Ten Commandments in the Bible
The What, Where and Why

Where are the Ten Commandments in the Bible?  What is the principle behind the ten commandments?  Why are they important to understand today?  

Moses ascended Mount Sinai which “burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness, and tempest”  (Heb. 12.18).  There were thunder and lightning flashes  (Ex. 20.18).  It was such a frightening sight that he said, “I am exceedingly afraid and terrified.”  (Heb. 12.21).  It was on that mountain, in the very presence of God, that Moses received the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments were not the only things written on the stone tablets.  The tablets of stone included a laundry list of all kinds of commandments that span eleven chapters  (Ex. 20-31).  

At the end of Exodus 31, we are told that “when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God"  (Ex. 31.18).  

We also learn that the tablets of stone “were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written.  Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets”  (Ex. 32.15,16).

If you study carefully, you will discover some interesting facts about the Ten Commandments in the Bible

Where are the Ten Commandments in the Bible?

How many times are the Ten Commandments mentioned in the Bible?  They are actually referenced dozens of times in both the Old and New Testaments.  

For example, Jesus refers to them when He counsels the rich young ruler in Matthew 19.16ff.  They are also referenced in James 1 where the writer emphasizes the concept of obedience.  

However, the actual The Ten Commandments can be found in three different places in the Old Testament.  

The First Time you Read about the Ten Commandments in the Bible

The first time you find the Ten Commandments in the Bible is in Exodus 20.  It is there that Moses climbed Mount Sinai as mentioned above.  In Exodus 20.3-17, you will find the following words.

1.  Exodus 20.3:  “You shall have no other gods before Me." 

2.  Exodus 20.4-6:  “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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;  you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."

3.  Exodus 20.7:  “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." 

4.  Exodus 20.8-11:  “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.  For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

5.  Exodus 20.12:  “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you."

6.  Exodus 20.13:  “You shall not murder." 

7.  Exodus 20.4:  “You shall not commit adultery." 

8.  Exodus 20.15:  “You shall not steal."

9.  Exodus 20.16:  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." 

10.  Exodus 20.17:  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

The Second Time You Can Find the Ten Commandments in the Bible.

The Second time you read about the Ten Commandments in the Bible was shortly after God gave them to Moses the first time.  

As Moses came down from the mountain, he heard noise that sounded like a celebration.  Then he saw that Aaron had constructed a golden calf out of the jewelry donated by the Israelites.  They were bowing down to it, worshiping it, and saying, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”  (Ex. 32.4).  

They were offering sacrifices and had essentially thrown a party.  

Moses was so upset at what he saw that “cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain”  (Ex. 32.19).  

Later, Moses goes back up to the top of the mountain.  God tells him to “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke”  (Ex. 34.1).  

The next morning, Moses does as God commands.  He cuts two tablets just like the first two that he broke and goes back up to the top of the mountain.  He stays there “with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments”  (Ex. 34.28)

Then he comes down and “he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai”  (Ex. 34.32).  

In this account, you will not find the list of the Ten Commandments.  Instead, you read about the historical account of how the second set of Ten Commandments were produced.

The Third Mention of the Ten Commandments in the Bible

If you read through the book of Exodus and Leviticus, you will learn that Moses led the children of Israel to the land of promise -- the land of Canaan.  He instructed them to conquer the land and take possession of it.  

After spying out the land, they discovered that the land was occupied by men of great stature.  They were afraid and did not believe they were capable of taking the land and did not trust God to give them the land.  

As a result, God banished them to wandering around in the wilderness for forty years.  It was during that time that the adults passed away and the children grew up into adults. 

With this second generation under the leadership of Joshua, the children of Israel went into the land of Canaan and conquered the land.

Just before they go into the land of Canaan, Moses makes a speech in which he reminds them of their past.  It was to this second generation that the Ten Commandments was given.  (Deut. 5.7-22).  

What was the Purpose of the Ten Commandments in the Bible?

What is the principle behind the Ten Commandments?  What do the Ten Commandments in the Bible mean to you?  Are you ready to make this personal? 

The Ten Commandments do not mean anything unless we can invite their meaning into our lives.  

There are three reasons why the Ten Commandments in the Bible are given.  Every one of these reasons are personal and directed to every one of us.  

The Ten Commandments Expose Sin.

What is sin?  Is it serious?  We tend to minimize sin.  We tend to justify sin.  We try to make excuses for sin.  But the Ten Commandments shows us how to identify sin and remind us of its seriousness.  

Consider two Bible verses.  

First, there is Romans 5.  In this chapter, we read about the origin and identity of sin.  If you read verse 13, you will discover that “sin is not imputed when there is no law.”  That makes sense because sin is defined as breaking God’s law  (1 John 3.4).  You cannot be guilty of breaking God’s law if there is no law to break.  

The second passage that we might consider is Romans 7.  In this passage, Paul writes that “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet’”  (Rom. 7.7).

If you skip down to a few verses, Paul continues this thought and writes that “sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful”  (Rom. 7.13).

To paraphrase, Paul is telling us that when you commit sin, it results in spiritual death.  The Ten Commandments not only help us know what is sinful, but also show us that committing sin causes us to be spiritually dead. 

Put these two thoughts together.  You cannot know that covetousness is sinful unless you read the commandments which tells you not to covet.  If you do covet, you know that you have done something that has separated you from God and caused your spiritual death.  

This is a world that minimizes sin and even glorifies it.  Most of the world do not realize the seriousness of their spiritual condition.  The Ten Commandments in the Bible were given to show us how much we need the grace of God.  

The Ten Commandments Lead us to Christ.

Galatians 3 tells us that the Law of Moses which included the Ten Commandments in the Bible did nothing save us from spiritual death.  It cannot offer forgiveness.  It cannot save us from the consequences of our past mistakes.  

That led to the question, “What purpose then does the Law serve?”  (Gal. 3.19). 

From that point Paul explains that the Ten Commandments were designed to govern us until the coming of Christ.  The Law “was our tutor to bring us to Christ”  (Gal. 3.24).

What happened after Christ came?  If you keep reading Paul writes, “But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor”  (Gal. 3.25).  Since Christ has come, we are no longer bound to the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments.  They have done their job.  

So why do we keep the Ten Commandments today?  We don’t.  

Do you work on Saturday?  If we were still under the Ten Commandments, then those who work on Saturday would be in violation of the fourth commandment.  

Today, we do not follow the Law of Moses.  We follow the Law of Christ  (Gal. 6.2).  You might find it interesting that every commandment that you find in the Ten Commandments is repeated in the Law of Christ.  

  • It is still a sin to covet.
  • It is still a sin to use God’s name in vain.
  • It is still a sin to steal.
  • It is still a sin to commit adultery.  

These are not sins because they violate the Ten Commandments.  These are sins because they violate the Law of Christ.  

There is one exception.  One of the Ten Commandments is not repeated in the Law of Christ.  There is no commandment in reference to keeping the Sabbath.   

The Ten Commandments were only in place temporarily until Christ came and implemented His law  (Heb. 8.13).

The Ten Commandments Encourage Love.

There is a fascinating question that is asked of Jesus.  A Pharisee came to Jesus and asked Him, “What is the greatest commandment?”  (Matt. 22.35).  

Watch how Jesus answered:  “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'"  (Matt. 22.37-39).

Jesus answered by saying that we are to love God with every fiber of our being.  And we are to love our neighbor.  Of all the commandments, they can be summed up with one word:  Love!

What is fascinating is what Jesus then said in reference to the greatest commandments.  

Matthew 22.40:  “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Everything that we read about in the Law of Moses including the Ten Commandments were put in place to encourage us to love.  They show us how to love God and how to love our neighbor.  

If you study the Ten Commandment carefully, you will find that they can be divided into two sections.

  • The first four commandments govern our relationship with God.
  • The last six commandments govern our relationship with our neighbor.

How do you show God how much you love Him?  You show your love for God by respecting His name.  You show your love for God by not giving your attention to other gods.  Do you put money before God?  Do you pursue money more than you pursue spiritual attributes?  

How do you show your neighbor how much you love him?  Do you mistreat him?  Do you steal from him?  Do you covet?  Do you look at the nice house and nice car and wish you had what he had?  Do you despise those who are doing better than you, or are you happy for them?

The apostle Paul put it this way in 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."  

The Ten Commandments in the Bible were written to the nation of ancient Israel to govern them until Jesus came and instituted His Law.  The Law of Christ is still a law of love.  If you truly love God and truly love your neighbor, then you are on your way to living the kind of life that God wants you to live.  


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