In the spirit of my previous question, what's the point of the tenth commandment?

In Matthew 5:21-22 Christ reveals the true application of the sixth commandment:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment (ESV)

And in vs. 27-28 he reveals the true application of the seventh:

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Essentially what Jesus was doing was elaborating on these commandments - and teachings on the Ten Commandments (especially the second table) traditionally do so as well (see the Westminster Confession, for example): the fifth commandment tells us to honor and respect superiors and leaders, the sixth not to hate, the seventh not to lust, ect.

But when we come to the eighth commandment: "Thou shalt not steal" - it would seem the logical elaboration on it would be "lusting" after possessions in the same way that the seventh commandment ("wife stealing", in a sense) covers lusting after a woman. In other words, it seems like coveting - the tenth commandment - is already "covered" by the eighth commandment. I'm not saying the tenth commandment is unimportant, but it seems to me that if you're going to include coveting, why not include a prohibition against pornography or lust?

TL;DR: Why the tenth commandment when it's covered by the eighth?

As with my 2nd commandment question, i've got a general idea of what I think about it. However, i'm going to let this one sit and see if I can get better answers than what I've thought of. If nothing comes, i'll answer it myself. Cheers! :)

  • The Catholic version of the ten commandments has as its tenth a commandment against coveting a neighbor's wife. Most Protestant listings of the ten commandments do not have the 10th, as it is really one part of the 9th.
    – Narnian
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 18:52

3 Answers 3


In the story of the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus asks the man what commandments he has kept from his youth. He responds with the complete "second table" - i.e. those command which represent man's duty to man, rather than his duty to God - minus one. The young man admits that he hadn't lied, killed, stolen, committed adultery, and honored his parents - but doesn't mention that he avoid covetousness. And, Jesus knew this about him.

That is why Jesus told the young man, "Go, sell all that you have, and follow me."

In telling the young man to divest himself of all he owned, he was telling the young man that he must learn to lean on God, and not his own power.

Stealing says, "Things should be mine." It is a kind of pride that says "I deserve this." God says, "I have given you what you need."

Covetousness says, "If only I had the resources, I could meet my own needs." God says, "I am your only need." It is not a sense of entitlement - It is a sense of self-sufficiency, the opposite of the interdependent relationship that God would have.

The "point" of the prohibition on covetousness was simply this - God is all we need. Absent God, we can never have what we need to live a full life. With God, we need nothing else.

  • 2
    +1 bingo! that's exactly what I was thinking, but you brought it out even further! It's like God's saying "okay, you thought you were good? You thought since you hadn't murdered or lied or stolen you were okay? Guess what! I'm extending these commandments to your mind, too! If you even think about stealing, you are guilty." Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 3:14

A lot of the commandments are redundant. Jesus sums it up pretty well in Matthew.

Matthew 22:34-40

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

That last line is saying the other commandments are related to 1) Love God and 2) Love People. So you're right in saying that some commandments are covered by other ones.

  • Sure, the commandments are generally lumped under the two tables. But the second table (love your neighbor) at least seems split up naturally (respect your elders, don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't lie, don't steal) so it seems odd that there's overlap between stealing and coveting - and not just the generic overlap of "love your neighbor", but the complete overlap - seems like coveting could be wholly swallowed by "do not steal" whereas there's only partial overlap between the rest of the commandments. Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 2:15
  • 2
    I can see how they are strongly related but coveting is not swallowed up by stealing (or even vice versa). You can covet something and not steal it. And you can steal something that you don't even want.
    – styfle
    Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 2:23
  • sure, just like you can murder someone you don't hate and hate someone but not murder them. My point is that in the same way that "thou shalt not murder" encompasses hatred (see OP), stealing encompasses coveting. so why include coveting? Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 2:27

I believe the point he is trying to get across here is that one should really be following the spirit of the commandments, not the letter of them. If you get the point, he really doesn't need to go on through all 10 of them.

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