How Many Versions of the Ten Commandments Are There ?

Published: Aug. 1, 2001 at 8:54 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 19, 2002 at 8:03 PM CST
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1. How many versions of the Ten Commandments are there?

The Bible actually contains two complete sets of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 and Deut. 5:6-21). In addition, Leviticus 19 contains a partial set of the Ten Commandments (see verses 3-4, 11-13, 15-16, 30, 32), and Exodus 34:10-26 is sometimes considered a ritual decalogue.

2. True or false — the Golden Rule is one of the Ten Commandments.

False. The so-called "Golden Rule" ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you") doesn't appear in the Old Testament but in the New Testament (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31).

3. Does everyone enumerate the Ten Commandments the same way?

Actually several different traditions exist regarding how the commands should be enumerated. Jewish tradition considers verse 2 ("I am the Lord your God") to be the first commandment and verses 3-4 ("no gods before Me" and "no idols") as the second. Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions consider verses 3-4 to be the first commandment but separate verse 17 ("don't covet your neighbor's house; don't covet your neighbor's wife") into two commandments. Protestant and Reformed traditions consider verse 2 a prologue and separate verses 3-4 into the first and second commandments, retaining verse 17 as one command.

4. What is significant about the way the Ten Commandments are arranged?

The commandments have a specific structure. The first four deal with one's relationship with God. The remaining commandments address one's relationship with humans. The two relationships are inseparable elements, fundamental to being a follower of God.

5. Which of the commands did Jesus consider the most important?

None of them and all of them! When asked what the greatest commandment was (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34), Jesus actually quoted the Shema, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind" (Deut. 6:5) and Lev. 19:18, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Although neither of these are in the Ten Commandments, they summarize their content. "Love God" is equivalent to the first four commandments, and "love your neighbor" is equivalent to the last six.