Law was a tutor leading to Christ. (Galatians 3:24) When we get this by faith, we are not any longer under the tutor. The principles of the law are good but if we try to live by the law, we will die by the law. Better it is to live as Abraham lived which is by faith. (Romans 4)Christ died for us while we were still sinners. (Rom. 5:8) We can now be made righteous by calling on the name above every name: Yeshua Hamashiach or in english Jesus the Christ or Messiah. Roman 10:8-10. When you believe in Jesus you are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14)In our being sealed we are made alive in Christ. New Creation as 2Cor. 5:15-17 says. Now we are promised a future life in heaven as Jesus said in John 6:37 because it is from the bread of life which is better than the bread of Manna which is what was presented as life sustaining for human life, the True Bread is Jesus the Christ who gives life to the World.(to those who believe in him) John 6:40 and John 8:36.

  • Paladin_ profile imageAUTHOR

    Paladin_ 

    6 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Hehe. It's okay if she's an ox, as long as you don't gore her. There's another whole set of commandments for that. :-D

  • profile image

    Gusser 

    6 years ago

    My neighbor's wife is built like an ox and makes an ass of herself daily. What's to covet?

  • Paladin_ profile imageAUTHOR

    Paladin_ 

    6 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Thanks, everyone, for the replies...and the chuckles. ;-)

  • Healthy Pursuits profile image

    Karla Iverson 

    6 years ago from Oregon

    I like the condensed version myself - the golden rule. That seems to cover a lot.

    Besides, some of the advertised 10 commandments just don't apply to me. I know I'm surely not going to covet my neighbor's wife.

    1. She's mean and ugly.

    2. I'm a(n) (old) girl myself.

    3. I never bent in that direction.

    I won't covet anything else of his, either. His house needs more work than mine does, his ox is old and his donkey is loud.

    When are these going to get updated?

  • Pcunix profile image

    Tony Lawrence 

    6 years ago from SE MA

    I like "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live". Remind me, if she floats she's a witch but if not, she isn't? I think I may have got that backwards once or twice.

  • profile image

    AKA Winston 

    6 years ago

    Pick and choose? O.K. I'll take door #3, Monty.

  • Pcunix profile image

    Tony Lawrence 

    6 years ago from SE MA

    Oh, let's pick and choose. It's what everyone else does.

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