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Ten Commandments

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Moses about to lay the smackdown with the stone tablet shot on some poor idol
Light iron-age reading
The Bible
Icon bible.svg
Gabbin' with God
All pay heed! The Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen... [drops one of the three tablets] Oy! ... Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!
—Moses, as portrayed by Mel Brooks in History of the World, Part 1
Then there is the very salient question of what the commandments do not say. Is it too modern to notice that there is nothing about the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide? Or is it too exactingly "in context" to notice that some of these very offenses are about to be positively recommended?
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything[1]

The Ten Commandments are a set of laws which were allegedly given to Moses by God, written across both sides of two stone tablets (or "tables").[note 1] The story is outlined in the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Although the passages in question do not stipulate punishments for breaking the commandments, many of the same rules are repeated elsewhere in the Old Testament, where they are usually noted to be punishable by death.[note 2] 'Cause that's just how God rolled back in those days.

Some biblical literalists, including those espousing the totalitarian Christian movement called dominionism, have suggested that the Ten Commandments should form the basis of U.S. national laws. During the 2008 presidential campaign similar comments were made by Mike Huckabee. This article looks at the Ten Commandments from that standpoint to see how well they would work as laws in a modern society. Since many of these fundamentalists regard the King James version to be the only true (English language) Bible, this version has been used.

Which Ten Commandments?[edit]

The Ten Commandments displayed at the Texas State Capitol in 2005 (in violation of the Second Commandment).

There are three versions of the Ten Commandments in the Bible. Two of them are very similar, Exodus 20:2-Exodus 20:17[2] and Deuteronomy 5:6-Deuteronomy 5:21.[3]

The third version, in Exodus 34:12-Exodus 34:26,[4] is radically different, and is the only one which the Bible refers to as "the Ten Commandments". This is the second set which were given to Moses following the destruction of the first tablets when he suffered from an anger management failure after witnessing the Israelites worshipping the golden calf. While it has a few similarities to the original set, it does not include well known rational commandments such as "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not kill"; but has instead instructions about holy days, not cooking kids in their mothers' milk, and God expresses a distaste for sacrifices containing honey, leaven, or both blood and yeast (although either alone is apparently quite acceptable). God says in Exodus 34:1 that this second set was also written on the first pair of tablets, so the "Ten Commandments" from Exodus 20:1 are probably not the Ten Commandments at all.

This is the list of the new commandments in Exodus 34:[5]

  1. Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
  2. Do not make any idols.
  3. Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
  4. The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock.
  5. Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
  6. Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest, you must rest.
  7. Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.
  8. Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel.
  9. Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast and do not let any of the sacrifices from the Passover Festival remain until morning.
  10. Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God. "Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk."

It is uncertain how the devout are expected to follow Commandment 8, given that God no longer appears in person today. Number 5 might also be problematic, since people react negatively to animal sacrifices these days.

The Qur'an has no exact equivalent to the Ten Commandments listed in the Pentateuch, but various authors have found separate texts within the Qur'an which are equally restrictive.[6][7][8] That's how you know they're genuine.

Written by the creator of the Universe, eh?[edit]

Christopher Hitchens casts inescapable doubt on the proposition that the ten commandments were anything but man-made and typical for the time and region. In regard to the implications of the commandments of the Old Testament, he writes:[1]

It would be harder to find an easier proof that religion is man-made. There is, first, the monarchical growling about respect and fear, accompanied by a stern reminder of omnipotence and limitless revenge, of the sort with which a Babylonian or Assyrian emperor might have ordered the scribes to begin a proclamation. There is then a sharp reminder to keep working and only to relax when the absolutist says so. A few crisp legalistic reminders follow, one of which is commonly misrendered because the original Hebrew actually says "thou shalt do no murder." But however little one thinks of the Jewish tradition, it is surely insulting to the people of Moses to imagine that they had come this far under the impression that murder, adultery, theft, and perjury were permissible.

(The same unanswerable point can be made in a different way about the alleged later preachings of Jesus: when he tells the story of the Good Samaritan on that Jericho road he is speaking of a man who acted in a humane and generous manner without, obviously, ever having heard of Christianity, let alone having followed the pitiless teachings of the God of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all.) No society ever discovered has failed to protect itself from self-evident crimes like those supposedly stipulated at Mount Sinai.

Finally, instead of the condemnation of evil actions, there is an oddly phrased condemnation of impure thoughts. One can tell that this, too, is a man-made product of the alleged time and place, because it throws in "wife" along with the other property, animal, human, and material, of the neighbor. More important, it demands the impossible: a recurrent problem with all religious edicts. One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions, or barred from committing them, but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much.

In particular, it is absurd to hope to banish envy of other people's possessions or fortunes, if only because the spirit of envy can lead to emulation and ambition and have positive consequences. (It seems improbable that the American fundamentalists, who desire to see the Ten Commandments emblazoned in every schoolroom and courtroom — almost like a graven image — are so hostile to the spirit of capitalism.) If God really wanted people to be free of such thoughts, he should have taken more care to invent a different species.

How many Commandments?[edit]

Depending on whether you are Jewish, Roman Catholic, or Protestant, the numbering sequence of the Commandments varies. Basically it depends on how you cut up the first two and the last two, but the effect is that there are somewhere between nine and eleven commandments depending on where the denominations split them. In fact, if you analyze them closely you can get up to twenty-five,[9] but the Bible says there are only ten - so they must be shoe-horned into that number.

A further complication in all this is that Jesus himself, when instructing someone to follow the Commandments, only listed five or six of them, depending whether you believe Luke 18:20 or Mark 10:19 and Matthew 19:18-Matthew 19:19, respectively. The Commandments he listed fall into the rational, "getting along with society" group, rather than the "exclude other religious beliefs" group:

Matthew 19:18-Matthew 19:19 Mark 10:19 Luke 18:20
1. Thou shalt do no murder 1. Do not commit adultery 1. Do not commit adultery
2. Thou shalt not commit adultery 2. Do not kill 2. Do not kill
3. Thou shalt not steal 3. Do not steal 3. Do not steal
4. Thou shalt not bear false witness 4. Do not bear false witness 4. Do not bear false witness
5. Honour thy father and thy mother 5. Defraud not 5. Honour thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself 6. Honour thy father and mother. N/A

However, as Jesus did not have a secretary taking notes when he spoke, and as everything was written a long time after his death, we have no way of knowing if this was his opinion or if some author simply put these words in his mouth.

The Two Tables[edit]

Once you have decided which set of Ten Commandments to follow (and then decided exactly how you get the number "ten"), you will find that historically they have been claimed to divide thematically into two sets, sometimes referred to by theologians as the "two tables", the first concerned with duties to God, and the second with behaviour within society. These two groups are imagined to correspond to the division of the commandments between Moses' two stone tablets, although the OT myths do not identify which commandments appeared on which stone.

Usually the first four commandments are regarded as the first table, and the latter six as the second, although some theologians have claimed that they split into two tables of five commandments. This is because the fifth commandment (to honour one's parents) can be seen either as an issue of veneration and service, placing it in the first table, or as a societal obligation like those of the second table.

The concept of the two tables was very important to the Protestant Reformation. Puritans in particular placed much greater emphasis on the first table, believing that duty to God should preclude any civic duty. They believed that Catholics had sold out the Ten Commandments, maintaining only the second table, which are largely rules for avoiding social conflicts, while allowing blasphemy and idolatry to flourish.

Could they be implemented?[edit]

The US Bill of Rights.

Some politicians, such as Mike Huckabee, have suggested the Ten Commandments form, and should form, the basis of the national system of laws. This is a very bad idea. To show why this is, we are going to go through them one by one using the King James translation, and use the Protestant/Anglican numbering system, as we assume that is what Mr. Huckabee and other fundamentalists would prefer.

Perhaps surprisingly, some people think American law is already based on the Ten Commandments.

Before considering the Commandments in detail it would be well to remind ourselves of the existing protections in respect of religious freedom which exist in, for example, Europe and the US, or in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The European Convention on Human Rights[edit]

Article Nine of the Convention states:

1. "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance."

2. "Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

The Bill of Rights[edit]

The First Amendment to the American constitution states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights[edit]

Article Eighteen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which most governments around the world are signatories, states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Article Nineteen states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."


It will be shown that at the very least, the first, second, third and fourth Commandments would represent clear violations of both Article Nine of the European Convention on Human Rights,[10] and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Articles Eighteen and Nineteen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Furthermore, the fifth, seventh and tenth Commandments are also of doubtful legality.

First Commandment: Idolatry[edit]

Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.

I: Legal and social considerations[edit]

This Commandment says that no other gods can be more important than the God of the Old Testament. Normally this would be interpreted as "this particular god should be regarded as more important than any other gods" and would remove most current forms of religious tolerance from any country in which it was implemented.

However, the only thing this commandment condemns is valuing any god higher than the God of the Old Testament. Thus, technically, it allows for other gods to be valued equally high and, since "having a god" is not an explicit requirement, worshipping no gods at all is also an option. This would imply some form of tolerance towards pluralistic beliefs and atheism (not that anyone will interpret it that way).

I: Religious considerations[edit]

It is interesting that it does not say “Thou shall have no other gods” but “Thou shall have no other gods before me”. Some speculate that this was written before monotheism became established, and monolatrism was the best the writers of the commandments could hope for.

I: Conclusion[edit]

This would be a clear violation of Article Eighteen of the Universal Declaration of Human RightsWikipedia, Article Nine of the European Convention on Human RightsWikipedia, and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Second Commandment: Graven images[edit]

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

II: Legal and social considerations[edit]

Would God make an exception for this one?

Although counted as one by most protestant religions (and as a half by the Catholic Church and the Lutherans) this is really two Commandments with a follow up threat which are:

  • Don't make graven images of anything.
  • Don't create any likeness of anything.
  • Don't bow down and worship graven images.
  • If you do this I will punish you, your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren.

A literal interpretation of the first element would seem to arbitrarily prohibit making statues of any type. This would require destruction of civic art and architecture on a massive scale in the U.S. and elsewhere, including monuments to the Ten Commandments (oh, the irony!). The second apparently would extend the prohibition against any visual depictions of objects, including photographs and cartoons, as well as writing, which is a series of images of letters. Interestingly, this prohibits the book that these commandments come from from being written down, which would open some naughty people up to redefining the rules.

The third contravenes national and international legal protections.

The final threat, while fortunately unenforceable in any real manner, is decidedly unpleasant, unfair and vindictive.

II: Religious considerations[edit]

The difference between the first and second commandment is not clear to all faiths and consequently, the numbering difficulty arises.

Some Islamic traditions ban any and all statues on the basis of similar prohibitions in the Qur'an (such as aniconismWikipedia, a part of hadith), while the Christian Puritans and their successors object to any kind of religious iconography, prompting waves of destructive iconoclasm during the Reformation era. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, on the other hand, have substantial quantities of these items.

II: Conclusion[edit]

Not only would this outlaw any form or representational art but it would also be a clear violation of Article Eighteen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article Nine of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the First Amendment to the American Constitution. Such a law could be implemented only in a theocracy.

Third Commandment: Blasphemy[edit]

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.

III: Legal and social considerations[edit]

It is not clear how a full-on blasphemy law—as implied by this commandment—could be policed in modern western states, as it would obviously conflict with the principle of freedom of speech, which is a fundamental and indispensable civil liberty enshrined in the constitution of any modern democracy. These are unlikely to be repealed any time soon, no matter what some people may wish.

Blasphemy was against the common law of the United Kingdom until 2008, when it was promptly abolished following the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 and the EU human rights laws already mentioned. Ireland, a member of the EU, actually reintroduced a law making blasphemy illegal in 2009.[11] The law, which carried a fine of up to €25,000, was challenged,[12] and repealed in 2018[13] after a referendum.

Other countries still do enforce blasphemy laws. In Pakistan, for instance, it carries the death penalty.

III: Conclusion[edit]

Such a law would almost certainly be a violation of Articles Eighteen and Nineteen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article Nine of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the First Amendment to the American Constitution. (Goddammit!)

Fourth Commandment: Sabbath[edit]

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)

IV: Legal and social considerations[edit]

"Burning down, you say? Sorry, God says we can't work today."

This law would mandate the "honouring" of one particular day from one particular religion. It would represent an unwarranted attack on freedom of belief. To be more fair to heretics and infidels, it could also mean the particular day of their own religion, which kind of discriminates against agnostics and atheists. Presumably they could tag along with the dominant group's sabbath, but that's not the point.

The final part of the Commandment would enshrine creationism in law.

But perhaps more importantly, which day does one take as the Sabbath? This is an important question as the punishment for failing to keep this one is death. The original Ten Commandments obviously referred to Saturday (sundown Friday to Saturday night)—which is still kept by the Jews and some fundamentalist Christians. However, the Christian church began observing Sunday as a holy day as well—with the result that in some Christian denominations there are effectively two Sabbaths, or maybe (depending on who you talk to) only one, being Sunday. Meanwhile, Muslims hold Friday to be holy. So this is really a very confusing instruction.

It might also mean the end of the forty-hour (five-day) work week. Perhaps in its day, it was a significant reform—preventing people being forced to labor every day—but we have since improved on it. In a modern society, every individual honoring the same Sabbath-period and not working on it could prove disastrous. Emergency services, armed forces, internet-server maintenance, construction and essential domestic services such as power generation and supply would all be essentially incapacitated—or at least unable to respond to a problem if the automation breaks down—for up to a full day. In practice, even the strictest of theocrats seem to have no problems granting exemptions and dispensations around this Commandment for work that they deem "essential". In Israel, arguably the most Sabbath-observant state in the world, plenty of people work the whole day on the Sabbath and observant Jews are permitted to do any kind of work on the Sabbath that is necessary to preserve life.[14] So much for absolute foundational principles.

IV: Theological considerations[edit]

Why an omnipotent Deity should need or want to rest remains as an exercise for the theologically-inclined reader. But it must be true, because Genesis 2:2-3 says so.

IV: Conclusion[edit]

This would be a clear violation of Article Eighteen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (as well as potentially of Article Twenty-Three, which enshrines the right to work),[15] and Article Nine of the European Convention on Human Rights.[16] Such a law could be implemented only in a theocracy. It is likely a violation of the 1st amendment to the US Constitution (by establishing Christianity through its assertion that God rested on the Sabbath) as well as 9th and 10th amendments for arbitrarily infringing on the rights of individuals to sell their labor.

Fifth Commandment: Parents[edit]

Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

V: Legal and social considerations[edit]

There would be considerable enforcement and civil liberties issues with any law based on this commandment - especially so as this is one of the many Commandments backed up by the death penalty in other parts of the Old Testament. If taken to the extreme, this would mean every single child would be killed as no one's that respectful to their parents, especially during their teenage years. Also, there is the issue that if the parents are dysfunctional or abusive, then they might not "deserve" this respect.

In some very wonky leaps of logic, the commandment to honour one's parentage has sometimes been extended to signify one's ethnic origin and been used to justify racialism and segregation, as it was in South Africa under apartheid.[17]

V: Conclusion[edit]

The statement itself would be good or bad moral advice (depending on who one's parents are), but makes a bad law. The definition of "honor" would be open to wide legal challenge and would be difficult to consistently apply.

Sixth Commandment: Homicide[edit]

Thou shalt not kill.

VI: Legal and social considerations[edit]

If only this commandment had prevented all these centuries of religious massacres.

This - number six - is really the first reasonable Commandment. It's halfway through the list but it’s a start. Still, it's not exactly original; most cultures have this as a basic rule. The original Hebrew word ratzah roughly means "kill without moral justification" and not simply "kill". Accordingly some translations have it as “Thou shalt not murder.” So it’s not as clear-cut as it seems, but we'll stick with King James here.

Presumably, the King James translation would prohibit capital punishment (Thomas More argued exactly this in his Utopia, condemning the capital punishment levied on thieves in the England of his day) and war, or indeed, killing in self-defence.

The sticking point in this one is the awkward fact that the Old Testament is awash with genocide and murder, whose perpetrators often not only get away with it, but often do it specifically at God's instruction.

Maybe the commandment only means Israelites shouldn't kill each other? No, that can't be it either; in Exodus 32:27-Exodus 32:29 Moses orders indiscriminate mass murder among the Israelites following the Golden Calf incident.

This commandment is also contradicted in numerous other passages of the Bible that suggest murdering followers of other religions, non-believers, homosexuals, witches, adulterers, women who are not virgins on their wedding night, and anyone working on the Sabbath (such as Jesus and his Disciples).[18][19]

Presumably, as well the commandment doesn't cover the killing of animals, what with all of the ritual slaughter in the rest of the Torah.

VI: Conclusion[edit]

The statement as it stands is a very good principle—especially so if it prohibits capital punishment and war. However the book itself has a different stance on capital punishment and war when the target is a different religion and/or race, or even within the group if a given individual crosses certain lines. That doesn't seem to be what Mr. Huckabee and others are driving at, though. In any case, implementing it as a law is potentially problematic because of the ambiguities in its interpretation as discussed above.

Seventh Commandment: Adultery[edit]

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

VII: Legal and social considerations[edit]

Care to guess why we included this picture of Melania and Donald Trump?

Notwithstanding its good intentions, there are clear civil liberties and policing problems[note 3] with this commandment. Furthermore, although the original definition of adultery, for the purposes of this commandment, was sex with a married woman, today there are varying understandings of what "adultery" means:

Looking at women inappropriately: From the other half of the Bible comes the interpretation: Matthew 5:28 says if someone looks at a woman with lust he is already committing adultery at his heart.

Fornication: While dictionary definitions generally restrict the term to sex involving married people, it is often used to refer to any sexual impropriety.

Divorce: Some sects of Christianity don't recognize divorce. For them, having sex with someone who was married to someone else who is still alive is adultery, even if the government says they are divorced.

Sexual asymmetry: Depending on the particular understanding of marriage, "adultery" may not include a married man having sex with a single woman, but only a married woman having sex with someone other than her husband.

Sex acts: Under some definitions of "adultery", only copulation counts, so cheating on your spouse with someone of the same sex isn't included. Or perhaps one could get away with saddlebacking.

VII: Conclusion[edit]

Good moral advice but bad law; unfortunately, the US still attempts to teach this as the only appropriate form of sex with its abstinence-only "sex education". The Turkish government tried to make it a crime in 2004, but failed.[20]

Eighth Commandment: Theft[edit]

Thou shalt not steal.

VIII: Legal and social considerations[edit]

This is another good one – that’s two. Although it might need a bit of development on when this rule does and does not apply. Of course reasonable people will note there are exceptions.

  • Can you take a weapon away from an owner who is likely to abuse it?
  • Can a starving person take food from someone who doesn't need it?
  • Can you steal a drug which you cannot get any other way in order to save someone's life?[21]
  • etc.

There's also the issue that there are various kinds of "theft" that don't cleanly fit the classical examples. Some of them are quite cheerfully practiced by large corporations and even members of the Republican Party. For example, is it against the Eighth Commandment to evade taxes? The Bible pretty clearly wants you to pay your taxes,[22] but Fortune 500 companies routinely use foreign subsidiaries and tax havens to cheat the government of billions of dollars.[23] Donald Trump abused the tax code to pay just $750 on his millions in income, using such tactics as writing off his hair styling as a business expense.[24] The US also has an epidemic of wage theft, where companies find ways to avoid paying the salaries to which employees are legally entitled, which costs American workers hundreds of millions per year.[25] Surely that would all be frowned upon by God, right?

In addition, according to some authorities, the commandment, in its original intent, was directed not against the theft of inanimate property but against the “stealing” of a human being or, in modern terms, kidnapping. So again, as with number VI, the case is not quite as clear-cut as would initially appear.

VIII: Conclusions[edit]

This is a good idea, which is incorporated in all legal systems already. For example, the European Convention's Protocol 1 Article 1 Protection of Property

Ninth Commandment: Lying[edit]

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

IX: Legal and social considerations[edit]

Perjury is a bad thing because it undermines any system of government by laws, so this is a good one – that’s three. This, however, assumes the false witness is being borne in the formal setting of a criminal or civil court while spoken under oath. Bearing false witness in an informal setting (e.g., lying about your neighbor) is still a bad idea, but not, in most cases, a crime. This commandment also falls a long way short of what we would consider to constitute a fair set of legal protections; compare the much more explicit guarantees (e.g., against double jeopardy, arbitrary punishment, or torture; the necessity of impartial judges; and the right to the presumption of innocence and to one's own defense) that appear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.S. and most national constitutions, and in the foundation documents of the European Union. Additionally, the commandment, as stated, takes no position on bearing false witness against someone who may live far enough away from you to not be considered your neighbor. Nevertheless, bearing false witness against such a person is still a bad idea, perhaps especially so, since modern legal concepts of human rights are based on the protection of people from different origins, whatever a given deity might say about it.

IX: Conclusions[edit]

This is a basically a good idea, and is incorporated in all legal systems already, but to be ethically acceptable would have to include a prohibition to bearing false witness against strangers.

Tenth Commandment: Jealousy[edit]

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, 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.

X: Legal and social considerations[edit]

Perhaps the most insidious one of all, seeing as how it considers a man's wife to be a piece of property at the same level as real estate. Violation of this commandment is also a thoughtcrime.

There's also the question of how abstractly the Commandment can be interpreted. Is it punishable to feel jealous over your neighbor's handsomeness, or his ability to make friends, or his general happiness? Or maybe "ass" really does mean that kind of ass.

X: Conclusions[edit]

Although the suggestion that you should not covet may be good advice depending on who you ask and the context, this is marred by sexism. It would also probably be unenforceable since coveting is a thought or feeling, not an action. It might lead to an action to acquire the coveted object or person, but such actions would be covered by the previous Commandment and are already covered by laws against theft and kidnapping.

Another interpretation of the Commandments[edit]

  1. I'm special.
  2. I'm jealous. (You're not allowed to be jealous, see no. 10.)
  3. No paparazzi, please.
  4. Introducing the six-day work week! (See your local religious authorities to see which day isn't the workday)
  5. Mom and dad are good.
  6. Don't kill (unless I tell you to).
  7. Don't cheat (on your spouse(s)[note 4]).
  8. Don't steal.
  9. Don't lie.
  10. Don't ogle your neighbor's ass or his wife's[note 5] ass or anything else of his.

The latest decalogue[edit]

Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipp'd, except the currency:
Swear not at all; for, for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse:
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend:
Honour thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall:
Thou shalt not kill, but need'st not strive
Officiously to keep alive:
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it:
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When it's so lucrative to cheat:
Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly:
Thou shalt not covet; but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-61)[26]


Stupid enough as it is that some idiots think these arcane rules should be the foundation of national laws, there is obviously an enormous body of legal code that is not covered by the 10 Commandments, one of the more obvious examples being that nowhere is one forbidden to beat someone to a pulp because they look funny, or for any other reason for that matter (unless they're your mother or father, provided you've dishonored them). One of the more serious omissions, telling perhaps about the society's view of women, is that there is nothing here to prohibit rape, which is arguably a far worse crime than saying your parents' ideas are whacked or wishing you had that really hot Lexus.

Other omissions include slavery, torture, bodily harm, deceit,[note 6] bribery,Wikipedia coercion,Wikipedia usurpation, etc.[note 7]


Jackass Congresscritter Lynn WestmorelandWikipedia (R-GA) was in favor of posting the Ten Commandments all over United States government buildings, but he could not name more than three of them on the Colbert Report.[27] Of course, Colbert, a practicing Catholic, could rattle them off in a brief few seconds, if he wanted to. The cretin in the same interview demonstrated that he did not understand the difference between the judicial and legislative branches of government, despite serving in one of them, though it is possible the segment was edited to make it appear that way.


The website Citizens for the Ten Commandments[28] argues for imposing the Ten Commandments on all people. They further argue that because "the majority" don’t want to be ruled that way, democracy should be abolished. It’s unclear precisely what they want in place of democracy, or how they plan to prevent arbitrary abuse of power. It’s unclear what safeguards there would be to prevent some potential ruler saying, “Those who appoint rulers say I’m God fearing. You must not criticize me or suggest that I’m not God fearing. The Bible is against free speech.” It’s further unclear if those behind the ideas in the website want there to be safeguards at all.

The Ten Commandments in popular culture[edit]

  • The Ten Commandments - a motion picture by Cecil B. DeMille (1925)
  • The Ten Commandments - another motion picture by Cecil B. DeMille (1956)
  • Dekalog - a television miniseries by Krzysztof Kieślowski (1989)

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Ten Commandments.

External links[edit]


  1. Or if you believe Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I, the Fifteen Commandments were originally written on three stone tablets until Moses dropped one.
  2. Which would be rather remarkable, since if we apply the commandments consistently, the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" would then result in every executioner automatically being condemned to the death penalty.
  3. Especially for those Christians for whom even the thought of it is a crime. Good luck with policing that.
  4. For the purpose of this Commandment, concubines are considered spouses as well (Otherwise King Solomon, a man with seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, would have too much work to do to prevent adultery).
  5. For the purpose of this Commandment, concubines are classified under "anything else".
  6. Well, okay, that one's covered if the prohibition against bearing false witness is generalized to cover lying in general.
  7. Granted, a lot of these are covered in the Golden Rule, but that's in the New Testament, not the Ten Commandments themselves.