The 14 Commandments

After Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt they went to Mount Sinai where Moses receives from YHWH the Fourteen Commandments.  I know what you’re thinking: “Does he know how to count?”  Re-read Exodus 20:2-17 carefully and see if you don’t come up with 14 also.

Traditionally, the 14 commands are divided into 4 commandments that focus on “loving” God (Exo. 20:2-11) and 6 commandments that focus on “loving” humans (Exo. 20:12-17) for a total of 10.  In the first section focusing on God, the English phrase “You shall…” is repeated 6 times (all imperfects in Hebrew).  The command “Remember the Sabbath day” is unique (an infinitive absolute in Hebrew).  So there are 7 commands in Exo. 20:2-11 in a six and one pattern. (The two other verbs in 20:9, “you shall labor and do all your work” appear to be descriptive, not prescriptive, and therefore aren’t interpreted as commands.)

In the second section focusing on other humans, the English phrase “You shall” is repeated 6 times (all imperfects in Hebrew).  The command to “Honor your father and your mother” is unique (an imperative in Hebrew).  So there are 7 commands in Exo. 20:12-17 also in a six and one pattern.

(Don’t read this paragraph unless you’re into details.  How did the Fourteen Commandments become the Ten Commandments?  Good question.  Several texts from the Pentateuch call them literally “the ten words” (Exo. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4), so that’s where the number 10 comes from.  But we still need to decide how to make the 14 into 10 and this is where Christians disagree.  People agree that the 3 commands in verses 8-11 are all part of the command to “Remember the Sabbath.”  The disagreement centers on the beginning and the end.  Most Protestants think the 2nd commandment entails verses 4-6, while the Catholics and the Lutherans think the 1st commandment includes verses 3-6.  The Catholics and Lutherans then divide the two commands about coveting into #9 and #10.  For more details see,

I call them The Fourteen Commandments, not only to be provocative, but also to highlight the textual emphasis on Sabbath.  A pattern of 6 and 1 in the God-commandments, then a pattern of 6 and 1 in the Human-commandments.  Even in the covenantal laws given to his people, God reminds them to rest, remember the Sabbath and enjoy his creation.

Which is better, DeMille’s The Ten Commandments or DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt


  1. Awesome. When I studied this for my blog I only found 12. But I’m gonna go ahead and say you are right about the 14 thing. Thanks for this post! I also wondered how we got 10 when there was no clear distinction in the text.

    What does this do to our understanding of how Exodus was put together? If there isn’t a clear 10 but later in the story there is a clear statement that there are 10?

    After finishing Leviticus, I notice how important the sabbath is. It might be the most repeated command in the whole book.

  2. Thanks for this! Fun observations – and I had also wondered why they were called ’10’ when I could see them being split up differently.

    So – a question – do you think God commands us to work for 6 days per week? We talk about God commanding us to rest for one day, and I think just assume that we’ll fit in everything around it, and that it doesn’t matter if you have a two-day weekend as long as one of those days is resting. But
    according to your analysis, this highlights God actively telling people to work, not just rest, for 6 days…!

    What do you reckon? Anything in that? Should it be seen as a command??

  3. Interesting observation…I like the 6 and 1 pattern; elsewhere there are many examples of a 4 and 3 pattern.
    The Prince of Egypt absolutely, though it has been so long since I have watched it…might be time for a revisit.
    Tanya, I think that yes, to work six days is an imperative. That doesn’t mean necessarily all day, nor does it mean over-working…holidays I think are allowed…cleaning the beach house counts.

  4. Ben, you don’t have to agree with me about the 14/12 thing. The Lutherans don’t agree with the other Protestants.
    Tanya, interesting Q. I think in general the problem is overworking, not underworking, but most significantly to focus on God in the midst of our rest.
    Brakelite and Ben, yes, I think Prince of Egypt, but I think it’s time to show my sons Charlton Heston.
    Thanks for the comments.

  5. After hearing and reading them for over 50 years for some reason today I just said to myself while reading them, “It seems like those verses should be split up differently.” I like your 6/1 pattern and from Bible college I know in Hebrew there are lots of patterns used and repetition is common. The same information is often presented in different ways to reinforce the message. Since the Bible was written without vowels (the Hebrew part) or verses (added in the 1600’s? or even more recently) it is hard to know where the instructions were divided. Of course this means some more research, but at least I know I’m asking a question that others have asked.

  6. Over a decade ago I was very sick in the hospital and nearly died. The first night I had a near-death experience. I floated through the white tunnel and when I arrived in heaven I was visited by both Moses and Jesus and had a brief conversation with them. Their message was, “It is not your time yet.” As I looked around heaven (a lush green valley) I asked, “Where is everybody?” Moses said, “Most people can’t follow the 14 commandments” and Jesus concurred. I said, “Wait, most people think there are only 10.” “No, there are 14, that is very clear and you have to abide by all of them or you don’t make it to heaven.” I said, “Well, I know the first 10 but what are the rest?” Jesus looked at Moses who started to recited the remaining four, “Number 11: No pushing and shoving, Number 12: No littering…” Right then I woke up, thankful that it was not my time yet but wishing that I knew what the last two commandments were.

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