My confessor told me to memorize the Ten Commandments, last week, as an aid to confession. Of course I know them but as a Protestant I never actually memorized them by number and the Catholic Practice of being able to say something like “It is a sin against the sixth commandment” would leave me totally in the dark. Which one was the sixth commandment? Was that the one against adultery or lying? I would have to get out my Bible and try to figure it out. But then I would still be confused because the list differs between Protestants and Catholics. So, I thought I really must memorize the Catholic list. And I did. I don’t think it was part of my penance…but either way I have done it.
Then I started wondering why our lists differ in the first place. I wondered if the Catholic Church used the Jewish list and the Protestants made a point of listing the commandment against idolatry in order to use it against the Catholic Church. And that does seem to be exactly the case regarding the accusation about the Catholic Church dropping the commandment against idolatry . But there was more info on this issue so I want to pass it on to you.
This article is from Fish Eaters. An excellent Catholic Defender website. I recommend a visti. I have edited their article below in a few places but it is for the most part their excellent explanation.
Q. Why Did the Catholic Church DROP the Command about Idolatry?
A. 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. There are 16 verses in Ex. 20 to fit into Ten Commandments. The Scripture itself does not neatly categorize the verses as pertaining to this or that commandment.
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 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:
2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
4 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.
5 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;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 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.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 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:
11 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.
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill. 1
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’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? Differences are interesting. I tried to put the table in my post but it did not work. Please see the table on
<a href=”Fish Eaters.”>Fish Eaters
When the Commandments are listed, they are often listed in short-hand form. 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 (Despite the fact that the Jewish method also groups all four of the verses “worship God alone. Why aren’t the Jews therefore, also accused of dropping the commandment against idolatry?)
That Eastern Catholics list the Commandments differently never enters the equation for people who think this way; they are just looking for any evidence against the Catholic Church, 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 dropping a commandment?).
*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 — even us stupid Latin Catholics; and
* 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.
Footnote: 1 The Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate (the official Scripture of the Church), and the original Douay-Reims phrase the Fifth Word as “Thou shalt not murder”; later Douay-Reims versions, such as the Challoner, and the King James Bible, etc., phrase it as “Thou shalt not kill.” “Thou shalt not murder,” however, is the original intent and the meaning of the earliest texts. Catholics, of course, have 2,000 years of Church teaching and the Magisterium to interpret Scripture, and the meaning of the Fifth Commandment is that one is not to take innocent life. It doesn’t entail pacifism, ignoring the needs of self-defense and justice, worrying about squashing bugs, etc.
UPDATE: I have gotten several comments about why we count prohibition against coveting twice instead of once in spite of the post. An interesting comment was:
|Someone on another site also pointed out that if coveting someone’s spouse is redundant to the Commandment against adultery, then coveting someone’s goods is redundant to the Commandment against stealing as well. Clearly God views inappropriate & illicit desires to be distinct offenses from actually acting on those desires. (And after all, how many people have never stolen or committed adultery for no better reason than because the opportunity/temptation where they could do it & not get caught never came up?)It makes room for the recognition that coveting things includes stuff like “keeping up with the Jones” & the many forms that materialism takes, along with the many other forms of greed like failure to pay a just wage, etc, – and coveting another’s spouse includes not only things like lusting after them but even those wrongs such as comparing your own spouse to another’s and trying to make your spouse be like them or being unhappy with who you have because you could have done better or wished you could have done better and so on – are all offensive to God, too.—Grace|