Ten Commandments

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The Horned[1] Moses with the Tablets of the Law, by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, 1659

The Ten Commandments, also called the Decalogue (from Greekδεκα deka "ten" and λoγoς logos "word") are a list of religious and ethical rules that have a fundamentally important meaning in Judaism and Christianity.

„1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”“

The meaning of the Ten Commandments

„What do these Ten Commandments show us above all things? We will see that they show us everywhere, not only in the first part, but also in the last part, where it is apparently hidden, that through Moses it is spoken to the Jewish people in the sense that that power is now to be with the Jewish people which announced itself to Moses in the burning bush with the words as the designation of his name: "I Am the I Am!" - "Ehyeh asher eyjeh!" It should be noted that the other peoples in the development of our earth have not been able to recognise that "I am", the actual source of the fourth part of the human being, as intensely and clearly as the Jewish people are supposed to recognise it. That God who poured a drop of his being into man, so that the fourth member of the human being became the bearer of this drop, the I-bearer, that God becomes conscious of his people for the first time through Moses.“ (Lit.:GA 107, p. 118)

The Ten Commandments are handed down twice in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:2–17; Deuteronomy 5:6–21) and have there the highest validity and holiness as the only direct writing by the finger of God (Ex 31:18) - the rest of the laws are described as a dictation of God to Moses. They were written by God himself on two stone tablets of the law.

There are different traditions in Judaism and in the Christian churches regarding the counting of the commandments. All countings agree on the number of ten; the OT already speaks of the "Ten Words". Jesus of Nazareth summarised the Ten Commandments in a double commandment: that of loving God (Commandment 1-3) and that of loving one's neighbour (Commandment 4-10). In early Christianity, the Greek term Decalogue was coined.

„The Ten Commandments, if we look at them more closely, are constructed in a very special way. Of the ten, only three are built in such a way that it says: You shall do something. - The other seven are constructed in such a way that it says: Thou shalt not. - From this it is clear that the world powers see much more need to give people moral laws that say: Thou shalt not do something - than those that say: Thou shalt do something. - For that which is commanded not to do compares with that which is commanded to do, as seven to three. So we can say that morality in general must work in the human nature in such a way that it places itself especially on the standpoint of saying: Thou shalt not do something.

We can compare this ratio of seven to three in the Ten Commandments more closely. If we look at the seven that say: Thou shalt not do something - these all refer to things of the outer world, to what one should not do in the physical world; on the other hand, the three commandments that contain the "Thou shalt" actually refer to that which goes beyond the physical world. They say: Thou shalt believe in one God -, Thou shalt not misuse the name of this God - and so on. From this we see that in regard to the actual spiritual affairs of the soul the commandments are positive; on the other hand, all commandments which refer to actual moral conduct in outer physical life have a "Thou shalt not". For even if we think that the fourth commandment, "Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest live long upon the earth," is positive, we feel that it is essentially of a strongly negative character, like the other six commandments. It is a kind of transitional commandment, which refers to the physical world, but nevertheless already leads up from this physical world into the spiritual world [...]

On the occult path of knowledge we must moralise our whole cognition, our otherwise merely theoretical laws of knowledge must become inner moral laws. - Thus that which relates preferably to the physical plan, when man confronts it through inner cognition of things, must become such that he extinguishes that which spreads out immediately before him, that he says: I extinguish it, just as the lower inclinations are extinguished when the moral "Thou shalt not" calls. - Indeed, for this reason it is pointed out in every true account of the path of knowledge that by ennobling the moral impulses one raises the powers of knowledge most surely into the higher world.“ (Lit.:GA 143, p. 45ff)

In order to reveal the deeper meaning of the Ten Commandments and their special relationship to the human I, Rudolf Steiner has given the following translation:

First Commandment. I am the eternal Divine that you feel within you. I have led you out of the land of Egypt, where you could not follow Me in you. Henceforth you shall not place other gods above Me. Thou shalt not acknowledge as higher gods what shows thee an image of something that shines up in the sky, that works out of the earth or between heaven and earth. Thou shalt not worship what is of all that is beneath the Divine in thee. For I am the Eternal in you, which works into the body and therefore works on the generations to come. I am a continuing divine. If you do not recognise Me in you, I will disappear as your Divine in children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and their bodies will become desolate. If you recognise Me in you, I will live on as you to the thousandth generation, and the bodies of your people will prosper.

Second Commandment. Thou shalt not speak of Me in thee in error; for every error concerning the Me in thee shall destroy thy body.

Third Commandment. You shall separate the working day from the holiday, so that your existence may become the image of My existence. For that which lives in thee as I formed the world in six days, and lived in itself on the seventh day. Therefore thy doings, and thy son's doings, and thy daughter's doings, and thy servants' doings, and thy cattle's doings, and all that else is with thee, shall be turned outward only six days; but on the seventh day thine eyes shall seek Me in thee.

Fourth Commandment. Continue in the way of your father and your mother, so that you may have as your possessions the possessions they have acquired through the power I have formed in them.

Fifth Commandment. Do not murder.

Sixth Commandment. Do not break marriage.

Seventh Commandment. Do not steal.

Eighth Commandment. Do not lower the value of your fellow man by speaking untruthfully of him.

Ninth Commandment. Do not look with envy on what your fellow man possesses as property.

Tenth Commandment. Do not look with envy on the wife of your fellow-man, nor on the helpers and other beings through whom he finds his advancement.“ (Lit.:GA 107, p. 117f)


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
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steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. The two "horns" of Moses are, according to Rudolf Steiner, a reference to the two-petalled lotus flower, the brow chakra.