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TitleTen Commandments
Publication TypeEncyclopedia Entry
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsVerhaaren, Bruce T.
Secondary AuthorsLudlow, Daniel H.
Secondary TitleEncyclopedia of Mormonism
Place PublishedNew York
KeywordsLaw of Moses; Moses (Prophet); Ten Commandments
Citation Key613

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Ten Commandments

Author: Verhaaren, Bruce T.

The Ten Commandments or "decalogue," literally "ten words" (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13;10:4), are usually understood to be the divine injunctions revealed to Moses and recorded in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. These basic standards of behavior, part of the covenant made on Sinai between the Lord and the children of Israel, have relevance transcending the dispensation of Moses, and have been quoted (Mosiah 12:34-35;13:12-24) and elaborated throughout later scripture (Matt. 5:21-37; D&C 42:18-28;59:6).

The Ten Commandments encapsulate the basic tenets of the Torah, or Law of Moses. Refugees from Egyptian bondage, the Israelites agreed to keep the law (Ex. 19:8), and in return the Lord promised to make them "a peculiar treasure, a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex. 19:5-6). Moses, realizing that keeping this covenant was essential to Israel's successful establishment in Canaan, used the decalogue to remind his people of their covenant as they prepared to enter the Promised Land (Deut. 5:6-21).

In response to the Israelites' worship of the golden calf, Moses shattered the original tablets on which the commandments were engraved (Ex. 32:19). Though a second set was produced (Ex. 34:1), the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) indicates that the accompanying law was diminished. The second law was "not according to the first [but] after the law of a carnal commandment" (JST Ex. 34:1-2; JST Deut. 10:1-2).

Each set was made up of two stone "tables of testimony" (Ex. 31:18), reflecting the two classes of instructions they contained. The first group, or "table," consists of commandments dealing with the relationship between God and his children. They forbid the worship of other gods and of idols, the misuse of the Lord's name, and the desecration of the sabbath day. These are elaborated with explanations and consequences. The second table, written in short, direct statements, deals with relationships among God's children, containing commands to honor parents, and not to kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet.

These standards have been known in all dispensations (MD, p. 782), but in the form received by Moses they were an important influence on later scripture. In the Book of Mormon, Abinadi, in his defense before King Noah, quotes the entire decalogue from Exodus (Mosiah 12:34-35;13:12-24). Christ, who fulfills the law, expands upon the terse second table in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-37; 3 Ne. 12:21-37). He warns of attitudes that lead to misdeeds, forbidding not only adultery, but lust, not only killing, but anger. The second table is likewise expanded in latter-day revelation. The Doctrine and Covenants forbids stealing, adultery, killing, or "anything like unto it" (59:6), while D&C 42:18-28details the consequences of such actions.

Finally, Christ not only expands upon applications of the commandments, but reduces the two principal focuses of the decalogue to their essence. Each of the two great commandments, to love the Lord (Matt. 22:37; Deut. 6:5) and to love one's neighbor (Matt. 22:39; Lev. 19:18; Rom. 13:9), encapsulates one of the two tables of the Ten Commandments.


Fuller, Reginald H. "The Decalogue in the New Testament." In Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 43 (1989):43-55.

Wells, Robert E. "We Are Christians Because." Ensign 14 (Jan. 1984):16-19.