Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Ten Commandments

Some Protestants accuse the Catholic Church of having dropped one of the 10 Commandments. "You're idolators! You worship statues! And because you do, your Church dropped the commandment against graven images!"

The truth, of course, is that the Catholic Church did not and could not change the Ten Commandments. Latin Catholics and Protestants simply list them differently. It is incredible that such a pernicious lie could be so easily spread and believed, especially since the truth could easily be determined by just looking into the matter. But the rumor lives.

Now, below are the ways in which Protestants and Roman Catholics enumerate the Commandments:

Most common Protestant listing:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy
Honour thy father and thy mother
Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour
Thou shalt not covet

Latin Catholic listing:

Thou shalt not have other gods besides Me
Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain
Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day
Honor thy father and thy mother
Thou shalt not murder
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods

So what the heck? What did happen to the commandment about graven images in the Catholic listing? Did the Church just "drop" a commandment?

Um, no. The Old Testament was around long before the time of the Apostles, and the Decalogue, which is found in three different places in the Bible (Exodus 20 and Exodous 34 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21), has not been changed by the Catholic Church. Chapter and verse divisions are a medieval invention, however, and numbering systems of the Ten Words (Commandments), the manner in which they are grouped, and the "short-hand" used for them, vary among various religious groups. Exodus 20 is the version most often referred to when one speaks of the Ten Commandments, so it will be our reference point here. Here's how the relevant portion of Exodus 20 reads:

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill. 1
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.

So we have 16 verses and Ten Commandments (this we know because of Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 which speak of the "Ten Words" of God). How to group these verses and Commands? Different groups have handled this differently.

When the Commandments are listed, they are often listed in short-hand form, such that, for ex., verses 8, 9, 10 and 11 concerning the Sabbath become simply "Remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy." Because Latin Catholics group 3, 4, 5 and 6 together as all pertaining to the concept "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me," we are accused of having "dropped" the commandment against idols. That Eastern Catholics list the Commandments differently never enters the equation for people who think this way; they are simply against those they probably call the "Romish popers" and that's that (I hope it doesn't bother them that Jews would accuse them of totally forgetting the First Commandment, or that Latin Catholics could accuse some Protestants of skipping lightly over the commandments against lust. And why don't the Protestants who have a problem with our numbering system go after the Lutherans for the same thing, anyway?).

Bottom line:

  • chapter and verse numbering in the Bible came about in the Middle Ages
  • the Catholic Church (which includes Eastern Catholics, too) has two different numbering systems for the Commandments given, one agreeing with the most common Protestant enumeration;
  • the Latin Church's numbering is the most common in the Catholic Church and is the one referred to by Protestants who, ignoring Eastern Catholic Churches, accuse the Catholic Church of having dropped a Commandment;
  • no Commandment has been dropped, in any case, but the Latin Church's shorthand for the Commandments looks different than the typical Protestant version because of how the Commandments are grouped;
  • everyone knows how to find Exodus 20 in the Bible, anyway. 

we don't care how they are grouped together; we only care that they are understood and obeyed -- not because we are under the Old Testament Moral and Ceremonial Law with its legalism and non-salvific ritual (we aren't!), but because we are to obey God as children of the New Covenant, whose moral law includes the Two Great Commandments (to love God and to love our neighbor) which surpass the Decalogue, and whose Sacraments surpass empty ritual, being media of grace.

God Bless


  1. a fellow parishionerMarch 4, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    The Hebrew scripture often refers to the "two tablets" and what is important to know is that when God had given the tablets to Moses on Mt Sinai, the 10 "utterances" were listed 5 on one tablet and 5 on the opposite tablet. The first 5 dealing with honor to God and the 2nd 5 utterances pertaining to neighbor. So the 10 utterances can be reduced to two Commandments in the purest form: love thy God with all thy heart, mind, and strength. And ... Love thy neighbor as thyself. To murder someone is not so much in violation of our neighbor, but God Himself who gives life and takes it away. When a person murders another, he is attacking God as that person was created in God's image. It is the most severe form of profanity and transgression against the Lord.