Ten Commandments – Concept, what are they, debate and origin

We explain what the Ten Commandments are in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the debate of theologians about them and what they are.

the ten Commandments
Christians and Jews accept the Ten Commandments as a moral code.

What are the ten commandments?

The ten Commandments, They are the set of moral, ethical and religious principles that were revealed to the Jewish prophet Moses by God himself, during his ascent to Mount Sinai (Horeb according to the Torah), according to the biblical Old Testament (in the books Exodus and Deuteronomy). Since these are ten fundamental religious laws, they are often also referred to as the Decalogue (from the Greek said, “ten and logos, “word”).

According to the Hebrew myth, the prophet Moses was chosen by God to guide the Jewish people through the deserts, escaping from slavery in Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, finally reaching Mount Sinai, which served as a sanctuary among the divinity and his chosen people.

There, Moses ascended to meet God, while his people remained on the slopes of the mountain, in order to seal the covenant. Then God dictated to Moses the laws that would govern the people and that the Israelites should obey if they wanted to be in his favor. These were the Ten Commandments, and according to the story they were engraved on two stone slabs.

The ten Commandments they are a very important concept for the Jewish and Christian religions, since they both share the Old Testament. However, not all the interpretations of the seventeen verses that describe this episode are the same: there are significant variations on what exactly the ten divine commands are, and it is even speculated that the number ten was just a strategy to facilitate their memorization.

There was, for example, much debate in history regarding how the Ten Commandments were distributed between the two tables of stone. The version accepted by many contemporary theologians insists that there were 4 in a first stone, related to the love and worship of God, and another six in the second, related to love of neighbor.

There are also historical readings that link these Jewish laws with a good part of the Ancient Egyptian legislation, which would mean that a good part of them were inspired by the legal and religious order with which their former slavers were governed.

In any case, both the different Christian churches and the Jewish religious branches accept these Ten Commandments as the moral, religious and civil code by which their lives and behaviors should be governed, in order to have the approval of God and the congregation.

What are the Ten Commandments?

Although, as we have seen, there are discrepancies regarding their written formulation, the Ten Commandments are always more or less the same. Thus, one of the most succinct and summarized formulas in the original text is the one designed by Catholicism for evangelical or catechetical purposes, that is, for the teaching of religion, and is the following:

  • You will love God above all things.
  • You will not take God’s name in vain.
  • You will sanctify the holidays.
  • You will honor your father and mother.
  • Thou shalt not kill.
  • Thou shalt not commit impure acts.
  • You will not steal.
  • You will not give false testimonies or lie.
  • You will not indulge in impure thoughts or desires.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or other people’s goods.

The Catholic catechism, however, summarizes all of these laws in a single sentence from the Gospel of Matthew: “You shall love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself.”