God knows what is good and bad for us, and He has recorded this information in the Bible to save us from the heartache and suffering that the wrong choices—what the Bible calls sins—bring.
But humanity as a whole has chosen to try to discover right and wrong by trial and error. Even worse, most people choose to experiment for themselves, not even learning from the mistakes of others!
The 10 Commandments show the right way
Jesus Christ summarized the right way in two great commandments: Love for God and love for others (Matthew 22:37-40 ). This basic approach is further defined by the great law God thundered from Mount Sinai—the 10 Commandments.
The rest of the Bible further magnifies the holy, just and good law of God. It reveals a way of life that produces great benefits in this life and that Jesus said is a prerequisite to entering eternal life (Matthew 19:17 ).
How can we know how to love God except He tells us? How can we avoid the pitfalls of human relationships unless we accept the wisdom revealed in God’s law?
And how can we know what sin is unless God defines it? In 1 John 3:4 sin is defined: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” The Contemporary English Version translates this as “sin is the same as breaking God’s law.”
Importance of the 10 Commandments as guardrails
Many seem to think of the laws of the Bible as burdensome and restrictive. But the apostle John shows the opposite:
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
God’s commandments are expressions of His love for us, and obeying them allows us to show we appreciate that and love Him in return. So instead of viewing them as burdensome, we can look at the 10 Commandments as the protective guardrails that can help guide us away from going over the edge of the cliff.
God’s laws show the way to good relationships and eternal peace and joy. Breaking God’s laws does the opposite—damaging relationships and causing unhappiness, conflict, suffering and ultimately death.
God’s commandments are not complicated or convoluted, like so many of man’s laws are. But they can guide us in all areas of life and provide a structure for understanding the other complementary teachings of the Bible.
Disagreements about the 10 Commandments
Some argue that Christ’s death did away with the need to obey the 10 Commandments. But if they honestly look at each commandment, the vast majority wouldn’t say that it is okay to kill, commit adultery, steal or lie. They wouldn’t advocate for blasphemy or idolatry or covetousness. Generally, the only commandment most object to is the Sabbath command.
But did Jesus, the “Lord of the Sabbath,” who said it was made for our benefit (Mark 2:27-28), really repeal the Sabbath commandment? See more about this in our article “Lord of the Sabbath” and related articles.
Different numbering of the 10 Commandments for Jews, Catholics and Protestants
One other disagreement should be mentioned here—how they are numbered. The Bible itself doesn’t number the 10 Commandments, but it does tell us there are 10 in Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 10:4. This is also reflected in the Greek word that came into English as Decalogue.
But you may notice that different religions number those same commandments differently. We follow the numbering also used by most Protestant groups. But many Jewish resources will show Exodus 20:2 as the First Commandment, while we consider that verse a prologue since it doesn’t include a command. These resources then combine verse 3 (which we call the First Commandment) and verses 4-6 (which we call the Second Commandment). From there, the numbering matches the way we list them.
The Catholic numbering combines the ones we call the First and Second Commandments, calling the combination the First Commandment. From there, their numbering is one less than the list we use. For example, in the Catholic list, the Sabbath command is called the Third Commandment, rather than the Fourth Commandment in our list.
To come up with 10, the Catholic list breaks the law against coveting into two parts. For Catholics, the Ninth Commandment is to not covet your neighbor’s wife. The 10th Commandment is to not covet your neighbor’s goods.
Considering that coveting your neighbor’s wife does not come first in Exodus 20 (it does in Moses’ retelling of the law in Deuteronomy 5), we believe it makes more sense that the law against coveting is all one commandment.
Of course, the important point is not the numbering or how they are grouped, but making sure none of the commandments are neglected. When the 10 Commandments are only looked at in short form, such neglect is a distinct danger. See “10 Commandments List” for a look at these Jewish and Catholic lists.
Learn more about the 10 Commandments
See more about how God wants us to live—for our own benefit—in this section on “The 10 Commandments and God’s Way of Life.” Articles in this section explore God’s laws and examine the continuity of God’s law between the Old and New Testaments. Articles on each commandment examine the meaning of the 10 Commandments in simple terms and how they apply today.