Analysis of the Ten Commandments

Background, Meaning, Implications of Each Commandment

Most people know the Ten Commandments — or perhaps it is better to say that they think they know the Ten Commandments. The commandments are one of those cultural products that people imagine that they understand, but in reality, they frequently can't even name all of them, let alone explain them or justify them. People who already think they know all they need are unlikely to take the time to research the subject with any great care and precision, unfortunately, especially when some of the problems are so obvious.

First Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Have Any Gods Before Me
Is this the first commandment, or is it the first two commandments? Well, that’s a good question the question. Right at the start of our analysis we're already embroiled in controversy both between religions and denominations.

Second Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Make Graven Images
What is a “graven image”? This has been hotly debated by Christian churches over the centuries. It's important to note that Protestant version the Ten Commandments includes this, the Catholic does not. Yes, that's right, Protestants and Catholics don't have exactly the same Ten Commandments!

Third Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord in Vain
What does it mean to “take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”? This has been hotly debated as well. According to some, it's limited to using the name of God in a frivolous manner. According to others, it includes using the name of God in magical or occult practices.

Who is right?

Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath, Keep It Holy
This commandment is surprisingly unique among ancient cultures. Nearly all religions have some sense of “sacred time,” but the Hebrews seem to have been the only culture to set aside an entire day every week as sacred, reserved for honoring and remembering their god.

Fifth Commandment: Honor Thy Father and Mother
Honoring one’s parents is generally a good idea, and it's understandably why ancient cultures would have emphasized it, given how important group and family cohesion was at a time when life was much more precarious. Saying that it's a good principle is not, however, the same making it an absolute command from God. Not all mothers and not all fathers are good enough to merit being honored.

Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill
Many religious believers regard the sixth commandments as the most basic and easily accepted of the entire set, especially when it comes to publicly-funded displays. After all, who will complain about the government telling citizens not to kill? The truth, though, is that this commandment is far more controversial and problematic than it first appears - especially in the context of a religion where adherents report being ordered by the same god to kill quite often.

Seventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery
What does “adultery” mean? These days people tend define it as any form of sex outside of marriage, or at least any act of sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than their spouse. That makes perfect sense in today's world, but not many realize that that's not how the ancient Hebrews defined it.

So when applying the commandment today, whose definition should be used

Eighth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Steal
This is one of the simplest commandments - so simple in fact, that the obvious interpretation may actually be correct for a change. Then again, maybe not. Most people read it as a ban on stealing, but that doesn't seem to be how everyone understood it originally.

Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness
What does “bearing false witness” mean? It might have been originally been limited to lying in legal cases. For the ancient Hebrews, anyone found to be lying during their testimony could be forced to endure the punishment that would have been imposed upon the accused — even death. Today, though, most people seem to treat it as a blanket ban on any form of lying.

Tenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Covet
This may be the most contentious of all the commandments, and that's saying something.

Depending upon how it is read, it can be the most difficult to adhere to, the most difficult to justify imposing upon others, and in some ways the least reflective of modern morality.