Can You Count to Ten?

If you’ve done something for over twenty years it’s very easy to get into a pattern that can just repeat itself over and over. Routine and habits are good, because if we had to think about everything we do on a daily basis we’d simply be overwhelmed. But it’s also nice to get a fresh perspective on things now and again.

After teaching the Ten Commandments in my confirmation class for over twenty years I’m enjoying a new insight because of a book that I’ve been reading which is written by a Jewish rabbi. He made a comment about how Jews number the Ten Commandments that I was not aware of and it has me seeing a very familiar subject in a new light.

There are only three verses in the Bible that list them as the ten commandments. They are:

Exodus 34:28: “Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant–the Ten Commandments.”

Deuteronomy 4:13: “He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets.”

Deuteronomy 10:4: “The LORD wrote on these tablets what he had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the LORD gave them to me.”

Despite these three verses, when they are recorded in the Bible they don’t come with a numbering system. So let’s count all of the “you shall” or “you shall nots” for ourselves. (I will add bolding to help us count)

And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’’ (Exodus 20: 1-17 ESV bold added)


Thirteen! But we can only have ten…because it’s the Ten Commandments.

Here’s how Lutherans and Catholics number them (and of course what I’ve always taught):

  1. You shall have no other gods
  2. You shall not take the name of God in vain
  3. Remember the Sabbath
  4. Honor your father and mother
  5. You shall not murder
  6. You shall not commit adultery
  7. You shall not steal
  8. You shall not bear false witness
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, etc.

Compare that to the Reformed way of numbering the commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods
  2. You shall have no idols
  3. You shall not take the name of God in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet

Lutherans and Catholics combine the idol prohibition in with having no other gods because having another god is idolatry, but then divide the coveting to get to ten. Obviously the Reformed thinking is to separate the idol prohibition out and then combine coveting.

But then this rabbi noted that traditional Jews number the commandments this way:

  1. I am the Lord your God
  2. You shall have no other gods
  3. You shall not take the name of God in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet

They claim that the first pronouncement/commandment is actually “I am the Lord your God.” Then they would be similar to the Lutherans by not separating out “idols,” but similar to the Reformed by combining coveting. However, then they go a step further and separate the two tables of the Law this way:

  1. I am the Lord your God                                       6. You shall not murder
  2. You shall have no other gods                            7. You shall not commit adultery
  3. You shall not take the name of God in vain 8. You shall not steal
  4. Remember the Sabbath                                      9. You shall not bear false witness
  5. Honor your father and mother                        10. You shall not covet

Normally I would say that honoring your father and mother fits in the second table of the law because we’ve moved from a primarily vertical (between us and God) to a horizontal relationship (primarily between us and others). They would argue that honoring our father and mother is primarily between us and God-that’s how high they would put that honor.

They would also say that thematically the two tables are tied together.

Commandments 1&6:  “I am the Lord your God” is tied to not murdering because humans are made in the image of God and because of that God-image we are to protect our fellow humans.

Commandments 2&7:  “No other gods” is tied to “no adultery” because at the heart of adultery is idolatry. Just think of the prevalence of on-line pornography and how our culture has made it into a false god! Plus I find it interesting how often God accused his children of “prostituting” themselves with the false idols.

Commandments 3&8:  “Not using God’s name in vain” is tied to “not stealing” because by taking His name in vain we are stealing the value due to God’s name. We’re trying to take something that doesn’t belong to us and use it in an inappropriate way, rather than use it how it was intended to be used.

Commandments 4&9:  “Sabbath” is tied to “false witness.” The word translated “remember” (zah-khor) means more than merely recalling something past, but suggests actively focusing the mind upon something in the present. But what are we to “remember?” In Genesis 2:3 we are told that God rested (shavat) from His creative activity and set apart the seventh day as the memorial of the work of His hands. God called the seventh day “holy” (kadosh), which means set apart as sacred, as exalted, as honored. When we remember other people and set them apart as the sacred, exalted, and honored creatures that they are we won’t bear false witness against them.

Commandments 5&10:  “Father and mother” is tied to “not coveting.” To covet means to have a sinful desire for something that belongs to someone else. It’s not simply wanting something, it’s when it crosses over into the area of being sinful and that it’s not intended for us! It means that we’re not in a right relationship with all of this “stuff.” Which ties it to where we learn proper relationships. It starts with our relationship to God, which influences our relationship to our father and mother, which ends up influencing our relationship to our “ass.” (sorry, couldn’t refuse the King James Version pun there)

Now, don’t worry, when I start teaching confirmation in the fall I’ll still be using the same numbering that I’ve always used, but I think my insights will be a bit richer. I’ll bet those junior high students just can’t wait to start class!



About gregarnett

"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10) I've been told that the above verse comes to mind when people think of me. I strive to use all of my gifts to God's glory in all the ways He's given me to serve. I serve him in my day job as a Director of Christian Education. I currently serve St. Paul Lutheran Church in Caro, Michigan. At St. Paul I am responsible for the ministry to and with youth, grades sixth-college, and the educational ministries of the congregation. I also lead the contemporary band, organize mission trips and Servant Events. Besides my day job I also am an entrepreneur that runs an Etsy online shop. Basically I make unique items out of wood and broken hockey sticks. You can find my Etsy shop here: I have been married to Cathy since 1987. My grandpa joked on his 50th wedding anniversary: "that's a long time to be married to one woman!" They made it to 64 years, so Cathy and I are just starting! Together we have three children: Nathan, Ben and Emily. I like to play guitar, bass guitar, cigar box guitar and the djembe. I also enjoy woodworking, hunting, gardening, backpacking and participating in sports. Racing triathlons is my current sporting passion and mid-life crisis buster.
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