About the Ten Commandments


The Ten Commandments are God’s instructions about what it means to live for him and for others. The story of the Ten Commandments is found in the Old Testament in Exodus 20:1–17 and in Deuteronomy 5:1–21. The Ten Commandments were revealed to Moses after the Israelites were freed from slavery.

Another way of considering the Ten Commandments is looking at them not just as rules to be followed but also as a set of priorities. The two most important realities in our lives should be God and the welfare of the community. We must give God the recognition he is due as the one and only Lord of the universe. That is our first priority, the reason why we have the utmost respect for God’s name, and the reason why we set aside one day a week as God’s time. Our next priority is the well-being of the community: respect for its leaders, for the life of all its members, for the relationships that exist within the community, and for the right of others to have a good reputation and the things they need to live decent lives. Individualism and pure self-interest fall outside the scope of the Ten Commandments, that is to say, they are not high on our list of priorities.

The Law and the New Commandment

The Ten Commandments were a part of the instruction God gave to the Israelites in the desert. The Israelites saw obedience to God’s Law as a way of recognizing that there is only one God, recognizing the sacredness of God’s name, and reflecting the holiness of God. Obedience to the Law was a sign of their selection as God’s chosen people. Obedience to the Law displayed their respect for one another as God’s people. Because one’s obedience or disobedience of the Law brought consequences, the Israelites saw the Law as a matter of life and death. Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34) is rooted in the Jewish Law as found in Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”