The bible passages

Exodus 20:17

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.


Deuteronomy 5:21

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

both talk about covet/desire. Also, every version of the ten commandments (at least the ones I came across) forbid in some sense the desire of your neighbor's property and/or wife.

In this context, is the desire forbidden or just acting upon the desire?

  • 2
    A short presentation of the traditional Jewish view can be found here.
    – user46876
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 20:39

2 Answers 2


I think your answers lays in the New Testament where Jesus explained how "10 commandments" work in practical use and not just in theory (also today's problem, not just Pharisees in Jesus's time) - Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:27-30 NIV Adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Isn't looking at somebody lustfully a desire? For me it is.
Sin happens in our hearts/mind and we are already guilty of it, even if we didnt "act", but we acted in our hearts and our Creator knows our heart.

That is why:

29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

That is why sanctification and purification is needed daily so our mind and heart are clean of sinful thoughts.

Hope this can help brother.

  • 1
    Good answer. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Jesus intensified the Law. Man looks at the outward appearance but God judges the heart. Commented May 7, 2020 at 10:20

The Tenth Commandment does not forbid desires; it forbids desires for the wrong things.

  1. We can know this by examining the meaning of this Hebrew word.
    -From Strong's concordance [H2530], this meaning: "to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in" https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H2530&t=KJV

  2. We can also know this by examining other verses that use the same Hebrew word translated "covet" in Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21. [These verses are from the King James Version. The words in bold print are translated from this same Hebrew word.]

    • Genesis 2:9: “And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
    • Psalm 68:16: “Why leap ye, ye high hills? this is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the LORD will dwell in it for ever.”

      • Here, God is described as "desiring"--coveting--something.
    • Psalm 19:10: “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”

      • This speaks of the commandments of God.
    • Isaiah 53:2: “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”
      • Christians view this verse as a prophecy of Jesus.

I believe Scriptures teach that the object of the affection defines whether or not I am coveting in violation of God's law; not the desire itself.

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