The Ten Commandments


(Investigator 150, 2013 May)


Farrell Till writes on his website: "anachronisms occur throughout the Bible. In 2 Samuel 1:18, it was said that a song about the exploits of David was written in the book of Jashar. If this was true, then obviously the book of Jashar could not have been written until the time of David. Yet we read in Joshua 10:13…that Joshua…when he made the sun stand still was also recorded in the book of Jashar."

The answer is that the Book of Jashar was not written and finalized by one author but was an official journal to which authorized scribes added new entries for hundreds of years. They recorded historical events and songs and poetry based on them.

Another common criticism of the Bible is that Exodus 34 gets the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) wrong. Dr Bob Potter writes:
"…most 'believers' are unaware there are several incarnations of these commandments. Those of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are much the same, but the one in Exodus 34 (which purports to be the most recent listing!) spoken to Moses by Jahweh to replace the earlier broken tablets, differs in several ways from the earlier version commonly incorporated into today's Christian services." (Investigator 145)
The short answer is that Exodus 34:12-26 does not recapitulate the Ten Commandments but lists commandments to counteract idolatry.


Childs (1974) says: "Ch.34 is one of the most difficult chapters in Exodus to analyze… The starting-point for the modern critical debate began with Wellhausen's analysis [in 1879], which isolated ch.34 as a parallel account to ch.20 of the Sinai covenant…"

For half a century famous theologians debated Wellhausen's analysis after which his "parallel account" interpretation lost favor. Childs writes: "this classic literary solution suffered a gradual erosion… First of all, it became increasingly difficult to defend the view of an actual Decalogue in ch.34..."

New interpretations by other famous theologians followed — such as Eissfeldt, Pfeiffer, Rudolph, Noth, Beyerlin and Kosmala.

Most based their analysis of Exodus 34 on the Documentary Hypothesis which states that Moses' writings originated from four or more different documents which editors around the 5th century BC pasted together to make one book.

Childs (1974) writes: "In sum: although the classic Wellhausen analysis has been generally abandoned as inadequate, no recent attempt has been able to muster widespread support."

Standard theology having failed let us investigate Exodus 34 in context.

If context explains the purpose of the Exodus 34 commands it would imply that the theologians went wrong because their starting position which considered Exodus a 5th-century-BC paste-together job was faulty.


Chapter 34:12-26 considered in context suggests that the commands listed there are NOT "a parallel account to ch.20"; they are not a re-listing of the Ten Commandments.

To see this consider what happened earlier:
a. Exodus 24:12-13. Moses and Joshua ascended Mount Sinai to receive "tablets of stone" inscribed with Ten Commandments

b. Exodus 31:18. Moses received the "two tablets of stone".

c. Exodus 32:1-8. While Moses was absent the Israelites built and  worshipped a "golden calf" honoring it with dancing and feasting.

d. Exodus 32:15-20. Moses returned from Mount Sinai and smashed the two tablets, and ground the golden calf to powder.

e. Exodus 34:1. The "LORD" tells Moses to get two new tablets and "I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke." (34:1)

f. Exodus 34:11 says: "Observe what I command you today..."
What follows in 34:12-26 is not the Ten Commandments:
The Ten Commandments were commanded in Chapter 20, not "today", and were inscribed by God, not by Moses, on the new stone tablets which contained "the words that were on the former tablets" — the same words as previously!

Chapter 34:12-26, however, has different words which Moses, not God, writes down. (34:27)

If the commands in Exodus 34:12-26 are not a revision of Exodus 20 what are they?

Motyer (2005) calls 34:12-26, "amplifications and applications" of the Ten Commandments which "take into account the golden calf and the temptations that lay ahead in the Land of Canaan."

My explanation is similar: Exodus 34 lists commands which if heeded would prevent repeats of golden-calf worship and other idolatry.

Exodus 34:10 "I [God] hereby make a covenant" does not refer to a new covenant but refers back to 34:1 "I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets."

In effect the making of the covenant of Exodus 20 was interrupted by the "golden calf" worship, and is completed in 34:1-10 by God writing the same words on new stone tablets thereby completing the interrupted covenant-making.

What follows in 34:12-26 are commands for preventing idolatry which Moses, not God, writes — "The Lord said to Moses: Write these words…" (34:27)

The commands include:

  • Two of the Ten Commandments i.e. worship no other god and rest on the Sabbath (34:14; 34:21);
  • Devote the first-born of all animals to God (34:19-20);
  • Destroy all idols (34:13); don't make idols (34:17);
  • Attend three annual festivals (34:18, 22-23);
  • Several other commands extracted from the 600 commands of Moses' Law code (34:25-26)

  • Chapter 34:28 concludes: "He was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he [the LORD] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments." The third "he" in "he wrote on the tablets" refers to "the LORD".  


    The theologians were so distracted by their parallel-account hypothesis that they didn't stress the warning (of Exodus) which is that humans readily replace God with idols. They also ignored the New Testament extension to idolatry whereby idols include addictions such as alcoholism, greed, homosexuality, and even faulty theology — i.e. anything that separates people from God.

    In Investigator I have, over many years, supplied scientific confirmations of many Bible passages. Dr Potter should therefore have reasoned: "The Bible's critics have been so often wrong that probably they're wrong too regarding Exodus 34."

    In Exodus 34:1,10 God writes the same Ten Commandments as previously on two stone tablets, which is why they are not listed — they are the same. After that Moses receives and writes down various commandments that counteract idolatry.


    Childs, B.S. 1974 Exodus A Commentary, SCM, pp 605-607

    Motyer, A. 2005 The Message of Exodus, Inter-Varsity, pp 299-300