Have you ever noticed how often the title of Ten Commandments is used to list the most important rules of everything from buying a car to earning money on the internet? When I wrote Ten Essential Words, I set up a Google alert to let me know what was trending online for the phrase “Ten Commandments.” Each week I am amazed at how often this phrase is applied to any topic imaginable. Here are just a few examples:
- The Ten Commandments of a Happy Marriage
- The Ten Commandments of Dating
- The Ten Commandments of Money
- The Ten Commandments of Twitter
- Google’s Ten Commandments
- The Ten Commandments of Dog Ownership
- The Ten Commandments of Cruise Ship Buffets (for those who consider buffets a religious experience, I suppose)
You get the idea. One way to make your list the definitive list is to attach the moniker The Ten Commandments of [insert topic here]. Atheists have even felt the need to come up with their own ten commandments.
So what makes the idea of listing ten items such an enduring one? After all, there were many more laws and commands in the Old Testament than just the traditional Ten Commandments. As I write in Ten Essential Words:
Oddly enough, the Bible never explicitly gives these statements the title we have given them – the Ten Commandments. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the phrase that is used is aseret devarim, which literally means “ten words.” The root Hebrew word davar, however, has a wide range of meaning from the simple idea of a word to the more encompassing ideas of statements, speeches, and commands. So our English version of the Bible interprets “ten words” as the phrase “ten commandments.”
Yet there is something exceptional about this list. At a time when ideas were passed down orally, it is notable that God instructed Moses to write this list down – carve them in stone. God did not want the Israelites to forget this list. Additionally, at a time when nobody could really walk around with stone tablets to refer to, a list of ten words or phrases could be easily memorized and recalled.
Today’s modern society does not memorize much of anything anymore. Thanks to the internet and smart phones, all we have to do is google a topic in order to recall it. Studies show that we moderns can recall two or three main points, far less than a list of ten. Jesus reduced this list of ten commands down to two: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.
Still, there is something enduring about taking a complex issue and reducing it down to ten bullet points. Perhaps this explains why the label, The Ten Commandments of…, will continue to serve as the defining list for any and every topic, be it dating or cruise ship buffets.