The Ten Commandments, contained in “the Decalogue” (meaning “ten words”), sum up the Law given by God to the people of Israel. They express the Covenant between God and man mediated by Moses. They trace for the people of Israel a path freed from the slavery of sin. The first three present the commandments of the love of God, and the other seven, of the love of neighbour. They can be found in the book of Exodus chapter 20, and the book of Deuteronomy chapter 5.
The Ten Commandments are not arbitrary rules imposed “from above”. They are God’s specific codification of the main principles of the natural law, that is, the universal moral law of human nature for living well. This law is termed “natural” because it is engraved in our human nature. As such, it can be grasped by our minds and acted on by our wills. The natural law is valid for all people, everywhere, and at all times. For example, theft, adultery and murder would be seen by most societies to be wrong.
The Ten Commandments were revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai because sin had made it difficult for people to work out what was good from what was evil. They make clear just what God intended for his people – to know him, love him and serve him in this life in order for them to be happy with him in the next.
The Ten Commandments are themselves fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who does not abolish them but confirms their necessity: “Someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him … ‘If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments…’ ”.
Here is a traditional formula of the Ten Commandments:
1) I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.
2) You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3) Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day.
4) Honour your father and your mother.
5) You shall not kill.
6) You shall not commit adultery
7) You shall not steal
8) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour
9) You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.
10) You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods.