Exodus 20 vs. Deuteronomy 5


Some thoughts on the Ten Words as presented in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. This post is not comprehensive, but a beginning of a discussion dealing with apparent contradictions between the two lists. Here is another example where biblical theology can teach us how to read the Scriptures better and explain away supposed contradictions.

This post highlights the difference between the Ten Words in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. I don’t have many sophisticated thoughts here, but I thought I would respond while I was thinking about them.

First of all, the two books do present the Ten Words in different contexts. In Exodus, the words come from Yahweh Himself; in Deuteronomy, the Ten Words are a recitation of what God said at the beginning of an expositional sermon on the Ten Words. Jordan helpfully points out that Deuteronomy 5-27 is a sermon on the Ten Words:

  • 6-11 correspond with the First Word
  • 12-13 correspond with the Second Word
  • 14:1-21a correspond with the Third Word
  • 14:21b-16:17 correspond with the Fourth Word
  • 16:18-18:22 correspond with the Fifth Word
  • 19-22:8 correspond with the Sixth Word
  • 22:9-23:15 correspond with the Seventh Word
  • 23:15-24:7 correspond with the Eighth Word
  • 24:8-25:3 correspond with the Ninth Word
  • 25:4-26:19 correspond with the Tenth Word

Moses’ sermon is not set in the same context as Yahweh’s speech in Exodus. Moses delivers a sermon on the Ten Words as Israel prepares to capture the land of Canaan under Joshua. The land is occupied by an anti-creational group of seven (Deuteronomy 12) with false gods, so only a new creation people centered around a covenant with Yahweh can take the land and give it rest.

That leads us to the first “contradiction”: the Fourth Word, about the Sabbath. In Exodus, the reason for observing the Sabbath is that God rested on the seventh day of creation after six days of work. In Deuteronomy, the reason for observing the Sabbath is that Yahweh brought Israel from Egypt, out of bondage so everybody should rest in remembrance of that. There is no contradiction here: the Exodus is a Creation event. Out of both comes a new people group who were to have a covenant with God: first Adam, then Israel. The Spirit hovered over the waters of the Red Sea (Isaiah 61) as a wind blew a path through the waters, separating land from sea. Both Adam and Israel were led to a mountain where God gave laws. The parallels are numerous, but in biblical theology, there is no problem equating the two.

The next “contradiction” is said to be in the Tenth Word. That Exodus lists land first and Deuteronomy lists a wife first is troubling for many skeptics: for them, it shows that Exodus shows an early tradition where land is more valuable than women are, and Deuteronomy reflects a later tradition. The two are actually a lot more connected than it seems: to covet somebody’s land is wrong because God has plans to let his saints inherit the whole earth. A man who covets another’s land will lose both the land he coveted and his own. A man who protects a wife through levirate marriage not only keeps his land, but gains the land of his deceased brother! A man who fails to protect a widow will lose his sandal, which is his protection from cursed dust, so he will lose both the land he stood to inherit and his own. This may not relieve the charge of sexism weighed against the chapter, but this shows that the two are not set as far apart as they seem. Notice that in Deuteronomy the wife is strongly connected with the firstfruits and the tithe. Woman is the glory of man, just as is the firstfruits of his harvest. To care for both and offer both to Yahweh bring blessing in the land.

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