Do We Really Know The Ten Commandments?

Missing Commandments?

The Ten Commandments are often learned and even memorized by young children during catechism classes or Sunday school. However, when you compare the Catholic and Protestant versions, you see that they are not the same lists!

This has led some Protestants to falsely claim that the Catholic Church deleted the second commandment (“You shall not make for yourself a graven image” from Exodus 20:4) so it could keep statues in their churches.

Statues or Idolatry?

First, it is clear that Exodus 20 is not focused on mages and statues because elsewhere God commands the Israelites to make them (see Exodus 25:18; Numbers 21:8-9; I Kings 6:23-28, 9:3). The issue is making idols for the purpose of worship (which, of course, is already covered by the first commandment).

Second, Catholics include the graven image commandment! They just group it differently by including it in the first commandment (which makes a lot of contextual sense). (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2084.)

“The” Ten Commandments?

Now, it is important to realize that the 10 Commandments are not numbered in the Bible. That’s right. Moreover, in the section where God speaks them to Moses there could be nearly twenty depending upon how they are counted. Thus, it is a matter of translation / theology how to group the nearly 20 commands into The Ten Commandments.

The Catholic Church (and the Lutherans after them) follows the lead of St. Augustine and the list’s codification at the Council of Trent. Protestants (and churches in the Eastern, such as the Orthodox) follow Origen (a famous heretic) who combined coveting your neighbor’s wife (the 9th commandment) with coveting their property (the 10th commandment).

Interestingly, the Jewish people have a third way of grouping the Ten Commandments that differs from both Catholic and Protestants lists!


So those who believe in “The” Ten Commandments don’t necessarily list them in the same groupings (because the Bible doesn’t do it for us). This is not due to some theological conspiracy, it’s just different theories of organization.