Who Wrote on the Second Pair of Tablets?
After Moses broke the first tablets of stone that the Lord gave him on Mount Sinai, God commanded him to cut out two tablets of stone (like the first ones) and present himself to Him at the top of Mount Sinai—again (Exodus 34:1-2). Skeptics claim the Bible teaches in Exodus 34 that Moses wrote on this second pair of tablets, whereas in Deuteronomy 10 it says that God is the One Who wrote on these tablets. Based upon this “difference,” they allege that a blatant contradiction exists. A closer examination of these passages, however, reveals that they are not contradictory, but rather complimentary and consistent with each other.
We readily admit that Deuteronomy 10 teaches that God was the One Who wrote on the second pair of tablets. Verses 1-4 of that chapter say:
At that time the Lord said to me (Moses), “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. 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.” So I [Moses] 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. 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 (Deuteronomy 10:1-4, emp. and parenthetical items added).
This passage teaches that Moses hewed the tablets out of rock, but that God was the One Who wrote on them. Skeptics agree.
The controversial passage found in Exodus 34 states: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘ Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ So he was there with the Lord 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” (34:27-28). Based upon this passage, critics of the Bible’s inerrancy suggest that Moses, not God, wrote on the second pair of tablets. Thus they conclude that Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 10 contradict one another.
Admittedly, at first glance it seems these verses teach: (1) that Moses was commanded to write the words on the second pair of tablets; and (2) the recorded fact that after he was commanded to do so, he (Moses) actually “wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant.” But what may seem to be the correct interpretation of a passage is sometimes not the case, especially when the context of the passage is ignored. The words that God instructed Moses to write were “ these words,” which He spoke in the preceding verses (i.e., 34:10-26—the ceremonial and judicial injunctions, not the ten “words” of Exodus 20:2-17). The rewriting of the Ten Commandments on the newly prepared slabs was done by God’s own hand. God specifically stated in the first verse of Exodus 34 that He (not Moses) would write the same words that had been written on the first tablets of stone that Moses broke. In verse 28 of that chapter, we have it on record that God did what He said He would do in verse one (cf. Deuteronomy 10:2-4). The only thing verse 27 teaches is that Moses wrote the list of regulations given in verses 10-26. That these regulations were not the Ten Commandments is obvious in that there are not even ten of them listed (Coffman, 1985, p. 474).
Contrary to what skeptics allege, Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 10 are not contradictory. Moses was not acting under divine direction to physically write the Decalogue on the second pair of tablets. Rather, as Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown recognized in their commentary on Deuteronomy, “God Himself...made the inscription a second time with His own hand, to testify the importance He attached to the Ten Commandments” (1997).
Coffman, James Burton (1985), Commentary on Exodus (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Faussett, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).