Why are there two different versions of the Ten Commandments?

Most Americans are familiar with the Ten Commandments. Even those who have little religious background know the Ten Commandments are a list of rules given by God. The ten commandments can be found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. They are divided into two groups, the first group contains the commands relating towards God and the second group the commands regarding others. Yet, the lists of ten commandments found in the Catholic catechism are different from that taught in most Protestant churches.

Protestants typically divide the ten commandments into four commands about God and six about others. The first four are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” and “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The second table of the law begins with “Honor thy father and mother” and ends with the, “Thou shalt not covet.” Unlike Lutherans and Catholics, the Protestants view the commands against covetousness as one.

Lutherans and Catholics divide the ten commandments into three about God and seven about others. They believe the first three commands are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This first command includes the prohibition against graven images. The second command is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” and the third is “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” The commands regarding others are the same as the Protestant version, except the last two commands are “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods.”

Does this difference matter? Not a whole lot. Protestants, Catholics and Lutherans agree with one another on the content of the ten commandments, just not the division of them. Catholics consider the prohibition against graven images to be part of the first commandment and Protestants view all the commands against covetousness as one. These differences are trivial.

All Christians agree the Ten Commandments were given to Israel and are still important for all people today. They provide a basic standard which shows that all stand guilty before the Holy God. No matter how the commandments are divided, they show the sinfulness of sin and the impossibility of anyone being saved by his own obedience. (Romans 7:13; James 2:10; Romans 3:20)

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