The Ten Commandments

Protestant vs Catholic Confusion

What is the confusion over the Ten Commandments between Protestants and Catholics?  Protestants claim that Catholics worship statues and many will claim that Catholics threw out the second commandment, which to them is “You shall not make any graven images.” But what is the actual truth?

The scriptures containing the Ten Commandments are identical in chapter and verse in the Catholic and Protestant bibles, differing only in the language used in the translation, but in no way different in content:

The Protestant King James Version:

Exodus 20:1-17

  1. And God spake all these words, saying,

  2. I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

  3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

  4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

  5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

  6. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

  7. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

  8. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

  9. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

  10. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

  11. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.

  12. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

  13. Thou shalt not kill.

  14. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

  15. Thou shalt not steal.

  16. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

  17. 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.

The Catholic New American Bible, revised edition
Exodus 20:1-17

  1. Then God spoke all these words:

  2. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

  3. You shall not have other gods beside me. NOTE

  4. You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; NOTE

  5. you shall not bow down before them or serve them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; NOTE

  6. but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

  7. You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain. NOTE

  8. Remember the Sabbath day—keep it holy. NOTE

  9. Six days you may labor and do all your work,

  10. but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates.

  11. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. NOTE

  12. Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you. NOTE

  13. You shall not kill. NOTE

  14. You shall not commit adultery.

  15. You shall not steal.

  16. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

  17. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Notice that in both versions, if you read them carefully, there actually appear to be thirteen separate commandments. “The precise numbering and division of these precepts into “ten commandments” is somewhat uncertain. The traditional designation as “ten” is not found here but in Exodus 34:28 and also Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4, where these precepts are alluded to literally as “the ten words.” That they were originally written on two tablets appears in Exodus 32:15–16; 34:28–29; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:2–4. Traditionally among Catholics and Lutherans, verses 1–6 are considered as only one commandment, and verse 17 as two. The Anglican, Greek Orthodox, and Reformed churches count verses 1–6 as two, and verse 17 as one. In Deuteronomy 5:21, “Wife” and “Possessions” are separated re. coveting.

The present form of the commands is a product of a long development, as is clear from the fact that the individual precepts vary considerably in length and from the slightly different formulation of Deuteronomy 5:6-21  (see especially vv. 1215 and 21). Indeed they represent a mature formulation of a traditional morality. Why this specific selection of commands should be set apart is not entirely clear. None of them is unique in the Old Testament and all of the laws which follow are also from God and equally binding on the Israelites. Even so, this collection represents a privileged expression of God’s moral demands on Israel and is here set apart from the others as a direct, unmediated communication of God to the Israelites and the basis of the covenant being concluded on Sinai.” (From the New American Bible revised edition as published on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops web site)
Exodus 34:28

28 So Moses was there with the LORD for forty days and forty nights, without eating any food or drinking any water, and he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten words.
Deuteronomy 4:13

13 He proclaimed to you his covenant, which he commanded you to keep: the ten words, which he wrote on two stone tablets.
Exodus 10:4

4 The LORD then wrote on the tablets, as he had written before, the ten words that the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me.

By separating  verses 3 and 4 as two different commandments, Protestants helped justify a split from the Catholic Church by claiming that the statues of saints and angels were craven images forbidden by a specific commandment, whereas the commandment itself, read in it’s full context is clearly intended to prohibit the creation of idols of worship.  The misconception is perpetrated by those who do not have a full understanding of the teachings of the Catholic Church and mistake veneration and intercession for worship.