The Ten Commandments.* 1Then God spoke all these words:
2a I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,b out of the house of slavery. 3You shall not have other gods beside me.* 4You shall not make for yourself an idolc or a likeness of anything* in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; 5you shall not bow down before them or serve them.d For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation*; 6but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
8Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy.* 9Six days you may labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God.f You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested.g That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.*
14You shall not commit adultery.k
15You shall not steal.l
16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.m
17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.n
Moses Accepted as Mediator. 18Now as all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blast of the shofar and the mountain smoking, they became afraid and trembled.o So they took up a position farther away 19and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.” 20Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid, for God has come only to test you and put the fear of him upon you so you do not sin.” 21So the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.
The Covenant Code. 22* The LORD said to Moses: This is what you will say to the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven. 23You shall not make alongside of me gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.p 24An altar of earth make for me, and sacrifice upon it your burnt offerings and communion sacrifices, your sheep and your oxen.q In every place where I cause my name to be invoked* I will come to you and bless you. 25But if you make an altar of stone for me,r do not build it of cut stone, for by putting a chisel to it you profane it. 26You shall not ascend to my altar by steps, lest your nakedness be exposed.
* [20:1–17] The precise numbering and division of these precepts into “ten commandments” is somewhat uncertain. Traditionally among Catholics and Lutherans vv. 1–6 are considered as only one commandment, and v. 17 as two. The Anglican, Greek Orthodox, and Reformed churches count vv. 1–6 as two, and v. 17 as one. Cf. Dt 5:6–21. The traditional designation as “ten” is not found here but in 34:28 (and also Dt 4:13 and 10:4), where these precepts are alluded to literally as “the ten words.” That they were originally written on two tablets appears in Ex 32:15–16; 34:28–29; Dt 4:13; 10:2–4.
The present form of the commands is a product of a long development, as is clear from the fact that the individual precepts vary considerably in length and from the slightly different formulation of Dt 5:6–21 (see especially vv. 12–15 and 21). Indeed they represent a mature formulation of a traditional morality. Why this specific selection of commands should be set apart is not entirely clear. None of them is unique in the Old Testament and all of the laws which follow are also from God and equally binding on the Israelites. Even so, this collection represents a privileged expression of God’s moral demands on Israel and is here set apart from the others as a direct, unmediated communication of God to the Israelites and the basis of the covenant being concluded on Sinai.
* [20:3] Beside me: this commandment is traditionally understood as an outright denial of the existence of other gods except the God of Israel; however, in the context of the more general prohibitions in vv. 4–5, v. 3 is, more precisely, God’s demand for Israel’s exclusive worship and allegiance.
The Hebrew phrase underlying the translation “beside me” is, nonetheless, problematic and has been variously translated, e.g., “except me,” “in addition to me,” “in preference to me,” “in defiance of me,” and “in front of me” or “before my face.” The latter translation, with its concrete, spatial nuances, has suggested to some that the prohibition once sought to exclude from the Lord’s sanctuary the cult images or idols of other gods, such as the asherah, or stylized sacred tree of life, associated with the Canaanite goddess Asherah (34:13). Over the course of time, as vv. 4–5 suggest, the original scope of v. 3 was expanded.
* [20:4] Or a likeness of anything: compare this formulation to that found in Dt 5:8, which understands this phrase and the following phrases as specifications of the prohibited idol (Hebrew pesel), which usually refers to an image that is carved or hewn rather than cast.
* [20:5] Jealous: demanding exclusive allegiance. Inflicting punishment…the third and fourth generation: the intended emphasis is on God’s mercy by the contrast between punishment and mercy (“to the thousandth generation”—v. 6). Other Old Testament texts repudiate the idea of punishment devolving on later generations (cf. Dt 24:16; Jer 31:29–30; Ez 18:2–4). Yet it is known that later generations may suffer the punishing effects of sins of earlier generations, but not the guilt.
* [20:7] In vain: i.e., to no good purpose, a general framing of the prohibition which includes swearing falsely, especially in the context of a legal proceeding, but also goes beyond it (cf. Lv 24:16; Prv 30:8–9).
* [20:8] Keep it holy: i.e., to set it apart from the other days of the week, in part, as the following verse explains, by not doing work that is ordinarily done in the course of a week. The special importance of this command can be seen in the fact that, together with vv. 9–11, it represents the longest of the Decalogue’s precepts.
* [20:13] Kill: as frequent instances of killing in the context of war or certain crimes (see vv. 12–18) demonstrate in the Old Testament, not all killing comes within the scope of the commandment. For this reason, the Hebrew verb translated here as “kill” is often understood as “murder,” although it is in fact used in the Old Testament at times for unintentional acts of killing (e.g., Dt 4:41; Jos 20:3) and for legally sanctioned killing (Nm 35:30). The term may originally have designated any killing of another Israelite, including acts of manslaughter, for which the victim’s kin could exact vengeance. In the present context, it denotes the killing of one Israelite by another, motivated by hatred or the like (Nm 35:20; cf. Hos 6:9).
* [20:22–23:33] This collection consists of the civil and religious laws, both apodictic (absolute) and casuistic (conditional), which were given to the people through the mediation of Moses. They will be written down by Moses in 24:4.