The circumstances in which the Decalogue was received
related in Exodus chapters 19, 20, and 24. More
than fifteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, after great
miracles wrought by Moses in Egypt, Pharaoh
was compelled to let the Hebrews go. Miraculously crossing the Red Sea,
Moses proceeded south along the
Sinai desert peninsula, making his way towards the Promised Land. On
the fiftieth day after their exodus from
Egypt, the Hebrews came to the foot of Mt. Sinai and set up camp. Moses
ascended the mountain, and there the
Lord spoke to him: Say to the Israelites: If ye will indeed hear my
voice, and keep my covenant, you shall be to
me a special people above all nations (Ex. 19:5). When Moses conveyed
God's will to the Hebrews, they replied:
All the words that the Lord has spoken, we will do and be obedient (Ex.
19:8). Then the Lord ordered Moses to
prepare the people in three days to receive the Law, and with prayer
and fasting the Hebrews began to prepare
themselves. On the third day a thick cloud covered the summit of Mount
Sinai. Lightning flashed, it thundered
and the voice of a loud trumpet was heard. Smoke rolled from the
mountain and it began to shudder. The people
stood afar off and trembled for fear. On the mount the Lord delivered
His law to Moses in the form of ten
commandments, which he then conveyed to the people.
Receiving the laws, the Hebrews promised to keep them,
and then a covenant was made between God and the Hebrews: the Lord
promised the Hebrews His mercy and protection, and the Hebrews promised
to live righteously. Again Moses ascended the mountain and remained
there in prayer and fasting for forty days. At this time the Lord gave
Moses other laws, both ecclesiastical and civil; He ordained that a
tabernacle be constructed, a type of moveable tent, and He gave rules
concerning the ministry of the priests and the offering of sacrifices.
At the end of these forty days God inscribed His Ten Commandments,
which He had earlier delivered orally, on two stone tablets and
commanded that they be kept in the "Ark of the Covenant" (a box
overlaid with gold, with images of cherubim on the lid) as a reminder
of the covenant made between Him and the Israelites.
Over the course of the next forty years of wandering
through the wilderness, Moses gradually wrote down much else that the
Lord had revealed to him on Mount Sinai and in subsequent visions. From
these writings were formed the biblical books of Exodus, Numbers,
Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
The purpose of the laws which the prophet Moses
delivered to the Hebrews was to regulate not only religious life but
also their civil life. In New Testament times the majority of Old
Testament rituals and civil laws lost their significance and were
abrogated by the Apostles. However, the Ten Commandments and other
commandments defining man's moral behavior, comprise together with New
Testament teaching a single moral law. The Ten Commandments contain the
very basis of morality; they lay down those fundamental principles
without which no human society can exist. For this reason they may be
regarded as a kind of "constitution" of mankind. It is probably because
of their supreme importance and inviolability that the Ten
Commandments, unlike all the other commandments, were written down not
on paper or other corruptible material but on stone.
Most people know the Ten Commandments — or perhaps it is
better to say that they think they know the Ten Commandments. The
commandments are one of those cultural products that people imagine
that they understand, but in reality, they frequently can't even name
all of them, let alone explain them.
The Ten Commandments are a set of ten basic rules of
behavior that appear in the ancient Hebrew scriptures and are directed
at the Hebrews as God’s chosen people. Tradition holds that these rules
were delivered to them by God via Moses, who climbed to the top of
Mount Sinai during the Hebrews’ journey through the desert from Egypt
to Canaan. They are, then, God’s requirements for how the Hebrews are
supposed to behave.
It did not take long for the Israelites to break the
commandments, they were soon worshiping a golden calf and coveting
We are no different today, it is easy to fall short of
these commandments. Our challenge is to be different, to commit to
trying to live our lives within the framework.
Our inability to keep our part of the covenant with God,
meant God needed to act. He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us
from our own sinful ways.
This offer demonstrates God's love for us, even when we
fail to live up to the requirements of the commandments - He wants to
forgive us and offer us a new start.
As Christians, we learn the ten commandments and use
them as guides to help us in our relationships with our loved ones, our
neighbors, and God. God gave the ten commandments to us because He only
wants what's good for us.
The Ten Commandments are also called the Decalogue
(Greek, meaning ten words). The commandments are not a list of "Do
nots," but are in fact God's guide to the good life—a life full of
The use of the term “Catholic” Ten Commandments is meant
loosely because both Catholics and Lutherans follow this particular
listing which is based upon the version found in Deuteronomy. The
Exodus text forms the basis for the “Protestant” version of the Ten
The Catholic Ten Commandments are linked together to
form a coherent whole. If you break one of them, you're guilty of
breaking all of them (Catechism, #2069).
The Commandments express man's fundamental duties to God
and neighbor. As such, they represent grave obligations. To violate
them knowingly and willingly in a significant way is to commit mortal
sin. (See Catechism, #2702-3)
The idea, however, that the Catholic Church in some way
“omitted” Commandments is completely false. The Church did not “add” or
“subtract” anything – again, it was the Catholic Church Fathers who
wrote (through the inspiration of the Spirit) the Sacred Scriptures,
and the Early Catholic Church (again, through the inspiration of the
Spirit) that developed and solidified the canon of Scripture, everyone
else used ours as the guide and the foundation of the Bible.
Whenever someone tries to have the Ten Commandments
posted by the government on public property, it is almost inevitable
that this Catholic version is not used. Instead, people chose the
Protestant listing. The reason is likely the long-standing Protestant
dominance in American public and civic life.
Traditional Catechetical Formula
I am the LORD
your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of
have no other gods before Me.
You shall not
make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above
or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
You shall not
worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and
the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
loving kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My
the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that
place of slavery.
shall not have other gods besides me.
shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the
sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;
you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD,
your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers'
wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and
bestowing mercy, down to the thousandth generation, on the children of
those who love me and keep my commandments.
1. I am the
LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
You shall not
take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave
him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD
will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain.
2. You shall
not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days you
shall labor and do all your work,
seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do
any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female
servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
For in six
days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is
in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the
Sabbath day and made it holy.
care to keep holy the Sabbath day as the LORD, your God, commanded you.
days you may labor and do all your work;
the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be
done then, whether by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or
female slave, or your ox or ass or any of your beasts, or the alien who
lives with you. Your male and female slave should rest as you do.
remember that you too were once slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your
God, brought you from there with his strong hand and outstretched arm.
That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the
to keep holy the LORD'S Day.
father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land
which the LORD your God gives you.
your father and your mother, as the LORD, your God, has commanded you,
that you may have a long life and prosperity in the land which the
LORD, your God, is giving you.
4. Honor your
father and your mother.
You shall not
shall not kill.
5. You shall not kill.
You shall not
shall not commit adultery.
6. You shall not commit
You shall not
shall not steal.
7. You shall not steal.
You shall not
bear false witness against your neighbor.
shall not bear dishonest witness against your neighbor.
8. You shall not bear
against your neighbor.
You shall not
covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife
or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or
anything that belongs to your neighbor."
shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
not desire your neighbor's house or field, nor his male or female
slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything that belongs to him.'
9. You shall not covet
your neighbor's wife.
10. You shall not covet
your neighbor's goods.