1902 Encyclopedia > Decalogue


DECALOGUE (in patristic Greek, i) _____, sc., _____ or _____) is another name for the ten commandments,in Hebrew the ten words(Deut. iv. 13,x. 4; Exod. xxxiv. 28), written on the two tables of stone, the so-called tables of the revelation (E. V., tables of testimony—Ex. xxxiv. 29, comp. ch. xxv. 21), or tables of the covenant (Deut. ix. 9). In Deuteronomy the inscription on these tables, which is briefly called the covenant (iv. 13), is expressly identified with the words spoken by Jehovah out of the midst of the fire at Mount Sinai in the ears cf the whole people on the "day of the assembly," and rehearsed in ch. v. 6—21. In the narrative of Exodus the relation of the " ten words " of ch. xxxiv. to the words spoken from Sinai, ch. xx. 2-17, is not so clearly indicated—a circumstance which has given rise to speculations as to the possible existence of a second decalogue. Before entering on this question, however, we must examine the decalogue as usually understood and embodied in the parallel passages in Exod. xx. and Deut. v.

1. The variations in the parallel texts, so far as they are important for the criticism of the decalogue, are mainly two. (a) The reason assigned for the institution of the Sabbath in Exodus is drawn from the creation, and agrees with Gen. ii. 3. In Deuteronomy the command is based on the duty of humanity to servants and the memory of Egyptian bondage, (b) In the tenth commandment, as given in Exodus, " house " means house and household, including all the particulars which are enumerated in ver. 17. In Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife " comes first, and "house " following in association with field is to be taken in the literal restricted sense.

2. The construction of the Hebrew text of the second commandment is disputed, but the most natural sense seems to be, " Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image ; [and] to no visible shape in heaven, &c, shalt thou bow down, &c." The third commandment might be better rendered, " Thou shalt not utter the name of the Lord thy God vainly."

3. Divisions of the Decalogue.—The division current in England and Scotland, and generally among the Reformed (Calvinistic) churches and in the Greek Church, is known as the Philonic division (Philo de. Decalogo, § 12). It is sometimes called by the name of Origen, who adopts it in his Homilies on Exodus. On this scheme the preface, Exod. xs. 2, has been usually taken as part of the first commandment. The Church of Rome and the Lutherans adopt the Augustinian division (Aug., Qucest. super Exod., lxxi), combining into one the first and second command-ments of Philo, and splitting his tenth commandment into two. To gain a clear distinction between the ninth and tenth commandments on this scheme it has usually been felt to be necessary to follow the Deuteronomic text, and make the ninth commandment, Thou shalt not covet they neighbour's wife. As scarcely any scholar will now claim priority for the text of Deuteronomy, this division may be viewed as exploded. But there is a third scheme (the Talmudic) still current among the Jews, and not unknown to early Christian writers, which is still a rival of the Philonic view. The preface, Exod. xx. 2, is taken as the first word, and the second embraces verses 3-G. Among recent Christian writers who have adopted this view are Knobel (in his Com. on Exodus) and Kuenen (Godsdienst van Israel, i. 278 jf.). The decision between Philo and the Talmud must turn on two questions. Can we take the preface as a separate word 1 And can we regard the pro-hibition of polytheism and the prohibition of idolatry as one commandment ? Now, though the Hebrew certainly speaks of ten " words," not of ten " precepts," it is most unlikely that the first word can be different in character from those that follow. But the statement " I am the Lord thy God," is either no precept at all, or only enjoins by implication what is expressly commanded in the words " Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Thus to take the preface as a distinct word is not reasonable unless there are cogent grounds for uniting the commandments against polytheism and idolatry. But that is far from being the case. The first precept of the Philonic scheme enjoins monolatry, the second expresses God's spiritual and transcendental nature. Accordingly Kuenen does not deny that the prohibition of images contains an element additional to the precept of monolatry, but, following De Goeje, regards the words from " thou shalt not make unto thyself " down to " the waters under the earth " as a later insertion in the original decalogue. Unless this can be made out—of which below —the Philonic scheme is clearly best, and as such it is now accepted by most scholars.

How were the ten words disposed on the two tables ? The natural arrangement (which is assumed by Philo and Josephus) would be five and five. And this, as Philo recognized, is a division appropriate to the sense of the precepts; for antiquity did not look on piety towards parents as a mere precept of probity, part of one's duty towards one's neighbour. The authority of parents and rulers is viewed in the Old Testament as a delegated divine authority, and the violation of it is akin to blasphemy (comp. Ex. xxi. 17, Lev. xx. 9, with Lev. xxiv. 15, 16, and note the formula of treason, 1 Kings xxi. 13).

We have thus five precepts of piety on the first table, and five of probity on the second, an arrangement which is accepted by the best recent writers. But the current view of the Western Church since Augustine has been that the precept to honour parents heads the second table. The only argument of weight in favour of this view is that it makes the amount of writing on the two tables less unequal, while we know that the second table as well as the first was written on both sides (Ex. xxxii. 15). But we shall presently see that there may be another way out of this difficulty.

4. Critical questions.—That the decalogue not only con-tains Mosaic ideas, but is as old as Moses in its form as a system of " ten words," is admitted by critics of almost every school. But it is much disputed what the original compass of the decalogue was. Did the whole text of Exod. xx. 2-17 stand on the tables of stone ? The answer to this question must start from the reason annexed to the fourth commandment, which is different in Deuteronomy. But the express words " and he added no more," in Deut. v. 22, show that there is no conscious omission by the Deuteronomic speaker of part of the original decalogue, which cannot therefore have included the reason annexed in Exodus. On the other hand the reason annexed in Deuteronomy is rather a parenetic addition than an original element dropped in Exodus. Thus the original fourth commandment was simply "Bemember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." When this is granted it must appear not improbable that the elucidations of other commandments may not have stood on the tables. Thus in the second commandment, " Thou shalt not bow down to any visible form," etc., is a sort of explanatory addition to the precept 'o'Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image." And so the promise attached to the fifth commandment was probably not on the tables, and the tenth commandment may have simply been,"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house," which includes all that is expressed in the following clauses. Such a view gets over the difficulty arising from the unequal length of the two halves of the decalogue. The elucidations (unless in the case of the fourth command-ment) may very well be as old as Moses (comp. Ewald, Geschichte, ii. 229). It is quite another question whether there is any idea in the decalogue which cannot be as old as Moses. It is urged by many critics that Moses cannot have prohibited the worship of Jehovah by images ; for the subsequent history shows us a descendant of Moses as priest in the idolatrous sanctuary of Dan. There were tera-phim in David's house, and the worship of Jehovah under the image of a calf was the state religion of the kingdom of Ephraim. It is argued from these facts that image worship went on unchallenged, and that this would not have been possible had Moses forbidden it. This argument does not appear to have all the force that Kuenen and others attach to it, for it must be remembered how large a section of Christendom, in times much more advanced than those of the Old Testament, has accepted the decalogue aud yet has worshipped images. And on the other side we have the much more cogent arguments that the number of ten words, which no one doubts to be primitive, cannot be naturally made out if the law against images is dropped, and that the existence of this law is necessary to explain the fact that the unquestionably Mosaic sanctuary of the ark, which is just the sanctuary of the revelation of the ten words, embodies the principle of the worship of Jehovah without images in a distinct and practical form. It may be added that the prohibition of images of hewn stone, which is the primitive sense of the word " graven-image," can hardly be less ancient than the conception that the stones of an altar were defiled by the touch of the chisel (Exod. xx. 24). And this is a conception which cannot be viewed as a later refinement on Mosaic ideas.

5. The Decalogue of Exodus xxxiv.—In the book of Exodus the words written on the tables of stone are no-where expressly identified with the ten commandments of chap. xx. In xxv. 16 xxxi. 18. xxxii. 15, we simply read of " the revelation " inscribed on the tables, and it seems to be assumed that the contents of this revelation must be already known to the reader. The expression "ten words" first occurs in xxxiv. 28, in a passage which relates the restoration of the tables after they had been broken. But these " ten words " are called " the words of the covenant, " and so can hardly be different from the words mentioned in the preceding verse as those in accord-ance wherewith the covenant was made with Israel. And again, the words of verse 27 are necessarily the command-ments which immediately precede in verses 12-26. Accord-ingly many recent critics, following Hitzig,1 who seems to have formed his view without reference to a previous suggestion of Goethe's, have sought to show that Exod. xxxiv. 12-26 contains just ten precepts forming a second decalogue. In point of detail it is disputed whether the narrator of Exod. xxxiv. regards this decalogue as precisely identical with that which stood on the first tables (which seems to follow from xxxiv. 1) or as a modification of the original words (so Ewald). It does not seem possible to deny the connection of verses 27, 28 with one another and with the previous context as the text now stands. Hengstenberg (Beiträge, ii. 387.f.) andBertheau (Sieben Gruppen Mosaischer Gesetze, p. 97) seek to distinguish the words of verse 28, as written by God himself, from those which, in verse 27, Moses is commanded to write. But no such dis-tinction lies in the text, and it is not probable that the narrator felt any contradiction between God's promise to write the words in verse 1 and the use of human instrumen-tality as implied in verse 28. On the other hand, the hypothesis of a second decalogue has serious if not insuper-able difficulties. The number of ten precepts in Exod. xxxiv. is by no means clearly made out, and the individual precepts are variously assigned by different critics ; while the most recent supporter of the theory admits that the original number of ten is now concealed by additions. This supposed decalogue contains no precepts of social morality, but forms a sort of unsystematic abstract of the oldest laws about points of religious observance. If such a system of precepts was ever viewed as the basis of the covenant with Israel, it must belong to a far earlier stage of religious development than that of Exod. xx. This is recognized by Wellhausen, who says that our decalogue stands to that of Exod. xxxiv. as Amos stood to his contemporaries, whose whole religion lay in the observance of sacred feasts. But the idea that the ethical teaching of the prophets had no basis in the original document of the Mosaic covenant is so revolutionary that few will venture to accept " Goethe's decalogue " with such inferences. The difficulty is presumably clue to the interweaving of several distinct narratives, which perplexes the sequence of many parts of Exodus. It is more probable that xxxiv. 10-27— a summary of the religious precepts of the Mosaic conve-nant—originally stood in a different connection than that there ever were two opinions as to what stood on the tables.

3 Wellhausen iii Jahrbb.f. D. Theol, 1876, p. 554.

6. The Decalogue in Christian Theology.—Following the New Testament, in which the " commandments " summed up in the law of love are identified with the pre-cepts of the decalogue (Mark x. 19 ; Bom. xiii. 9 ; cf. Mark xii. 28 ft), the ancient church emphasized the permanent obligation of the ten commandments as a sum-mary of natural in contradistinction to ceremonial precepts, though the observance of the Sabbath was to be taken in a spiritual sense (Augustine, De Spiritu et Litera, xiv. ; Jerome, De Celebratione Paschce). The mediaeval theo-logians followed in the same line, recognizing all the pre-cepts of the decalogue as moral precepts de lege natures, though the law of the Sabbath is not of the law of nature, in so far as it prescribes a determinate day of rest (Thomas, Summa, I"1* IP *5, qu. c. art. 3 ; Duns, Super Sententias, lib. iii. dist. 37). The most important mediaeval exposition of the decalogue is that of Nicolaus de Lyra ; and the 15th century, in which the decalogue acquired special importance in the confessional, was prolific in treatises on the subject (Antoninus of Florence, Gerson, etc).

Important theological controversies on the decalogue begin with the Beformation. The question between the Lutheran (Augustinian) and Beformed (Philonic) division of the ten commandments was mixed up with controversy as to the legitimacy of sacred images not designed to be worshipped. The Beformed theologians took the stricter view. The identity of the decalogue with the eternal law of nature was maintained in both churches, but it was an open question whether the decalogue, as such (that is, as a law given by Moses to the Israelites), is of perpetual obligation. The Socinians, on the other hand, regarded the decalogue as abrogated by the more perfect law of Christ ; and this view, especially in the shape that the decalogue is acivil and not amoral law (J. D. Michaelis), was the current one in the period of rationalism in last century. The distinction of a permanent and a transitory element in the law of the Sabbath is found, not only in Luther and Melanchthon, but in Calvin and other theologians of the : Beformed church. The main controversy which arose on the basis of this distinction was whether the prescription of one day in seven is of permanent obligation. It was admitted that such obligation must be not natural but positive ; but it was argued by the stricter Calvinistio divines that the proportion of one in seven is agreeable to nature, based on the order of creation in six days, and in no way specially connected with anything Jewish. Hence it was regarded as a universal positive law of God. But those who maintained the opposite view7 were not ex-cluded from the number of the orthodox. The laxer con-ception found a place in the Cocceian school.

Literature.—Geffcken, Ueber die verschiedenen Eintluilungen des
Dekalog's und den Einflussderselben auf den Cultus; Ewald'sHistory of Israel, vol. ii.; Sehultz's and especially Oehler's Old Testament Theology; Oehler's article " Dekalog " in 11 erzog's Encyclopadie; commentaries on Exodus, especially that of Knobel in German, and in English of Kalisch ; Kuenen's Godsdicnst van Israel, Hfdst. v. Kurtz, Geschichte des Allen Bundes, Bd. ii. ; other literature cited by Oehler and by Koehler, Biblische Gcschichte, i. 287. For guidance in the theological controversies about the Decalogue the student may consult "VValch and Bamngarten. (W. R. S.)


So, for example, Augustine, I. c. Thomas, Summa (Prima Secundce, qu. c. art. 4), and recently Sonntag and Kurtz. Purely arbitrary is the idea of Lutheran writers (Gerhard, Loc. xiii. § 46) that the ninth com-mandment forbids concwpiscentia actualis, the tenth cone, originalis.

Exceptions to this consensus are Vatke (Biblische Theologie, p. 202) and Noldeke (Untersuchungen, p. 51).

It is generally assumed that the addition in Exodus is from the hand that wrote Gen i.-ii. 4.

1 Ostern und Pfingsten im zweiten Dekalog, Heidelberg, 1838.

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries