On the Decalogue, ‘the words of the covenant, the ten words’

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Many people may know that the word “decalogue” comes from the old Greek phrase tous deka logous which means “the ten words”. But, most people do not know more about the background of that matter. And, if they see the phrase “the words of the covenant, the ten words”, they probably do not know what bible-passage that phrase might be connected with.

This has to do with Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4.

In those three verses, many modern-day bible-versions have the phrase “the ten commandments”. Early Greek, Latin and English translations did not have that wording. It was introduced in the 1560 Geneva bible, and is actually a mistranslation.

More on the three verses in question.

Important: What is said below, must not be misunderstood in any way. Those who have studied the New Testament with care, know that Jesus and his apostles, including Paul, taught the importance of living in a just, righteous manner. – There is more on these things, later in this article.

Here is how the 1917 Jewish Publication Society version renders the verses in question:

Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words. (JPS1917, highlighting added)

Deuteronomy 4:13 And He declared unto you [a] His covenant, which He commanded [b] you [a] to perform, even the ten words; and He wrote them upon two tables of stone. (JPS1917, note signs and highlighting added)

Deuteronomy 10:4 And He wrote on the tables according to the first writing, the ten words, which the Lord spoke unto you [a] in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them unto me. (JPS1917, highlighting and note sign added)

The highlighted phrases above are correct translations of the Hebrew text.

In those passages, where the above-quoted JPS1917 has “word”, the Hebrew text has dabar which was used in such meanings as “word”, “matter”, “speech” and “thing”. [c]

The word “decalogue” comes from the Greek text of the Septuagint version (LXX). In Exodus 34:28, it has the wording

kai egrapsên ta rêmata tauta api tên plakôn tês diathêkês tous deka logous

which means “and he wrote those words on the tablets, the ten words of the covenant”. In Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4, it has ta deka rêmata and tous deka logous; both phrases mean “the ten words”.

Also the Latin Vulgate version has this correctly – verba foederis decem, “ten words of the agreement”, Exodus 34:28, verba decem, “ten words”, Deuteronomy 4:13, and decem verba, “ten words”, Deuteronomy 10:4.

a The word “you” in Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4 refers to the ancient Israelites whom Moses was speaking to.

b The translation “commanded” which the above-quoted JPS1917 has in Deuteronomy 4:13, is discussed in appendix 2.

c One commonly used bible-version translates the Hebrew noun dabar in around 800 Old Testament passages as “word”, in circa 230 as “thing”, in about 60 as “matter”, in some 50 as “acts”, in 40 or so as “chronicles”, in around 25 as “saying”, and in slightly more than 200 passages in miscellaneous ways. Appendix 1 has some notes on how the noun dabar is used in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

A note: Some writers have caused people to believe that the “ten words” were somehow separate from the Sinaitic covenant and not really a part of it. Some have even claimed that they “pre-dated Sinai”. But, it is not so. The correct translation “the words of the covenant, the ten words”, Exodus 34:28, makes it clear that they were an integral and inseparable part of the Old Covenant which was made by Mount Sinai.

The Lord did not ‘command’ the Israelites to make a covenant with him.

Again, this article is about “the words of the covenant, the ten words”.

A covenant is not something that is “commanded”. A covenant is something that both parties mutually agree upon. (Some might wonder about the word “commanded” which the earlier quoted JPS1917 has in Deuteronomy 4:13. Appendix 2 has some notes on that verse and matter.)

Those who have carefully studied the biblical record regarding the events around the making of the Old Covenant by Mount Sinai, know that the Lord did not “command” the Israelites to make a covenant with him. Nor was it a matter of the Lord “reminding the Israelites of an already existing law” as some writers have claimed or insinuated. (Appendix 3 has some notes on the phrase “the giving of the law” which some writers have used, and which then has misled some of their readers.)

What happened, is this: The Lord offered the ancient Israelites a relationship – a covenant – which was in many ways similar to a marriage. A relationship that he did not have with any other nation. He wanted to make the Israelites his own, special people.

Again, the Lord proposed those Israelites a covenant. Three times, they were told the nature of that covenant, so that they could decide whether they wanted to make such a covenant with him. It was only after they had, three times, given their consent to the covenant which the Lord was proposing, that they became bound by it and its rules. But yes, after this, those rules were a “law” for them, as long as that covenant lasted.

This passage records the first time when they said “yes” – read all of it with care, so that you see what really happened:

Exodus 19:7 And Moses came and sent for the chiefs of the people and put before them all these words which the Lord had given him orders to say. 8 And all the people, answering together, said, Whatever the Lord has said we will do. And Moses took back to the Lord the words of the people. (BBE)

It was only after those Israelites’ first “yes” (verse 8), that the Lord spoke aloud the “words of the covenant, the ten words” (those that are recorded in Exodus 20:2–17). It can be said that those “ten words” were the Old Covenant’s core, its “ten main points”. The other details were written down by Moses who then read them aloud in the hearing of the Israelites, so that they could know what the proposed agreement (covenant) really was.

Here is the second time when the Israelites gave their consent to the covenant which the Lord was proposing:

Exodus 24:3 And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rights, and all the people answered with one voice and said, All the words which the Lord has said we will do. (JB)

Even this time the Israelites said “yes”, giving their agreement to the covenant-relationship which the Lord was offering them.

That was repeated. Once more, the Israelites were told the details regarding the proposed covenant, and they gave their consent to it. We read:

Exodus 24:7 And he took the book of the covenant [d] and read in the audience of the people, and they said, All that the Lord has said we will do, and we will hear. (JB, note sign added)

d “The book of the covenant” – it may be that this refers to what is recorded in Exodus chapters 20–23.

When the Israelites had in that way three times given their consent to the covenant which the Lord was proposing, they became bound by it and its rules. After their third “yes”, they were ceremonially sprinkled with the “blood of the covenant” (Exodus 24:6–8), and became united with the Lord in a covenant which was in many ways similar to a marriage. The Lord became the “husband” of the nation of Israel; this is something that is mentioned or referred to in several bible-passages. (By the way, after this a delegation of 74 men went up to the Lord on the mountain, for what apparently was a celebration of the covenant which had just been made, a “wedding feast”. Read Exodus 24:8–11 and see how that was.)

The Lord himself wrote on two tablets of stone the words which he had spoken aloud from the mountain, the “ten words”. (Yes, it appears that it was the Lord who wrote those words, even on the new tablets which replaced the ones broken by Moses. See Exodus 34:1, and Deuteronomy 10:2, “I will write”.) The finer details of that covenant (agreement, contract) were written down by Moses, perhaps on parchment or some similar material.

A note: Those two stone tablets were sometimes called “the testimony” (“the witness”). The gilded wooden chest where they later were stored, was sometimes called “the ark of the testimony” (“the chest of the witness”). This is because those stone tablets, together with the things which Moses wrote down on some other material, were a “testimony” or “witness”, that is, a written record of what was agreed upon when the Old Covenant was made by Mount Sinai.

When did the ‘ten words’ come into being?

That is a rhetorical question, of course. Exodus 34:28 itself gives the answer.

Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words. (JPS1917, highlighting added)

As you can see, those “words of the covenant, the ten words” were connected to the covenant which was made by Mount Sinai.

Some writers have tried to make people believe that the “Decalogue” was “a law that was known by all nations”, before the Lord made that covenant with the Israelites. But, the Bible does not say anything of that kind.

A note: Those “ten words” were a part of the covenant between the Lord and the Israelites. The other nations did not have any covenant with the Lord.

Some writers have quoted certain passages, in translations which contain such wordings as “Abraham did as the Lord had commanded”, and then they have claimed that that refers to the Decalogue. But, it does not. Here, one must keep in mind that Abraham lived around 400 years before the Old Covenant was made. He had nothing to do with that covenant or its rules.

Now, regarding Abraham and timings – Galatians 3 mentions Abraham. Verses 17–19 contain some notes on when the Old Covenant was made, and how long it was to last. Please read the following scripture-quote, slowly and with thought. See also the notes below it.

Galatians 3:17 […] the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. (NRSV)

Please note that in verse 17, the word “covenant” refers to the covenant which the Lord had made with Abraham, including the Promises. In verses 17, 18 and 19, the translation “the law” refers to the Old Covenant which was made 430 years later, by Mount Sinai.

The above-quoted Galatians 3:17–19 shows that the Old Covenant was an addition which came on the scene 430 years after the covenant which the Lord had made with Abraham. That addition was to last “until the Offspring would come to whom the promise had been made”, verse 19. That is, until Jesus came. When Jesus the prophesied Offspring of Abraham then came, and made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, it became possible to launch the New Covenant. When that happened, the Old Covenant had served its purpose and was set aside. – The article nca080.htm has more on Galatians 3.

(Some people might have problems with the fact that the Old Covenant was a temporary arrangement. This is because many translators have put into certain Old Testament passages wordings which make it seem that it was to be “everlasting”. The article nca130.htm sorts out that matter.)

Back to the matter of Abraham’s obedience, and whether or not it was connected to some “law-text”. Consider this passage:

Genesis 26:5 this because Abraham obeyed me, keeping my mandate, my commandments, my ordinances, and my instructions. (NABRE)

Many translators have put into that verse such words as “laws”, “statutes”, and so on. That might cause casual bible-readers to think that Abraham followed some “law-text”. But, the simple meaning of that passage is that Abraham did as the Lord personally had told and instructed him to do.

There is no mention in the Scriptures that there would have been a “law of God” among men, in Abraham’s day.

The Decalogue in the New Testament.

Those who have carefully read all of the New Testament, may have noticed that the Sinaitic covenant’s “ten words” are not given any special mention there. Some of them are quoted in the NT, but not all, and they are never mentioned as if they were a package that was somehow separate from that covenant.

Important: That does not in any way mean that the saints [e] who were under the New Covenant, would have been free to murder or steal, or anything of that kind. Here, one must discern the difference between moral principles and legal agreements. We can all understand, that for instance when some legal agreement, such as a covenant, comes to its end, that does not mean that all moral principles would at the same time cease to exist. – Jesus and his apostles, including Paul, taught the importance of living in a just, righteous manner. (The article nga081.htm explains what new-covenantal righteousness is and consists of, on the practical level.)

Later in this present article, there are some notes on certain often misunderstood New Testament passages, such as Matthew 5:17–18. The article nca120.htm sorts out a certain translation-related misunderstanding in connection with 1 John 3:4.

e Saints – in this article, that word refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century.

Some notes on the phrases ‘the Law’, ‘the Prophets’ and ‘the Writings’.

Since ancient times, the Jews have viewed the Old Testament as consisting of three sections, “the Law”, “the Prophets”, and “the Writings” or “the Psalms”. This can be seen even in the New Testament. This passage contains an example of that word usage:

Acts 28:17 And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together […] 23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. (AKJV, highlighting added)

That passage simply means that the apostle Paul showed those Jews how prophecies in the five books of Moses and in the books of the prophets, had pointed to Jesus.

Regarding the phrase “the Law” which appears in many English bible-translations – it can refer to different things:

Some notes on Matthew 5:17–18.

A casual bible-reader might come to think that Matthew 5:17–18 means that Jesus said to his disciples that they were to keep the rules of the Old Covenant, down to the smallest details, “jot and tittle”. But, it is not so.

Luke 24:44 clarifies what Matthew 5:17–18 means and refers to. A note: When one reads those passages, one must keep in mind that the phrases “the Law” and “the Prophets” which appear in them, are names for sections in the Old Testament.

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled. (VW06, highlighting added)

And again, the meaning of Matthew 5:17–18 is clarified by Luke 24:44.

Luke 24:44 Then He said to them, These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. (VW06, highlighting added)

That passage records something that Jesus said after his resurrection. As you can see, it is obvious that the phrase “the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you” refers to the words which are recorded Matthew 5:17–18.

So, both Matthew 5:17–18 and Luke 24:44 mean that certain prophecies which are recorded in “the Law” and in “the Prophets”, indeed were to be fulfilled, down to the smallest points, “jot” and “tittle”.

(Regarding the words “jot” and “tittle” – in the Greek text that is iôta and keraia – in English terms, they can be said to correspond to the lower-case letter i and the dot on it. The meaning being, that prophecies regarding Jesus, as recorded in the books of Moses and in the Prophets and the Psalms, were to be fulfilled, down to the smallest details.)

Regarding Matthew 5:19–20, see the article nca010.htm.

So, what are the ‘rules’ of the New Covenant, and where can they be found?

The Old Covenant had written rules which were recorded on tablets of stone and on some other material. The New Covenant does not have that. For, it is written,

“not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NKJV).

In other words: The Holy Spirit is the New Covenant’s “writing”. The saints were not to be led by a law-text; instead, they were guided by God himself. He came to dwell in them, through his Spirit. The article nca060.htm has more on this.

Even Jeremiah 31 tells us about the manner of the New Covenant’s “writing”. Again, the Old Covenant was written as text on stones, and (parts of it) on parchment or some similar material, but with the New Covenant, things are different. We read:

Jeremiah 31:31 “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (NLT04, highlighting added)

A note: Many translators have rendered verse 33 in ways that might cause casual bible-readers to think that it was the rules of the Old Covenant that were to be written in men’s hearts, or a “spiritual understanding” of them. But, it is not so. Clarification: Many translators have put into verse 33 such wordings as “I will write my law”, but that is misleading. In the Hebrew text, the relevant word is the noun torah whose literal meaning was “instruction”, “guidance”. It was related to the verb yarah which meant “to teach”, “to instruct”. ‘Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament’ by Harris, Archer and Waltke states,

The word tôrâ means basically ‘teaching’ whether it is the wise man instructing his son or God instructing Israel.

And, as even Jeremiah 31:31–34 shows, it is the Holy Spirit who is the New Covenant’s torah – its “writing”, “instruction” or “guidance”.

Laws have never made people righteous, but if and when people are led by the Holy Spirit, they will act and live in a just, righteous manner. Again, the article nca060.htm has more on God’s Spirit as the New Covenant’s “writing”.

2 Corinthians 3 – what the apostle Paul said about the words that were engraved on the two tablets of stone.

Some writers have twisted 2 Corinthians 3 and created out of it a dogma regarding “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law”. But, that passage does not contain such phrases or concepts. When the apostle Paul wrote, “the letter”, he referred to the Old Covenant and its rules. And, when he wrote, “the Spirit”, he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant. Please read all of this scripture-quote, point for point, slowly and with thought:

2 Corinthians 3:6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? (NASB77)

As you can see, that is regarding the two covenants, old and new. On the one hand, there was “the letter” – that is, the Old Covenant with its rules. Regarding that, Paul wrote, “the letter kills” […] “the ministration of death, written and engraved on stones” (2 Corinthians 3:6–7, AKJV). And then, on the other hand, there is the Spirit, verse 6 – that is, the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant. “The Spirit gives life.”

(Why did the apostle write, “the letter kills” and “the ministration of death”? Well, it may be that he referred to the fact that the Old Covenant did not provide the Israelites a way to everlasting life.)

The Old Covenant had a “law-text”. The New Covenant does not have that. Again, the New Covenant’s “writing” consists of the Holy Spirit which is placed in humans. That is no small matter: God himself takes his dwelling in humans, through his Spirit, and guides them in the right ways.

The article nca110.htm has more on 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6.

Regarding the principles which are mentioned in the Decalogue.

Earlier in this article, it was noted that much more was expected, in the way of righteous living, of the saints who were under the New Covenant, than was ever demanded of the Israelites when they were under the Old Covenant.

It was also noted that the New Covenant is indeed something new. It is not a “modification” of the Old Covenant. So, the New Covenant is not based on the Old Covenant or its rules.

At the same time, it is clear that when for instance a covenant comes to an end, that does not mean that all moral principles and similar things would come to an end. Let us consider such things in the Old Covenant’s “words of the covenant, the ten words”.

Regarding the “do not” things: Idolatry is not right, nor murdering, lusting, stealing, sexual immorality or unfaithfulness or anything like that. Practising such things would be wrong. And, a believer must not use the Lord’s name in a careless way or without respect. A believer must not bear false witness of others, or against them. And so on.

Likewise, these “do” things are applicable as guidelines even today: True believers love God and his son Jesus and do not put anything or anyone in their place. Taking care of one’s elderly parents is a solemn duty for believers. (Even under the Old Covenant, that was a central part of “honouring” one’s parents.) And so on.

What about the Old Covenant’s weekly day of rest?

The Lord had “made” a day of rest, in and by that he himself rested, Genesis 2:2–3. Actually, that day is the first thing that the Scriptures mention the Lord “sanctifying” (setting apart, making special).

But, the book of Genesis which records how the Lord “made” that day, does not contain any mention of people keeping that day. The first mention of people being told to keep a day of rest is found in Exodus 16:23 which refers to a much later time, a time when the Lord had freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and taken them under his special protection. Deuteronomy 5:15 states the reason why those people were told to keep that day:

Deuteronomy 5:15 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out thence with a mighty hand, and a high arm: therefore [f] the Lord appointed thee to keep the sabbath day and to sanctify it. (LXXE, note sign added)

f As you can see, the reason why the Israelites were told to keep that weekly day of rest, was that it was to be for them a reminder of the fact that the Lord had in a miraculous way freed them from slavery in Egypt. (At that time, he gave them rest. Even the Promised Land was at times called “rest”.)

That was regarding the ancient Israelites. The question is, what days should be kept or not kept, in connection with the New Covenant? Were the saints commanded or instructed to keep a day or days of some kind?

The article nxa100.htm explains the actual nature of the sabbatismos or rest of Hebrews 4:9.

The article naa040.htm has some notes on the matter of “worship”, including the concept “going to church”.

The article nxa090.htm studies whether the Old Covenant’s Sabbaths, the annual ones and the weekly one, should be kept today.

A note: Some writers have held forth the weekly day of rest as a “sign”. The article nca070.htm sorts out the matter of “covenant signs”, and clarifies what sign shows who are God’s people.

Some notes regarding the Catholic custom to keep Sunday as a ‘sabbath’.

(A note: The Old Covenant’s weekly day of rest was on what now is called Saturday. More exactly: It was from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday.)

Today, many people observe Sunday, but the facts are that the Bible does not contain any justification for Sunday-keeping. In reality, the Catholic custom and command to keep Sun-day (in Latin dies Solis) as a “day of the Lord”, is merely a continuation of old rites connected to the worship of the sun-god and lord Mithras, ‘Sol Mithras Deus Invictus’. Read on:

The emperor Constantine who can be said to be the de facto founder of the Catholic Church, was a servant of Mithras, all the way to his death. It is said that one of his last acts was to establish (uphold) the rights of the priests of Mithras.

Some notes.

All details of the matter of the two covenants, old and new, cannot be included here.

The article nca090.htm shows that the New Covenant indeed is a new covenant, and not a “continuation” or “modification” of the Old Covenant as some have claimed.

For more on the matter of the two covenants, old and new, look under the heading “Covenant, covenants” on the page key12.htm.

See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendixes below.


Appendix 1 – On what the old Hebrew word dabar meant and how it is used in the Old Testament.

This is regarding the noun dabar in the Hebrew text of Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4. In them, the JPS1917 which is quoted in the main part of this article, correctly translates dabar as “words”. The following contains some notes on the use of that noun in the Old Testament.

One commonly used bible-version renders dabar in around 800 OT passages as “word”, in circa 230 as “thing”, in about 60 as “matter”, in some 50 as “acts”, in 40 or so as “chronicles”, in around 25 as “saying”, and in slightly more than 200 passages in miscellaneous ways. And then, in 20 passages it for some reason renders it as “commandment”. But, more literal translations never translate the noun dabar as “commandment”, the reason being that it did not mean that but instead such things as “word”, “matter”, “speech” and “thing”.

Here are some examples on how the noun dabar is used in the Old Testament:

Genesis 11:1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech [Hebrew dabar]. (KJV1769, highlighting and comment added)

Genesis 12:17 And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of [dabar[g] Sarai Abram’s wife. (KJV1769, highlighting and comment with note sign added)

g That is, “because of the matter of Sarai”.

Genesis 15:1 After these things [dabar] the word [dabar] of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. (KJV1769, highlighting and comments added)

Genesis 15:4 And, behold, the word [dabar] of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. (KJV1769, highlighting and comment added)

Genesis 18:14 Is any thing [dabar] too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. (KJV1769, highlighting and comment added)

Genesis 18: […] 25 That be far from thee to do after this manner [dabar], to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (KJV1769, highlighting and comment added)

Genesis 19:8 […] only unto these men do nothing [dabar[h] for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. (KJV1769, highlighting and comment with note sign added)

h That is, “do no thing to these men”.

Those are the first seven passages where the noun dabar occurs in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. This is enough to make it clear that that word did not mean “commandment”. Add to that, the fact that for instance one commonly used translation renders dabar in around 1200 passages in such ways as “acts”, “chronicles”, “matter”, “saying”, “thing” or “word”.

Appendix 2 – On the word ‘commanded’ which some translators have put into Deuteronomy 4:13.

There are many kinds of translations of that verse. Here is an example:

Deuteronomy 4:13 And he gave you his agreement with you, the ten rules which you were to keep, which he put in writing on the two stones of the law. (BBE)

Some bible-translators have put into that verse such wordings as “and he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform”. But, as is noted in the main part of this article, the Lord did not force anything on the Israelites. He did not “command” them to make a covenant with him. They were three times told the nature and the rules of the covenant which the Lord was proposing, and could then decide whether they wanted to make such a covenant with him. It was only after they had, three times, given their consent to that covenant, that they became bound by it and its rules. But yes, after this, those rules were a “law” for them, as long as that covenant lasted.

Without going into the linguistic details – the meaning of the Hebrew text in the middle part of that verse probably is something like “the covenant which he bade you to make [with him]”. So, here is a suggested translation of that verse:

Deuteronomy 4:13 And he made known to you the covenant which he bade you to make [with him], the ten words, and he wrote them on the two tablets of stone.

Appendix 3 – Regarding the phrase and concept ‘the giving of the Law’.

Some writers have called the covenant-making by Mount Sinai by the name “the giving of the Law”. Now, it is true that after the Israelites had three times said “yes” to the covenant which the Lord proposed them, both parties became bound by that covenant and its rules (see the original deal in the book of Exodus, chapters 20–23), and so, those rules became a “law” for them. But, what happened by Mount Sinai, was not that the Lord “declared a law” to the Israelites. It was a covenant he made with them.

The making of that covenant by Mount Sinai took place around the day which later came to be observed as the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). In the Middle Ages, some old-covenantal Jews coined a new name for that day, referring to it by such names as “memorial of the giving of the Law” or “memorial of the promulgation of the Law”. (These are later English translations, of course.) Apparently, it was a certain “rabbi” by the name Moses Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon) who invented a new name for Pentecost. Maimonides rejected Jesus and the New Covenant. He desperately held on to the Old Covenant, even though it had come to its end hundreds of years earlier.

Some bible-translators have in Romans 9:4 rendered the Greek noun nomothesia as “giving of the law”. That noun occurs only in Romans 9:4, but let us consider Hebrews 8:6 where we find its verb-form nomotheteô (in the form nenomothetêtai). That passage is about Jesus and the New Covenant.

Hebrews 8:6 But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established [nomotheteô] on better promises. (AKJV, comment added)

The better covenant which Hebrews 8:6 refers to, is of course the New Covenant. Hebrews 10:9 has, “he takes away the first, that he may establish the second” (AKJV). That refers to the two covenants, old and new.

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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm

On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → nca080.htm

Some notes on bible-translations which make it seem that the Old Covenant was to be “everlasting”. On the word olam in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. → nca130.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → nga081.htm

On 1 John 3:4 and its translation and meaning. → nca120.htm

The New Covenant versus the Old Covenant. Also, some notes on Matthew 5:17–18 and 19–20. → nca010.htm

Where can one find the rules of the New Covenant, in written form? → nca060.htm

Many talk about “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”, but those expressions are not found in the Bible. On the meaning of the phrases “the Spirit” and “the letter” in 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6. → nca110.htm

What does the Bible say about the matter of resurrection? → nba080.htm

Should the Old Covenant’s Sabbaths, the annual ones and the weekly one, be kept today? → nxa090.htm

Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → nxa100.htm

Worshipping God. What does the Bible say about worship, in connection with the New Covenant? → naa040.htm

Covenant signs, including the sign of the New Covenant which shows who are God’s people. → nca070.htm

The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. → nca090.htm

Other articles on the matter of the two covenants, old and new. → Look under the heading “Covenant, covenants” on the page key12.htm.


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