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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Decalogue

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Decalogue, the ten words (; ; ). This is the name most usually given by the Greek Fathers to the law of the two tables, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Decalogue was written on two stone slabs (), which, having been broken by Moses (), were renewed by God (, etc.). They are said () to have been written by the finger of God, an expression which always implies an immediate act of the Deity. The Decalogue is five times alluded to in the New Testament, there called commandments, but only the latter precepts are specifically cited, which refer to our duties to each other (, etc.; ; ; ; ; Matthew 5; ).

The circumstance of these precepts being called the ten words has doubtless led to the belief that the two tables contained ten distinct precepts, five in each table; while some have supposed that they were called by this name to denote their perfection, ten being considered the most perfect of numbers. Philo-Judæus divides them into two pentads, the first pentad ending with , 'Honor thy father and thy mother,' etc. or the fifth commandment of the Greek, Reformed, and Anglican churches; while the more general opinion among Christians is that the first table contained our duty to God, ending with the law to keep the sabbath holy, and the second, our duty to our neighbor. As they are not numerically divided in the Scriptures, so that we cannot positively say which is the first, which the second, etc. it may not prove uninteresting to the student in Biblical literature, if we here give a brief account of the different modes of dividing them which have prevailed among Jews and Christians. These may be classed as the Talmudical, the Origenian, and the two Masoretic divisions.

According to the division contained in the Talmud, the first commandment consists of the words 'I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage' (; ); the second (), 'Thou shalt have none other gods beside me; thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image,' etc. to ; the third, 'Thou shalt not take God's name in vain etc.; the fourth, 'Remember to keep holy the sabbath day,' etc.; the fifth, 'Honor thy father and thy mother,' etc.; the sixth, 'Thou shalt not kill;' the seventh, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery;' the eighth, 'Thou shalt not steal;' the ninth, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness,' etc.; and the tenth, 'Thou shalt not covet,' etc. to the end.

The next division is that approved by Origen, and is the one in use in the Greek and in all the Reformed Churches, except the Lutheran.

Although Origen was acquainted with the differing opinions which existed in his time in regard to this subject, it is evident from his own words that he knew nothing of that division by which the number ten is completed by making the prohibition against coveting either the house or the wife a distinct commandment. In his eighth Homily on Genesis, after citing the words, 'I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt,' he adds, 'this is not a part of the commandment' The first commandment is, 'Thou shalt have no other gods but me,' and then follows, 'Thou shalt not make an idol.' These together are thought by some to make one commandment; but in this case the number ten will not be complete—where then will be the truth of the Decalogue? But if it be divided as we have done in the last sentence, the full number will be evident. The first commandment therefore is, 'Thou shalt have no other gods but me,' and the second, 'Thou shalt not make to thyself an idol, nor a likeness,' etc. Gregory Nazianzen and Jerome take the same view with Origen. It is also supported by the learned Jews Philo and Josephus, who speak of it as the received division of the Jewish Church.

It appears to have been forgotten in the Western Church, but was revived by Calvin in 1536, and is also received by that section of the Lutherans who followed Bucer, called the Tetrapolitans. It is adopted by Calmet, and is that followed in the present Russian Church, as well as by the Greeks in general. It appeared in the Bishops' Book in 1537, and was adopted by the Anglican Church at the Reformation (1548), substituting seventh for sabbath-day in her formularies. The same division was published with approbation by Bonner in his Homilies in 1555.

We shall next proceed to describe the two Masoretic divisions. The first is that in Exodus. According to this arrangement, the two first commandments (according to the Origenian or Greek division), that is, the commandment concerning the worship of one God, and that concerning images, make but one; the second is, 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,' and so on until we arrive at the two last, the former of which is, 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house,' and the last or tenth, 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his servant,' etc. to the end. This was the division approved by Luther, and it has been ever since his time received by the Lutheran Church. This division is also followed in the Trent catechism, and may therefore be called the Roman Catholic division.

Those who follow this division have been accustomed to give the Decalogue very generally in an abridged form: thus the first commandment in the Lutheran shorter catechism is simply, 'Thou shalt have no other gods but me;' the second, 'Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain;' the third, 'Thou shalt sanctify the sabbath-day.' A similar practice is followed by the Roman Catholics, although they, as well as the Lutherans, in their larger catechisms (as the Douay) give them at full length. This practice has given rise to the charge made against those denominations of leaving out the second commandment, whereas it would have been more correct to say that they had mutilated the first, or at least that the form in which they give it has the effect of concealing a most important part of it from such as had only access to their shorter catechisms.

The last division is the second Masoretic, or that of Deuteronomy, sometimes called the Augustinian. This division differs from the former simply in placing the precept 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife' before 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house,' etc.; and for this transposition it has the authority of . The authority of the Masoretes cannot, however, be of sufficient force to supersede the earlier traditions of Philo and Josephus.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Decalogue'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/d/decalogue.html.

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