The Greatest Commandments, Part 8

This is part of a series of posts that studies each of the commandments in the Torah (law), then maps them in a massive visual hierarchy that details their interconnected nature.

Have a look at:

This week we’ll be mapping commandments 27-31, which deal with various forms of idolatry.

No Worshipping Idols

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 20:4-6

Exodus 20 is a listing of the 10 commandments, yet Maimonides extracts several additional commandments from the famous 10. Here is such an example, where, in addition to the commandment not to turn to idols, Maimonides extracts another commandment: “do not worship idols in the manner they are worshiped.”

I’ve derived this commandment from parent “no idols” commandment:


No Bowing To Idols

You shall not bow down to them…

Exodus 20:5a

Connected to the above commandment is yet another commandment derived from the famous 10 commandments: no bowing to idols.

I struggled a bit trying to figure out where to place this commandment. Initially, I considered deriving this commandment from the “no idols” commandment. However, I after asking the question “Is bowing to an idol a form of worship?” I decided that this is related to the above commandment: no bowing to idols is an explicit form of worshipping idols. I’ve derived it as such:


No Making Gods For Yourself

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

-Exodus 20:4

Another commandment extracted from the 10 commandments is the explicit “no making gods for yourself”.

I deem this commandment deriving from the “no idols” commandment:


No Making Gods For Others

Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.

-Leviticus 19:4

Maimonides jumps out of the Decalogue for a moment, presumably to find a sister commandment of the above “no making gods for yourself”. He finds such a commandment, although his interpretation is arguable.

He does so in Lev. 19:4, which has already been classified as the “no idols” commandment. The latter half of this verse is where he pulls this additional commandment: “…or make gods of cast metal for yourselves.”

It is arguable that “for yourselves” doesn’t mean “for others”, but rather, “for self, each of you”. Thus, Exodus 20:4 “don’t make idols for yourself” would simply be a reiteration of Leviticus 19:4.

Maimonides takes a different route: he declares these separate, distinct commandments: Ex. 20 is “no making idols for self”, Lev. 19 is “no making idols for others”.

While I think support for such interpretation is weak at best, I’ve given the respected rabbi the benefit of the doubt on this one, and created a distinct commandment for “no making idols for others.”

I deem this deriving from the “no idols” commandment:


No Making Gods For Decoration

Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

-Exodus 20:23 (20:20 in Hebrew bibles)

The last commandment for today is yet another commandment extracted from the 10 commandments: no gods made from silver or gold.

Maimonides interprets this as “no gods for decorative purposes”, and once again, one may argue against this. I can see one alternative interpretation: “Making gods of valuable materials is also idolatry.” Maybe the difference between these interpretations is negligible.

Initially, I considered deriving this commandment from “no other gods” commandment. After all, the commandment text itself does not mention idols, but rather, gods. However, the text certainly implies idols – fashioned gods of gold and silver – and Maimonides deemed this an commandment on idolatry, so I’ve derived it as such:



Idolatry is a widely-covered topic in the Torah, with 40 some commandments attributed to it – 7% of all commandments are regarding idolatry.

And in the apostolic Scriptures, it is also considered of utmost importance: when discussing Torah and gentiles-turning-to-God, the apostles ruled:

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.

-Acts 15

Despite the weightiness of idolatry in Moses’ day, and even in Messiah’s day, today these commandments seem next-to-useless, as most of western culture does not fashion or worship idols.

However, if one understands idolatry in the larger sense, the western culture is filled with idolatry. In the apostolic Scriptures, we read:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

-Colossians 3

And again it’s written:

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Messiah and of God.

-Ephesians 5

Here, Paul equates sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed with idolatry. Now, those are things that are rampant in western culture, perhaps more than any other place in the world.

Another way to say it is, the western world is more idolatrous than any place on earth, despite not fashioning or worshipping hand-made idols.

Now that’s saying something of our downward-spiraling culture. And with that, we see these commandments on idolatry are still very much relevant for us in modern times.

The Big Picture

Behold, in all its glory, the current snapshot of our work:

GreatestCommandmentsPart8Thumbnail (Click to enlarge)

Here are the stats on the commandments so far:

  • 38 commandments have been mapped.
  • The project is 6% completed.
  • 34% have alternate readings.
  • 23% are from Exodus.
  • 39% are from Leviticus.
  • 5% are from Numbers.
  • 31% are from Deuteronomy.
  • 94% can be carried out in modern times.
  • 5% can be carried out only in Israel.
  • 47% are positive commandments.
  • 52% are negative commandments.
  • 73% are observed by Christians:
    • Of which, 44% obeyed, 15% attempted, 13% recognized.
  • 92% are observed by Messianics:
    • Of which, 65% obeyed, 18% attempted, 7% recognized.
  • 92% are observed by Jews:
    • Of which, 68% obeyed, 15% attempted, 7% recognized.
  • The average commandment length is 134 characters.
  • The average summary length is 27 characters.

Nerd Notes

Kineti reader Nathan Tuggy has done some marvelous work with the commandments open source project. By changing the commandments from ellipses to rounded rectangles, and by introducing word wrapping, he’s cut down on the size of diagram by almost half.

Previously commandment diagrams were over 5000 pixels in width – that’s a huge picture! And with his change they are skimmed down to just over 3000 pixels. Great job, Nate!

A few other notable changes: Coding Wizard Tuggy suggested that some of the data we stored with each commandment was too general. In particular, whether Christians, Jews, and Messianics observed a particular commandment was too general, too broad a question to answer with a simple “yes” or “no”.

To remedy this, he introduced the CommandmentObedience answer type, with 4 possible values:

  • None – the commandment is not observed.
  • Recognized – the commandment is recognized publically as binding, but not widely practiced.
  • Attempted – most in the group attempt to perform this commandment, with varying success.
  • Obeyed – the commandment is both acknowledged and widely obeyed.

This allows for more nuances in answers to questions like “do Christians follow X commandment?” These answers are still very general, but this is at least an improvement over simple “yes” and “no” answers.

And finally, I introduced additional data to store with every commandment: CanBeCarriedOutOnlyInIsrael.

I intend to use this for the handful of commandments that require the observer to live in the land of Israel in order to carry out.

Thanks for reading this far, fine blog readers. Enjoy!


  1. Great project - do let me know when complete - you may like to see the chapters on Torah in theory and Torah in practice in my book "Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach" (Paternoster, 2009) available on amazon etc.

    best regards

    Richard Harvey

  2. Thanks guys, it's encouraging to hear people say, "hey, this is a cool project!"

    It will take quite a while to finish. I'm thinking 2011 or 2012 if I keep up my current pace. :-)