Over three thousand years before Hollywood produced a movie in 1956 with the title “The Ten Commandments,” the term “Ten Commandments” was used in the Bible (Exodus 34:28). Even among those who do not profess to be Bible believers, a lot of people are familiar with the idea that there are instructions known as “the Ten Commandments.”
It is not our intention in this article to discuss the meaning of the individual commands which comprised “the Ten Commandments.” Rather, we want to set forth some observations about “the Ten Commandments” which we hope will be helpful in our approach to them and the Bible in general.
First, there is the obvious: those ten commands were of such significance that the Lord labeled them as “the Ten Commandments” (Deuteronomy 10:4), putting them in a unique category of their own.
When we analyze the Ten Commandments, we see that the first portion (numbers one through four: no other gods before Jehovah, make no graven image, do not take the Lord’s name in vain, keep the Sabbath) pertained to a person’s relationship with and duty to God. The remaining segment of the commands (numbers five through ten: honor parents, not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness, not covet) were about a person’s dealings with and duty to his fellowman.
Violation of the Ten Commandments brought a punishment of death (at least that is true for violating a number of the ten commands). For example, serving “gods” other than Jehovah was a capital offense (Deuteronomy 13:6-10), as was taking God’s name in vain/blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16), breaking the Sabbath (Exodus 35:1,2), and committing adultery (Leviticus 20:10). Obviously, in the sight of God it was not a small issue to disobey one of the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments are recorded in two places in the Bible: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. It is not uncommon to see a few of the ten mentioned together in a Bible passage, but to find all ten of them recorded as a unit, one would have to read one of the two chapters noted above.
The Ten Commandments were given at Mount Sinai/Horeb (Deuteronomy 5:1-22).
The Ten Commandments were given to the people who at one time had been in bondage in Egypt but were delivered by God (Exodus 20:1-17). Who was that? The Israelites. Yes, Israel and Israel alone, was the nation with whom Jehovah made a covenant at Horeb, revealing to them the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:1-5).
The Ten Commandments first were given orally (God spoke them), then later He wrote them on two tablets of stone (Deuteronomy 5:22).
Though the Bible at times describes the Ten Commandments as “the words of the covenant” (Exodus 34:28), there was much more to the law which God communicated to Israel via Moses than just those ten instructions. It is said that the Jews themselves counted more than six hundred distinct commands in the old law, meaning that the Ten Commandments made up a very small percentage of the statutes which God gave to Israel.
“Keep all of the Ten Commandments” was not the answer Jesus gave when He was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). More than a few people would think that nothing is of greater significance than the Ten Commandments, yet the Master said “the first and great commandment” of the old law was to love the Lord, and the second was “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Neither of those instructions about love was a part of the Ten Commandments.
What are some other matters which are not mentioned in the Ten Commandments? We ask this question to emphasize reality, not to criticize the message of those ten statutes. Because it came from God Almighty, we know that all of the old law, including the Ten Commandments, was good (Romans 7:12). But the reality is, nothing is said in the Ten Commandments about grace, the forgiveness of sins, or Jesus. Eternal life is in Jesus (1 John 5:11), yet if I consult only the Ten Commandments, I cannot know a thing about Jesus, eternal life, and how to get into Him in order to receive that amazing blessing.
There is no rational reason for a person living today to tell himself, “If I will keep the Ten Commandments, I probably should be okay: God will be pleased with me and I will go to heaven.” One cannot be justified by the old law (Acts 13:38,39), and as we just noted, in the Ten Commandments you and I cannot find the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” We need God’s answer to that question! But, we cannot find it in the Ten Commandments, so the appeal “Just keep the Ten Commandments” is a ploy of the devil, not a plea from the Creator.
The Ten Commandments, as a unit, are no longer binding on people living today. Christians are “dead” to the old law (Romans 7:4-7), which was abolished in its entirety when Jesus died (Ephesians 2:14-16).
— Roger D. Campbell