The 10 Commandments are 10 beneficial laws given by God on Mount Sinai. These commandments show us how to live a better life now and please God forever.
The Bible tells us that God Himself spoke the 10 Commandments from Mount Sinai and wrote them with His own finger on tablets of stone (Exodus 20:1; 31:18). This adds powerful emphasis to the subject of the 10 Commandments in the Bible. What are the 10 Commandments, and what do they mean?
10 Commandments in order in simple terms
(For a complete list of what are the 10 Commandments in the Bible long form, both in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, see our article “10 Commandments List.”)
Jesus Christ explained that the 10 Commandments and all of God’s laws are based on God’s most prominent characteristic: love.
What are the 10 Commandments? Laws that show us how to love
God gave humanity the Bible to reveal His way of life—His way of love. The dos and don’ts of the 10 Commandments God gave on Mount Sinai show us how to apply love in every aspect of life.
Jesus Christ summarized all of God’s laws in two great commandments. “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The 10 Commandments of God expand on these two great commandments, with the first four commandments telling us how God wants to be loved, and the last six commandments showing how to demonstrate love for other people.
The apostles also clearly illustrated the connection between the 10 Commandments and God’s love.
Paul explained: “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).
John also wrote: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
Do you have to obey the 10 Commandments to have eternal life?
God created these laws and they reflect His thinking. Disobeying the 10 Commandments shows a lack of love for God and our fellow humans.Jesus taught that obeying the 10 Commandments is essential for entering into eternal life (Matthew 19:16-19). Why is this? Because God created these laws and they reflect His thinking. Disobeying the 10 Commandments shows a lack of love for God and our fellow humans.
Commandment breaking causes suffering and broken relationships. God, in His love and mercy, will not allow someone who refuses to obey these good laws to have eternal life. He doesn’t want anyone to live forever in a miserable state, causing suffering for others and himself.
What are the 10 Commandments? Laws that define sin
The Bible uses the word sin to describe disobeying God’s laws, including the 10 Commandments. “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). The King James Version translated the last part, “Sin is the transgression of the law.”
Sin is the opposite of God’s law—the antithesis of how God thinks and acts. And, as we mentioned, sin causes suffering. Its eventual result is death: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Sadly, every human being has sinned and disobeyed the 10 Commandments (Romans 3:23; James 2:10-11). It is only because of the mercy of God that Jesus Christ was willing to pay our death penalty for us.
When we repent, Jesus Christ’s blood covers our sins that are past. But does God’s grace and forgiveness somehow give us license to continue doing things that God hates?
No. Christ died so we don’t have to die if we repent of every sin. He did not keep the law so that we wouldn’t have to.
God wants us to stop doing the things that hurt ourselves and others.
The apostle Paul made this very clear.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” Paul said (Romans 6:1-2). “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (verse 12).
The 10 Commandments in the New Testament
A full list of the 10 Commandments is given twice in the Old Testament (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), and each commandment is mentioned many more times. But some have argued that obeying the 10 Commandments is not required of Christians if they are not listed in the New Testament.
Still, all of the 10 Commandments are mentioned in the New Testament, and as a group they are called:
- The way to “enter into life” (Matthew 19:17-19).
- Necessary to be “called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
- “Holy, just and good” (Romans 7:12).
- “Spiritual” (Romans 7:14).
- “The royal law” (James 2:8).
- “The law of liberty” (James 2:11-12).
- “The love of God” (1 John 5:3).
- “Not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
If we are becoming more like Jesus Christ and practicing God’s way of love, we will fulfill the law (Romans 13:8-10). The saints, those who will enter the Kingdom of God, are those who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
Many Christian churches today would agree that most of the commandments are still important, but they teach that the 10 Commandments as a whole no longer apply. Specifically, they feel the commandment about the Sabbath does not apply to Christians under the New Covenant.
But the New Testament shows that the apostles and the New Testament Church continued to remember the Sabbath day.
What is the Sabbath day? The Sabbath is defined in Exodus 20:10 as “the seventh day,” today known as Saturday.
The Sabbath is one of the 10 Commandments that show us how to love God in the way He wants to be loved. We can’t figure that out on our own—only God can tell us how He wants to be loved and worshipped.
That’s why the New Testament not only shows the example of Sabbath-keeping Christians, but tells us, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9, New International Version).
For more about the 10 Commandments in the New Testament, and especially about the Sabbath commandment and the New Testament Church, read our articles “Are the 10 Commandments Upheld in the New Testament?” and “Jewish Sabbath? Or Is the Sabbath a Gift for All?”
What are the 10 Commandments? The law of the Kingdom of God
The good news of the Bible is that this age of human misrule and sin will be replaced by the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ will intervene to save humanity from self-destruction (Matthew 24:21-22). Jesus Christ will bring real peace and will teach the way of peace that has been so elusive in human history.
What will the laws of the Kingdom of God be that will produce peace? The same laws that have been consistently proclaimed throughout the Bible—God’s laws, including the 10 Commandments.
Even the last chapter of the Bible, speaking of the New Jerusalem and eternity, says: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).
God’s commandments are part of the way of life that will produce peace forever!
What are the 10 Commandments? Part of God’s Old and New Covenants
The 10 Commandments given from Mount Sinai were a vital part of the Old Covenant—the agreement between God and the people of Israel. Israel agreed (Exodus 24:3) to come under God’s protection (Exodus 23:22) and, in return, to obey, love and be loyal to Him.
This was not just a national law but an individual commitment.
The New Bible Dictionary explains, “But there is no incompatibility between the divine demand communicated in concrete imperatives and the call of God to personal commitment to him in love. Yahweh describes the beneficiaries of his covenant mercy as ‘those who love me and keep my commandments’ (Ex. 20:6; cf. Jn. 14:15)” (1982, “Ten Commandments”).
As Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
The New Testament makes clear that God’s law is also a vital part of the New Covenant, the spiritual agreement God is making with Christians. Christians today are also called to obey the 10 Commandments as part of their love and loyalty to God.
John, the apostle who emphasized love, also emphasized the importance of God’s Commandments.
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4).
John also wrote of some of the benefits of obeying God’s commandments: “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).
Writing the 10 Commandments on our hearts and minds
God’s ultimate goal is not to have the 10 Commandments inscribed on tablets of stone, but to have them written in our hearts and minds so that we will remember them and always live by them.
The book of Hebrews shows that the fault with the old agreement (Old Covenant) between God and man was not with God or with His law. The fault was “with them” (Hebrews 8:7-8)—with the imperfect humans who could not continually obey these good and beneficial laws.
So what is God’s solution to this problem? Jeremiah had prophesied about a new agreement (the New Covenant). What would be the big change between the old and new? “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10, quoting Jeremiah 31:33).
Internalizing the 10 Commandments means we can grow to think, feel and act in the same way the Author of those commandments thinks, feels and acts. This is part of having the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5).
Learn more about the 10 Commandments by studying each commandment and committing to strive to obey them. For further study, read the articles in this section: “The 10 Commandments and God's Way of Life.”
Watch our video series “The 10 Commandments: Transformed by the 10.”