Friday Fast Fact: Numbering the Ten Commandments

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So Protestants and Catholics may not agree on which books should be in the Bible. And we don’t agree on which translations are best. But at least we can always agree on the Ten Commandments, right?  Well, not exactly.

We agree on the scripture passages that the ten commandments come from (Deut 5 and Exodus 20). But scripture doesn’t enumerate them for us and break them into 10 nice, neat “commandments.” Because of this, there have been a number of different variations of the ten commandments as we know them today. The Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant versions are very close, but all differ in some way. So don’t be confused when you find out your protestant friend’s 4th commandment is different than your 4th commandment.

The main differences between the Jewish, Protestant and Catholic enumerations occur in how the 1st and 2nd and the 9th and 10th commandments are divvied up. Here’s how they break down:

Jewish Version
1. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery in Egypt.
2. You shall have no other gods but me.
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
4. You shall remember and keep the Sabbath day holy.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10. You shall not covet.

The Jews called this the Decalogue (“ten words”) or the “ten sayings.” Which makes sense because they aren’t all commandments. The first one is just a statement - not a commandment.

Then Christianity enumerated them in a way that made them all commandments and put more emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of marriage by distinguishing between coveting your neighbors wife and coveting your neighbors stuff. I like the change, myself.

Catholic (Traditional Christian) Version
1. I am the Lord your God: You shall not have strange Gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
4. Honor your father and mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

Then the Protestants came along over a thousand years later and protested that the Catholic Church worshiped graven images - which of course is not true at all. So they changed the enumeration accordingly.

Protestant Version
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
10. Thou shalt not covet.

If you compare these lists to the places in scripture they are pulled from, it’s easy to see where they came from. However, it’s important to remember that the enumeration of these commandments is not scripture itself. It is tradition. And it’s not dogmatic for Catholics either. What is important is the truth that they speak. Breaking them up and summarizing them like this is just a tool to help us understand it all better. But it’s good to be aware of the differences.

Have a blessed Friday everyone!

Further reading:
The True Ten Commandments
EWTN: Ten Commandments