18 Widespread Misunderstandings About the Ten Commandments

SharePinEmailThe Ten Commandments are some of the most influential laws in all of history, shaping many cultures’ common understanding of morals and ethics, as well as religious teachings. Despite their global prominence, many misinterpretations permeate readings of these ancient scriptures, clouding the true meaning and intention behind them. In this article, we lay out 18…

The Ten Commandments are some of the most influential laws in all of history, shaping many cultures’ common understanding of morals and ethics, as well as religious teachings. Despite their global prominence, many misinterpretations permeate readings of these ancient scriptures, clouding the true meaning and intention behind them. In this article, we lay out 18 of the most common of these mistakes, debunking some of the myths that have taken hold over the centuries that the Ten Commandments have been prominent in society.

The commandments are always grouped the same way

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Because of the simple and powerful list of commandments as they are presented in The Bible, many expect that they are always respected in this way. Different religious denominations group them differently. For instance, Judaism combines prohibitions against other gods and idols, while Catholics separate the coveting commandments into two. This reflects how theological interpretations can differ.

the commandments are always meant to be taken literally

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The commandments are written very straightforwardly, but that doesn’t mean they are to be taken and carried out completely literally. On the contrary, they are often geared to broader moral standpoints. ‘Thou shalt not kill’, for example, points to a general emphasis on the sanctity of life and non-violence.

the commandments are only for Jewish people

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Some people think that the Ten Commandments are exclusive to the Jewish tradition. They were given to the Israelites in ancient times, but carry a lot of weight in Christianity and are respected in Islam too. Their influence is felt across the world and through multiple religious foundations.

‘thou shalt not kill’ means that all killing is forbidden

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This commandment sounds pretty clear, but there is nuance to ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’. Many translate the commandment to ‘murder’, implying that killing in times of wartime or self-defense might be permissible. There is an important distinction to be made here when interpreting the commandments accurately.

‘Honor thy father and mother’ means obedience under all circumstances

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Absolute obedience to parents isn’t always the correct path. Respect, care, and responsibility to your elders are key, but that these sentiments go both ways is crucial. Family and social responsibility underscore many teachings in The Bible, so finding a balanced relationship with parents is important.

observing the sabbath day is outdated

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Many find the commandments to be outdated, even ones concerning Sundays being a day of rest. In reality, though, many religious communities continue to observe the Sabbath. Indeed, a lot of societies that contain a mix of religious and atheistic communities maintain Sundays as a day for rest.

the commandments cover all moral behavior

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The Ten Commandments are a comprehensive foundation for an ethical code, but they are by no means the be-all and end-all of the moral teachings of The Bible. Instead, the texts expand into many different areas of social justice and family, so there is much more to discover outside of the commandments.

the commandments are merely religious rules

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The commandments have implications that are much broader than simply religious. They have influenced many secular legal systems and societal norms across the globe, creating the foundation for ideas of justice and ethical behavior even outside of faith contexts. In this way, the teachings of the commandments have significance far broader than one might first assume.

‘thou shalt not covet’ applies only to material possessions

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Of course, this commandment is clear in its condemnation of stealing or envying other people’s material possessions. Nonetheless, it also refers to the desire for things less tangible, such as other people’s relationships, status, or talents. It draws attention to the internal roots of envy and how they can degrade social cohesion and community.

All Christian denominations agree on the commandments

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There is by no means a single understanding of the Ten Commandments as agreed by all followers of The Bible. Different denominations emphasize and provide different interpretations of, these laws. For instance, some Protestant traditions combine prohibitions against other gods and idols about the coveting commandment, whereas other denominations do not.

the commandments are not influenced by paganism

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Many people believe the Ten Commandments are unique and exclusive to Judeo-Christian theology. There are schools of thought that consider influence may come from earlier traditions, even if they present unique ethical insights. Many of the similarities point to shared cultural contexts historically, marking an interesting point of study for Bible scholars.

“Thou Shalt Not Make Graven Images” Prohibits All Art

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This commandment may forbid the creation of all creative art, but it relates to idolatry. It aims to prevent the worship of physical objects, keeping the worshipper’s attention and focus on God. Creative expression is permissible, but it’s important to distinguish that from improper use of idols that detract from the worship of God.

The Commandments are the Only Important biblical laws

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The Bible contains a plethora of laws and prohibitions, outside of the widely cited Ten Commandments. In both the New and Old Testament, a comprehensive set of moral and ethical codes is laid out, in books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy. They cover many aspects of life including family, society, and justice.

The Commandments only address external actions

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The Ten Commandments seem to address and instruct the conduct of external actions. However, several of them also point to internal desires and thoughts, encouraging followers to cultivate a purity of heart and mind and therefore a more holistic approach to moral living. After all, the belief holds that ethical actions stem from a strong moral mind.

following the commandments means definite salvation

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According to many understandings of biblical texts, adhering to the ethics of the Ten Commandments are not the only key to eternal salvation. Maintaining faith and grace are also crucial to this goal, emphasizing internal attitudes on top of external actions.

the commandments were written in stone so that they would last forever

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Some people take the stone as a literal interpretation of the ten commandment’s permanence. This may be true, but the symbolic underpinnings are perhaps even more significant. The stone highlights the commandment’s foundational properties, as the bedrock of our moral and ethical understanding and behavior. Nevertheless, they have certainly been applied differently as cultural norms have changed throughout time.

“Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness” Only Concerns Legal Testimony

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Despite its obvious link to legal trials and testimony, this commandment has broader implications, prohibiting deceit and emphasizing integrity in all forms of communication. Lies and misinformation can foment harm across communities, so by championing the truth in all circumstances, this commandment mitigates these problems.

The Ten Commandments are generally irrelevant in today’s society

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Due to how ancient the commandments are, some say they are no longer applicable or relevant in culture today. On the contrary, the ethical codes that lie at their foundation form the basis of many of our modern morals today, addressing core human values that even atheists can agree on.

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