Commandments of God are clear

Monday, November 05, 2018 - Updated: 10:49 am

QUESTION: I have a question about the “Ten Commandments.” As I read the Bible, I am surprised to find that what I learned from my Catholic up-bringing as the “Ten Commandments” is not exactly there in the text. As I see it, the Lord’s commandment about “carved images” is just ignored in the commandments taught to us by the Church. Could it be that the Church has done so simply to legitimize its use of statues of the saints and Mary?


ANSWER: There is of course an ancient tradition of “Ten Commandments” going back to pre-Christian times. But it is also important to note that there are two Biblical sources for these commandments: Exodus (chapter 2, verses 2-17) and Deuteronomy (Chapter 5, verses 6-29).

 It is from both of these Scriptural sources that we receive what a generally known as the Ten Commandments. The number “ten” seems to have been significant very early and for various reasons. To achieve that number ten, various methods were utilized in understanding both accounts in Biblical books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Today, differences in how the “Ten” Commandments are taught depends on what text is used.

 One might say that there is an Exodus list and a Deuteronomy list. The principal differences seem to revolve around references to “graven images” and “coveting one’s neighbor’s possessions.”

 In the Exodus list, Exodus 20:17 is a rather general comment regarding the desire for one’s neighbor’s property (including his wife). The Deuteronomy list, however, considers this matter differently (in Deuteronomy 5:21) by first dealing with a command about not desiring one’s neighbor’s wife and then separately dealing with a command about one’s neighbor’s property.

 In the Deuteronomy version, then, if the last part of the commandments list two commandments about the desire of another’s property, how then will this list maintain the number ten? It is accomplished by considering as one commandment (Deuteronomy 5:7-10) what the Exodus list considers two (Exodus 20:3 and Exodus 20:4-6).

What complicates matters even more so is that certain religious groups have enumerated the Ten Commandments based on the Exodus list (e.g. many Eastern Christians, Jews and Protestants other than Lutherans) while others based on the Deuteronomy list (principally Roman Catholics and Lutherans). Each group then provided education and formation based on which ever list they were using.

That helps to explain the differences, but the question above is asking why? It is important to note that even before the time of Jesus there existed two ways of handing on the Commandments (that of Exodus and that of Deuteronomy). It seems clear that the means of enumerating them occurred a long time ago and not for any purpose of supporting any Catholic dogma, but rather a decision as to Biblical list was chosen.

What is significant about this question is that all the “material” of God’s covenantal commandments is included in whatever “list” is used. The essential commandments of God are clear and unchanged no matter what enumeration one finds. What is most important is not how the “ten” are enumerated but rather how well we observe them.

Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.

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