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Exodus 20-31 document all the laws God established towards the Israelites on Mt. Sinai through Moses.

From my memory and understanding of Hebrew literature, there weren't any chapter divisions. The Torah was meant to be read as one long huge document.

If so, how did the 10 Commandments become noted as such, separate from the rest of the mitzvots that God said to Moses from chapters 21 all the way to chapter 31?

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They became known as “the Ten Commandments” from many modern English translations of the words עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדְּבָרִים in Exo. 34:28, Deu. 4:13, and Deu. 10:4.1

Footnotes

        1 Yes, the Hebrew עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדְּבָרִים literally means “the ten words” or “the ten sayings.” Tyndale translated it as “the ten verses” and Wycliffe as “ten wordis” (ten words).

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The 10 commandments are part of what is called "The Book of the Covenant" as found in Ex 24:7 and probably refers to the legal expansion of the 10 Commandments recorded in Ex 20:22 – 23:33. It covers the same legal matters as the 10 Commandments but provides a legal framework and cultic significance to the 10 Commandments. [Note that it contains no mention of a formal priesthood which came later as part of the Levitical covenant when the tabernacle and its services were introduced beginning in Ex 25.]

The name of the 10 commandments comes from a "practical" translation of the following verses:

  • Ex 34:28 - So Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments [= דָּבָר (dabar) which means BDB (inter alia) word of command, (הַ)מֶּלֶךְ ׳ד 1 Chronicles 21:4,6; Esther 1:12 6t. Esther; Ecclesiastes 8:4 compare 2 Chronicles 30:5; 31:5; Daniel 9:23,25; מַלְכוּת ׳ד royal edict Esther 1:19; כדבר עשׂה do according to the command of Genesis 44:2; Genesis 47:30; Exodus 8:9; Exodus 8:27; Exodus 12:35; Exodus 32:28 (J) Leviticus 10:7 (P) Judges 11:10; Ezra 10:5; Nehemiah 5:12,13; compare 2 Samuel 17:6 (word of counsel), 1 Kings 3:12 (request), 1 Kings 17:13]
  • Deut 4:13 - He declared to you His covenant, which He commanded you to follow—the Ten Commandments that He wrote on two tablets of stone.
  • Deut 10:4 - And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandments that the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the LORD gave them to me.
  • Rom 13:9, 10 also calls these "commandments", ἐντολή (entolē). The NT refers to the 10 commandments in other places as well: Matt 15:3, 19:17-19, Mark 7:8-10, 10:5-7, 19, Luke 18:20, 23:56, Rom 7:8-13, Eph 6:2.

The centrality and importance of the 10 commandments can be judged by the following:

  • Ex 24:7 introduces the “Book of the Covenant” as already existing, ie, Ex 20:22 – 23:33. It served as an expansion and legal context in which to place the Israelite Covenant of the 10 Commandments.
  • These tablets of stone with the 10 Commandments are called “the covenant” (Ex 34:27, 28, Deut 9:9, 11, 15) and placed inside the ark (Ex 25:16, 21, 40:20, Heb 9:4). [The tables of stone were also called “the tables of Testimony” (Ex 31:18, 32:15, 34:29), or just, “The Testimony” (Ex 25:16, 21).]
  • The “Ark of the Covenant” (Num 10:33, 14:44, Deut 10:8, 31:9, 25, 26, Josh 3:3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 4:7, 9, 18, 6:6, 8:33, etc) or, “Ark of the Testimony” (Ex 25:22, 26:33, 34, 30:6, 26, 31:7, 39:35, 40:3, 5, 21, Lev 16:13, Num 4:5, 7:89, Josh 4:16, etc) is described thus precisely because it contained the stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God (Ex 31:18, Deut 9:10) with the Israelite Covenant of the 10 Commandments. 1 Kings 8:9, 2 Chron 5:10.
  • The re-statement and expansion of the 10 Commandments as the covenant in Deut 4:13, 23, 31, 5:2, 3 includes a reference back to the Covenant at Horeb, ie, Mt Sinai (See Ex 3:1, 17:6, 33:6, etc, and the statement of the covenant in Ex 19, 20, and restated in Ex 24).
  • The 10 Commandments Covenant is distinct from the Levitical law and Davidic Covenant.
  • The Bible refers to the Ten Commandments as a law (Ex 34:28, Deut 4:13, 10:4), and also as a covenant (Ex 24:7, 2 Kings 23:2, 21, 2 Chron 34:30).
  • The book of Deuteronomy means, “second law” because of the re-statement of the ten commandments in Deut 5:6-21 (and Deut 27:15-28). It often refers to the Israelite Covenant (Deut 4:13, 23, 31, 5:2, 3, 7:2, 9, 12, 8:18, 9:9, 11, 15, 10:8, 17:2, 29:1, 9, 14, 21, 31:9, 16, 20, 26, 33:9) and is a re-statement and expansion of the Moral Law based around the 10 Commandments. For completeness only, I include an analysis of Deuteronomy below.
  • Preamble Deut 1:1-5
  • Historical prologue Deut 1:6 – 4:49
  • General stipulations Deut 5 – 11
  • Specific stipulations Deut 12 – 26
  • Blessings and Curses Deut 27 – 28
  • Witnesses Deut 30:15-20
  • Deposition of Text Deut 31:9, 24-26
  • Public reading Deut 31:10-13
  • Lawsuits against vassals Deut 32

The specific stipulations listed above can be broken down more precisely into sections dealing with each of the commandments.

1 & 2:      Deut 12:1 – 31 – Worship
3:  Deut 13:1 – 14:27 – name of God
4:  Deut 14:28 – 16:17 – Sabbath
5:  Deut 16:18 – 18:22 – Authority
6:  Deut 19:1 – 22:8 – Homicide/murder
7:  Deut 22:9 – 23:19 – Adultery
8:  Deut 23:20 – 24:7 – Theft
9:  Deut 24:8 – 25:4 – False Charges
10: Deut 25:5 – 16 – Coveting

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