My Bible Study at Falmouth Hospital always inspires me to learn more about my Catholic Faith. The reason being is that more than half the study group are Protestant and they often challenge me on why the Catholic Church believes in a way that is not in concurrence with the Protestants. This week the subject of the Ten Commandments came up. Luckily I was prepared for that one. I was also interested in the reason for the difference so I had researched it and found some interesting facts that explained the differences.
To begin with, the 10 Commandments are not numbered in the Bible. God has not explicitly set out for us how they are to be numbered. If we were to number every "command" in those sections of the Bible we would have about 17 commandments or more. So different efforts have been made to number and group them over the centuries. Two of the major players in the early Church were Augustine and Origen. Augustine is considered a Saint and a doctor of the Church. Origen is considered in high regard on many accounts, although several of his positions have been rejected, such as his idea that souls in hell could eventually get back to heaven (which is not scriptural). Catholics and Lutherans generally prefer the 10 commandments set out by Augustine and the Eastern Churches and Protestants follow the 10 Commandments set out by Origen.
Comparison of the Catholic and Protestant 10 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 Rite Catholic (and Lutheran) listing: (Note "Latin Rite". Eastern Rite Catholics usually use the Origen version)
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
Here are two paragraphs from the Catholic Catechism which talk about the history of the 10 Commandments:
2065 Ever since St. Augustine, the Ten Commandments have occupied a predominant place in the catechesis of baptismal candidates and the faithful. In the fifteenth century, the custom arose of expressing the commandments of the Decalogue in rhymed formulae, easy to memorize and in positive form. They are still in use today. The catechisms of the Church have often expounded Christian morality by following the order of the Ten Commandments.
2066 The division and numbering of the Commandments have varied in the course of history. The present catechism follows the division of the Commandments established by St. Augustine, which has become traditional in the Catholic Church. It is also that of the Lutheran confessions. The Greek Fathers worked out a slightly different division, which is found in the Orthodox Churches and Reformed communities.
It is perfectly acceptable to follow the Origen numbering system or the Augustine system. Each numbering system has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Origen system (that most Protestants use, except the Lutherans) lumps coveting your neighbor's wife under the commandment of coveting his possessions. But the opening chapters of Genesis make it plain in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that a woman is not a man's "possession" like a horse or livestock. He is the bone of his bones and the flesh of his flesh. (Gen 2:23)
So although the Bible tells us that there are 10 Commandments, it does not tell us how they are numbered. Perhaps this is not an essential thing. What is important is that we follow all of what is written in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, not just the one sentence statements that we have numbered.
Probably the biggest difference between Catholic and Protestant versions is in reference to Exodus 20:4 which is part of the first commandment that begins in verse 3 and stretches through part of verse five: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” Verses 3 and 5 make clear that this commandment is not simply condemning making statues; It is condemning making gods that you bow down to or serve. In a word, this first commandment forbids idolatry, i.e., the worship of anything or anyone other than God. The Catholic Church condemns this as well.
Though the commandments are said to be “ten” in Exodus 34:28, they are not numbered by the inspired authors of Sacred Scripture. If you count the “you shall nots” along with the two positive commandments of keeping holy the Sabbath and honoring father and mother, you end up with 13 commandments.
The 10 Commandments appear in three places in the Bible: in Exodus, chapter 20, in Exodus, chapter 34 and in Deuteronomy, chapter 5.
a. All three versions differ.
b. No version conveniently lists the commandments from one to ten.
c. Historically, the commandments have been abbreviated to aid memorization, which has led to even greater differences on what to put in and what to leave out.
d. Exodus 34 is the only place where the label "The Ten Commandments" is used in the Bible. The other two listings (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) are normally referred to as the Ten Commandments, but the actual text doesn't describe them as such.
Deacon Greg Beckel