The Meaning of Exodus 20:3 Explained

Exodus 20:3

KJV: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

YLT: 'Thou hast no other Gods before Me.

Darby: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

ASV: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

What does Exodus 20:3 Mean?

Verse Meaning

"The Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches follow Augustine in making Exodus 20:2-6 the first commandment, and then dividing Exodus 20:17, on covetousness, into two. Modern Judaism makes Exodus 20:2 the first commandment and Exodus 20:3-6 the second. The earliest division, which can be traced back at least as far as Josephus, in the first century A.D, takes Exodus 20:3 as the first command and Exodus 20:4-6 as the second. This division was supported unanimously by the early church, and is held today by the Eastern Orthodox and most Protestant churches." [1]
Some scholars have argued that the first commandment comprises Exodus 20:3-6, the second Exodus 20:7, etc, and the tenth commandment begins, "You shall not covet your neighbor"s wife" in Exodus 20:17 b. [2] Most scholars do not accept this view.
This commandment was a call to monotheism and faithfulness to the Lord. Israel was to have no other gods besides Yahweh. He was not just to be the first among several (henotheism) but the only One (monotheism; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 14:15; James 2:19; 1 John 5:20-21).
"Yahweh had opened himself to a special relationship with Israel, but that relationship could develop only if Israel committed themselves to Yahweh alone. Yahweh had rescued them and freed them, delivered them and guided them, then come to them. The next step, if there was to be a next step, belonged to them. If they were to remain in his Presence, they were not to have other gods." [3]

Context Summary

Exodus 20:1-17 - The "ten Words" Spoken At Sinai
The Law was given by the disposition of angels, through the medium of Moses. See John 1:17; Acts 7:53. It tells us, not what God is, for that is only shown in Jesus Christ, but what man should be. It combines in a concise form that moral code which is part of the nature of things, and is written on man's conscience. See Romans 2:5. Even the Fourth Commandment is deeply graven on our physical nature. These laws are mostly negative, but their positive side is stated in Matthew 5:1-48. For practical purposes this divine code consists of two divisions or tables; the first, of our duties toward God; the second, of those to man; but these are summed up in the one great law of love. See Mark 12:29-31; Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:14. Our Lord Jesus stands surety for us at the bar of Sinai. By His righteousness imputed and imparted, by His obedience and death, by the gracious indwelling of His Spirit, He comes "not to destroy, but to fulfill." See Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:4. [source]

Chapter Summary: Exodus 20

1  The ten commandments are spoken by Jehovah
18  The people are afraid, but Moses comforts them
21  Idolatry is forbidden
23  Of what sort the altar should be

What do the individual words in Exodus 20:3 mean?

No shall have You gods other before Me
לֹֽ֣א יִהְיֶֽה־ לְךָ֛֩‪‬ אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים עַל־ פָּנָֽ֗יַ‪‬

לֹֽ֣א  No 
Parse: Adverb, Negative particle
Root: הֲלֹא 
Sense: not, no.
יִהְיֶֽה־  shall  have 
Parse: Verb, Qal, Imperfect, third person masculine singular
Root: אֶהְיֶה 
Sense: to be, become, come to pass, exist, happen, fall out.
אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים  gods 
Parse: Noun, masculine plural
Root: אֱלֹהִים  
Sense: (plural).
אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים  other 
Parse: Adjective, masculine plural
Root: אַחֵר  
Sense: another, other, following.
עַל־  before 
Parse: Preposition
Root: עַל 
Sense: upon, on the ground of, according to, on account of, on behalf of, concerning, beside, in addition to, together with, beyond, above, over, by, on to, towards, to, against.
פָּנָֽ֗יַ‪‬  Me 
Parse: Noun, masculine plural construct, first person common singular
Root: לִפְנֵי 
Sense: face.