Biblical Studies Biblical Theology

The Twenty Commandments?


If you grew up in church like I did, you probably memorized (or at least you were supposed to memorize) the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20. I don’t remember much of what I was taught from those years (considering this was twenty years ago) beyond flannel graphs, sticky stars, and songs by a large donut and a (p)salty book. What I do remember was that in all of the pictures I saw, the Ten Commandments were pretty short.


Regardless of what I did (or didn’t) remember, three things are wrong with this picture.

  1. The full list of Ten Commandments were actually written on both slates of stone.
    • Each stone represented each parties regulations, one for Israel, one for Yahweh. As long as Israel trusted in Yahweh (by faith) obeyed the commandments (out of love), Yahweh would fulfill his duties as their God, their Provider and Protector.
      • This is actually why Moses smashes the tablets in Exodus 32.19. That Israel had turned against Yahweh meant the brand spankin’ new covenant was broken. That they so quickly rebelled is what angered Moses.
      • By breaking the two tablets of stone, Moses presented Israel with a physical parable: their sin smashed the covenant.
  2. About half of the commandments are much longer than in this picture, specifically #2, 4, 5, and 10.
  3. The Ten Commandments are actually spelled out twice in the Bible: once in Exodus 20 and the other in Deuteronomy 5. However, as you’ll see in the picture below there are some significant differences between the two sets of commandments, specifically in commandments 5, 6, and 10, but mainly numbers 5 and 10.
    (Click the picture to enlarge it)

10 Commandments

Is This a Problem?

As many will say, this is a problem. As the blogger Holeybooks says after commenting on the two accounts of the Ten Commandments, “Needless to say, it is quite odd that the Bible itself, if it is putatively a consistent work, would have two different versions.”

Christians are usually given only three options:

  1. “[T]he Pentateuch has involved two or more sources being combined into a single narrative” and apparently nobody bothered to smooth out the variations (Holeybooks). The same argument is put forth regarding the creation account in Genesis 1-2 and the flood story in Genesis 7 (again, I don’t agree with the conclusions found on that blog).
  2. The biblical editors got something wrong (really, this could be combined with both Opt. 1 and/or 2).
  3. Moses botched up God’s words. And God’s probably wrong too. And, while we’re at it, the Bible can’t be trusted either.

Other “problems” can be read about here, here, and here.


I propose a fourth option: I don’t think there is a problem between the two commandments. Again, a commenter on Holeybooks laid out the problem between the Sabbath commandments:

Here, we have the reason why the Lord God ‘commanded’ them to observe the sabbath.

Exo 20:11 – because God rested on the seventh day, He blessed it.

Deu 12:15 – because God brought them out of Egypt, He commanded them to observe the Sabbath” (quoted verbatim). 

So according to which reason was Israel supposed to keep the Sabbath? Because God rested on the seventh day? Or because God brought Israel out of Egypt?

In his book The Gospel According to Moses, Daniel Block takes issue with this theory. People can take the Bible and twist it into whatever they want it to say. Without the proper information, this puts many Christians in a tight spot. We believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, but yet we don’t know why these two accounts differ. Maybe one of these accounts really is wrong?

As I stated before, I think the problems here can be countered with a proper understanding both of who Moses was and of the situation he and Israel were in. I’ll give my thoughts on Commandments #5 (Keeping the Sabbath) and #10 (Don’t Covet) in a series of posts. And, since many of the biblical laws are so far removed from our culture today (which was influenced by Christian values), the final post will look at a few laws in Deuteronomy and how they were given to benefit and raise the status of women in Israel.


My review here


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