The Ten Commandments were given by God to the prophet Moses during Old Testament times. Recorded in the Holy Bible, these commandments form the foundation for the laws governing the moral conduct of God’s children.
These same commandments are echoed by Jesus in the New Testament and by prophets in other books of scripture as well. They pave the way for obedience to all of God’s commandments, both ancient and modern.
The Ten Commandments are an important example of how God instructs His children through a prophet. After Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery from Egypt, he prayed to God for further guidance. God revealed to Moses what became known as the Ten Commandments. Moses received these on “tables of stone” (Exodus 34:1) as a record of instruction for the people. Also called the “covenant” (Deuteronomy 9:9) or the “testimony” (Exodus 25:21), these tables were prized by the Israelites and carried with them in a chest called the ark of the covenant.
The Ten Commandments are first mentioned in Exodus 20 and then reviewed in Deuteronomy 5 in the Old Testament. These laws set forth God’s basic commandments, and they have not changed. God wants all of His children to obey these commandments.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). God desires what is best for you. If you put anyone or anything before Him in your life, you hinder His ability to bless you. God knows that Jesus Christ alone can save you; nothing else has that power. So God asks you to choose Him and His Son first: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
“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” (Exodus 20:4-5). Anything you revere and honor over God constitutes a graven image—human-made objects, secular philosophies, or even time and energy spent on fleeting pleasures. God commands you to worship Him to access the power of salvation through Jesus Christ.
“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” (Exodus 20:7). Taking the name of the Lord in vain can have various meanings. The most common meaning is using the names of Deity as profanity. Another is professing to have taken Christ’s name upon you as a Christian and yet not living His gospel.
“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” (Exodus 20:8-10). God asks you to set aside one day a week to worship and rest. The Sabbath is an opportunity to withdraw from worldly pursuits and focus on your spiritual growth. Observing the Sabbath is a sign to God that you remember and love Him.
“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee”(Exodus 20:12). To honor your parents means that you show them respect, directly and indirectly, through your actions. If your parents are good examples, it may be easier to obey, value, and reflect their standards. However, if your parents have not been honorable themselves, you can still choose to keep this commandment by being kind and respectful to them and by living your life in a way that brings honor to your family name.
“Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). God values life; each son and daughter is precious to Him. Under normal circumstances, you do not have the right to take someone else’s life. Only in times of war, self-preservation, or other extenuating circumstances would killing be necessary or acceptable to God. As a general rule, God makes it clear that killing is wrong.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). One of the first instructions that God gave Adam and Eve pertained to their marriage relationship: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). When a husband and wife are faithful to each other, they create the best possible environment in which to raise children. Adultery shreds relationships and leaves spiritual and psychological scars on those involved. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul emphasized the importance of keeping the seventh commandment under all circumstances (see Galatians 5:19-21). This commandment has not changed and will never change.
“Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). This commandment encompasses more than just the taking of physical property. It also includes any gain dishonestly acquired. For example, cheating on a time card or failing to disclose income on a tax document is stealing.
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”(Exodus 20:16). Simply put, this commandment encourages you to speak the truth. “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour” (Ephesians 4:25). People who misrepresent others or spread rumors about a person’s character bear false witness. “Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause; and deceive not with thy lips” (Proverbs 24:28).
“Thou shalt not covet . . . anything that is thy neighbour’s”(Exodus 20:17). A person who covets desires something excessively. Simply admiring an item or working hard for an accomplishment is not necessarily coveting. Rather, this commandment cautions you not to make worldly items your priority. “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for [God] hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).
Although the Ten Commandments cover quite a comprehensive range of human behaviors, they are not the only commandments. God has given many commandments through His prophets to teach and guide different groups of people at different times. For example, God’s commandment to Joshua to march around Jericho (see Joshua 6) does not apply today. But the Ten Commandments are eternal and apply to all of God’s children.
Want to learn more? Modern prophets have given us commandments for our time.
During His ministry, Jesus taught, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). Through Jesus Christ’s death and Resurrection, the Mosaic law, including the Ten Commandments, has been fulfilled, or completed, in a sense. The Ten Commandments remain in effect, but Jesus expounded on them, asking His followers to live a higher law that would change not only their actions but also their hearts. For example, for Jesus’s followers, “Thou shalt not kill” became a command to avoid unjust anger (see Matthew 5:21-22). “Thou shalt not commit adultery” became a command to not even look on a woman “to lust after her” (see Matthew 22:37-40).
Jesus summarized the purpose of the Ten Commandments in a simple way: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).