The Ten Commandments –
  The Ten Proclamations

The Decalogue in the Book of Exodus

— Freely translated from the original Hebrew by Nathaniel Segal
based on traditional Jewish teachings

Footnotes ~ Translator's Notes
(1)  G-d spoke all these edicts, to say [again to others]:

(Exodus 20:1)
Compare with the text in Deuteronomy >>
*  *  *
(2)  I am the L-rd, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from being slaves.

(Exodus 20:2)  *

(3)  Do not have any other gods except for Me. 
(4)  Do not make for yourself an image or any picture of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is on the land beneath, or that is in the water which is lower than the land.
(5)  Do not bow down to them, and do not serve them, since I, the L-rd your G-d, am a jealous G-d, remembering a sin of parents [and punishing] their rebellious children through a third generation and through a fourth generation for those who hate Me [by continuing to rebel];
(6)  but rewarding kindness for two thousand generations for those who love Me and for those who observe my commandments.

(Exodus 20:3-6)   

(7)  Do not abuse the name of the L-rd, your G-d, because the L-rd will not pardon anyone who says His name deceitfully.

(Exodus 20:7)

(8)  Be remembering the Sabbath day by making it holy.
(9)  You will work for six days and will do all your labor.
(10)  But the seventh day is a Sabbath for the L-rd, your G-d.
Do not do any labor, neither you or your son or your daughter, your male slave or your female slave, or your animal, or a convert in your midst.
(11)  Because in six days the L-rd made the heavens and the land, the sea and everything that is in or on them, but He rested on the seventh day.
Therefore, the L-rd blessed the Sabbath day, and He made it holy.

(Exodus 20:8-11)  ** 

(12)  Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long on the land that the L-rd, your G-d, gives you.

(Exodus 20:12) 

*  *  *
(13)  Do not murder.

(Exodus 20:13) 

(13)  Do not commit adultery.

(Exodus 20:13) 

(13)  Do not kidnap.

(Exodus 20:13) 

(13)  Do not speak false testimony against your fellow.

(Exodus 20:13) 

(14)  Do not covet the house of your fellow.
Do not covet the wife of your fellow, or his male slave, or his female slave, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your fellow.

(Exodus 20:14) 
*  *  *
(15 – 20)  All the people see the sounds and the flames of fire and the sound of the ram's horn and the burning mountain.  And the people saw and trembled and stood far away.  They said to Moses, "You speak with us and we will hear, but do not let G-d speak with us since we might die."  Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid.  G-d has come to raise you up and to have you fear Him so you won't commit sin."  But the people stood far away, and Moses approached the fog where the glory of G-d was.

G-d said to Moses, "Thus say to the Israelites:  'You yourselves saw how I spoke with you from on high.  So do not make any gods like Me.  Do not make gods of silver or gods of gold for yourselves'."

By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 2014-15 Nathaniel Segal 


  Generally, Christians do not count this verse as one of the "Ten Commandments."
See various enumerations of the "commandments" in a table that I have adapted from Wikipedia's article about the Ten Commandments.

    Generally, Christians begin counting the commandments from this verse, Exodus 20:3.

    Some Christians, though, divide this group of Hebrew verses — 3 through 6 — into two separate commandments.  Verse 3 is the first of their Ten Commandments.  Then, verses 4, 5 and 6 count as the second commandment.  For these Christians, the numbering of the commandments from here onward is the same as the Jewish numbering.

    Edicts II and IV are each read by Jews as one verse although they are nevertheless both numbered by Jews as four verses.  From the original Hebrew text, these four verses are unified by chanting a beginning tone, one middle, half-rest tone, and finally the single ending tone.  Ordinary individual Hebrew verses open with any one of a number of beginning tones and close with the single ending tone.  More often than not, though, individual Hebrew verses have two parts, two phrases.  The middle, half-rest tone closes the first phrase while the unique ending tone closes the second phrase, the end of the verse.  Here in Edicts II and IV, the four verses that make up each of these edicts are unified into two phrases to form one edict.

The chapter and verse numbering for Hebrew Scriptures — the Jewish Bible, also called the Old Testament — were added to printed Hebrew Bibles to correspond to the Christian numbering.  The idea was to facilitate discussion and debate with Christian clergy.  When Christians cited a verse, a Jew could find the same verse in the Hebrew Scriptures.

**    The third commandment for Catholics and Lutherans.  They count the commandment "Do not abuse the name of the L-RD, your G-d" ("You shall not take the name of the L-RD your G-d in vain") as the second.

    The fourth commandment for Catholics and Lutherans.

    In the Hebrew Bible, Edicts VI, VII, VIII and IX are all contained in one verse.  This is verse 13 in the Jewish numbering.  Christians, though, give each of these speeches a separate verse number — verses 13, 14, 15 and 16.
For Christians, these are generally the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments.

    In the Hebrew Bible, Speech X is a single verse and numbered by Jews as verse 14.  For Christians, this is verse 17.

Top of this page 

Translator's Notes:


Freely translated - I do not take liberty with my translations.  "Freely translated" means not slavishly following some conventions.

We often find that translators choose a suitable English word to represent a Hebrew word.  These translators then adjust these words according to English word order and grammar.  For example:  "And G-d spoke all these words, saying" (Exodus 20:1).  The following verses – 2 through 14 – are not simply 'words'.  It is true that the Hebrew word d'varim (d'vahr EEM) means 'words' according to what we read in some verses.  However, the deeper origin of this Hebrew word relates to speech.  Even deeper, the origin refers to 'expel'.  We speak by expelling air from our lungs through the organs of speech.  Since we say words to signify things, whether material or conceptual, d'varim also means 'things' or 'items', again according to the context.

Since the Hebrew word d'varim refers to speech, it is not confined to speaking only one word.  Here in Scripture, it is no stretch to accept the Jewish Tradition that G-d spoke ten sentences.  In some of these cases, He even spoke paragraphs of several sentences.  The corresponding English words are 'proclamations' and 'edicts'.

Then consider how "G-d spoke, saying."  We now have a redundant word at the end of this verse.  Besides this, the Hebrew word in Scripture means "to say" – an infinitive.  Generally in the tradition of the Torah, the expression ". . . spoke, saying" means that the original idea is supposed to be said again.  Usually, "saying again" refers to telling a third person who did not hear the original words.  Consequently, "saying again" also refers to education.  We teach our students and then expect that they will teach other students.

The conjunction 'and' at the beginning of this verse is a third issue facing translators.  This conjunction is a single Hebrew letter (vav) and is always attached to the next word.  However, this same letter also helps the Hebrew language to conjugate the tense of a verb.  In a case of conjugation also, it is always attached to the verb as its first letter.

Sometimes, this Hebrew letter vav is both a conjunction – 'and' – as well as part of a verb's conjugation at the same time.  A translator must decide.  I've decided that the letter vav that is attached to the first word of verse 1 – a verb, in contrast to English word order – is part of the construction of this verb in the past tense, "G-d spoke."  I didn't base my decision on any specific principle.  But, it's hard for me to see a connection between this first verse in Exodus Chapter 20 with the previous verse, the last verse of Chapter 19.  Beyond that, it just "feels right."


. . . spoke all these edicts - also, "pronounced all these speeches;"  Jews have never referred to the first part of Chapter 20 of Exodus as commandments."  In the Jewish tradition, these ten items are variously translated into English as "the ten words," "the ten speeches," or "the ten matters" which is based on the Hebrew words of the verse Exodus 20:1 — "G-d spoke."  Jews also call these ten items the "Decalogue" which is the Greek translation of "ten words."  I write about this in more detail on another page.  Also, I explain my use of the word 'edicts'.

Hebrew words for 'command' and 'commandment' appear numerous times in the Hebrew Bible – the Torah.  The total count of commandments in the Torah is 613.  Even within the above speeches we find more than ten commandments.  For example, one commandment is to honor one's father, and another one is to honor one's mother.  More examples follow.

  (1) to say [again to others] - The last Hebrew word in this verse, leh MOHR, which means "to say," is otherwise unnecessary.  The listeners' responsibility was to repeat what they heard to the next generation.
I. (2) “I am the L-rd, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt . . .” - The Foundations of the Faith can be derived from this verse alone.
I. (2) from being slaves - from being slaves to Pharaoh.  Eventually, Egyptians themselves wanted the Israelites to leave for freedom, but only Pharaoh and his advisors refused.
I - X. (2-14) From here on, the text was engraved into the Two Tablets of Stone that Moses received from G-d on Mount Sinai after the Israelites had left Egypt — “I am the L-rd, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt . . .”
I - V. (2-12) The first five edicts were engraved as a column into one of the Two Tablets of Stone.
VI - X. (13-14) The second five edicts were engraved as a column into the second of the Two Tablets.
II. (3) “Do not have any other gods . . .” - Even just possessing them is forbidden.
II. (4) “Do not make . . .” - Making them is also forbidden, even if we don't worship them.  It is also forbidden to make them for someone else.
II. (5) “Do not bow down to them, and do not serve them” - Idol worship in any form is forbidden, even if the idol belongs to someone else and we didn't make it.  Again we see several commandments in one speech.
III. (7) “Do not abuse the name of the L-rd” - by saying it or using it for no good reason.
IV. (8) the day of the Sabbath - There is one day every seven that is the Sabbath.  We don't decide on our own or individually which day we will choose as the Sabbath.  We all have the same day, the one that G-d designated at the beginning of Creation.  Since then, we have been responsible for counting the days until the next Sabbath.
IV. (8) “Be remembering the day . . .” - Keep count;  pay attention.
IV. (9) “You will work for six days” - Some say that the six days are not just allocated for work.  They say that it is best for people to keep busy with work during these entire six days (but also balanced with recreation).
IV. (10) Sabbath for the L-rd - We dedicate it as a Sabbath for the L-rd.
IV. (10) “. . . the seventh day is a Sabbath” - We don't yet know what constitutes a Sabbath day.
IV. (10) “Do not do any labor” - Perhaps a Sabbath is no more than a day of relaxation.
IV. (11)

“Because the L-rd made . . . but He rested . . .” - G-d's creating during the six days did not tire him out.  He doesn't have a body or anything like a body that could tire.  The Torah speaks to us in human terms.  G-d made – created – "the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything that is in or on them."  Each of these was something new that had not existed before.

Similarly, the labor that we refrain from is to make something that had not existed before the Sabbath began.  Even if the effort is minimal and can hardly be called "labor," we are not supposed to do it.

IV & I. (2)

the L-rd, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt - The Sabbath is for those who are part of the Covenant with the L-rd who took them (the first members of the Covenant) out of Egypt.  Everyone who is born into this Covenant or who comes to enter this Covenant is obligated to observe the Sabbath.

Members of the Covenant are not necessarily biological descendants of Jabob (who has the second name Israel) and the Twelve Tribes, the Israelites.  Over the millenia, any number of people who were not born Jewish took upon themselves to observe the Covenant that G-d made with the Israelites.  "Count us in," they have said.

For this reason (among other reasons), we have been calling ourselves "Jews" rather than Israelites.  We've been calling ourselves Jews at least since the time of the Biblical Book of Esther.  You won't find the name Israelite at all in the Book of Esther, but you do find the name Jews.

IV. (11) “He made it holy” - 'Holy' comes from the idea of being uniquely set aside.  The seventh day of every week has been set aside by G-d.  We, in our turn, reciprocate by living out the seventh day as a unique day.
V. (12) “Honor your father and your mother” - Honor your father, and honor your mother.  Again we see several commandments in one speech.
I - V. (2-12) These first five proclamations were engraved into the first of the Two Tablets of Stone - They were engraved in order, one above the next.
VI - X. (13-14) These second five proclamations were engraved into the second of the Two Tablets of Stone - They were also engraved in order, one above the next.  The Two Tablets were fused together.
X. (14) . . . your fellow - One's fellow human being.  Not necessarily one's neighbor.  One's fellow human being could be anyone in the world.
X. (14) “Do not covet the house of your fellow” - His or her real estate.
X. (14) “Do not covet the wife of your fellow” - Covetness is in the heart.  The action of adultery is already prohibited by Speech VII.
X. (14) “or his male slave, or his female slave, or his ox, or his donkey” - his or her property – jealousy of the other persons economic status.

Each of these categories potentially produces wealth or are wealth itself.  Understandably, idle real estate fails to provide income.  Added value is produced by labor.  The Torah here assumes that both the person and his or her fellow are equally able to work the land.  But, masters only own the labor of their slaves.  Otherwise, masters must feed and clothe their slaves and provide them with tools.

X. (14) “or anything that belongs to your fellow” - Anything that demonstrates his or her economic or political status.
  (15-20) These verses - amplify what has come before.
    All the people see the sounds - They were seeing what is ordinarily only heard.
    “G-d has come to raise you up” - His intentions were for your benefit.  “So you won't commit sin.”  The Hebrew word here for sin means "to miss the point or to miss the mark."
    “. . . since we might die” - This is the opposite of His intention.
    ‘You yourselves saw how I spoke with you from on high’ - Although you yourselves saw how I spoke with you invisibly, don't commemorate this event with any physical representations.

Top of the notes
Top of this page