I was recently asked about the history behind the adoption by Roman Catholics of a version of the Ten Commandments that differs from the account found in Exodus 20 or in Deuteronomy 5. I had to go do some digging but found at least the basic answer. First off, it surprised me at how far back the change was made. The Roman Catholic Ten Commandments are not based on recent changes. They go way back in history. Before I get to the history part though, I though it would be a good idea to highlight the differences between what we find in Exodus 20 and the version most Catholics have been taught. You can find the complete list of commandments by going to Exodus 20:1-17. Let’s compare them below:

The Biblical Commandments as found in Exodus 20:1-17

  1. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:2-3
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Exodus 20:4-6
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” – Exodus 20:12
  6. “You shall not murder.” – Exodus 20:13
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.” – Exodus 20:14
  8. “You shall not steal.” – Exodus 20:15
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” – Exodus 20:16
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:17

Roman Catholic Commandments

  1. I am the LORD thy God. Thou shalt have no strange gods before Me.
  2. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
  4. Honour thy father and thy mother.
  5. Thou shalt not kill.
  6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  7. Thou shalt not steal.
  8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.

As you can no doubt see, the Catholic version is missing the details on making idols or worshiping them. It has been removed. The fourth commandment (in Exodus) has been shortened in the Roman Catholic version and is now third due to the missing second commandment. The 10th commandment in Exodus has been split in two in order to get back to ten commandments.

History of the adopting of the Roman Catholic Ten Commandments

Now that we have seen what changes the Catholics have made to the ten commandments we are left with the question, when did this change take place? What is the history of the adoption of this revised set of commandments. The answer can be found all the way back in the fifth century. Augustine, one of the most influential early fathers of Catholicism, was the first to introduce this modified form of the commandments. Augustine read the list of commandments in Exodus 20 and came up with his own idea of how to divide them. As far as I can determine, he was the first to remove the mention of idols in his version of the commandments and to change the emphasis of the Sabbath commandment from Saturday to Sunday. Interestingly enough, Augustine had a literal view of the observance of the commandments for nine of the ten. The only one he saw as spiritual and optional was the Sabbath commandment.

I am interested in getting my hands on a copy of the book where Augustine discusses his choices of commandments in his book “Questions on Exodus” Quæstionum in Heptateuchum libri VII, Book II, Question lxxi. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an electronic version of this book online.

In my research I came across a few sites that made some comparisons between Augustine’s commandments and those of Origen (another early church father), Judaism, and the Bible. One of these lists was found at Bible-researcher.com. Another one at Biblescripture.net with the comparison to Origen’s list.

Man’s interpretation versus God’s

Augustine’s treatment of the commandments highlights a very important issue for God’s people at the end of time. We can’t be taking man’s opinion of God’s laws no matter how smart that person is. We can’t be looking to the church for answers either. We need to go straight to the Bible. The reformation in the middle ages was based on sola scriptura. The Bible and the Bible only. I don’t know about you but I choose to place my trust in God’s book and not in man’s opinion.