Did Catholics rewrite the 10 Commandments?

We got an email that said:

"Why do Catholics have...the ten Commandments changed to suit their rules?"

Before we begin, we should say that the 10 Commandments are not numbered in the Bible. The Lord has not explicitly set out for us how they are to be numbered. If we were to number every "command" in those sections of the Bible we would have about 17 commandments or more. So different efforts have been made to number and group them over the centuries. Two of the major players in the early Church were Augustine and Origen. Augustine is considered a Saint and a doctor of the Church. Origen is considered in high regard on many accounts, although several of his positions have been rejected, such as his idea that souls in hell could eventually get back to heaven (which is unscriptural). Catholics and Lutherans generally prefer the 10 commandments set out by Augustine and the Eastern Churches and Protestants follow the 10 Commandments set out by Origen.

Comparison of the Catholic and Protestant 10 Commandments

(As per Augustine, around 400 A.D.)
Protestant/Orthodox Churches and Communities
(As per Origen around 200 A.D.)
1 I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me. I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
2 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3 Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4 Honour your father and your mother. Remember the Sabbath Day.
5 You shall not kill. Honor thy father and mother.
6 You shall not commit adultery. Thou shalt not kill.
7 You shall not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. Thou shalt not steal.
9 You shall not covet your neighbour's wife. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10 You shall not covet your Neighbour's goods. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house nor his wife nor anything that belongs to him.

Didn't the Catholic Church remove the 2nd commandment "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image"?

The great Protestant Evangelist Jerry Falwell disagrees with this complaint against the Catholic Church when lobbying for the 10 commandments being displayed in public places. His web site made the following announcement.

As Dr. Falwell promised on the June 22, 1999 Rivera Live television program, here are the Ten Commandments from the King James Version of the Bible, used most widely by Protestants, and the Ten Commandments as found in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, which uses Scripture quotations adapted from the Revised Standard Version and New Revised Standard Versions of the Bible...As you can see, the difference between the two versions is minimal.

This is the Catholic first Commandment long form as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2084:

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 before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in 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 or serve them.

Yes, Catholics include the graven image commandment. The reasons why Catholics have statues and pictures of Jesus is a different topic that we discuss in the article Statues in Church.

It is written: "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."4

The Jewish people also place "you shall not make any graven image" with the commandment "thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me."

The way they are numbered does not change their meaning

Here are two paragraphs from the Catholic Catechism which talk about the history of the 10 Commandments:

2065 Ever since St. Augustine, the Ten Commandments have occupied a predominant place in the catechesis of baptismal candidates and the faithful. In the fifteenth century, the custom arose of expressing the commandments of the Decalogue in rhymed formulae, easy to memorize and in positive form. They are still in use today. The catechisms of the Church have often expounded Christian morality by following the order of the Ten Commandments.

2066 The division and numbering of the Commandments have varied in the course of history. The present catechism follows the division of the Commandments established by St. Augustine, which has become traditional in the Catholic Church. It is also that of the Lutheran confessions. The Greek Fathers worked out a slightly different division, which is found in the Orthodox Churches and Reformed communities.

It is perfectly acceptable for a Catholic to follow the Origen numbering system or the Augustine system. Each numbering system has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Origen system (that most Protestants use, except the Lutherans) lumps coveting your neighbor's wife under the commandment of coveting his possessions. But the opening chapters of Genesis make it plain in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that a woman is not a man's "possession" like a horse or livestock. He is the bone of his bones and the flesh of his flesh. (Gen 2:23)

So although the Bible tells us that there are 10 Commandments, it does not tell us how they are numbered. Perhaps this is not an essential thing. What is important is that we follow all of what is written in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, not just the one sentence statements that we have numbered.

When we look at Scripture, even Deuteronomy and Genesis have differences in emphasis on different commandments.

When we go into a hardware store, it is not important whether we find the sink faucets in the Kitchen section or the Bathroom section. What matters is that the hardware store has faucets. What matters for our salvation is that we read all of the Scripture. Both Catholics and Protestants should be reading the entire section under each of the headings of their Commandments, and if they do that they will both be reading the same thing. We must understand the full Gospel.

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