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Question: I was in a religious discussion today and was asked why our commandments are different than the Protestant version. Can you help?

Answer: Our 10 Commandments do not differ from the Protestant version in content, there is simply a difference in how they are organized. The Protestants first two commandments are: 1) I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any false gods before me; 2) Thou shalt not make any graven images…you shall not bow down to them or serve them.  And, their last commandment is simply: Thou shalt not covet.

The first two commandments, Catholic version are: 1) I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any false gods before me; 2) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. And, our last two commandments are: 9) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife; 10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.

So, the Protestants combine our #9 and #10, into their #10. While we combine the Protestants’ #1 and #2, into our #1.  Now, some folks say that the Catholics purposely leave out the graven image reference that we find in Protestant Commandment #2 so that we can worship our statues and all that kind of rot. Which is probably what this person you were talking to was getting at, but you can take anyone to page 496 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and show them that we did not leave out the prohibition on worshiping graven images.

In the left hand column of that page, you will see the whole first commandment written out just like it appears in Exodus 20. You have the long version on the left, the shorter version in the middle, and the traditional version for catechesis on the right. Notice the mention of graven images under Commandment #1?

In essence, we simply don’t write the whole thing out, because we know that bowing down to (worshiping) graven images falls under: “Thou shalt not have any false gods before me.” Just so, the Protestants shorten the commandment about coveting. Go to page 497 of the Catechism (or  to Exodus 20) and see all the things that are included in the, “Thou shalt not covet,” section. The Protestants don’t write out all those things, they just say, “Thou shalt not covet.”

Does that mean they left out part of the Commandments so that they could indeed covet some things? No. It’s understood that “Thou shalt not covet,” covers all of those things. Just like Catholics understand that, “Thou shalt not have any false gods before me,” means that we should not worship idols, or graven images, as false gods.

Furthermore, guess who wrote a catechism that had the first and second Commandments exactly the same as the Catholics do?  Martin Luther. That’s right, Martin Luther, in his “Small Catechism” (which was a catechism meant primarily for children), listed the first two commandments in the exact same way Catholics do. Yet, do Protestants ever complain about Martin Luther changing the Ten Commandments?  I don’t think so.

John Martignoni  is a nationally-known Catholic apologist and Bible scholar. He is the Founder and President of the Bible Christian Society, where you can find lots of free apologetics materials — CD’s, mp3 downloads, e-newsletters, and more, and host of EWTN’s “Open Line” airing on Mondays at 3 p.m. EST. He is also Director of the Office of the New Evangelization in the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama.

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