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Why is the wording of Deut. 5:12–16, 21 different from Exodus 20:8–12, 17? Given the fact that the wording for the fourth and tenth commandments differs in Deuteronomy, how shall we explain this if these words were written directly by God while Moses was on the mount? One would expect the wording in Deut. 5:12–16, 21 to agree perfectly with that of Exodus 20:8–12, 17.

Note: this is not a contradiction, but an issue of wording.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:8–12, ESV)

“ ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. 16 “ ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Deut. 5:12–16, ESV)

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, ESV)

“ ‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’ (Deut. 5:21, ESV)

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  • Thank you very much for helping our friend to re-word or re-state this question as you have. Great job! +1.
    – Dottard
    Nov 13, 2021 at 22:18

3 Answers 3

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Exodus 20:

1 And God spoke all these words, saying,

Moses began to quote God verbatim:

2“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before me. ...

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

After God's speech:

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”

People no longer wanted to hear directly from God.

Nearly 40 years later, before Moses died, Deuteronomy 5:

1 And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. 2The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. 4The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, 5while I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said:

Moses claimed divine revelation seemingly based on his recollection and understanding:

6“‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. ...

22 “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.

Again, Moses claimed divine revelation.

Why is the wording of Deut. 5:12–16, 21 different from Exodus 20:8–12, 17?

Both versions were divine revelations. The one in Exodus was verbatim directly from God. The one in Deut. used wordings of Moses revealed to him by God some 40 years later.

The differences once again show that these were genuine records. These were real events that happened in real life in real-time. If Moses had believed in a god of his own creation, he would have made sure that these records were identical.

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There is no definitive answer to this this question but let me proposed three possible/credible reasons for the differences:

1. Stone vs Scroll

We do not have copies of the stone tablets on which the 10 commandments were inscribed by the finger of God. The record we have is a transcription onto parchment from the original stone tablets. Perhaps the two transcriptions were in fact summaries and not verbatim copies resulting in slightly different wording??

2. Spoken vs Written

The record of the 10 commandment in Ex 20 is a record of what God spoke.

Moses first received the written stone tables with the 10 commandments in Ex 31:18 and took them down the mountain in Ex 32:15, 16. However, when Moses saw the revelry in the Israelite camp he smashed the tables of stone and shattered them, Ex 32:19, symbolizing the breaking of the covenant (Ex 34:27, 28, Deut 9:9, 11, 15, see also Ex 31:18, 32:15, 34:29). These were replaced with new stone tables in Ex 34.

It is quite possible that Moses' recording of what God spoke (and subsequently wrote down) vs what was written directly on the stone tablets differed. The next option lends some credibility to this possibility.

3. Moses' Speech

The book of Deuteronomy is, for good reasons, called the "Book of the Law", Deut 28:61, 29:21, 30:10, 31:26, Josh 1:8, 8:31, 34, 24:26, 2 Kings 22:8, 11, 2 Chron 17:9, 25:4, 34:14, 15, Neh 8:1-3, 8, 18, 9:3. It consists of four (possibly three??) speeches of Moses just before he died and is:

  • First Oration: Deut 1:6 – 4:43. Historical background
  • Second Oration: Deut 4:44 – 26:19. The Law of the Ten Commandments expanded
  • Third Oration: Deut 27:1 – 28:68. Blessings and Curses of the law
  • Fourth Oration: Deut 29:1 – 30:20. Renewal of the Covenant

The expansion and elaboration of the law in Deut 4:44 – 26:19 does not pretend to be a verbatim transcript of the 10 commandments but a series of interpretations for the times and culture of the people as they were then - see appendix below. We can see direct evidence for this in the way the Sabbath commandment is stated:

  • Ex 20:8, 9 - Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, ...
  • Deut 5:12, 13 - Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, ...

Note that the record in Deut 5 appears to refer back to the record in Ex 20 suggesting that the record in Deut 5 is more of a paraphrase, while Ex 20 is possibly closer to the original wording.

Thus, we cannot be certain why the wording in Ex 20 and Deut 5 but the above appear credible possibilities. The real reason may have even been a combination of all three reasons.

APPENDIX - Explicit Stipulations, Deut 12-26

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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Both answers given were good and difficult to choose the best. The following is the conclusion to an article that answers this question. Note the similarity in the answers.

The fact that the two accounts differ is an indication that one of the two is not a verbatim presentation of the Decalogue as it was written by “the finger of God” on Mount Sinai. There is nothing in a high view of inspiration that would require that both accounts adhere to a verbatim report, but given the fact that the Decalogue is said to have come in some direct manner from the hand of God, one would assume that at least one of them was a faithful record of that transaction. The most reasonable assumption is that the text of Exodus is the original one and that Moses’ restatement in Deuteronomy is somewhat free. This allowed Moses to present the commandments with some modifications and updating of the situation in light of their pending entrance into the land of Canaan, while still adhering rather closely to the original form. In fact, these differences are very slight and of very little consequence except as viewed against the challenges that present themselves in entering into the land. Deuteronomy also had more of an exhortation character to it along with special attention given to women as taking priority over property. -- Kaiser, W. C., Jr., Davids, P. H., Bruce, F. F., & Brauch, M. T. (1996). "5:12–16, 21 A Different Ten Commandments?" Hard sayings of the Bible (p. 173). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

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