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I know it's maybe not the most important thing in Christianity but I still got curious. We know that Moses got from God two tablets with the Ten Commandments. So how many Commandments were on each tablet?

I searched the internet and most answers are that there were 5 Commandments on the first tablet and 5 on the second one. I didn't find any good proof for it, however.

And on some old art, there are actually 3 Commandments on the first tablet and 7 on the second one, for example:

What is the tradition and reason for depicting the tablets this way?

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    The text does not state the details therefore this question can only ever be a matter of opinion. My own conjecture is four (God-related) on one side and six (man-related) on the other. Then two copies as it is a covenant between two parties, one table for each party.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 9, 2023 at 7:52
  • Just for chuckles, from Mel Brook's "History of the World, Part 1 (bit.ly/3KafjDS) Feb 15, 2023 at 21:24

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How many Commandments were on each of Moses tablets?

Simply question, but it is complicated!

Artistic renditions of the Ten Commandments are in several ways and in various numbering systems from 5 and 5, 4 and 6, to 3 and 7. Occasionally artists will place all Ten Commandments one simply one tablet.

enter image description here

We know there are Ten Words. Yahweh wrote them with his finger on two tablets of stone (Exod 31:18; 34:1). But the church has never agreed on how to count to ten.

The Bible doesn’t give a decisive answer. There are twelve negative imperatives in Exodus 20:1–17, and one of the ten (“Honor thy father and mother”) doesn’t include any negatives. To make ten, Augustine combined the prohibition of images with the prohibition of idolatry and argued there were two commandments against coveting. Origen separated the prohibition of false gods from the command against images and counted only one command against coveting. Roman Catholics and Lutherans follow Augustine; Reformed churches follow Origen. I follow the Reformed numbering, with an Orthodox modification: Yahweh’s declaration “I am Yahweh your God” is part of the First Word, not a “preface” (as in Westminster Larger Catechism, q. 101). - Why is Counting the Ten Commandments so Difficult?

Some older renditions featuring the 3 and 7 numbering system seems to some (myself included) to possibly be the most accurate. The first three Commandments are the longest phrased Commandments out of the group, comprising of approximately 50% of the literary volume.

On top of that the first three Commandments deal with God; while the last seven Commandments deal with sins involving fellow human beings.

The three commandments on the first stone tablet are concerned with God. Nothing could be more important for the life of the believer, and so it is not surprising that these three precepts are interpreted as telling Christians and Jews not only how they should behave, but more importantly, as giving them knowledge of fundamental characteristics of the deity. Since God was the creator of the universe, this also tells believers something about the universe in which they live. Although the nature of God is the overarching theme of this chapter, we will approach the material by looking at each commandment in turn, rather than simply gathering together what they tell us as a whole. This will allow us to get a sense of how medieval commentators approached the Decalogue, which includes how they thought the precepts fitted together.

To make matters more confusing, we’re never told what was on each of the two stone tablets. Following Augustine, Caesarius of Arles said the first tablet contained three commandments; the second, seven. Origen and others divided the commandments into four and six. Perhaps all Ten Words were on both tablets, a double witness to Yahweh’s covenant with Israel. We can sort through some of these debates by paying close attention to the text of Exodus 20. Whatever the two tablets contained, literarily the Ten Words aren’t divided as 3 + 7 or 4 + 6, but in half, 5 + 5. - Source

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that three Commandments were written on the first tablet and seven on the second tablet.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us precisely what I have just said here:

The division and numbering of the commandments have varied in the course of history. The present catechism follows the division of the commandments established by St. Augustine, which has become traditional in the Catholic Church. It is also that of the Lutheran confessions. The Greek Fathers worked out a slightly different division, which is found in the Orthodox Churches and Reformed communities.

The ten commandments state what is required in the love of God and love of neighbor. The first three concern love of God, and the other seven love of neighbour.

As charity comprises the two commandments to which the Lord related the whole Law and the prophets . . . so the ten commandments were themselves given on two tablets. Three were written on one tablet and seven on the other (2066-2067).

How to Split the Ten Commandments

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    This of course depends upon how one numbers them. Feb 9, 2023 at 1:03
  • Thank you for explanation. It was always a bit confusing for me why there are so many versions of Commandments in different Christian traditions, now it's more clear.
    – RRM
    Feb 9, 2023 at 20:30
  • @RayButterworth ∃ a diversity of numberings of them?
    – Geremia
    Feb 10, 2023 at 0:02
  • @Geremia. There are several variations. Jews and most Protestants number the Sabbath as the fourth. I suspect the numbering mentioned above is the Catholic version, which combines idolatry(#2) and blasphemy(#3) into one commandment (#2), making the Sabbath be the third, and splits coveting (#10) into two commandments (#9 and #10). ¶ Either way, the idea is that the first tabled ended with the Sabbath, and the second began with family Honour. Feb 10, 2023 at 1:17
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The tablets were depicted by artists that way because until recent times we did not know what the protocol of making covenants in the ancient Middle East looked like. There were all ten commandments on each of the tablets. The legal procedure of cutting the covenant required a copy of terms for each side that was involved. One copy for God and one for the people of Israel. Both had the text written on both sides (Exodus 32:15). Both copies were kept as the testimony in the tent, which was God's dwelling place and Israelite temple at the same time.

"In the ancient Near East when two kings or a king and a vassal made a treaty, each received a complete copy of that treaty. For example, there is a treaty between the Hittite king and King Bitani of Mesopotamia from 1350 BCE, of which they found two copies in two different places or the famous Ramses II of Egypt with a Hittite king from 1269 BCE. The Egyptian copy was found in Egypt and the Hittite copy was found in Turkey. They are both identical and in each case the treaty was deposited in the temple."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian%E2%80%93Hittite_peace_treaty

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The two tablets contained the ten commandments as naturally divided by their application. The first tablet contained the four commandments which address mankind's relationship to God. The second tablet contained the six commandments which address mankind's relationship to fellow human beings.

The summary statements made of the Ten Commandments help to confirm this arrangement. As Jesus summarized them:

29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:29-31, KJV)

The "first" and "second" commandments here actually reference these two "tablets" of commandments.

The second tablet of commandments, that which contains the commandments applying to inter-human relationships, is law in most countries of the world. But the first tablet, that which addresses one's relationship to God, is considered within the realm of individual conscience and freedom of religion; most countries make no law in keeping with these first four commandments.

Artists are not necessarily theologians, and frequently err in portraying Biblical truths. But the Bible explains itself, and God's law has two sections addressing our love to God and our love to each other. These sections were each on their own tablet.

Conclusion

There were four commandments, addressing our love and service to God, on the first tablet. There were six commandments, addressing our relationships to each other, on the second tablet.

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  • Catholics would agree with this answer if it were divided 3 and 7, as in the image in Ken Graham's answer. (The commandments on each tablet would be the same, but the numbering would be different.) Feb 11, 2023 at 4:03
  • @RayButterworth Catholics would not have the same commandments because they removed one of the first four to accommodate their worship style and then split the last one into two to make up the lack and still have ten. And that rearrangement is why they would have a 3+7 configuration. In reality, they only have nine of the original ten.
    – Biblasia
    Feb 11, 2023 at 12:30
  • Agreed in principle. My point was that without explicit numbers, if the commandments were written out in full, the text on the tablets would be divided after the Sabbath commandment, regardless of how one chooses to number them. Catholics would say it's after the 3rd, and you'd say it's after the 4th, but you'd agree on the actual location of the division. Feb 11, 2023 at 13:15

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