Ten Commandments


plural noun

the precepts spoken by God to Israel, delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai; the Decalogue. Exodus 20:2–17; Deuteronomy 5:6–21. Though the numbering of these commandments may differ in some religions, that which has been followed in this dictionary is based on the King James Version of the Bible.

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

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What are the Ten Commandments?

The Ten Commandments are a set of Judeo-Christian religious rules—very influential to both historic and contemporary morality, ethics, and worship in the West—believed to be sent directly from God to humanity.

How is Ten Commandments pronounced?

[ ten kuhmand-muhnts ]

What are some other forms related to [Ten Commandments]?

10 Commandments

Where do the Ten Commandments come from?

Also known as the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments are recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible, where they are revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai and carved into two stone tablets. 

A commandment is a rule or mandate, especially a divine one.

In many versions of the Bible, the commandments are mentioned as laws in Exodus 24:12-13 and named as the Ten Commandments in Exodus 34:28. The phrase appears in English as early as the late 1200s. The influential 1611 King James Version of the Bible renders the commandments in the now familiar and widely quoted Thou shalt not formula and are summarized as follows:

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house (wife, servants, and animals).

Note that the phrasing and numbering differ in some religions.

Forming the basis of Judeo-Christian morality and ethics, the Ten Commandments are widely taught, memorized, cited, and displayed by Jews and Christians, referenced in everything from Sunday School to bumper stickers.

Their massive influence in Western society has led to their popular depiction in the media. The biblical story of God’s delivery of the Ten Commandments has notably been told in film, from a 1923 silent film by Cecil DeMille to Charlton Heston’s 1956 treatment, both called The Ten Commandments. Popular songs have also taken inspiration from them, from Johnny Cash’s 1969 “Ten Commandments” to the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 “Ten Crack Commandments.”

In the U.S., displaying the Ten Commandments at courthouses has sparked controversy. Critics argue that, due to the overtly religious nature of the Commandments, featuring them in government buildings violates the principle of separation of church and state implied by the U.S. Constitution. In 2005, the issue went to the Supreme Court over citizen Thomas Van Orden’s lawsuit against the Texas State Capitol for exhibiting a large stone monument bearing the Ten Commandments. In a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the display was constitutional, as the Ten Commandments represented both religious and secular moral codes.

How are the Ten Commandments used in real life?

The Ten Commandments are widely used in formal contexts, including religious instruction, academic work, and philosophical and ethical considerations. Faithful Jews or Christians may cite the Ten Commandments as authority. Given their pervasive presence in Western culture, the Ten Commandments are also referenced in everyday speech and writing and are familiar to secular, non-Western, and non-Judeo-Christian people.

The Ten Commandments are so familiar that they provide a common way to frame guidelines and directives in various fields (e.g., the Ten Commandments of Dating, the Ten Commandments of Business).

The biblical language of the Ten Commandments has also entered pop culture, especially the King James construction of Thou shalt not. People often use the phrase to allude to the authoritative force of the Ten Commandments in a humorous fashion (e.g., “Thou shalt not stay up until 2 am” orThou shalt not kiss thy sister’s boyfriend”).

Be mindful that discussion of the Ten Commandments in public settings may offend people who are not Jewish, Christian, or religious.

More examples of the Ten Commandments:

“”The ten commandments of Gaming: 4. Thou shalt never cheat unless thine game has been beaten before (walkthroughs do not count.)”
—@ln2r_, September 10, 2012

“A Republican candidate’s careful answer to a debate question about the Ten Commandments on Friday shook up the Alabama governor’s race, as Sen. Bill Hightower began to take criticism from the far right.”
—John Sharp, AL.com, April 15, 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

British Dictionary definitions for Ten Commandments

Ten Commandments

pl n

the Ten Commandments Old Testament the commandments summarizing the basic obligations of man towards God and his fellow men, delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai engraved on two tables of stone (Exodus 20:1–17)Also known as: the Decalogue
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for Ten Commandments

Ten Commandments

The commandments engraved on stone tablets and given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. These commandments are the heart of the divine law in the Old Testament. The usual enumeration is: (I) I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me. (II) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. (III) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. (IV) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (V) Honor thy father and thy mother. (VI) Thou shalt not kill. (VII) Thou shalt not commit adultery. (VIII) Thou shalt not steal. (IX) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. (X) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.