18 Common Misconceptions About the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments can be interpreted in so many different ways, as each person is different and has their own views. This can cause many misconceptions and lead a person in the wrong direction. Here are 18 common misconceptions about the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments Are the Comprehensive Law

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The Ten Commandments are foundational, but not exhaustive, of Israel’s laws. For example, Biola University writes, “It would be more accurate to say that they are the seed or source of Israel’s laws.” Instead, they can be seen as a starting point from which detailed laws and teachings can grow.

The Commandments Divide Neatly into Duties to God and Man

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This division oversimplifies the integration of the Commandments into a person’s life. All Commandments are seen as expressions of loyalty to God and are more like a promise that a person makes. This also includes any misdeeds toward neighbors, which is also considered a sin.

There Were Two Sets of Tablets for Two Sets of Laws

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Many people believe there were two tablets that had the Ten Commandments inscribed on them, with different laws on both sides. While there were two tablets, they were never inscribed on both sides and did not have separate laws. Having one set of laws shows unity among all religions.

The Commandments Are a List of Don’ts

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Instead of seeing the Commandments as a list of don’ts, they should be seen as something more positive to steer you toward a virtuous life. The Commandments are directives that help to honor God and human relationships.

The Text and Number Are Uniform Across Traditions

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There are variations in the text and numbers of the Commandments between the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant traditions. It shows how different religions will have differing theological interpretations, so not every Commandment will be viewed as being the same. Even terms such as “commandment,” “word,” and “saying” all vary.

They Were Originally Written in Stone

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Even though it’s traditionally believed that the Commandments were written in stone, it’s something that’s been up for scholarly debate. Many like to believe they were originally written in stone because it helps to show they are permanent and not something that can ever be changed.

The Commandments Are Unique to Judaism and Christianity

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The Ten Commandments are also influential in Islam. For example, Beliefnet writes, “The Qur’an does teach that Moses was a prophet, and the Qur’an does at one point or another end up stating most of the same laws.” While Islam recognizes the Commandments, they interpret the Sabbath Commandment differently.

“Thou Shalt Not Kill” Prohibits All Forms of Killing

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Debates exist over the translation of “kill” vs. “murder.” Religions won’t all interpret it in the same way. Different interpretations suggest that unjust killings are forbidden. This particular Commandment has created many ethical discussions on murder and the sanctity of life, not just in religion but also among academics.

The Commandments Are Solely Negative Prohibitions

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The Ten Commandments also contain positive affirmations about things such as honor, respect, and loyalty. They encourage positive everyday behavior that a person should take into society with them. They create the basis of a moral framework that helps a person with communal living.

They Are Relevant Only to Ancient Societies

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Billy Graham writes, “Although they were given many centuries ago, the Ten Commandments are still valid, and our lives (and our world) would be far better if we followed them.” Even though these Commandments were created in ancient times, they’re still applicable to life in the 21st century.

Only Religious People Value Their Principles

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The morals a person has aren’t always related to religion, and in everyday society, it’s still seen as wrong to kill someone, steal, or cheat on your spouse. The Ten Commandments have had a huge influence on today’s legal and moral standards. The Commandments are appreciated for promoting harmony and personal integrity.

The Commandments Promote Gender Inequality

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Interpretations have evolved with the understanding of gender and equality. Modern readings of the Ten Commandments even look to apply these principles inclusively. In modern times, people know how important it is to have respect and dignity for all individuals, regardless of their gender.

The Sabbath Commandment Is Merely About Rest

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This particular Commandment isn’t just about rest but is also about spiritual reflection and communal engagement. The Sabbath Commandment is used as a reminder of the freedom of slavery and divine creation. The day is there for a person to truly appreciate life’s blessings.

Adultery and Theft Are Only Physical Acts

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Our Hope writes that these sins are not just physical. For example, when it comes to stealing, there are also forms such as plagiarism, where you pass work off as your own or even boast and take the praise that is due to God. Also, adultery can come in the form of betrayal and dishonesty.

Honoring Parents Is Conditional

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Regardless of personal dynamics, a person should respect and care for their parents. This helps to encourage understanding and forgiveness. Parents play a foundational role in a family and societal structure. Honoring and listening to your parents not only shows respect but also gives you a better understanding of how you work as a parent.

All Religions Interpret Them Similarly

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Britannica writes, “The numbering of the Ten Commandments differs in different religious traditions.” Many faiths have different views on the Commandments, even down to the way they are numbered. For example, Christianity and Judaism have different interpretations. It just goes to show the diversity of different religions.

They Form the Sole Basis for Judeo-Christian Ethics

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Even though the Commandments are foundational, they’re still part of a broader ethical and religious corpus. Other biblical laws and teachings can also shape a person’s moral understanding. By not just having the Ten Commandments as a form of teaching, it also gives a person a more comprehensive view of ethics.

The Commandments Are Immutable and Unchanging

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Some people believe the wording and application of the Ten Commandments have stayed the same since ancient times. However, scholarly research and historical evidence suggest they’ve evolved in text and interpretation over time. It shows how different religious texts can adapt to their context and era.

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