According to the Bible, the Ten Commandments (or ‘Decalogue’) were given to Moses at Mount Sinai after he led the Jewish people out of their captivity in Egypt. In preparation for receiving the commandments, Moses fasted (no food or water) for 40 days and 40 nights.
The commandments were inscribed by God on two stone tablets, and would represent the heart of the law that God gave to His chosen people Israel. It is of course no coincidence that Moses’ fast was for the same length of time Jesus spent being tempted in the wilderness, which we now reflect upon during the Lenten season.
The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Old Testament, in the book of Exodus and the book of Deuteronomy. I will list them below (from Exodus 20), and then briefly discuss the ways in which these commandments might be relevant to Christians today.
20 And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 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 on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “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.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.”
Most Christians believe the Ten Commandments are still relevant today. When asked by a man what he should do in order to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied that he should “keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-19).
Jesus stated that two commandments were the greatest – “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30) and “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark 12:31). It is interesting that these two commandments do not specifically feature in the decalogue given to Moses and quoted above.
Some Christians believe that the Mosiac law no longer applies today because the teaching of Jesus ‘superseded’ it. Some believe that because of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood (1 Corinthians 11:25) we are no longer bound by the law, but are now living in a time of God’s grace. This doesn’t mean that there are no morals, but rather that God’s law is now “written on our hearts” when we become believers in Christ (see the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Other Christians, such as those in the Eastern Orthodox Church, hold that the Ten Commandments are still applicable today. Indeed, in confession, penitents are asked to explain which of the commandments they have broken. In the Roman Catholic church it is believed that Jesus freed us from Jewish religious law, but that we are still required to keep the Ten Commandments. There are clearly a variety of views among Christians of differing denominations and persuasions who are practising today.
Are you a Christian? Do you believe the Ten Commandments are relevant to Christians today? Please feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below.
One response to “The Ten Commandments”
No, I am not a Christian but a Buddhist, but I do my imperfect best to follow Jesus’ positive commands. I see the 10 commandments as negative (don’t do this) while the command to love is positive. Both are needed.
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