20 2 The Commandments of the first Table. 13 The Commandments of the second. 18 The people afraid are comforted by Moses. 23 Gods of silver and gold are again forbidden. 24 Of what sort the altar ought to be.
1 Then God spake all these words, saying,
Exodus 20:1When Moses and Aaron were gone up, or had passed the bounds of the people, God spake thus out of the mount Horeb, that all the people heard.
The precise numbering and division of these precepts into “ten commandments” is somewhat uncertain. Traditionally among Catholics and Lutherans vv. 1–6 are considered as only one commandment, and v. 17 as two. The Anglican, Greek Orthodox, and Reformed churches count vv. 1–6 as two, and v. 17 as one. Cf. Dt 5:6–21. The traditional designation as “ten” is not found here but in 34:28 (and also Dt 4:13 and 10:4), where these precepts are alluded to literally as “the ten words.” That they were originally written on two tablets appears in Ex 32:15–16; 34:28–29; Dt 4:13; 10:2–4.
The present form of the commands is a product of a long development, as is clear from the fact that the individual precepts vary considerably in length and from the slightly different formulation of Dt 5:6–21 (see especially vv. 12–15 and 21). Indeed they represent a mature formulation of a traditional morality. Why this specific selection of commands should be set apart is not entirely clear. None of them is unique in the Old Testament and all of the laws which follow are also from God and equally binding on the Israelites. Even so, this collection represents a privileged expression of God’s moral demands on Israel and is here set apart from the others as a direct, unmediated communication of God to the Israelites and the basis of the covenant being concluded on Sinai.