The Ten Commandments: An Introduction

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1. What are the Ten Commandments and when did God first give them?

Genesis 1:26-27: Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Romans 2:14-15: For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them).

When God first created Adam and Eve (Genesis 1-2), He wrote His law into their hearts so that they knew what was right and pleasing to God, and they loved God and desired only to serve Him and do what was right. This is what it means when the Bible tells us that God created man in His own image and likeness. But when Adam and Eve fell into sin (Genesis 3), they came to know good and evil, and their desire was to serve and please themselves and to disregard God’s law. But, even though mankind fell into sin and evil, a certain amount of knowledge of God and what is right and wrong still remains in people’s hearts. That is why even those who do not know God’s commandments still know, deep down, that certain things are wrong – such as killing, stealing, lying, committing adultery, etc. – and they feel guilty when they do wrong.

2. When did God give His law again? Why did He do it?

Romans 1:18-23: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Read Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-33 in your Bible and compare the accounts of the Ten Commandments

God gave His commandments again on Mt. Sinai – and Moses reminded God’s people of the law before his death – because man’s foolish heart has become darkened. We do not understand God’s law and we compromise its precepts to make it fit our lifestyles rather than conforming our lifestyles to what is truly good and right and obeying God’s commandments.

3. How are the commandments numbered?

J – Jewish Numbering
AL – Augustine-Luther Numbering
(Most Roman Catholic and most Lutheran churches)
OR – Orthodox-Reformed Numbering
(and most other Protestant churches)

Introduction

J – And God spoke all these words, saying,

AL – And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God.”

OR – And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God.”

1st Word

J – “I am the LORD your God.”

AL – “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image”

OR – “You shall have no other gods before me.”

2nd Word

J – “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image.”

AL – “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

OR – “You shall not make for yourself a graven image.”

3rd Word

J – “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

AL – “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

OR – “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

4th Word

J – “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

AL – “Honor your father and your mother.”

OR – “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

5th Word

J – “Honor your father and your mother.”

AL – “You shall not kill.”

OR – “Honor your father and your mother.”

6th Word

J – “You shall not kill.”

AL – “You shall not commit adultery.”

OR – “You shall not kill.”

7th Word

J – “You shall not commit adultery.”

AL – “You shall not steal.”

OR – “You shall not commit adultery.”

8th Word

J – “You shall not steal.”

AL – “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

OR – “You shall not steal.”

9th Word

J – “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

AL – “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”

OR – “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

10th Word

J – “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire anything that is your neighbor’s.”

AL – “You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

OR – “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire anything that is your neighbor’s.”

4. What is required in all of God’s commandments?

Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

Leviticus 19:18: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:35-40: Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

5. How then can all God’s commandments be summarized?

Romans 13:8-10: Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

All of God’s commandments can be summarized by love. They require us to love both God and our fellow man (our neighbor) with a perfect and selfless love. And, if we truly did love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and if we truly did love our neighbor as ourselves, we would gladly and willingly obey all that God commands us – as did Adam and Eve before they fell into sin.

6. Are God’s commandments always good and right? Is there ever a time when it’s OK to disobey God’s commandments?

Psalm 119:128: Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way.

Psalm 119:142-144: Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth. Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, yet Your commandments are my delights. The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting; give me understanding, and I shall live.

Psalm 119:160: The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.

Though we may, at times, think we know better than God what is good and best for us, God’s Word is always true and His commandments are always right. He gave us His commandments for our good, to keep us from bringing hurt and harm and the horrible consequences of sin upon ourselves. As He warned Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden of the terrible consequences of disobedience (Genesis 2:17), so God warns us of the misery and suffering and death which we bring upon ourselves when we disobey His perfect and holy commandments.

Indeed, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23). We, by our sin and disobedience, bring upon us death and damnation. Only in Jesus – for the sake of His perfect obedience and His perfect sacrifice on the cross for all sin – can we sinners have forgiveness and life. It is God’s free gift to us in His Son!

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.}

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