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Different Versions of the Ten Commandments

Catholic vs. Protestant Commandments

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Different religions and sects have divided the Commandments in different ways — and this certainly includes Protestants and Catholics. Although the two versions they use are quite similar, there are also some significant differences that have important implications for the two groups’ varying theological positions.

 

Abbreviated Protestant Ten Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods but me.
  2. You shall not make unto you any graven images
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
  4. You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  5. Honor your mother and father
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

 

Abbreviated Catholic Ten Commandments:

  1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain
  3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day
  4. Honor your father and your mother
  5. You shall not kill
  6. You shall not commit adultery
  7. You shall not steal
  8. You shall not bear false witness
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods

 

The first thing which to notice is that after the first commandment, numbering starts to change. For example in the Catholic listing the imperative against adultery is the sixth commandment; for Jews and most Protestants it is the seventh.

One other interesting difference occurs in how Catholics translate the Deuteronomy verses into actual commandments. In the Butler Catechism, verses eight through ten are simply left out. The Catholic version thus omits the prohibition against graven images - an obvious problem for the Roman Catholic church which is rife with shrines and statues. To make up for this, Catholics divide verse 21 into two commandments, thus separating the coveting of a wife from the coveting of farm animals. The Protestant versions of the commandments retain the prohibition against graven images, but it seems to be ignored since statues and other images have proliferated in their churches as well.

It shouldn't be ignored that the Ten Commandments were originally part of a Jewish document and they too have their own way of structuring it. Jews begin the Commandments with the statement, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides argued this was the greatest Commandment of all, even though it does not actually command anyone to do anything at all, because it forms the basis for monotheism and for all that follows.

Christians, however, just regard this as a preamble rather than an actual commandment and begin their lists with the statement, "You shall have no other gods before Me." So, if the government displays the Ten Commandments without that "preamble," it is choosing a Christian perspective of a Jewish perspective. Is this a legitimate function of the government?

Of course, neither statement is actually indicative of genuine monotheism. Monotheism means belief in the existence of only one god, and both of the quoted statements are reflective of the true situation of the ancient Jews: monolatry, which is the belief in the existence of multiple gods, but only worshipping one of them.

Another important difference, not visible in the above abbreviated listings, is in the commandment regarding the Sabbath: in the Exodus version, people are told to keep the sabbath holy because God worked for six days and rested on the seventh; but in the Deuteronomy version used by Catholics, the sabbath is commanded because "you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm." Personally, I don't see the connection — at least the reasoning in the Exodus version has some logical basis. But regardless, the fact of the matter is that the reasoning is radically different from one version to the next.

So in the end, there is no way to "choose" what the "real" Ten Commandments are supposed to be. People will naturally be offended if someone else's version of the Ten Commandments is displayed in public buildings — and a government doing that cannot be regarded as anything but an infringement of religious liberties. People may not have a right to not be offended, but they do have the right to not have someone else's religious rules dictated to them by civil authorities, and they have a right to ensure that their government does not take sides in theological issues. They certainly should be able to expect that their government won't pervert their own religion in the name of public morality or vote-grabbing.

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