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Who wrote the Ten Commandments onto the second set of tablets?

Posted on Feb.08, 2010. Filed in Exodus. Average rating: 3.8 / 10 (Rate It).

When Moses descended from the mountain having been given the ten commandments, he found that in his absence the Israelites had committed idolatry by making and worshipping a golden calf. In his anger, he broke the tablets on which the commandments were written. God provided a second set, but Exodus appears to contradict itself concerning who actually wrote the ten commandments onto the second set of tablets.First, God says that he will write the ten commandments on the second set of tablets himself:

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. [Exodus 34:1, NRSV]

When it comes to it, however, it is Moses who does the writing:

The Lord said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. He was there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. [Exodus 34:27-28, NRSV]

So who wrote the ten commandments on the second set of tablets? Did God write them himself, or was it Moses that did the writing?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Amtiskaw

    NIV Study Bible suggests the “he” in “he wrote on the tablets” refers to God.

  2. 2
    Errancy

    My initial instinct is that that isn’t very satisfactory. The word “he” is used three times in quick succession: “He was there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.”

    On the first two occasions, the “he” clearly refers to Moses; it wasn’t the Lord who was with the Lord for forty days and nights, or who neither ate bread nor drank water. So shouldn’t we take the third “he” to refer to Moses too?

    I think I can grudgingly accept that this is too pedantic. Given that other verses are clear that God did or was going to do the writing, I think we should probably apply the principle of charity and accept that the third “he” refers to God.

    In that case, there’s another possible charge: that the passage doesn’t contain a factual error, but it does contain a grammatical error. That would probably be unfair though, we shouldn’t expect an ancient text to follow modern rules of grammar.

    So despite my initial instinct, I don’t think that there’s a contradiction or error here. To argue that there is, I’d have to hold the Bible to an inappropriate standard and wilfully misread it, and then the error wouldn’t be the Bible’s but mine.

  3. 3
    WisdomLover

    I think that the text reads as if Moses wrote on the second set of the two tables. 34:27 has God clearly commanding Moses to write. Then in 34:28, the text reports that he wrote. So I don’t think that the inerrantist response above works.

    I also don’t think that this implies that Exodus 34 contains a contradiction.

    You might start by asking “What did God write on the first set of tablets with His own finger?”

    Whatever the answer to that question is also the answer to this question: “What writing did God replicate on the second set of tablets?”

    Here’s what Exodus 31:18 has to say about what God wrote the first time around:

    “When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.”

    This is after a very long revelation of laws and ordinances to Moses for the Israelites. God had already spoken the Ten Commandments themselves directly to the people of Israel long before that (40 days). What God revealed only to Moses:

    a) Did not even include the Ten Commandments.
    b) Goes well beyond the Ten Commandments.

    So the text seems to suggest that it was this longer code, spoken exclusively to Moses on Sinai, that God wrote with his own finger. The tablets might not even have contained the Ten Commandments!

    To add further support to this idea, notice that God wrote on both sides of the tablets (Exodus 32:15). He had a lot more to jot down than just the Ten Commandments.

    God added a number of additional statutes in Exodus 34 and commanded Moses to write them down. Moses did this, perhaps adding the Ten Commandments themselves, with his own chisel, to the second set of tablets.

  4. 4
    Errancy

    “I think that the text reads as if Moses wrote on the second set of the two tables. 34:27 has God clearly commanding Moses to write…” [WL]

    Ah yes, so it does. I think you’re correct: any reasonable answer to this will have to accept that Moses did the writing in 34:28.

  5. 5
    WisdomLover

    I might add that “written with the finger of God”, which is used several places to describe the first set of tablets, tends to rule out the idea that God wrote through Moses the first time around (unless it’s possible to support the idea that “the finger of God” is one of Moses’ titles…which I very much doubt).

    And Exodus 34:1 really makes it look, at least in translation, as though what happened the first time around is also going to happen the second time. Admittedly, that is not decisive. But it does seem to suggest that the God-wrote-through-Moses defense is a bit weak.

  6. 6
    Errancy

    Good observation. It’s a shame, though, as I think that would have been the most straightforward harmonisation, had it been tenable.

  7. 7
    AC

    Who wrote the Ten Commandments the second time, Moses or God???

    This is the golden question that MUST be answered, people are watching…silently.

    There are no contradictions in the Bible…NONE!!!

    Let’s break it down.

    Exodus 34:1,28 (NKJV)

    1 – And the LORD said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I (God) will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke.

    Exodus 34:1 establishes that it was God who wrote the tablets.

    28 – So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He (God) wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

    The NKJV states *He*. The NLT states *Lord* while most other translations state *he*

    Some commentary state that *he* is Hebrew for *Lord*

    I didn’t see anyone refer to Deuteronomy where it helps us fully establish *WHO* did write the *Ten*

    Deuteronomy 10:1-4 (NKJV)
    1 – “At that time the LORD said to me, ‘Hew for yourself two tablets of stone ***like the first,*** and come up to Me on the mountain and make yourself an ark of wood.

    2 – And I (God) will write on the tablets the words that were on the ***first tablets,*** which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.’

    3 – “So I made an ark of acacia wood, hewed two tablets of stone ***like the first,*** and went up the mountain, having the two tablets in my hand.

    4 – And He(God) ***wrote on the tablets*** according to the ***first writing,*** the Ten Commandments, which the LORD had spoken to you in the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me.

    These verses establish beyond doubt that ***God wrote*** the second tablets as well.

    I would also like to reveal fresh revelation that helps to support the above verses.

    In John 8 begining in verse 6 we read:

    6 – This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with *** His finger,*** (the finger of God) as though He did not hear.

    7 – So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

    8 – And again He stooped down and ***wrote on the ground.*** (the finger of God)

    As you see, Jesus had to *stoop down twice* to write on the ground (stone). This corresponds with God having to *come down twice* to write on stone.

    These verses help to confirm that God indeed wrote the second set of tablets…Hallelujah!!!

    Scripture does indeed interpret and support Scripture.

  8. 8
    Errancy

    Thanks for drawing in these other verses. I may expand the post at some point to include some of them.

    One thing to clarify: Despite the post title, the question here isn’t so much “Who wrote the Ten Commandments on the second set of tablets?”, as “Is the Bible consistent in its account of who wrote the Ten Commandments on the second set of tablets?”.

    Exodus 34:1 appears to suggest that it was going to be God. Exodus 34:28 appears to say that it was actually Moses. So do these verses contradict each other?

    Citing Deuteronomy 10:4, which appears to support Exodus 34:1 by saying that it was God who wrote on the second set of tablets, may answer the first question (“Who wrote the Ten Commandments on the second set of tablets?”) for those who believe that the Bible is inerrant. It shifts the balance of the biblical evidence in one direction, perhaps making clear what would otherwise be unclear, perhaps even (for Bible-believers) “establish[ing] beyond doubt that God wrote the second tablets as well” (as you put it).

    However, it doesn’t do as much to answer our question (“Is the Bible consistent in its account of who wrote the Ten Commandments on the second set of tablets?”); it leaves the problem of apparent inconsistency intact, perhaps even adding to it: Whatever Deuteronomy 10:4 says, Exodus 34:28 still appears to say that it was Moses who wrote on the second set of tablets, and now we have to reconcile that not only with Exodus 34:1 but also with Deuteronomy 10:4.

  9. 9
    WisdomLover

    I think my argument still stands that God commanded Moses to write a postscript on the second set of tablets.

    Thanks to Deuteronomy 10:4, though, it does appear that the original (and therefore the second) tablets included the ten commandments written by the finger of God.

    Exodus 34:28 makes it clear that the postscript that God commanded Moses to write also contained the ten commandments.

    It is also quite clear as well that both the original message and the postscript included more than the ten commandments.

  10. 10
    AC

    ER & WL

    >>> Exodus 34:1 appears to suggest that it was going to be God. Exodus 34:28 appears to say that it was actually Moses. So do these verses contradict each other?

    No they do not. The problem is in how you are reading it. I have already stated that commentaries cite the third *he* as Hebrew identifying it as the Lord or God. The third *he* is preceded by *And*, indicating a different *he* (He-God) not the same *he* (Moses)

    28 – So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. ***And*** He (God) wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

    >>> I think my argument still stands that God commanded Moses to write a postscript on the second set of tablets. <<<

    Then you are completely dismissing Deuteronomy 10:2,4

    2 – And ***I (God)*** will write on the tablets the words that were on the ***first tablets,*** which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.’

    4 – And ***He(God)*** / ***wrote on the tablets*** according to the ***first writing,*** the Ten Commandments, which the LORD had spoken to you in the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me.

  11. 11
    WisdomLover

    AC-

    I think you’re misreading my view.

    I agree with you that whatever God wrote with his own finger on the first set of tablets, God replicated, again with His own finger, on the second set of tablets. I was also convinced by your argument in your earlier post that this does include the Ten Commandments. I think that view does full justice to the Deuteronomy 10 passages.

    What I was noticing was that in Exodus 34:27 God says to Moses “Write these words”. Then in Exodus 34:28 you have “And he wrote…” The “he” there is pretty clearly Moses who was commanded to write in v27.

    I do not think this implies a contradiction, though, because I think God told Moses to write (at least partially) new words that were not on the original tablets above and beyond what God had already written with his own finger. This postscript also contains the Ten commandments as is abundantly clear in Exodus 34:28.

    If you like, here is a timeline:

    1) God speaks the 10 C’s to Israel.
    2) Moses goes up into the mountain.
    3) God speaks all sorts of additional statutes to Moses for the next 40 days
    4) With His own finger, God writes the original stone tablets containing all of this long code + the 10 C’s.
    5) Moses comes down from the mountain.
    6) Moses sees Israel’s sin and smashes the original tablets.
    7) Moses returns to the mountain.
    8) Per God’s command, Moses cuts out new tablets.
    9) With His own finger, God replicates the writing from the original tablets onto the new ones.
    10) God speaks some additional ordinances to Moses (See Exodus 34:10-26).
    11) God commands Moses to write those additional words onto the new tablets.
    12) Moses writes those additional words + the 10 C’s onto the new tablets.

  12. 12
    Scott

    I just came upon this site this evening, and this supposed contradiction as to who wrote the Ten Commandments.

    Reading carefully the whole context, we see that God has been giving Moses a whole series of instructions, in addition to the ten laws, including those in the verses that immediately precede Ex. 34:27. These are among the many words, which God refers to here, that He asks Moses to write, in a book, the book of the covenant (Ex. 24:4, 7). That’s just a start. I recommend that you take it much further, with some good Bible study helps. Let me just add that it’s vital to study all the related scriptures on a given topic before you come to a conclusion as to what a difficult verse means.

    The Bible in its original language is inerrant. This is what the Bible claims, directly and indirectly, over and over again. If it is not the inspired word of our Maker, which it claims to be, in no uncertain terms, over and over, then we might as well throw it away. Its Author challenges us unequivocally to prove Him, to put to the test His promises, and the authenticity of His Authorship of the Bible.

    By the way, anyone, especially a so-called theologian, who claims that the Bible does not claim what I have just said it does claim, simply does not know what he is talking about. Always keep in mind the astonishment of the “theologians” in Jesus’ day who were astonished at the knowledge of His disciples whom they took as “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13, KJV)

    Over time, with His help, I have found that the list of so-called errors just keeps dwindling away. Not that we can expect to answer every last one of them in this life. However, as you persevere in prayerful study of His Instruction Book, the right, clear, beautifully sound, and inspiring answers will mount up higher and higher, and you’ll find the evidence overwhelming that indeed the Bible was “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:15-17), and be confident that your Maker didn’t contradict Himself anywhere when He set about preserving His message for you and me, and all mankind.

    Just wait on Him, for, as the old saying goes, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

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