Revisiting the Ten Commandments of Catholicism

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog on the ten commandments. There I argued that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) split “You shall not covet” into two commands in order to draw attention away from the command they omit, which is “You shall not make any graven image.”

My son came to me last week to tell me that he looked in a Catholic Bible and the ten commandments there are the same as in a Protestant Bible.

This is true. The problem with the ten commandments by Roman Catholic (RCC) standards is not in their Bible translation. They have left the Bible unchanged. The problem is in the list they publish and teach to their followers.

Here is the description of the difference between the RCC ten commandments and the list made by Protestants according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The system of numeration found in Catholic Bibles, based on the Hebrew text, was made by St. Augustine … and was adopted by the Council of Trent. It is followed also by the German Lutherans … This arrangement makes the first commandment relate to false worship and to the worship of false gods as to a single subject and a single class of sins to be guarded against. (

In other words, they are claiming that the reason that they make “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make any graven images” into one command is because this is all one class of sin: false worship.

The reason they give for dividing “You shall not covet” into two commands is:

It seems, however, as logical to separate at the end as at the beginning, for while one single object is aimed at under worship, two specifically different sins are forbidden under covetousness; if adultery and theft belong to two distinct species of moral wrong, the same must be said of the desire to commit these evils. (ibid.)

The problem, as I pointed out, is the Biblical text.  The ten commandments are the ten commandments. The proper way to divide them into ten commands is the way God divided them through Moses. We cannot simply make up our own divisions.

Here is how Moses gave the last commandment to Israel:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. (Ex. 20:17)

Perhaps you will notice that the command not to covet your neighbor’s wife, which the RCC claims is a separate commandment, is in the middle of all the other things we are not to covet. The RCC makes the 9th commandment to be “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.”

As you can see, the problem is that my neighbor’s goods are listed  both before and after my neighbor’s wife. It’s not very hard to figure out that Moses, and thus God through Moses, was not counting the command not to covet your neighbor’s goods and the command not to covet your neighbor’s wife as two separate commands. No theology degree is needed to see that this is completely illogical, no matter how logical the Catholic encyclopedia claims it to be.

In fact, it requires an advanced theological degree to become blind to something so obvious.

Roman Catholic Justification for Their Ten Commandments

The RCC argument for combining “You shall not have any gods before me” and “You shall not make any graven images” is not bad. They state:

This arrangement makes the First Commandment relate to false worship and to the worship of false gods as to a single subject. (ibid.)

That’s fine. The Jewish list of ten commandments does the same. They make the first command–which, strangely enough, is not a command at all–to be “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” They then combine the command to have no false gods and not to make any graven images into one command.

That’s strange, but at least it doesn’t require pulling a tenth commandment right out if the middle of the ninth.

Also, the Jews are opposed to making graven images and bowing down to them.

The Roman Catholics, however, are not. The Catholic Encyclopedia says this about the making of graven images:

… the prohibition [is] directed against the particular offense of idolatry alone. (ibid.)

Okay, let’s talk about that. What exactly is idolatry? Is it not God who gets to define this as well?

God says, “You shall not make for yourself any graven image … You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them” (Ex. 20:4-5).

Do Roman Catholics not bow down to graven images? I know that as a 6th grade student at a Catholic elementary school I was made to bow down and kiss the feet of a statue of Mary. Everyone knows that Catholics bow down in front of statues of saints and pray to those saints all over the world. It happens every day at Lourdes in France.

Do they really expect us to believe that it is just an accident of interpretation that their list of commandments says nothing about not making or bowing down to graven images?

Exodus 20 vs. Deuteronomy 5

I need to point out that while Exodus 20 says not to covet your neighbor’s house, then your neighbor’s wife, and then his other goods, Deuteronomy 5 lists the coveting of your neighbor’s wife first. Thus, if you wish to divide “You shall not covet” into two commands, Deuteronomy 5 does allow you to do so without destroying the text.

Um … does this matter?

The RCC claims to base their numbering of the ten commandments on a list given by Augustine in his work Questions on Exodus. I can’t seem to find a copy of that online, and The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers doesn’t contain it. However, I read enough references to it online to be confident they’re telling the truth.

Those references point out that Augustine was using Deuteronomy 5 to make his list, which is a very strange thing to do in a book entitled Questions on Exodus.

Oh, well. This blog is not about Augustine, who lived before the catholic churches were “Roman Catholic,” though he did not live before images of saints were being made and adored by almost-but-not-quite converted pagans.

(The pagan emperor Julian the Apostate, who reigned over three decades before Augustine was bishop, said that the saint worship of the Christians of his day was greater than the hero worship of the pagans before them. Even he scoffed at it and called it idolatry.)

Despite all this, it has been over 1600 years since Augustine wrote his book. No one considered during that time that his list doesn’t make sense if you read Exodus?

Someone needs to state the obvious. The making of statues fosters idolatry in general. In particular, the making of statues of saints not only can foster idolatry, but it already has created rampant idolatry throughout both the modern and historical Roman Catholic Church.

In fact, according to Exodus, bowing down to a statue is already idolatry.

Throughout the reign of the Pope as a civil authority (a time known as “the Dark Ages”) and until the 1960’s, the RCC discouraged the reading of the Bible. As long as this was so, they could simply publish a list that never mentions a prohibition against making and bowing down to graven images.

Over the last 40 years, however, the RCC has conceded and encouraged the reading of the Scriptures. Some of those RCC members need to petition their leaders to correct their dishonest rendering of the ten commandments.

Until it’s corrected, no matter what is written in the Catholic encyclopedia, their ten commandments are a loud testimony that the RCC has not only practiced idolatry, but allowed and promoted it.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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