Catholic Friday on Tuesday:  Changing the 10 Commandments


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This week, I've asked Dave Vermont, our self-appointed, 52 Prayers Roman Catholic Representative, Why the Catholic Church changed the 10 Commandments.  Here is what Dave had to say about it....

Changing the 10 Commandments.

The Catholic 10 Commandments do not differ from the Protestant version in content; there is simply a difference in how they are organized.

The 1st two commandments, Catholic version, are:

1)         I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any false gods before me;

2)         Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

The last two Catholic commandments are:

9)         Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife;

10)       Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.

The Protestants’ first two commandments are:

1)                  I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any false gods before me;

2)                  Thou shalt not make any graven shall not bow down to them or serve them.

And, the 10th Protestant commandment is simply: Thou shalt not covet.

So, the Protestants combine our 9 and 10, into their 10.  While Catholics combine the Protestants' 1 and 2, into a single 1.

Now, some say that the Catholics purposely leave out the reference to “graven images” (that is in Protestant Commandment #2) so that Catholics can worship statues.  But, the teaching of the Catholic Church is that “not having any false gods” includes the prohibition on worshiping graven images.  In fact, the teaching of the Catholic Church goes further, teaching that any undo devotion to anything other than God (like undo devotion to money, alcohol, pornography, etc) is having a false God. 

            Consider it from the reverse, just b/c Protestants shorten the commandment about coveting, does that mean they left out the specific references to "wives" and "goods" so that they could in fact covet those things?  No, of course not.  It's understood that the Protestant shortened version, “Thou shalt not covet,” necessarily includes wives and goods. Just like Catholics understand that, “Thou shalt not have any false gods before me,” means that we should not worship idols, or graven images, as false gods.

            From my research it appears the Protestant version is based on Exodus 20, where as the Catholic version is based on Deuteronomy 5.  In looking at the two versions it seems to me that the main difference is in how commandments 9 and 10 are presented, which then effects how you must number 1 and 2.  The Catholic version was used until the reformation when John Calvin switched to the Exodus version ostensibly to make the point about there being too many statues in Churches.

            Which is correct?  You might be surprised to learn that the Church has never dogmatically defined which way the commandments must be numbered.  An argument could be made that you should use the older, Exodus version, as that is closer in time to when the commandments were delivered to man.  A similar and equally valid argument can be made that we should use the later inspired version from Deuteronomy.  On important point to note is that the Exodus version is made in relation to the golden calf, when the Israelites had in fact just built (and worshiped) a graven image.  We don’t have that concern in modern times.  God became man, we know what the image of God is and are a little risk of constructing a “graven image”.  Also, the Protestant numbering of 9 and 10 fails to pay due respect to the high place Jesus said that marriage has by lumping “wives” in with “goods”.

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  • JamesBrett

    JamesBrett July 29, 2010

    thanks for the post, dave.  i knew absolutely nothing about our differing of the words and structure in the 10 commandments.  informative and thought-provoking.  two thumbs up.

  • Jessica

    Jessica July 29, 2010

    Am I missing something?  My Bible doesn’t have 2 different 10 Commandments.

  • Jessica

    Jessica July 29, 2010

    I also don’t know anything about Protestants having a different 10 Commandments than the Biblical 10 Commandments which from what I see are the same in Exodus and Deut? 

    What am I missing?  Where are the official “Protestant versions” coming from if not from Scripture?

  • Scott

    Scott July 30, 2010

    And now you are beginning to see the difference, Jessica….

  • Scott

    Scott July 30, 2010

    I would think that each “Thou shalt not…” would pretty well mark out each commandment. And in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, the ten “protestant” ones are shown. In Deut. 5 more explanation is given for Thou shalt not covet.

    You said:
    On important point to note is that the Exodus version is made in relation to the golden calf, when the Israelites had in fact just built (and worshiped) a graven image.

    In my Bible, the commandments were given in Exodus 20 and the Israelites are shown worshiping the golden calf in Exodus 32. In fact, Moses does not ascend Mount Sinai until chapter 24 and was there for forty days and nights (Exodus 24:15-18). The Israelites were given the commandments before Moses went up.

    You closed with:
    God became man, we know what the image of God is and are a little risk of constructing a “graven image”.  Also, the Protestant numbering of 9 and 10 fails to pay due respect to the high place Jesus said that marriage has by lumping “wives” in with “goods”.

    We do not know what Jesus Christ looked like exactly. We can glean from the Scriptures that He was not extraordinarily handsome, He had a beard, and He would not have had long hair. Plus, He would have looked “Jewish”, not Caucasian. In other words, Jesus would have not looked like He is depicted in the many statues in the world.

    I also do not think that that the goal of the “protestant” version of commandments was to lump with with goods. At least that version followed the “Thou shalt”‘s.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT July 30, 2010

    Do you think when God gave the commandments he didn’t know what would happen in the next 40 days?

    In my humble opinion the Shroud of Turin shows us exactly what Jesus looked like but that is a subject for another day.

  • Scott

    Scott July 31, 2010

    Dave, you said:
    Do you think when God gave the commandments he didn’t know what would happen in the next 40 days?

    Your statement is true, Dave. Of course, God knew what would happen in the next forty days after the commandments were given in Exodus 20. God is outside of time—since He created time—knows everything that will happen till time’s end.

    I am not sure what point you are trying to make. It shed no light on why the Catholic church would drop “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”

    But I see no reason why the Catholic church would not include the prohibition against graven images. Especially when we see in the Scriptures what happened when King Hezekiah had the brass serpent broken into pieces (2 Kings 18:4). People tend to venerate items and relics and those things become an idol to them. That was what happened when the brass serpent from the Book of Numbers was found, the people began to burn incense to it. They worshiped the creation more than the Creator.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT July 31, 2010

    First, if you read what I wrote, you will see that I say the Catholic Church has not defined the manor in which the Commandments must be numbered.

    The point is “graven image” is inherent in “False God” just as much as wives and goods is inherent in “not covet”. If both numbering schemes are valid, the “graven image” was much more important pre-Christ when the world was full of pagan idols. In the Christian Era and particilarly in our modern times, specific articulation of Commandment not to covet the wives of others, is in my opinion as important to state specifically as “graven image” was 2,000 years ago.

    The Church did not drop “graven image” formulation it used the later articlation of the 10 Commandments b/c the threat of the faithful falling into the worship of graven images was small, instead it chose to elevate women to the level of respect they deserve.

    Finally, note that this is how the 10 Commandments was articulated for the first 1,500 years of the Christian Era.  It was the Protestant that “went back to” the older version.

  • Scott

    Scott July 31, 2010

    If I am understanding you correctly, then the decision to emphasize the “covet” commandment over the “graven image” commandment is declaring that the commandments needed to be adjusted to accommodate changing customs and mores?

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT August 01, 2010

    Isn’t that Calvin did when he changed them during the reformation?

    The bottom lines is that there are 2 versions in Scripture that have very slight differences.  If you count the “thou shalls” and “thou shall nots” you get more than 10.  So to come out with 10 and have a nice rememberable list you must combine 1 and 2 or 9 and 10.  The “changing mores and customs” was the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who dispelled the fear of creating a graven image by giving a face to God and who with his teaching elevated the role of women.  This made in preferable to combine 1 and 2 and articulate 9 and 10 as separate.

    And again, both are still correct.  This is simply stylistic.  For example the 10th Commandment is Scripture actually is, “nor his house, nor his field, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his”.  But no one writes that, we right “goods”.  Have we dropped the reference to “his ox” b/c of “changing mores and customs”?  I guess you could articulate it that way but really we write it as “goods” to make it easy to write them as a list.  The list has always been taken out of scripture and “edited” to make a convenient list.

  • Scott

    Scott August 01, 2010

    Actually, it looks like Calvin was trying to return the “ten” commandments back to what the Bible says. The two versions in the Bible are slightly different, but the “catholic” version drops one commandment off altogether.

    You originally said: Now, some say that the Catholics purposely leave out the reference to “graven images” (that is in Protestant Commandment #2) so that Catholics can worship statues. 

    The correct statement to make would be to say “that is in the Bible commandment #2”.

    Obviously, the phrase “Ten Commandments” is not in the Bible. Why did whoever choose to go with ten? Because of how Exodus 20 and Deut. 5 are phrased. And if we go with what the Scriptures declare, then there is no reasonable reason to drop the “no graven images” commandment.

    I realize that the traditional catholic argument is that they do not worship the statues or the saints, but that they are venerated. But how would you explain this tale:
    “There was a certain nobleman who despaired of salvation because of his many sins. But a monk prevailed on him to visit a statue of our Lady in a particular church and pray to her there.

    When he saw the statue he felt as if our Lady were inviting him to kneel at her feet and trust in her. He knelt down to kiss her feet, and at that instant Mary put out her hand to be kissed, and on it he saw these words written: “I will deliver you from your enemies.”
    He was filled with such sorrow for his sins and such overpowering love for God and His tender Mother, that he died on the spot, there at Mary’s feet.”

    The graven images commandment is just as important today as it was when it was written.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT August 02, 2010

    Wait a second, since as I said, the Catholic Church teaches that worshiping a graven image is sin, and since as I said, the Catholic Church never defined how the Ten Commandments must be listed, and since as I said, that the Catholic Church never said that listing them in the “Protestant version” was wrong .... why did he Calvin have to “change them back”?  And if Calvin was changing them to be more scriptural, again, where is the specific prohibition in the “Protestant version” of coveting thy neighbor’s Ox (it appears specifically in Exodus and Deuteronomy).  No, it wasn’t such a noble cause as restoring the Ten Commandments to their proper form.  Calvin, was changing them for emphasis, which again, is what I said.  It seems you are looking for a fight where there is none.
    As for this story you post I have many things to say about it.

    First, I have never been to this website and I don’t know anything about it.  It purports to be Catholic but that doesn’t mean that it is or that if the people that posted it are in fact Catholic, that they know what they are talking about.  It does not appear to me to anything official.  I could link you to the site of the Westbro Baptist Church, (you know the guys that protest at soldiers funerals), but I wouldn’t say that they speak for all Baptists.  I hope you would extend me the same courtesy.

    Second, I find it odd that you selected a story about Mary as a “graven image”.  The Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would be ‘blessed among women’.  And Mary herself says in scripture that, ‘all will call me blessed”. (Sorry, it’s late Sunday night and I had to paraphrase those verses).  We know from Revelation that Mary is in Heaven with God.  It would seem to me almost impossible for a faithful Christian to make an image of Mary that is “graven”.

    Third, this story purports to say that the man died immediately after these events transpired.  Question: How do we know the events happened as they are written if the man they happened to died immediately after they occurred and before telling anyone?  In addition, the website from which you lifted this story does not appear to attribute it to anyone or any other work.  It’s impossible to tell if it was made up as an example or is supposed to be relating a historical event.

    Fourth, the Catholic Church does not require the faithful to believe any apparition such as this to be true.  When they happen the Church might conduct an investigation of the event.  If the Church determines the event was a true appearance of Jesus, Mary or a Saint, the Church will advise the faithful that they can believe the events took place, make pilgrimages to the events location, etc.  However, it still will not require belief in the event as doctrine.  Of course, apparitions are discounted as well.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT August 02, 2010

    Fifth, let’s look at what this story actually says. 

    The nobleman is told to pray to Mary, see my previous posts on why praying to Saints is meritorious. 

    The statue supposedly comes to life - before the man prays or worships it at all.  In fact, the story does not say the nobleman prayed or worshiped to anyone at all, even God, that detail is absent. 

    Mary has, “I will deliver you from your enemies” written on her hand.  But the nobleman wasn’t there about his enemies, he was there b/c of his sins.  Enemies could be a euphemism for sin but in this context it seems odd.  Furthermore, this is the first time I have heard of an aspiration writing instead of speaking.  Both elements make me suspicious of its veracity.

    The story ends with, “he was filled with such SORROW for his SINS and such overpowering love FOR GOD and His tender Mother, that he died on the spot…” (emphasis added).  So this man dies, not from being struck dead by God b/c he worships a graven image. but he dies because once he feels even a small part of the love of God, his heart is filled with such sorrow for ever having offended God that he cannot bear it. 

    I don’t know if the writer did this on purpose, if it was luck or if it was the work of the Holy Spirit, but what happenstance that the story you choose to debate this issue with is one which ends with a man realizing the love of God and that love compelling the deep remorse of sin.  Isn’t that a large part of what Christianity is all about?  Yes, Mary was there too.  We can debate the Church’s teachings on Mary another day, it’s way too long to get into here and now, but suffice it to say the love of one does not diminish the love of another.  An man does not love his wife less b/c he also loves his daughter.  To the contrary, he may love his wife more b/c she has blessed him with a beautiful daughter.

    Mary has a unique and special relationship with Christ, and by extension with us, b/c only she brought the infant Jesus into the world.  This parent / child relationship is present throughout scripture.  God is our Father, we are his children.  Jesus and Mary are the human face to that relationship.  That is not “graven”, that is “blessed”.

  • Scott

    Scott August 02, 2010

    The website I referred to took the quotation from a book: the feet of mary&f=false

    The book is entitled: The glories of Mary, tr. from the Ital. of st. Alphonsus de’Liguori, founder ...
    By Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori

    According to Wikipedia: Saint Alphonsus Liguori (September 27, 1696 – August 1, 1787) was an Italian Catholic Bishop, spiritual writer, theologian, and founder of the Redemptorists, an influential religious order. He was canonized in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI and declared a Doctor of the Church.

  • Scott

    Scott August 02, 2010

    The point I am making is that there is a BIG difference between dropping an entire commandment (No graven images) versus dropping a portion of a commandment (do not covet the ox).

    Second, I was pointing out that graven images were and are being worshiped as much today as they were when the Book of Exodus was being written.

    Graven images as defined by the Oxford Dictionary: a carved idol or representation of a god used as an object of worship. The idea of the graven image in the Bible, according to Strong’s, is of a carved image. It does not mean graven—as in, solemn, serious, or cause for alarm. In other words, it did not mean the opposite of blessed.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT August 02, 2010

    So it is OK to change the scripture a little bit, when Scott says so.  Got it.

    No matter how many times you repeat the falsehood that the Catholic Church dropped the “graven image” it doesn’t make it so.  Again, the Church teaches that “graven image” is inherently included within the meaning of “false gods”.  It is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and every Catholic learns this from a young age.

    I will now address the Theology According to Wikipedia and the Theology of the Oxford Dictionary. Jesus Christ himself rejected the formulaic and legalistic interpretation you are exposing.  In teaching on what makes someone “unclean” Jesus taught that it is not what is outside that makes someone unclean but what they have in their heart.  Having statutes, images, and paintings is not graven in and of itself.  As we know, God himself directed that the Ark of the Covenant be decorated with Angels.  Thus, as Jesus taught, it matters what is in your heart and if someone worshiped a statute that would be sin and they would be in error.  However, as I have discussed previously on “Catholic Friday” and as you conceded you are aware of, no Catholic worships Mary or the Saints.  We ask Holy people, who are alive in heaven, to pray for us.  Just as you would ask the people, alive in your church, to pray for you.  Frankly, it baffles me that people have difficulty with this concept.

  • Tony York

    Tony York August 02, 2010

    Interesting conversation.

    It is no wonder that Christ, when asked about the commandments by the church of His day, responded by just giving 2.  Love God and Love People.  Of course, I paraphrase and, of course, in order to get those 2 correct we would also be capable of fulfilling the hundreds of commandments as found in scripture.

    While we could argue where this commandment was ordered or where this one occurred (by no means would I ever be dismissive about scripture) I would say that a major point is being forgotten.  God is not a lord of lists for the sake of humanity creating a religion by which they would create a checklist, works-based, I-can-earn-my-way-into-heaven bastardization of doctrine.

    He presented His commandments so that we could determine His character, care, and love for us.  I don’t have a checklist for my wife that reminds me that I shouldn’t slap her each day when I wake up because I already know that she likes to be hugged and I get pleasure from hugging her.

    Catholics and Protestants alike are just as likely to create traditions or doctrines that become idols or graven images before God. 

    All these labels that we put on the faith that we are called to in Christ are divisive and troublesome.  I despise denominationalism wherever it is found whether catholic, baptist, pentecostal, protestant, or whatever you want to call it.  There is no Catholic church.. there is no Protestant church. To try to state so is to put man before God.  While men run around trying to put up walls around their religion, the true church is busy at bringing the kingdom based on instruction from the bible, the leading of the Holy Spirit, fellowship of other believers, and Christ as their mediator and the true head of the church.

    The biggest difference that I see between Catholics and Protestants is that Catholics have had a longer time to build traditions and doctrines that stand opposed to God and scripture.

    Where the catholics have raised dead men to idols, the protestant church has put living individuals in the same category.  Catholics venerate St. Nicholas and Protestants need Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen to pray over them.

    You know what would be very interesting?  If every person who claims Christianity were to read the scripture without the prejudices of their ‘church’ blinding them.  I wonder what that would look like.  I have a feeling we wouldn’t see men walking around wearing weird hats inside of outlandishly expensive buildings. (That applies to both sides of the reformation divide.)

    We would all probably be busy making disciples, taking care of people, and worshiping the God who rightfully deserves our praise.


  • Jessica

    Jessica August 02, 2010

    Tony-I’m with ya, and against ya:)

    Your argument is that you don’t need a list to show you how to best love your wife (ie not slapping but hugging her) since love is the goal. However what if she needed to be hugged in order to feel truly loved, you’d need to know that, right? 

    Luckily, you know because of your daily communication with your wife she prefers hugs, just like we know from Scripture what God wants from us. 

    I guess my point being that if you didn’t know she needed hugs and therefore you didn’t give them to her, she may not be loved to the best of your ability and that would be quite a shame.

    I know from talking to you (and your statement above) that you would never trivialize Scripture, but the 10 Commandments issue seems parallel to this to me.  Meaning, how can I love God the best I can without understanding his character correctly?  Since in Scripture, we know the first 4 commandments are showing how we love God best and the last 6 is how we love people best, so leaving one out or adding one kinda messes up how to best fulfill the 2, doesn’t it?

  • Tony York

    Tony York August 03, 2010

    Yeah.. I thought about adding more to that point because it may come across in a manner that I didn’t fully intend. 

    My relationship with my wife has taught me how best to love and respect her.  Not a set of rules that she has posted in our house.  In her communication, I have learned what pleases her and what displeases her and because I can learn her character in that manner, I can then apply that knowledge to future decisions.  I know my wife prefers fruit over vegetables.  I don’t need to make a list or go back to her to ask if I should make her a fruit smoothie or a vegetable power drink.. I already know what she cares for.

    God gave His commandments in order for us to understand what He cares about.. to demonstrate His character in a multitude of ways.  However, if I were to take His commandments and approach serving Him as a structured process by which I can check things off then I have missed the point.

    There are more than 10 commandments.. to push and pull our theology over which correct set of 10 commandments to teach our followers completely misses the point.  Do we throw out the several hundred more commands that God has given?  Do we marginalize them because the 10 are all we need ... in whichever form?

    I don’t think so.  That is why I believe Christ gave 2 because He knew in the keeping of the 2 we would have to understand all that came before.  How do you love God?  Well, what has He said about Himself in all of scripture?  That is probably a good place to start… but not rules for rules sake but the heart behind the guidance that He has provided.

    I have used this illustration before:  God didn’t say “Don’t Steal” because that was just a rule to protect our belongings from being taken from each other.  He wanted us to recognize His providence in our lives and by stealing we rob Him from His ability to be the provider.  We basically are saying, “We don’t need You to give to us what is good for us.”  And all along He is a loving Father that wants to show His great mercy, love, and care for us by providing for us.  Imagine you are a parent and your child’s birthday is coming up and you have sacrificed to purchase a gift for your child that you know will bring much joy to them… but the day before you are going to give them the gift, your child has decided to walk into a store and steal that which you have planned on providing as a gift.  That child has stolen from 3 people:  the store, you, and himself.  That child missed out on the joy that would have been yours to give and his/hers to receive.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think sound doctrine is very important but what passes as discussion on doctrine is usually puffed-up discord on minutia.  Christ taught against it in His time upon the earth and, yet, we still overly complicate the process and re-create a man-made religion where the body of Christ should have been.

    I have been around Catholics and Protestants alike and they share the same issues of raising the denominational flag over silliness.  I have also been around people who love Christ and want to see His name lifted up.  There is a different motivation in those two camps.  One seems to have all the time in the world to fight about who is right and who is wrong.. the other just wants to be faithful.

    So, I guess what I am saying is that we don’t throw out the commandments or fight over which of them to prominently display.. but that we learn to honor God by understanding why He gave them to us.

    If I were to join the discussion here about whether graven image was left out intentionally by the Catholic church, I would say.  I don’t know but I agree with Dave that false gods includes graven images.  But I also agree with Scott that graven images apply just as much today as they did 2000, 4000, or 8000 years ago.  One only has to look at other religions to see offerings laid at the feet of stone and wood idols.  But I would also offer up that there are a lot of people who have made symbols of Christianity into graven images or good luck charms.

    But then again.. there are a lot of things that we do in the name of faith that I can’t find anywhere in the bible.  Some of it may be ok.. some of it just plain weird.  smile

  • Jessica

    Jessica August 03, 2010

    The argument that God says “Do Not Steal” because doing so says something about our faith in Him as it reveals our belief that God will not provide for us is as good today as it was when you told me that a couple months ago. 

    I just love that perspective because it really does get to the heart of the issue Jesus had with the Pharisees.  He says if you love me, and have faith in My Word, then obey my commandments. 

    Love and obedience to God because you have Faith and Love for Him is what it always seems to come back to.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT August 03, 2010


    Much of what you say is true but I would just point out that context matters.

    On “Catholic Friday” Jessica asked me to post answers to questions about what the Catholic Church teaches.  “Catholic Friday” is all about doctrine and theology.  If you want to discuss how we can all be better Christians and people I’m happy to have that discussion as well.

    Further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in paragraph 2069:

    The Decalogue forms a coherent whole.  Each “word” refers to each of the others and to all of them; they reciprocally condition one another.  The two tables shed light on one another; they form an organic unity.  To trangress one commandment is to infringe on all others.  One cannot honor another person without blessing God his Creator.  One cannot adore God without loving all men, his creatures.  The Decalogue brings man’s religious and social life into unity.

    I happy you have discovered what the Church has been teaching.

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