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The Ten Commandments

Moses mit den Gesetzestafeln (Rembrandt 1659)
Rembrandt, Moses with the Tables of the Law -1659 © Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz [State Museums of the Prussian Cultural Heritage]

The Ten Commandments form part of a total of 613 individual prescriptions of the Law of Moses. They stand out above the rest. Their particular importance within the Law is underlined by two circumstances: these commandments were the only ones proclaimed by God on the Mountain of Sinai, audibly and to the entire people of Israel, and only these were engraved by God himself on the stone Tables of the Law.

The Ten Commandments are always addressed to the individual. It is not a matter of ‘Ye shall...’ but of ‘Thou shalt...’. Thus every individual human being is called on to base his or her personal life and attitudes on the commandments of God.

The First Commandment:
I am the LORD thy God.

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

What does this mean?
We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.

The Second Commandment:
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, in that we do not curse, swear, conjure, lie or cheat by his name, but should call on God in all our needs, pray to him, praise him and thank him.

The Third Commandment:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, in that we do not despise his Word but keep it holy – so we should be glad to hear it and to learn from it, we should not fill our Sundays with useless and damaging things but should rather live it out as a day of grace and blessing given to us by God.

The Fourth Commandment:
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, in that we do not despise or get angry with our parents and masters but should hold them in honour, serve them, be obedient to them, love them and value them.

The Fifth Commandment:
Thou shalt not kill.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, in that we do not inflict any damage or injury on our fellow human beings, but should help them and stand by them in all their existential needs.

The Sixth Commandment:
Thou shalt not commit adultery.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, in that we live chastely and modestly in word and in deed, and each individual should love and honour his or her spouse.

The Seventh Commandment:
Thou shalt not steal.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, in that we do not take anyone’s money or property or procure benefits to ourselves with false goods or by fraud, but should help to improve and look after everyone’s goods and ensure that all are adequately fed.

The Eighth Commandment:
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, in that we do not cheat, betray, backbite or slander anybody, but should rather excuse them, speak good of everyone and turn all things to the best.

The Ninth Commandment:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, in that we do not seek cunningly to deprive our fellow human beings of their inheritance or their house and procure it for ourselves with a semblance of right, but be helpful and serviceable in enabling them to hold onto what is their own.

The Tenth Commandment:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
   

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, in that we do not uncouple or alienate our neighbour’s wife, people or animals, but impress on them that they should stay and do their duty.

These Ten Commandments were summed up by Jesus Christ in the following commandments: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. And... thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Matthew 22, 37-39).