Exodus 20:2-17, The Ten Commandments

You know the story. God called Moses up the mountain, and there transcribed a series of commandments upon stone tablets:

I am the Lord your God

You shall have no other gods before me

You shall not make for yourself an idol

Do not take the name of the Lord in vain

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

Honor your father and mother

You shall not murder

You shall not commit adultery

You shall not steal

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife

You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

Moses came down the mountain, found the Israelites worshiping a golden calf in his absence, and flung down the tablets in anger. They broke, and he trudged back up the mountain for a new set. This new set can be read in Deuteronomy chapter 5 (Jewish tradition holds that the original instructions in Exodus were the broken tablets, and the new instructions in Deuteronomy are the replacements). The two sets of commandments roughly agree.

Inexplicably, however, the Deuteronomy reprint indicates that there are only ten commandments. Bet you didn’t notice: there are twelve listed above, and careful reading of the text may uncover as many as fourteen or fifteen separate directives.

What to do? Various faiths began combining the twelve basic instructions in different ways, to get the count down to ten. The Jewish Talmud combines 2 and 3, and 11 and 12. Anglican Christians write off 1, and combine 11 and 12. Orthodox Christians combine 1 and 2, 11 and 12. Roman Catholics combine 1, 2 and 3.

Can we at least agree on these twelve? Unfortunately, no. The Samaritan version makes room for a new tenth on the sanctity of their holy Mount Gerezim. Islam teaches that the Bible has been corrupted, and honors a different ten. Jesus, in Matthew 10, found only a few commands worthy of attention: “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and,You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Now, you may ignore the Sabbath, worship whom you please, and covet your neighbor’s wife, as long as you love her as yourself.

Mark’s Gospel provides only two final commands: Love your God, and love your neighbor. In a way, these two embody all of the original twelve, but John’s Gospel drops one of Mark’stwo, leaving us only with the instruction to love one another. This omission seems to jibe with the series of commandments Jesus dropped in Matthew.

In the end, we’re left with one command: Love. Maybe that one will take care of the rest.

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