January 21, 2011
What’s different about the Catholic Ten Commandments?
The Ten Commandments are taken from Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5 of the Old Testament. Within these verses are actually 14 separate directives. How these statements are grouped together to form the 10 commandments has resulted in the creation of three different (Catholic, Jewish and Protestant) versions of God’s laws.
The First Two Commandments
The Catholic commandments begin with the statement “I am the Lord, your God, you shall have no other Gods than me.” This commandment is recognized by Catholic, Jews, and Protestants. Protestants recognize versus 4-6, which immediately follows, as the second commandment. This reads:
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Catholicism, following in the Jewish tradition, does not recognize this directive as a separate commandment. Rather, Catholics believe that the ban on polytheism implies that false worship, explicitly described in versus 4-6, is forbidden.
The Last Two Commandments
Catholic commandments break away from both Protestant and Jewish versions regarding the last two Catholics commandments. Exodus 20:17 states:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Catholics divide this statement into two directives - You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife (9th Commandment) and You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods (10th commandment). The concepts of coveting (9th commandment) and adultery (7th commandment) are treated as separate forbidden activities in Catholicism. Jewish and Protestant versions consolidate the ban on coveting more generally - coveting your neighbor’s wife is not given special mention. Instead, the final Jewish and Protestant commandment is “you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” So if anyone asks you if you know the Ten Commandments, perhaps your first response should be - which version?
References: The Roman Catholic Church by Edmund Hartley; The Ten Commandments: Sounds of Love from Sinai by Father Alfred McBride and O.Praem