The ‘Catholic’ Ten Commandments
By Father Kenneth Doyle
Question: Recently I read an article stating that the “Catholic” Ten Commandments are different from those given to Moses. According to this article, Catholics deleted the Second Commandment – about no idols or graven images – and then split the last one into two in order to make up for that deletion.
It went on to say that the original Second Commandment was eliminated because of the statues in Catholic churches and the fact that Catholics offer prayers to Mary and to the other saints.) Can you elaborate on the difference and why?
Answer: The precise division and numbering of the Ten Commandments has, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, varied over the course of history (No. 2066). Catholics traditionally use the formulation proposed by St Augustine in the fifth century.
The full text of the Ten Commandments as revealed to Moses comes from two scriptural sources – Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. For both Protestants and Catholics, the currently accepted catechetical formulations represent an abbreviation of those biblical texts.
Exodus 20:2-6, for example, says: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me. You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them.
“For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
All that is summarised by Catholics in the words: “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.”
In prohibiting graven images, Catholics believe that the Lord was referring to such incidents as the golden calf (Ex 32), which some Jews of the Old Testament actually worshipped as divine. Catholics do not believe that God thereby prohibited all religious images – especially since Moses himself directed that replicas of cherubim angels should adorn the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25).
Some Protestant worship sites, in fact, mirror Catholic churches in displaying images of the saints in stained glass, and no one actually worships those images or imagines them to be divine; they simply remind us of the holy lives of our heroes in the faith and offer them for imitation. When Catholics pray to the saints, we are not worshipping them but only asking for their help.
Here is the text of the 13 mitzvot taken from Exodus which make up the 10 commandments*
I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not make for yourself any graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is 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, nor serve them, for I, the Lord Your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord Your God, in it you shall not do any manner of work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your man-servant, nor your maid-servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day. Wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.
Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord God gives you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house, nor his wife, his man-servant, his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.
*(addition by this site)
Please support The Southern Cross
Your support means we can keep Catholic news alive so that many others will have free access to the high-quality, trustworthy news they deserve. We seek your support not simply to survive, but to grow in our mandate to share the Good News and keep you informed about your Church and Catholic faith.
Every contribution, however big or small, makes a difference. Support us today – it only takes a minute. Thank you.