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LetusPonder Column:

The Ten Commandments - What they SHOULD Be

- Rob Daugherty

There’s been a lot of controversy over the Ten Commandments recently.  Some schools have been ordered to remove them from the premises.  Some courthouses display them while people protest.  Other public institutions show them proudly while still others meekly remove them from sight.  Separation of Church and State.  Stop shoving religion down my throat.  Your religion is wrong.  I don’t believe in God.  Blah blah blah.

Please understand that this is not really an issue of separation of Church and State.  The 1st Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In other words, the government can't tell us what religion to practice.  Nowhere do the Ten Commandments dictate a specific religion.

So that’s not the problem.  If that’s not it, then it could likely be that some people don’t like paying for something they don’t wholeheartedly endorse, especially when it comes to religion.  Still, I don’t think that’s the ultimate source of the controversy. 

The problem is that the Ten Commandments, themselves, are simply not all that great.  Sure, some of them are nice guiding principles, but overall, people do not or cannot use them as guides to live by.

These commandments should be so universal that people instantly think, “Well, of course.  Who could disagree with that?”  The commandments should withstand the test of time.  And the commandments should not leave things open so that people can make exceptions to their rule (e.g. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”).

Beyond this, my major issue with the Ten Commandments is that the Bible, itself, is inconsistent: it lists two different sets of commandments. 

In this article I will quote the Bible showing these two different sets.  I will review why these commandments have room for improvement.  I will present the actual Ten Commandments – three versions, no less.  And, finally, I will detail what SHOULD be the Ten Commandments.

Let Us Begin

Ready, kids?  Join me as we peruse the Good Book for a moment.  Note: my Bible quotes will mostly come from the New International Version.  If you prefer to read from a different version of the Bible, you can find any verse from whichever version at the truly excellent site

Exodus 34:1  The LORD said to Moses, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.”

Wait a minute.  Moses actually broke the first ones? 

Yup.  Exodus 32:15-16, 19  -- 15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

In other words, Moses saw his people partying down with a false idol and had such a nutty that he threw God’s work to the ground and smashed it to pieces?  This is crazy!  If you, personally, witnessed God – THE God – create some tablets telling you to bring them to the people, would you smash them in a fit of rage?  No way!  Hell, I’d kick a small puppy before I broke God’s personally handmade and probably autographed, even, commandment creations.

One could say that Moses needed anger management classes.  Then again, just before Moses had HIS nutty, he had to talk God out of throwing his own temper tantrum.  I am not making this up.  Have a looksie… Exodus 32:9-12, 14

9 "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation."

11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. "O LORD," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.

14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

(By the way, I’m calling God a He purely out of convenience.  I should probably write He/She/It because no one really knows for sure who or what God is, but that would look silly after a while.)

Even as a child in Sunday school, this seemed a little strange that our almighty, all-knowing, all-loving and imminently powerful God needed to be talked out of destroying all these people.  And not only that, but He actually listened to the reason as though He actually really, truly did not already know what would happen to these people throughout all of time, let alone the next few days.  This was just one of the many confusing things about religion that I was told not to question because to question and get into logic and reason and semantics was the work of the devil.


The ORIGINAL Ten Commandments, according to Scripture

Moses threw a fit and broke the original tablets.  After he calmed down, God told him to go back up the mountain so He could make new tablets that had the same words as those Moses had broken.  The following is the ORIGINAL Ten Commandments, according to the Lord, in EXODUS 34:11-38  [My comments and tips are in brackets.  Do NOT confuse these with that which is “divinely inspired.”]

    11 Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. [That’s a lot of ites!]  12 Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones [or "pillars" representing male fertility] and cut down their Asherah poles [that is, symbols of the goddess Asherah – but doesn’t this seem a bit violent?]. 14 (1) Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.  [The Lord’s name is “Jealous?”]

    15 "Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same. [Not only is the Lord a jealous God, he is also quite prejudiced.]

    17 "(2) Do not make cast idols.  (Thou shalt make thee no molten gods. KJV)

    18 "(3) Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt.  [Why bread without yeast?]

    19 "(4) The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. 20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.  No one is to appear before me empty-handed.”

[Whoa!  Did I read this correctly?  Just to be sure, I went to and noticed that these words weren’t explained there, but WERE explained in regards to Chapter 13, which is surprisingly similar to Chapter 34.  It explains, "The firstlings of beasts not used in sacrifice were to be changed for others so used, or they were to be destroyed. Our souls are forfeited to God's justice and, unless ransomed by the sacrifice of Christ, we will certainly perish." (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary)”  Ummm…  Ok…?  And doesn’t it seem mighty wasteful to kill the firstborn just to show allegiance?

And the firstborn of man?  “They were to be bought back from God by five shekels of silver.” (according to  Bought back?  From God?? 

It’s a good thing the Bible constantly switches from being taken literally to being symbolic when taking things literal would cause one to question its verity.  Otherwise, this whole Ten Commandments thing might sound like it is hardly coming from the all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God.]

    21 "(5) Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

    22 "(6) Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year [in the Fall] 23 Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel. 24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God. [How will they appear before the Sovereign Lord?  Have we switched this one commandment to being symbolic just to make things interesting?]

    25 "(7) Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and (8) do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning [God really doesn’t like yeast!  Nor does he believe in letting food sit out overnight.]

    26 "(9) Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God. 

(10) Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk.” [Boy, this last one came out of left field.  It’s almost as though God realized he had only nine and had to make up one at the last minute.  I’ve read that seething a goat in its mother’s milk is a Pagan practice, but still.  I easily admit that my mind is scattered and I often digress.  But I am not GOD.]

    27 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." 28 Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.

I’m trying to understand this.  In Exodus 20, the Lord SPOKE the Ten Commandments and they were somehow carved into stone as thunder and lightning and explosions took place (which sounded quite like an active volcano).  Then Moses threw a fit and broke the tablets, went back up to Mt. Sinai to get some more, at which time the Lord created ANOTHER set of tablets with the label, “The Ten Commandments,” which He, Himself, (wrongly) stated were the same as the first set.

The problem is that these later Ten Commandments differ from the first Ten Commandments.  One would think that the Lord would have a better memory. 

No matter.  Immediately following the initial STATED Ten Commandments, we have the Lord giving Moses a bunch of LAWS.  Exodus 21:1 “These are the laws you are to set before them:”  I think you should go read these Laws.  They’re quite troubling, some of them.

It was interesting to see that most of the Exodus 34 version of the Ten Commandments were actually listed in these Laws of Exodus 21-23. 

Now I’m really confused.  How can these Ten Commandments change?  There are only ten.  Shouldn’t these Ten be important enough to remember?  Why are there two sets of Ten Commandments so very clearly spelled out in the Bible?  Something is amiss.

But that’s not the point of this article.  The point is that I believe, as does God because even He changed them to something else, these Ten Commandments simply are not all that great.  We need others that would truly help improve mankind without being surrounded by so much controversy and reluctance.

But first, just what are the commonly accepted Ten Commandments?  And are they really all that bad, as I have alluded to?  I’ll let you decide:

The Ten Commandments -- Exodus 20 (King James Version - unedited)

1.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2.  Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

3.  Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

4.  Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:  But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

5.  Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

6.  Thou shalt not kill.

7.  Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8.  Thou shalt not steal.

9.  Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

10.  Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.”  [I added this last verse 18 just because I thought it sounded cool.]

The Catholics thought these were too long and not catchy enough so they came up with their own version. (And it appears as though whomever made the poster below modified the commandments slightly, as well.)


1. I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.

2. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

3. Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.

4. Honor your father and your mother.

5. You shall not kill.

6. You shall not commit adultery.

7. You shall not steal.

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

The Problem with The Ten Commandments

Let’s discuss these individually.

Of all the things that could be said, of all the rules and life-guiding principles that could’ve been given, doesn’t it seem like these could be better?

The first two are mildly redundant and could be combined to say something like, “Revere or respect the Lord.”

3. Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.

It is now perfectly acceptable for people to work on Sunday.  The percentage of people who go to church isn’t all that high.  And of those who attend church, most of these people hardly keep the day holy.  Thus, at just the third commandment, we have the majority of people in this world beginning to ignore them.  God, being… well, God… should’ve foreseen this happening in the future.

4. Honor your father and your mother.

With so many out-of-wedlock children and with so many children with divorced or estranged parents, this is difficult to absolutely and completely embrace.  Plus, there are a LOT of bad parents in this world.  They should NOT be honored.

Moreover, the whole part about “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” is very disturbing.  If I had a drunken, wife-beating, child-abusing great-great-grandfather whom my father has never met, God would punish ME?

5. You shall not kill.

This is a good one.  I won’t discuss war or capital punishment or the Crusades.  People, when acting for and of themselves, know they should not kill.  Keep this one.

6. You shall not commit adultery.

9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

Mildly redundant.  Unless! You treat the covet thing as you would in #10, which then makes the wife more like property.  Sure, it was more acceptable at that time, but God having infinite wisdom and all should’ve known that over time, society would not treat women as property.

7. You shall not steal.

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Stealing and lying.  Two bad things.  Keep those.  However, I’m told to not bear false witness against my neighbor.  So can I lie about other things?

Yes, yes, I know it means lying, in general.  Therein demonstrates why these Ten Commandments aren’t all-powerful.  I shouldn’t have to infer.

10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

My neighbor has a new Corvette.  I’m kind of breaking the tenth commandment when I see him reach 60 in 4 seconds.  There should be no “kind of” when it comes to Commandments given by God.

See?  The Ten Commandments are not all that influential.  Most people ignore at least a few of them.  We must infer.  We must extend or modify the meaning to our modern age.  They are not principles people use to guide their lives, their thoughts, and their actions.  Some of them, maybe, but not all.  Instead, the Ten Commandments are now mostly a SYMBOL of religion. 

I hear on Oprah, for example, people saying that they abide by the Ten Commandments.  I bet most of those people who say this couldn’t list all ten.  So when they say they abide by the Ten Commandments, what they really mean is that they live a moral and just life, they don’t hurt anyone and they don’t hurt themselves; or something to that affect.

In other words, what they’re saying is that they live by a set of rules and principles that are specifically NOT the same as the Ten Commandments, but something the Ten Commandments indirectly and in a round-about way represent.  This is but one reason why these Ten Commandments are having such a difficult time being universally accepted. 

If they were consistent in the Bible, if they withstood the test of time, if they didn’t invite personal modifications, and if everyone could live by their principles easily and naturally, then I believe we wouldn’t be having the controvery over them that we’re seeing.  I believe there would exist other causes that would capture peoples’ attention and debate.

So, what SHOULD they be?

While we can’t change what is written, we CAN come up with a new set of guidelines to live by – a NEW Ten Commandments.

One evening I happened upon a Native American gift shop out in Washington state.  In there I saw a poster entitled, “The Ten Indian Commandments.”  When I read these I instantly thought, “THESE are what the Ten Commandments should’ve been!”

I suggest that as you read each one, dwell on it a moment.  Think about it and about all the ways you can live with this guiding principle.  You may even go so far as to be a little crunchy-granola and meditate or chant on each Commandment.  Without further ado:

The Ten Indian Commandments

1. Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.

2. Remain close to the Great Spirit.

3. Show great respect for your fellow beings.

4. Work together for the benefit of all mankind.

5. Give assistance and kindness wherever needed.

6. Do what you know to be right.

7. Look after the well-being of mind and body.

8. Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.

9. Be truthful and honest at all times.

10. Take full responsibility for your actions.

I love these.  If these were the Ten Commandments, there would be no fighting over posting them in publicly-funded institutions.  People would simply nod their heads in agreement. The only one atheists may have a problem with is #2 Remain close to the Great Spirit. Still, some atheists believe in a creative super-consciousness or accept that there's a certain energy creating a sense of order in the Earth and Universe.

For those that would like to print these out, I have created a simple poster that will fit neatly onto normal, 8 ½ x 11 printed-paper.  (Another is much more nicely done at Wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing to see these posted in public places and in businesses all over the country as a gentle reminder?

Finally, universal truths and guiding principles that will surely benefit all of mankind.

Do I really believe that the Ten Commandments will be replaced throughout the country by these Ten Indian Commandments?  No.  They SHOULD be, but they won’t.  Religious people don’t often make decisions based on common sense and irrefutable proof.  And sadly, people seem to resist change.

Do your part, hang up the posters, share this article, tell people about these Ten Indian Commandments.  If you want things to change for the better, you may as well start now.

Spread the Word or quietly abide. Either way, it still improves our world.

Below are links to sites where you can buy the posters – framed and mounted, too. Or you can print out my simple page. Whatever you do, they are sure to start an interesting conversation.


The Ten Indian Commandments
The Ten Indian Commandments
24 in. x 36 in.
Buy this Poster at
Framed   Mounted
Indian Commandments I
Indian Commandments I
16 in. x 20 in.
Buy this Mini Poster at
Framed   Mounted


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